Climbing the slippery pole – keep your career moving forward

If you want your career to progress then you have to be prepared to push it along! Embrace your current role and get all the experience, skills and knowledge it can offer you. However be mindful that your next step (and the one after) should be pointing you directly towards your career objective.

So, how do you ensure your career development stays on track and keeps up momentum, whilst doing a great job in your current position?

Continue reading “Climbing the slippery pole – keep your career moving forward”

How to manage stress

Stressed? How can you manage it rather than it managing you? When the pressure is on in the workplace, feeling stressed is completely normal. But it’s not normal to be feeling workplace stress constantly, such as when you’re at home, or on holiday.

Fear not! There are some practical things you can do.

Don’t kid yourself that multi-tasking is achieving more

You’re on a tight deadline but the phone keeps ringing, your family is on your case about an upcoming event, colleagues are firing questions at you and notifications keep popping up about things you haven’t got round to yet.

Keeping all the plates spinning is difficult enough on a normal day – how can you ditch the interruptions when your deadline really is crucial?

  • Schedule out some time in your diary and pop your headphones on at your desk. Better still, book a meeting room and lock yourself inside it.
  • Inform your colleagues and ask them not to interrupt you for a couple of hours.
  • Close your email, put your phone on silent and turn off notifications – even if you don’t read your messages and emails, the beeping is bound to distract you.
  • If it’s practical, take yourself away from your workplace altogether. A quiet café, a co-working space, or even working from home can help you be more productive without interruptions.

Make the most of peak energy

  • Do you know which time of day you work best? Prioritise your time to get your mountain of work done when you’re likely to be most productive.
  • Tackle at least one of your challenging jobs first thing, and the satisfaction of achievement will stand you in good stead to ride out the rest of the day productively.
  • Concentrating for a full eight hours may not be realistic every day. Take breaks, and if possible get some fresh air. A quick stroll around the block in the sunshine may just provide the refreshing perspective you need to successfully dive into the next job that needs to be ticked off.

Bring a healthy lunch

  • Deep down we all know it! A healthy meal during your work day is kind of important.
  • Coffee, pastries from the morning meeting and the chocolate bar you found at the bottom of your bag will play havoc with your blood sugar, and you’ll ultimately feel sluggish. Help control stress levels by eating healthily.

Break it down – take small bites

  • Do you have a mind-numbingly long list to work through, a particularly pressure-filled meeting to attend or a big project to deliver?
  • Sometimes, the only way to approach these stressful situations is to break it down into simple, bite-size steps that you can tick off as you go along.
  • Set realistic goals. There’s nothing as stressful as frantically trying to meet a target that is completely unachievable.
  • Define and identify the most important and critical steps, and list them. Then, do them, one by one. It’s amazing how ticking the list off systematically can reduce stress levels.
  • Take a moment to consider your role in the bigger picture. Are you taking on tasks that could be delegated? Is your colleague quite capable of performing tasks that you’re currently withholding for fear of not reaching perfection? Making a list of jobs that can be slid to another desk might just bring stress levels down to a more manageable level.

Don’t carry other people’s stress

  • Being in a management or supervisory position often means taking on other people’s problems. But what if that mountain gets to the point of burying you in a pile of stress? It’s time to do something about it.
  • Seek help from a superior, an equal in another department or someone in human resources. A problem shared is a problem halved, and a problem delegated is good stress management.
  • If the stress is coming from a team project of which you’re carrying the lions’ share, then call a team meeting and reiterate your shared goals. Prioritise each person’s task and move forward as a group.

Identify your stress triggers, and find perspective

If you’re finding that stress is a constant companion at work, rather than an intermittent situation tied clearly to deadlines, then you may need to look closely at what is causing it. Finding perspective may be the answer to preventing workplace stress from devouring your life on the outside.

  • Talk to colleagues or superiors to identify the root cause of the stress. Just talking through your problem may be of help.
  • Are you so entrenched in your work that you can’t see the light of day anymore? Gain perspective by considering the end goal of what you’re trying to achieve, and whether it’s worth the mental anguish you’re spending on it.
  • When you take a break, do it properly. Switch off your devices, leave your emails for tomorrow and allow yourself crucial time out. It may be as simple as going to the gym at lunchtime or after work, and leaving your phone far away in your bag or locker.
  • Sometimes, workplace stress can’t be helped but there has to be an end point. Book a holiday or a short break just after a deadline, and give yourself a breather to recuperate.
  • Know when to seek help. If you can’t shake the stress, consider talking to a professional to talk through what is causing it and to learn some coping mechanisms. Some workplaces offer counselling services and there’s no shame, or harm, in using these.

When it’s bigger than work, but impacts on work

Workplace stress may not stem from the work itself, but from an event that impacts your team, or society as a whole. This may be a shocking or tragic event, a seriously ill colleague or the announcement of a looming restructure.

  • Internalising this information without talking about it could lead to a great deal of internal stress. So how should you cope?
  • Talk to another colleague or friend about it. Sharing the load, and accepting that you are both feeling stress about the situation, may help.
  • Ask your boss to organise a meeting in a casual setting to acknowledge the event. Knowing there is support around may help everyone to cope a little bit better.
  • Do something proactive and positive. Organise a catered morning tea to allow casual discussion about an event that impacted everyone, prepare a support package for the colleague who is ill, or schedule an off-site lunch.

When is it time to move on from your job?

After a few years in the same job, one day you may find that your enthusiasm, high work standards and general attitude have been gradually deteriorating.

This may have come about following changes in the workplace that you don’t agree with – maybe your skills have outgrown the role, or you’re no longer being challenged and the enjoyment is waning.

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and identify if this is just a temporary rut or a permanent hole. But how do you know that it really is time to move on? Continue reading “When is it time to move on from your job?”

How to ask for a pay rise – and other tough questions

If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Often getting what you want in life can be be simply down to just asking for it. But when it comes to your career, it isn’t always that easy. A pay increase, a promotion, extended leave, flexible working hours – these are all things we may want from our job, but are afraid or reluctant to ask for. Continue reading “How to ask for a pay rise – and other tough questions”

Second interview – will you prepare a presentation?

There you are, just heard that you have made the cut and you’re through to the 2nd interview stage! Hopefully you have asked how many candidates have progressed to that stage, so that you have a sense of the amount of competition you have. Continue reading “Second interview – will you prepare a presentation?”

Are you struggling to concentrate?

A guest post from Zena Everett, Speaker and Author of Crazy Busy

Why is your brain constantly frazzled?

Can you remember the last time you were able to knuckle down to some deep, productive work? Or does your brain feel permanently frazzled as you toggle from one task to another, struggling to concentrate?

Find your Flow state

Remember when you last worked in flow? That’s when you were completely absorbed in your work, losing track of time, forgetting about the outside world. Flow is when we are at our most productive and creative. People who regularly work in flow (two hours a day ideally) report greater levels of happiness, work less hours and get paid more.

For most of us, this is a rare treat.  We get into flow once a week if we are lucky. We usually have to hide somewhere to do it.  Office life is a sticky molasses pool of digital distractions, routine administration, needless conference calls, unproductive meetings, powerpoint decks that no one reads and lengthy email chains.  We can’t actually WORK at work anymore.  Real work has to fit around the sides of the fake work.  It doesn’t matter if you are a genius or a goldfish, it’s impossible to concentrate on anything meaningful. It’s ridiculous!


Read these fixes to find your focus

Do one thing at once.  Don’t kid yourself you can multi-task. No one can: we can only do one significant task at once. You can’t listen in a meeting while doing your emails, or take a call during dinner, or interrupt writing a report to handle a query. It is an inefficient and ultimately chaotic way to live/work. Do one thing at once and learn to manage interruptions. Be fully present in whatever you are doing, so you can be 100% concentrating, 100% listening, 100% engaging, as the occasion demands.

Switch off.  Our brain is constantly bombarded with information and choices.   Give it a break. Switch off as many digital channels as you can so you can focus on what’s most important. Don’t check your emails constantly; build a routine of checking them several times a day and switching off notifications in between you aren’t distracted. People can call/text/find you if there’s a genuine drama. You don’t need to have your phone in front of you, pinging away, using up your attention. Wean yourself off it. Set an alarm to check it in 45 + minutes, and put it away. Let me know how good it feels when you try this.

Chunk your time.  Match your tasks to your time. Your diary should contain time to do actual work, as well as time for meetings. If your time is boundaried like this you don’t have to make a choice about what to do next and procrastinate or slide into doing the easy quick hit stuff that’s screaming out in front of you (your inbox). You just follow your plan. Batch up your tasks in 90 minute chunks so you aren’t switching from one to another, but doing all your emails at once, or writing reports, handling client queries, supporting colleagues and so on.

First things first.  Your first chunk of time must be for your priority tasks.  Your brain would prefer the dopamine hits it gets from the quick pay-off of easy, routine tasks like clearing your inbox. It is too easy to get bogged down with emails and queries that add little value whilst create more work for you and everyone else. They don’t move us forwards, but we hope they get us back to square one so that we can do our ‘real’ work. The problem is that we run out of time.  Reverse the pattern, get your energy up with a few quick wins, then move on to the big stuff asap. Just one priority task a day might be a realistic intention – don’t over-estimate what you can do. And perfectionists like me have to learn to live with some unfinished small stuff.

How to prepare for a video interview

Video interviews are becoming common practice, as more and more employers (but also recruitment firms) cut travel costs and are looking for more efficient ways to manage their time. However, in my experience, few individuals are well versed in making a good impression by video link and as this is often the final filter to decide whether you are invited for an in-person meeting, it is important to prepare well. Continue reading “How to prepare for a video interview”

Ready for your telephone interview?

Although we all spent a lot of time on our phones, we actually spent a very small proportion of that time speaking on the phone compared to 10 or 20 years ago. As interview processes often involve some sort of telephone interview, you’re well advised to give a phone interview a bit of thought and preparation. Particularly if you bear in mind that in a face-to-face conversation, 75% of effective communication is non-verbal.

So here are some tips that will help you prepare for a successful call.

Try to find out who will be interviewing you. Will there be multiple people on the call? If possible get their names and titles. Become familiar with these beforehand and you will have one less thing to worry about during the call. Try and get some background on the interviewer. Any insight you can gain about them will allow you to tailor your responses to make the best possible impression.

Make a list of your accomplishments, goals and strengths. On another list write out your weaknesses (or better still: your development needs) and what you are doing to overcome them. On a third sheet write down why you are interested in the company. Think carefully about all of these items as they often come up in interviews.

Never forget that a telephone interview is still an interview. Take time to practice interview questions with friends or family. Ask them to provide honest feedback so you can improve your responses. Mock interview questions can easily be found on the internet. If you get stuck on a question, sample answers to these questions are often provided as well.

During the mock interview, have your friend ask you questions both over the phone and in person. Make sure that they listen not only for content, but also tone, rate and clarity of your speech. If possible, record yourself speaking. Are you speaking slowly and clearly? Can you easily be heard? Is your voice portraying you as a confident and enthusiastic candidate? If not continue to practice until you are comfortable.

Find a quiet space to occupy during your interview. Ideally, there should be a comfortable place to sit as well as a table to lay out your papers. Try and find a low-traffic spot where members of the household are unlikely to disturb you.

Have a copy of your resume and cover letter close at hand. Take out those lists you made while organising your thoughts. In addition keep any notes related to the company that you feel may be helpful during the call. Spread these items out across your table so they are easy to access. Only keep what is truly necessary. Too much paper can be a distraction.

Have paper and pens handy for writing down notes, questions and most importantly, your interviewer’s names.

As the appointed hour draws near, make sure that the television and the radio are turned off. Exit your email and turn off your computer screen. If possible, disable your call-waiting. Let your family know about the timing of the interview so they do not accidentally disturb you.

The main rules are:

  • Think about how you normally answer the phone at home. When you answer the phone, do so by announcing your name, in an enthusiastic style: ‘John Pickles, Good Morning!’ If this is not your natural style, change it!
  • Sound interesting/interested, energetic and enthusiastic
  • Be succinct (don’t waffle)
  • Ask open-ended questions (beginning with who, what, when, why, where, how: these all ask for information, and keep the ball in the other person’s court). Be prepared that they will do exactly the same!
  • Don’t use jargon
  • Don’t swear or use colloquialisms (local phrases: ‘I covered the whole of London on Shanks’ pony’)
  • Be polite: Don’t use their first name unless invited to. Use their title if you know they are for example, a doctor.
  • Use the other person’s name regularly throughout the conversation (but not all the time). Also, use the company name a few times.
  • During the telephone interview, talk calmly, and with warmth. Standing can make you sound more confident and helps project a positive and professional image and smiling creates a friendly and enthusiastic impression. Do not forget to use gestures and facial expressions as you would normally do. They are translated and transmitted down the phone line. Smiling, and taking deep breaths help improve blood flow and improve your articulation.
  • To help you in establishing rapport on the phone, try to match your speaking rate and pitch to that of the interviewer.
  • Be a good listener. Your listening skills will be put to the test here, as your answers will reflect if you have been listening well or not. If you do not hear or understand what was said, do not hesitate to ask that it be repeated. Do not confabulate or make up questions.
  • Answer questions straight to the point, using short sentences. Do not say more than is expected of you. Use facts and figures, and show achievements. Let your interviewer see why you are priceless… do not overdo it of course.

Contact me if you’re not certain or would like more advice.

Good luck!

Maarten Jonckers

Employee engagement – what does it mean, and where do you start?

In any week, we often spend more time (awake) with our work colleagues than our much better other halves, family and friends. As a rule, you don’t marry someone you don’t trust and you do not befriend people you do not like, however some of us find ourselves spending over 8 hours a day in a business we do not 100% trust, working with colleagues we do not really like – how did that happen?

Every retailer knows that an engaged workforce will be:

  • more loyal
  • less inclined to be looking for other employment
  • more productive

… therefore saving the company money in recruitment and induction training, and saving time in managing underperformers.

All great news, however with an ever changing mind set and changing expectations regarding work / life balance, what factors influence employee engagement?

Research shows that the following areas will most affect whether people are engaged in working for your organisation, rather than just being happy in their job. In descending order:

1. Trust in leaders – Does the business clearly communicate their goals (vision, mission, etc)? And is the top management’s behaviour consistent with those goals? Do they keep their promises and do as they said they were going to do?

2. Relationship with immediate line manager – Does your organisation hire people who fit the company culture? Has the company culture been defined? Do managers behave and lead accordingly? What do line managers do to develop strong working relationships with their teams?

3. Environment – We have all heard about the Google offices and perks, not every business can (afford to) replicate that, however as we often spend more time in the office than home, it should look and feel more than acceptable – from furniture to technology, from wash room facilities to break-out areas, from the reception area to the meeting rooms. An easy rule of thumb: would you be proud to show your mother around the place you work?

4. Belief in the organisation – Do the people working for the organisation feel that the purpose of the business is worthwhile, or do they at least like the purpose? Is there an emotional connection? Easier in an upstanding charity business than in an investment bank I’d say….

5. Opportunities for career growth – Do people understand where they fit in and how they relate to others in the structure? Is there a clear path for promotion? Do people understand what would warrant a promotion?

6. Opportunities for development – Do individuals feel that they are coached, mentored, trained, developed, or are they just coming in to do a job, do it well and go home? Do people feel that they are developing their career or do they just have a job with a monthly pay cheque?

7. Relationships with colleagues – How does the business engender relationships and mutual understanding across the business? Not only is it helpful to know how your work ‘fits’ with the rest of the business, it also develops respect for each other when you all know how, together, you make the business tick.

8. Enjoyment of work – The job is the job is the job. Why do people enjoy their work? Different strokes for different folks. Find out from your team what makes them tick, look for common ground – how can you make their work more enjoyable?

9. Compensation level – Funnily enough, compensation is not no.1 in employee engagement, however it clearly is an important factor. If your business is a top quartile payer, than you’ll reduce staff turnover (after all, not all other businesses can match their pay), but you will also be able to recruit the top performers, who are more likely to be interested in career development.  And as long as you can deliver that, you will further reduce staff turnover … more stability in the business equals higher productivity.

10. Recognition programme – Is there a clear and consistent manner in which good work and good ideas are publicly recognised within the business? This is not difficult, yet so many businesses struggle with this or at least struggle to keep going once they have set up a recognition programme. Make it someone’s responsibility to drive this. So easy and so effective.

11. Business transparency – This really links in with point 1. Is everyone in the business clear on why they are there, what the objectives are and how you plan to meet these goals? Do you give regular, company-wide feedback on progress? What has gone well, what not so well? What are the obstacles in your way? Who has good ideas on how to deal with these? Those businesses, where everyone is in the same boat and all are rowing in the same direction, will reach their goals quicker and give their employees a real sense of achievement, belonging and pride!

At a time when demand outstrips supply of talented individuals, we’d better spend time and energy on keeping the ones we have. As a result you may just create the environment and engagement that attracts more talent!

From shop keepers to customer keepers

A guest post by Suzy Ross – Accenture

We must become a nation of ‘customer-keepers’.

By looking at their performance through the customer lens, rather than the usual store- and product-based metrics, retailers can see where exactly most of their profit is coming from.

There is no doubt that retailers across the UK are navigating very stormy waters. The ability to shop anytime, anywhere, anyhow has changed consumer behaviour more profoundly and rapidly than ever before.

Increasingly savvy and addicted to promotions, consumers have never had it so good. For retailers trying to adapt, some long-established principles that have served them well for years have fallen away with remarkable speed.

Even just a few years ago, retail growth was driven by expanding the customer base by opening a new shop in a new location. Retail was about land grab.

Today, as digital capabilities unlock a customer base all over the world, the future is all about a land grab for high-value customers.

The new organising principle for retailers in an omni-channel world is the customer. If retailers continue to make decisions based on a store- or channel- only basis they will miss opportunities.

A couple of examples illustrate why. One menswear retailer had concessions in a number of hotels. Sales per outlet were low and the concessions seemed obvious candidates for shutting down. However, analysis showed while revenue per outlet was low, the business was achieving remarkably high repeat sales from international customers who had stayed in the hotels but subsequently ordered via its digital channels. These stores were critical in acquiring high-value customers.

Another example. A women’s beauty retailer was looking at discontinuing a niche skincare brand. But analysis of its performance through the customer lens showed it was disproportionally important for its high-value, most loyal customers. So instead of discontinuing, the brand expanded.

What’s the common denominator in these examples? The customer. Or rather, it’s the analysis of business performance through the lens of customer profitability instead of through the traditional vector of store and product performance.

That new perspective creates a seismic shift in how retailers can manage their business.

What are retailers likely to find when they analyse their business from this new perspective? Chances are that most profit will come from a relatively small number of individuals.

Our analysis of 28 retailers – across geographies, sectors and sizes – highlights that typically 5% of customers generate a third of the profit, and 35% of the customer base accounts for 80% of the profit.

Even more extreme profit concentrations are frequently found.

More worryingly, as much as 2% of the customer base typically is loss-making because these customers are so adept at using discounts, promotions and returning items.

In fact, this focus on individual customer profitability enables a far more sophisticated set of customer strategies to retain and acquire the highest-value (and potential) customers.

For loyal customers, it’s all about keeping them and potentially nudging them into the next sale or a new category.

For new customers, it’s about managing them through the ‘getting to know you’ phase and converting them to loyalty quickly. And, of course, retailers always need new customers.

But it is about hunting for those with the high potential. Armed with the insights from their existing high-value customers, retailers can target individuals with forensic precision, using innovative, personal and creative marketing to get them on board with the brand.

Being a ‘customer-keeper’ is not a CRM strategy. It affects the entire organisation. The retailer needs to take all of its data and all of its insights into customers and profitability and rethink key areas of the operating model.

For instance, product design teams should now be leveraging customer data as a matter of course, understanding how a high-value customer differs from an average- or low-value customer.

Marketing needs to be assessing every action and investment through the lens of incremental customer lifetime profit.

How this new mindset influences different areas of a retailer’s business is one of the most important factors for them to explore.