Monthly Archives: January 2013

Filling Gaps

whowhatwherewhyhowYou’ve decided that you are ready to show your company something wonderful.  Now what would that be exactly?

Most companies have departments that are set up vertically – sales, customer service, purchasing, marketing, accounting, credit, etc.  Most transaction processes run across departments, like order to cash.  Attention to the process is keen when it is clearly within the parameters of a department, but how about the hand off between one department and the next?  This is usually a gray area and so ripe for your examination and potential wonderfulness.

Think back over the last few weeks, months and try to bring up memories of issues.  Identifying one or two that happened because of a process gap between departments is your next step.  Exactly what went wrong?  Talk to the people that were involved (who) and find out the steps that they took to research and resolve the problem.  Did the situation get resolved without addressing the underlying problem, which in this case is the lack of clear process in the gap? (So where is the gap?)  When does the problem pop up?

Depending on the severity of problems that the gap is creating, you now have to decide if you are ready to bring this to someone’s attention.  Calling out the gap at this stage will get you a pat on the head, but not quite the wonderful kudos that you were looking for because you haven’t gone to the next step – solving the gap with the How and Why.

Providing value is in this next step, even if your proposed solution isn’t used, the powers that be now know that you have critical thinking capabilities.  But let’s get back to the how and why and your solution that you want to develop.

Why are issues created at this stage of the process, and is there a pattern to the kinds of issues that are created?  Why do some transactions make it through the process successfully and others falter?  These are questions for you to dig deeper and find potential answers.  Again, if this starts to look like a big deal for your company (lost revenue, loss of a customer, etc.), you should bring your findings to the attention of a supervisor, but try to stay in the loop by offering to participate in a solution.

How can the process be altered or improved to avoid this type of issue from occurring?  How can you best affect a solution?

When you are ready to present your findings, try to think about the questions that might come up and be prepared to answer them.  Enlist the assistance of co-workers to provide a complete solution (and to show your team spirit).  Time to be wonderful!

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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vocationI’ve been catching up on my magazine reading lately and just got around to reading an article on writing that touches on work.  The article’s focus is on how writers don’t pay enough attention to the work that their characters do.

“(Y)our way of seeing the world bends around your work.”

~Benjamin Percy

So much affects the way that we see the world and we do spend quite a few waking hours per week at work.  The type of work that you do, your place in the hierarchy of the organization, the type of organization are all part of your world view.

We work, toil, have a job.  Whether we do it because we love it, because we understand the import of participating in the economy, or we just put up with it, we work.

When we think of the word vocation either religious work comes to mind or blue collar training and jobs but the definition of the word includes any business or profession which is seen as a calling.  All honest work is a worthwhile vocation.

As Americans, we often seem to treat those in the corner office as the only ones with worthwhile work.  We need to rethink this idea.  Each person in an organization plays a vital part in the success of the business.

I can think of so many examples of people that I have encountered who had pride in their work, an inner sense that they were doing something meaningful – regardless of where I have encountered them.  There is no pattern to the type of work that each of these people do, their level, or certainly their potential compensation – the pattern is their sense of purpose, of a vocation.

When I used to work at the circulation desk of a library, during college, I took it as a personal challenge to see how far I could help someone before handing them over to one of the reference librarians.  The librarians found my determination amusing and encouraged me.

While in Italy I realized that most of the waiters there see their efforts as a vocation to provide service and food, not just a job to hold while waiting for something better.  Not to say that I haven’t encountered good servers here in the U.S. as well – but most of them seemed to be good because they truly enjoyed the customer interaction.

You may not have picked your current job if your opportunities had been unlimited, but you do have control over your ability to make it a vocation.  What little changes can you make to give yourself that sense of pride, of a personal mission that will affect your world view?

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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‘Go-To’ Person

go to personIn business, being the go-to person is similar to the good driver in the larger population – everyone seems to be It while the rest just don’t quite stack up.


What does it really mean?  If you really want to be seen as a go-to person, you have to spend time and effort defining the meaning specifically.  A person who can’t easily articulate what it means to be a go-to person in their business, department or whatever situation will have trouble truly being one for others in their realm of influence.


Start with what you know – do you want to be a go-to person for a specific skill, say writing?  Or do you know a lot about a variety of things?  This is your skill set, your strength that you can share.  Again, you have to be able to clearly convey your skills to others to be a go-to person.  If you can’t sketch out a simple outline for others about this skill, then while you will benefit from the use of the skill you are not the go-to person for the skill.  What benefit will others get from understanding and growing this skill?  Why are you the best person for them to go-to to learn this skill?


Now you have to think carefully about how this skill fits within your organization?  What are the organizational or departmental goals?  If you don’t have clarity on this point, ask.  Explain that you are making a concerted effort to both increase your own skill and to strengthen the department or organization by sharing your skills.  You want to make certain that your skill will continue to have value as the organization moves forward, or that you can adjust your skill in advance of any changes if necessary.


This effort to define your go-to status will pay off in many ways for you.  You have honed your critical thinking skills, reinforced your own value within the organization and strengthened your department.



© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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January 15, 2013 · 9:25 am

Answers to Interview Questions, Part I

Most of the topics that I touch on can be covered in one post, but a job search is a huge topic.  There is so much advice floating around about most aspects of the job search, I have focused on interviews since that is an area where I have had the most experience as a hiring manager.


Shortly after I started this blog last month, I got the idea to circulate a handful of the behavioral interview questions that I have regularly asked potential employees among my LinkedIn connections, friends and family to gather their answers and share them here.  I cast a wide net because people are busy and in order to get enough responses (especially during the holidays) I would have to start with a large pool of potential ‘candidates’.


I presented the request in the most positive manner that I could to pique their interest, knowing that I had a probable high degree of success among certain folks due to their innate interest in helping, high energy or other traits.  I knew that I would have to do a certain amount of cajoling with those that might be willing, but were busy or distracted.  Then there was the group that were long shots, but worth asking just in case.


I didn’t take into account the visceral reaction that I got from a few people.  I decided that this reaction alone was worth a post.  Behavioral interviews are becoming very common due to the fact that the largest cost that a business incurs is invested in its people.  It is to the benefit of the organization therefore (and frankly to the employees, and potential employees as well) that the right people – those with the appropriate temperament as well as skills – are brought in from the beginning.  I’ve made the opposing argument in previous posts that it is the job seeker’s responsibility to interview the company just as carefully as the company is examining the job seeker.


Interviewing is hard for so many reasons – dealing with rejection, figuring out how to present yourself so that you are appealing to the company and also true to yourself, dealing with your own demons, and so on.


One friend responded that she would not participate, “I can’t answer those hiring questions on the grounds that I HATE questions like that in an interview. I went to an interview once where a 20 year old asked me where I saw myself in 5 years. I said apparently not working for you and left.”


I completely understand her reaction in one respect because most likely the interviewer was just going through the motions and didn’t really know why or the intent of the question.  It’s the bureaucracy that we’re reacting to.


So it comes down to control – most of us don’t have control over the process that has been established for job hunting, but we have control over ourselves.  I respect the answers that I got from those who find the process somehow distasteful and told me that they therefore decline to participate.  To my thinking they missed out on a low risk opportunity to practice something that we should all be capable of doing.


It reminds me of a conversation that I had with my aunt and my mom some time ago when my son was a baby.  My aunt said that all women should be aware of the skills they possess that would allow them to earn a living.  I was smug in my knowledge that I wouldn’t need to worry about that, until 12 years later when I found myself divorced.  You don’t have to like something to be able to do it, and do it competently.


I still have to bother a couple more people who said that they would answer after the holidays and then you will see the questions and answers that I received in part 2.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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What Do I Want to be When I Grow Up?



Adults love to ask this question of small children, but really we could keep asking ourselves this question throughout our lives.  Very few of us answer this question in the same way at the different stages of our lives.


I had stopped thinking about this question in relation to myself once I got into my twenties but then one day there were a bunch of us moms waiting outside the preschool to pick up our kids.  We were all going through kindergarten screening with our children and we learned that one mom had kept her daughter in preschool for an extra year  ‘because she wanted to give her a better chance of knowing what she wanted to be when she graduated high school’.  My response, before I even thought about it, was that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.


My generation was told endlessly by parents and educators that we could be anything that we wanted to be – the sky was the limit – because we were part of the first wave that had less limits in opportunities than previous generations had experienced.  It paralyzed a lot of us, this too vast landscape.  I dabbled in various things in college because I had a lot of interests.  Then I felt strongly that I wanted to be home with my kids.


So why do we all do what we do?  Expediency?  Passion?  Fear?  Inertia?


I have continued to dabble as an adult – I’ve worked in food service, a library, retail, an office.  I have worked at various levels within organizations and in organizations of various sizes.  Counting my volunteer work gives even more nuance to the list.  There has not appeared to be continuity in my efforts, yet I have found themes that cross these experiences and the variety feeds my writing as well.


It has been said repeatedly that the old norm of working for the same company throughout your work life is extinct for the most part.  Perhaps then it would be good for each of us to ask ourselves this question every so often.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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January 12, 2013 · 9:31 am



In our eternal human quest to simplify, we usually allow only two choices for something new – Right or Wrong.  I propose a third choice which should be prominent – Different.  Putting something new in this area for a time allows for reflection, consideration, exploration.  It allows for adjustment.


This is kind of like driving.  Most of us seem to have the idea that we must have our foot on either the brake or the gas (only 2 choices).  When I was teaching my sons how to drive, I talked to them about coasting as a viable option.  It gives you time to think before coming to a decision – therefore hopefully making your decision stronger.  Of course, this is an option and should not be used in an emergency, say when the car in front of you suddenly stops.  But if you are paying attention, you have time to think if you allow your car to coast toward potential issues.


Different is similar to coasting.  It is a safe place to try out a new idea, theory, concept without immediately categorizing it.


Years ago a company meeting was called in the lunchroom without any detail being provided by senior management.  Luckily the time span between the announcement and the meeting was short so very little postulating was done.  The purpose of the meeting turned out to be an announcement that we had grown too large for our current location and a search had been initiated to find a new one.  We were being advised because a For Sale sign was about to be posted out front.  Details of how the search for a new location were shared – all employee home addresses had been shared with a consulting company and were factored into other parameters for the new location.


This was certainly something entirely new and unexpected for all of us.  I was intrigued, hopeful this would mean a move closer to my home, and pleased that employee concerns were being called out and discussed.  I found that I was in the minority in my somewhat positive/somewhat neutral reaction.  The majority reaction was quite negative.  Opinion was weighting toward senior management taking some sort of advantage, evidence just presented to the contrary.


This announcement was filed in the Wrong category by most of the listeners without much consideration because it was surprising and therefore unwelcome news.  There were a handful of us who suggested a wait and see attitude should be adopted, but we were brushed aside.  (As it turned out it took several years to affect the move, but that is a story for another day.)


Putting something unfamiliar in the Different, or wait and see, category gives you time to look it over – both actively and passively.  Give it a test drive, see how it looks on a shelf in your house, mention it in casual conversation.  Unfamiliar or new isn’t bad, it’s just different.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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January 11, 2013 · 8:52 am

Great Interview Prep Tip

I’ve mentioned confidence going into an interview in a previous post. This idea will help you to have confidence that you are prepared to prove that you will be an asset to the company.


Jean Baur, a career counselor and author of Eliminated! Now What? Finding Your Way from Job-Loss Crisis to Career Resilience offers this tip in Appendix F – The Interview Map.


Here is what she has to say:

“The purpose of an interview map is to prepare you to “manage” the interview, or at least to include critical parts of your background in the interview process and to help you keep track of what you’ve covered with each interviewer.”


Taking this action will require some effort on your part, but it isn’t much if you are serious about your job search and it will be proof to the interviewer that you have put thought into how you will fit into their company based on the job posting and your research.


You can create a template in excel to use for each job/interview.  At the top you will want to provide space for the name of the company and the name of the interviewer.  You should consider a date field as well.  Below this, you will have 2 columns – the first is Key Components of Position and the second is My Matching Accomplishments.  Fill in the details below these headers.


At the bottom, you can put in your expected questions, based on “When It’s Your Turn – Interview Questions for a Possible New Employer”.  You can then print this page and keep track of the topics covered during the interview.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Goal: Go from X to Y by When

A good intention becomes a goal when you define it.  I think that I’d like to go back to school is a good intention.  I will start to research programs at local schools and identify a class to take before the fall semester this year is a goal.  Good intentions make us feel like we are doing something to help ourselves, but they are safe and comfortable in their vagueness.  We think of goals as scary because they usually make us face our fears of inadequacy – they are icy and unwelcoming in their rigidity.


This time of year people like to make resolutions that reach toward their ideal selves – I will lose weight, get a better job, whatever that ideal self happens to be.  Resolutions tend to be more like good intentions, though.  It is something to say at a party and forget the next morning.


Resolutions and good intentions are a magic talisman to say and then the thing will come true.  If we are being realistic with ourselves, we know this isn’t true, but where is the fun in that?  And of course we should all be careful of who we tell our resolutions to because some people will remember them and ask every time they see us.  Unless we really intend to make what we say a goal, then we should tell those that will help to hold us to the goal.


Most of us have heard a great deal about goals in our working life – SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) and other acronyms are out there on the training circuit.


When it is time to make a good intention a real goal, then we have to get busy and pull out whatever we’ve learned about goals that makes sense – write it down, share it to give yourself a support group, break it down into easy to handle steps, and so on.  If these points don’t speak to you, then you won’t do them – but if you have had a string of ‘goals’ that you haven’t met in the past, then you need to rethink your methodology.


Just like a story, a goal has a start, a middle and an expected specific ending along with a time frame.  Now the thing that might make goals more palatable for many people is the malleability.  We all believe that goals are set in stone and you either achieve them, or let them rust.  We believe the experts that have told us goal setting has a very specific equation.


Now think of something that you wanted to do and you were able to complete.  How did you get there from where you started?  Maybe you can apply that process again even if you didn’t think of it as a process at the time.  You might have to add, subtract or tweak parts of it to make it work for your new idea.


You do need to develop some method to test how realistic and therefore achievable your goal might be – or you might have to set a few other goals in between to get closer to making your idea an achievable goal.  For instance if you want to be a dean of a specific University and you are still in college for your bachelors, then you have to set some interim goals to become dean.


Sometimes you might have conflicting goals too, so you will have to pick which is more important at that time.  I have had a lot of thoughts about goals over the years, and could have several different goals for this post.  I had to pick which ones would make a cohesive argument to get readers to consider goals in a new light.  I can touch on others in the future.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Just the Facts

Communication is a beautiful thing – when it goes well and everyone understands exactly as intended.  And that’s why there are endless books and articles about effective communication, because while it is so crucial, it also goes awry all too often. High stakes riding on communications lead to intense emotion which can lead to missteps.


What can you do?


“To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.”



Build consensus with a shared purpose

You can do your best to remove the emotion from your message and structure your statements in such a way to reduce the potential for an emotional response. The first step is to rearrange your message to remove use of the word ‘you’.  Using ‘you’ when you have something to share comes across as an accusation.  So ‘You didn’t clean up the cat vomit from your cat before you left the house.’ can become ‘I had a shocking start to my morning when I almost stepped in cat vomit.’  (My apologies to anyone with a delicate constitution.)


My example is part of an ongoing power struggle, which is often the case when communications go astray in whatever context – business or personal.  I’ve changed the emphasis from an accusation, but still haven’t diffused the me against you hot button.


Starting with the shocking start to the morning comment, the object is to build a sense of shared solution.  The communication could be continued something like this then, ‘I heard that cats often do this because of hairballs, so I’ve done some research and found a few possible remedies.  I’ll bring the information home with me so that I can show you tonight.’  Now both parties in the communication are starting to work together to relieve the cause of the conflict.


Communicate using neutral, factual statements

Changing ‘you’ to ‘I’ works better in more personal situations and when there are only a couple of participants.  When you are dealing with a group, it is better to remove these references entirely.  As an example, ‘Your company lost my shipment and now I’ve lost a customer.’ would become ‘In researching the lost shipment from company ABC intended for recipient XYZ, it has been discovered that the delivery was made to 124 Main St instead of the intended 123 Main St.  Our company is requesting that an inquiry is initiated by your delivery service to retrieve the package.  In addition we request that your company provide expedited delivery of a replacement package to the correct address at no additional delivery cost to our company ABC.’


You’ve told them calmly of your issue and provided them with information for your preferred solution.  Now you can work together for better success, you hopefully won’t have to go out and find a new vendor and you can focus your attention on retaining your customer.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Brief Interview with a Recruiter

Jim Shaver is the owner of Shaver Associates LLC, a greater Chicago Recruiting company.


After a decade of recruiting experience, Jim Shaver elected to open his own recruiting office in 2006.

Jim has recruited nationwide for many of the leading manufacturers and distributors in both the Sanitary Maintenance and Food Service Industries. In addition, he has recruited for all levels of an organization ranging from a Vice- President level position to a Sales Representative role.


Jim was kind enough to take a little time out from his December and answer a few questions for us.


Q: What is the best business advice that you ever received & who gave it to you?

A: The best business advice I received was from my first boss in recruiting.  He indicated that you have to have a certain tenacity/ persistence. You will get an awful lot of “no” responses before you get a “yes” don’t take it personally and push thru.


Q: How did you become a recruiter?

A: I actually responded to an ad in the newspaper for a company looking to hire recruiters. At that time I was going thru a little soul searching on what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help others in some capacity but this was a nice opportunity to get paid while doing so.

Q: What made you decide to open your own business?

A: After spending 9 yrs. working as an employee, I believed that I had established enough contacts to be successful on my own. I like the thought of creating a business and working at it to make it grow.

Q: What do you think are the most important employee qualities that companies need?

A: Versatility/ adaptability you have so many positions nowadays where you are asked to do a whole lot more than what was on your initial job description. All companies are doing more with fewer people and this means being able to successfully adapt to an increased workload.

Q: What advice would you offer to employees that want to be top performers?

A: To stand out, you really do need to go that extra mile to help your employer have continued success.


Jim has added his experienced voice to help each of us to provide value as employees.  Thank you, Jim.


“You have to practice success.  Success doesn’t just show up.  If you aren’t practicing success today, you won’t wake up in 20 years and be successful, because you won’t have developed habits of success, which are small things like finishing what you start, putting a lot of effort into everything you do, being on time, treating people well.”

~ Michelle Obama


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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