We’re at the World Innovation Forum. Stay tuned throughout the day for updates. Up now: Clay Christensen.
For six weeks this fall, I’ve been studying writing of a different kind—Karen Bergreen’s beginner comedy class at the Manhattan Comedy School. I always tell my job-seeking clients and column readers to be well-rounded and unique and to keep learning and stretching. So learning about things seemingly unrelated to my own day job is part of taking my own advice. Luckily, comedy is relevant to job search technique:
Be specific. The funniest comedians give very specific details. The same can be said about compelling job candidates: the best candidates are specific in explaining what they want and what they contribute. When good job candidates give an example, we understand the scope of their responsibilities and the scale of their accomplishments.
Edit ruthlessly. You don’t need a lot of explanation before getting to the punch line of the story. In fact, too much explanation diminishes the power of the joke. Similarly, don’t ramble in your interview responses and other job search communication. Get to the point quickly and keep your listener’s attention.
Talk about what you know. Being comfortable and familiar with your subject matter made it infinitely easier to be specific and find the humor. Successful jobseekers need to get comfortable and familiar with the industries, companies, and jobs they are targeting. Do research before meeting people. Prepare your interview examples. When you talk about what you know (because you have researched and prepared in advance), you captivate your listener.
Be yourself. There is no one profile or style that is the funny one. It is better to infuse who you are genuinely into your comedy set. In the case of job candidates, your unique personality differentiates you in addition to your professional attributes. There are other good communicators, exceptional problem-solvers, and strong leaders. You compete on skills and experience but also contribute your unique style.
The audience needs to get the joke. Sometimes a student was really attached to a joke that others in the class didn’t understand or didn’t think was funny. Instead of arguing the point, students were encouraged to rewrite and rework the original premise. Similarly, jobseekers should pay attention to any feedback that suggests what you’re doing isn’t working. You may think your job search technique is fine, but if it’s been several months and you haven’t landed anything, employers clearly aren’t “getting” you. Don’t argue with the market; rework your job search.
Sometimes when you are overly-focused on a goal, you can get stuck. It’s very helpful to step back and focus on something very different—to refresh, reignite your creativity, and broaden your perspective. You may find that you come back to your original goal with fresh eyes and are more productive. You don’t have to take comedy class specifically or even do something artistic. It can be sports, cooking, joining a book club. Diverse interests are valuable to the jobseeker because they make you more unique, they stretch and challenge you in different ways, and they enable you to remain fresh and productive.
It’s Halloween and the temptation to wear your costume to the office can be hard to overcome—especially if you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in getting it just right. But when it comes to dressing up at the workplace, those who value their careers should think hard about their wardrobe selection, and consider removing some of the “tricks and treats.”
While many people seem to take on a whole new personality at Halloween, workers should tread carefully when choosing a costume to wear at work—even if it means being forced to choose separate outfits for the office and their Halloween night shenanigans. Even if your company permits masks and costumes during office hours, it’s better to play it safe, and remember that the harassment policy you signed earlier in the year does not magically disappear with the holiday.
“People in costume lose inhibitions and behave as if a tail and mask give them license to act out,” says Vicki Lynn, Vault’s Vice President of Research and Consulting. “It’s important to keep a level of decorum when observing Halloween in the workplace.”
Steer Clear of “Sexy”
“Never wear anything that oozes ‘date’ or ‘sex,’ such as a bunny costume, sexy witch, cow girl, nurse, or teacher,” says Lynn. “If you think it crosses the line, it probably does. These would be costumes that show too much leg, butt and décolletage.”
Wearing provocative outfits could make co-workers feel uncomfortable or lead to unwanted sexual advances, potentially resulting in legal actions—something that no employer wants to deal with. This means that if you wouldn’t normally go to the office in an outfit that would make Lady Gaga blush, you should continue that practice at the office on Halloween. That goes for the guys too: Halloween is not an excuse to come to the office without a shirt on, no matter how much you enjoy those Old Spice commercials.
Watch What You Say With Your Costume
It’s possible to get into costume-related trouble even if you’re only revealing an opinion with your outfit.
“Beware of the signal or message that might be conveyed with your choice of costume—i.e. anything that could be conveyed as offensive to different religions, ethnicities, genders, and/or political leanings,” says Lynn, adding that “the best outfits are non-political masks.”
So, if you were thinking of using your costume to make a point about one of the issues of the day, stop and think about how colleagues or clients may react. Could you open yourself up to a harassment claim or altercation that could carry on past the Halloween season? Even if you’re only poking fun at a political figure, keep in mind that your colleagues may not share your opinions.
If there is even a remote possibility of causing offense, you may want to stick to something tried and true like a vampire. After all, with the way people react to Twilight, yours willl almost still seem cool.
Some Other Halloween at the Office Tips
- Employers should voice their thoughts on Halloween protocols in the office so that everyone is on the same page before the big day.
- Remember that even if you do show up in costume, you still have a job to do. Despite your disguise, the actions you take today will be remembered tomorrow and could contribute to the unemployment numbers next week. Stay in control.
- It’s ok to celebrate but keep noise down and celebration contained to the lunch hour.
- If you are client facing, your customers may not be amused by the costume, so keep it strictly for the lunch party with officemates only.
- Halloween at the office can still be fun. Just pay attention to others around you and leave the more risqué fun, if that’s what you choose to do, for the witching hour.
— Jon Minners, Vault.com
Consider the following management scenario: you’re the leader of a highly successful team, but one that has recently had to tighten its belt financially. While you are committed to training and building success long-term future, your current reputation and success rests heavily on one or two key members. And one of them just announced that he wants to leave.
Worse, he’s come out and criticized the organization publicly, stating that the fiscal constraints have hampered your organization’s ability to attract the top talent it needs to ensure a successful future—and he isn’t prepared to waste his time at any organization that isn’t meeting his level of ambition.
(Privately, you suspect that his real concern with “fiscal restraint” is much closer to home: despite being your highest-paid employee, he knows he could make more elsewhere.)
So what do you do?
Those with even a passing acquaintance with the world of English soccer may have recognized that the above scenario bears more than a little resemblance to a situation that played itself out in the public eye last week: the Wayne Rooney contract saga.
For those unfamiliar, Rooney–pictured left–is the star player at Manchester United. At the start of this season, he was pulling in a salary of around 90,000 pounds per week, on a contract set to expire in two years. In August, he announced to the club that he wanted to leave at the end of his contract period—and the information became public last week. When pressed to justify his reasoning, Rooney issued a statement that essentially expressed his belief that the club is in terminal decline.
Two days later, he signed a new five-year contract—rumored to double his previous salary—with United manager Sir Alex Ferguson praising Rooney because “he has accepted the challenge to guide the younger players and establish himself as one of United’s great players. It shows character and belief in what we stand for.”
PR spin aside, the saga reflects just how dangerous it can be for any organization to become too reliant on a handful of key operators. Whatever happens for Rooney now, he has damaged both his own and his team’s brand—and while he has secured a better deal for himself, nothing else he mentioned has changed. The club that he believed to be in decline—in part because they can’t afford to match the astronomical salaries being paid elsewhere—is actually in a less competitive position now that they’ve tied up a much more significant portion of their revenue in his wages than before.
There are many who believe that the management at Manchester United did the right thing under the circumstances. But there are some cases where retaining your top talent is less important than upholding the values of your organization. This should have been one of them. Quite apart from the fact that the deal agreed with Rooney is enough to pay at least two high-caliber players, management has now set up a situation where other players may feel emboldened to do the same
There’s an old cliché in sport that says that no one player is bigger than the team. In this case, that has proved that to be untrue. Whether the fix pays off in the short term or not, it’s hard to escape the notion that it sets up a situation in the long term where the club is regarded as something of a cash cow for top talent, rather than an organization known for its excellence. And once you’ve got to the point where the only incentive you can offer is financial reward, you really are in trouble.
–Phil Stott, Vault.com
We have two months to go before 2011. You might be tempted to ease into the holidays and push into the New Year your work on landing a new job, starting a business, making a career change, or getting a promotion. But there are certain things you should do now to take advantage of the remaining days of 2010.
Prepare for end of year discussions. If your company pays bonuses or determines promotions at year end, this might be the time that decisions are made. Make sure people are aware of your contributions. If you have any emails from colleagues thanking you for a job well done, forward these to your manager. (If you have none of these, you should, so start collecting them for 2011!) If there is no formal review process, schedule a meeting proactively, so you can discuss in detail your contributions and your expectations going forward.
Use the holiday festivities to step up your networking. Many professional associations have holiday mixers, so if you haven’t kept up with your industry colleagues, now is a good time to play catch-up. If you have extra bandwidth, volunteer to assist at the mixer. You will make deeper connections with the group, and it’s a great way to ensure you meet with most of the attendees. Sending holiday cards is an easy but thoughtful way to build in a hello each year.
Plan and organize for next year. Clear out your office files. Mark your 2011 calendar for key meetings and appointments. Look at your company’s training calendar, and sign up now so you prioritize your professional development before your schedule gets too crazy. Think of your big career goals for 2011, and schedule your calendar now for reminders throughout the year. For example, if expanding your network is a goal, then schedule a weekly reminder to reach out to several contacts.
Finally, if there is a career goal you know you want now (e.g., land a new job, start a business, make a career change, or get a promotion), then start now. It’s a myth that hiring stops near the holidays. It’s also dangerous to wait for that perfect time to start. The above checklist of items are still good ideas, but should not displace efforts you make towards bigger career goals.
— Caroline Ceniza-Levine
This is the fifth in a series of articles that describe the unique traits of a corporate intrapreneur.
The next three habits, when practiced properly at a corporation, can often lead to the successful delivery of ideas. Idea delivery is characterized by the creation of a product or service that provides value to a customer.
These first stages of delivery occur as part of a technique known as 3-box time management, which is depicted below.
Vijay Govindarajan (VG) is a Professor of International Business at Dartmouth College. He is the author and evangelist of the 3-box strategic approach to corporate innovation. Three-box innovation strategy dictates that the majority of corporate resources should be invested in the Box 1 diagram listed below: Manage the Present. This box represents the continued development of existing products to yield most of a corporation’s revenue. Employees supporting this box focus on existing customers and processes, and they continue to leverage their existing competencies. In essence, this box “funds” the development of innovation within a corporation. Some companies fall into the trap of spending close to 100 percent of their resources in this box.
Vijay advises corporations to allocate portions of their resources to Box 2 and Box 3 as well as tried-and-true Box 1. Box 2 selectively abandons the past by “forgetting” most of what is known about the products built in Box 1, including why they were built and whom they were built to satisfy. This break from tradition enables an innovator to take existing products into completely different markets.
Box 3 is a more radical approach to innovation. It completely ignores current processes and products and prominently targets the future.
The figure below applies this 3-box corporate framework to an intrapreneur’s use of his or her own time (note that the box titles change when applied to an individual).
Intrapreneurs can be most effective when they are delivering products as part of a business unit (as opposed to being a member of a research team in an ivory tower). Why? They often prefer to be in the trenches, where they can be highly productive, visiting customers, and collaborating with others. They are respected within their organizations for doing those very things.
Perhaps their most significant contribution to their business unit’s product line is funding their employment and that of their collaborators. They are squarely positioned in Box 1.
Spending all of their time in one area of expertise does not enable intrapreneurs to achieve success. Their natural curiosity and passion will not allow them to stay in only one place. They practice the discipline of limiting the amount of time they spend in Box 1.
By limiting the amount of time they spend in Box 1, intrapreneurs make time for Box 2 and/or Box 3 activities. They set aside the time to learn about customer issues. They set aside the time to explore adjacent technologies. They regularly meet with experts in adjacent fields and collaborate to dream up ideas of what might be possible. Most importantly, they begin to build out their ideas.
It is worth pointing out the difference between Box 2 and Box 3 intrapreneurial behavior. Box 2 behavior is characterized by Venn diagram innovation. The intrapreneur collaborates in the context of a well-defined customer problem.
Box 3 behavior is characterized by blue sky innovation: taking the initiative to learn new technologies and collaborate without necessarily starting with the context of a defined customer problem. Blue sky innovators may ask themselves and others, “What might this capability be used to do?” Answers to this question can result in breakthrough innovation. It is often the case that breakthrough innovation can be applied to customer problems they don’t yet know they have!
It is a difficult balancing act to regularly spend time outside of Box 1. It takes passion and persistence. But it is the very first step that a new intrapreneur must take to prove his or her worth!
Subsequent steps build on the important ability to manage one’s time well. Please consider subscribing to this blog for a discussion of the next phase of idea delivery: managing one’s visibility.