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Advice, not Coaching April 23, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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The job-search scene is hard enough.  You send applications, letters, resumes, and networking requests, spend hours searching the same boards over and over again hoping that this week, it will be different.  Unless you have considerate friends to give good feedback, or actually pay money to have someone review and edit your personal documents, you rarely get much constructive criticism or suggestions for improvement.

Enter Shea Gunther.

His clean tech job ad, unsurprisingly, drew hundreds of eager applicants looking for a great writing gig.  Anyone who reads applications for a living surely can guess at the percentage of worthwhile responses, and can probably sympathize with Gunther”s realization that there are truly a lot of bad resumes out there.

Perhaps out of frustration, he took it upon himself to write what appears to be a well-thought-out rejection letter (also here) – something most prospective employers wouldn’t bother to do.  Most applicants are lucky to get a form letter response, if anything at all.

So what went wrong?  Wouldn’t most people want helpful tips to improve their future search?  It turns out, not.  And, it turns out, this should not be a surprise to anyone.

While there are many hardy souls out there who took Gunther’s words at face value, many more thought he was being insensitive, arrogant, egotistical, and all manner of other unprintable names.  Gunther’s mistake was in believing that he could coach these people without ever meeting them.  He was giving unsolicited advice that triggers the human defense mechanism – he literally caused most reader’s brains to react with automatic rejection of their own (if you want to find out how this works, I highly recommend the book “Your Brain on Business”).

The takeaway from all this is that constructive advice is most helpful if the adviser is aware of the listener’s motivations in the first place.  A coach is someone who supports the individual’s effort and provides the necessary leeway to allow some degree of failure.  But this only works if the coach understands that individual’s limits and personal goals.  Basic, unfiltered advice is all over the internet, and most people have a high tolerance for sarcasm and cynicism.  But if the intent is to provide truly helpful and personal guidance, there’s only one way to do it – and it doesn’t involve a keyboard.

For Shea’s rebuttal to the naysayers, click over to salon.com

Parenting for Business April 16, 2012

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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I’ve often noted that the experiences and preparation that build our abilities come from unexpected places.  So it is with almost any kind of consulting work, in which one must serve in many roles at once – from a coach, to a business partner, to a “doctor” of the ills that affect many organizations.  Not to mention being open to learning something yourself along the way.

In many respects, being a parent can prepare you to fill these various roles – and sometimes it works the other way as well.  Spacefem’s post expresses some of that commonality, and I completely agree that parenting, like the work environment, is all about persuasion, compromise, and personal balance.

We try hard to choose our battles wisely, to focus only on the few things that matter the most.  For many years, like the Miranda act for project managers, I’ve said that, “If you are unable or unwilling to choose a battle, one will be provided for you.”  As a parent, this is almost a daily occurrence.  As a manager, it is an important reminder that not only must one ruthlessly focus and prioritize, but must quickly be able to switch horses when the next problem comes along.

Qualifiers April 10, 2012

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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It’s not uncommon for people to hedge their speech when stating a fact.  A fun game is to see how many of these someone can string together in one sentence.

What Will You? April 3, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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Almost every project contains a “post-mortem”.  I’ve always disliked the concept, not just due to the connotation of death (especially if the project was indeed successful) but because it implies that the only lessons we learn are those at the end – and that they are in turn due to some failure.

Simply learning from failures is a reaction to outcomes rather than setting out to learn during the process.  Case in point: how many performance reviews are there that ask the question, “What did you learn from the experience?”  All retrospective.  20/20 hindsight.  No challenge, just facts (and hazy recollections of them at best).

Instead, try turning the question around.  Ask, “What will I learn from this?”  Now, you are on the leading edge, looking forward.  Failures are possible, but so are successes.  You are moving forward with intention, rather than being carried down the stream looking back.  You plan on learning something – anything – from your next experiences.  Lessons that may have easily been forgotten many months later can be recorded, recognized, and immediately taught to others.

The nice thing about will?  It’s free.