Friday, November 28, 2008

Reply to All

A colleague of mine called me on Wednesday night and said, "Next time you write about business, please address 'reply to all.'" Then, I said, "And spam. Nothing is worse than spam, especially if it is promoting a point of view that doesn't belong in business." She agreed that sappy poems about dead relatives, religious dogma and off-color jokes don't belong in business communications.

So what is "Reply to All"?
When you receive a message from the boss and every other employee gets the same message, that does not mean everyone on the team wants to know your input or even needs to. If they are your peers, they're probably not the decision maker in the situation, but like you, needs to be aware of information that the supervisor is sending out.
  • If you have a question, reply only to the sender.
  • Do not reply at all if you're not required to and if you understand the message that was sent initially. Your supervisor is paid too much money to read an in-box full of, "Thank you" and "I agree" messages.
What is Spam?
Spam originally got its name from a Monty Python song whose lyrics consist of the same word over and over again: Spam. The repetition, lack of necessary content, and annoyance at receiving these junk e-mails can be frustrating at best.

Before you select "send" ask yourself:
  • Is this business related or related to the professional development of anyone on this team? If so, you should send it only to those who are directly connected the message.
  • Is it promoting a personal view (including political, religious, or any area that can be considered an "-ism" such as sexism or racism)? If so, STOP and do not send.
  • Is it in celebration of a holiday, cause or event that the company is sponsoring? If so, send it along to those who will need to make work adjustments to be on board.
  • Is it in celebration of a holiday, cause or event that is not connected to work, professional development of any staff, or just sounds like fun? Unless there is a precedent set by the management to send out such information, don't do it. You never know who you may offend and it might land you in a chair in the human resources office if supervisors feel you're not using work time to do your job first, and play on your own time.
  • Is it religious in nature? Unless you work for a religion-based company, don't send it. The world is full of enough discrimination without someone having to hear, yet again, how your point of view is good, right and best. Be respectful and responsible and never assume that "everyone" at the office celebrates the same religious holidays or customs. It is simply narrow-minded in this global age to believe that everyone is the same.
In short, e-mail is a tool for business when you're at work. If what you're sending does not support the business or the message of the company, you should save those messages for your circle of friends or social media sites that you access off the clock.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Entering and Exiting with Grace

Imagine you're in a meeting that has already begun. Five minutes into the session, someone barges in announcing, "I'm sorry I'm late. Can you go back to the beginning?"
He is told by the meeting chair, "No, we're moving forward. If you have questions after the session, please speak with me."
The latecomer announces, "But I couldn't find a parking place! You're not fair."
Then, three more people walk in late demanding to know what is going on and the situation snowballs into a meeting filled with tension.

What's unacceptable about this situation?
  • Is the the meeting chair's response that the meeting is moving forward?
  • What about the first tardy attended who interrupted?
  • Did he set a precedent for the other three tardies?
From this scenario it is difficult to know for certain for the full circumstances. However, if the chairperson has said the meeting will continue, he or she has the final say. Period.
If the latecomers are indeed late, they ought to have the class and understanding not to interrupt when they enter, but to come in quietly and get their bearings before asking questions.

From a business point of view, questioning a supervisor, anyone running and meeting or in authority in front of others in the same manner the first man did may result in disciplinary action and exclusion from further meetings, even if he had a legitimate excuse solely because he was rude, inappropriate and obnoxious.

When you enter or exit a meeting already in progress, do so silently and with grace.
As my mother said to me countless times, "You can make people smile when you enter a room or when you leave a room. The choice is based upon how you act around others." I say, in the business world, how you act also determines your opportunities.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cell Phones and Professionalism

Unless you work for a cellular service provider, it is almost never acceptable to take calls during a meeting, training, class or discussion with another. This includes allowing your phone to buzz away endlessly as a persistent caller tries to reach you during such a professional event. Most schools, colleges and universities included, ban cell phone use in the classroom to prevent cheating and to make sure students are paying attention in class.

Penalties for Mobile Phone Use in Education and Business
  • If you're in public k-12 education, the phone can be confiscated. One district I used to work for required offenders' parents to come in and collect the phone and repeated offenders could be given in-school suspension.
  • If you're in college, you can be barred from the rest of the class, and sent home for disruption.
  • In any academic setting, if you're texting or taking calls during and exam, you can be charged with cheating and expelled.
  • One networking group I belong to charges members fees if their phones go off during a presentation ($1 if it rings or buzzes, and $5 if you take the call).

The crux of the matter is this: cell phones are not appropriate in all situations. Know that unless you have express permission to use them in business or academic settings, you will face consequences, even if the only repurcussion to be thought of as an absolutely rude person.

Remember: The perceptions others have of your seriousness and professionalism can hurt your career beyond repair.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Failure is Gateway to Success

Peter Shankman of Help A Reporter Out sent me this video today. If you are afraid to take a risk, it may be the message you need to get up and try.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Attitude Influences Opportunity

Have you ever applied for a job after earning your training in the field and not been able to find work even if positions in your field were abundant? Take stock in your academic performance and you might be surprised. The truth is that the problem may have started your first day of school. Did you groan over the magnitude or type of work you were given? Did you threaten to quite because it was too hard or you just didn't get it? Ever hang out in a pack of students and gripe about an instructor? Were you a student who "texted" in class and didn't go the extra mile on your homework and classwork? Although these things are not directly related to you knowledge base, they did influence what other people saw about your personality and what you had to offer. That impression will remain with them, and haunt you, long after graduation. Teachers, deans, admissions reps and placement officers all ask each other, "Who goes the extra mile? Who always came to class no matter what? Who did the best work and is the best representative of our school?" I can promise, the negative, no-show, nay-sayers are not the ones that get the job of their dreams. Every negative choice these people make take money out of their own pockets for their future. The choice is simple. Life is chaotic and full of surprises. Work and training require effort, application of knowledge and everyone wants to be associated with positive people who get the job done. If you're not with the program from day one, you won't be hired when all is said and done.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

When No One is Watching

I believe that integrity,  responsibility and respect are best shown in a person's character when they believe no one is watching. Recently, a class of college students and I were talking about the harsh realities of working retail and service sector jobs. A student told the class that she hated customers who always wanted something for free. She gave an example of a man at a fast food restaurant saying, "And that's buy one-get one, right?" Instead of saying, "I'm sorry, sir, but we do not have that special here." She said, "Yes, sir. You'll get one free." Then we went around the corner out of his sight, spit inside the bun of a sandwich and gave both to the man with a smile. 

Now, several things flashed across my mind in this situation. First, I can't believe she would do such a disgusting act. Secondly, she lied to a customer to get some kind of revenge, when he was asking a question she could have given an honest answer to. Third, she admitted to this atrocious act in front of all her peers and a teacher who is in a position to recommend her (or not) for future employment, and she showed absolutely no remorse. 

What do you do when asked to do something that is not policy? Do you cave in to make a customer happy? Do you lie to the customer and do what could get you fired? Do you take revenge on someone for an innocent question? Do you celebrate your indiscretions and wonder why blessings don't come back on you?

As an educator I'm often told by students I've got an attitude or I'm "cold" because I will not bend on deadlines or policies. I have worked far too long and too hard to build up integrity with those I value. If I were to break a policy to appease a student or customer when I know that doing so will put my company/school in a bad light, make my supervisor question my integrity or make me appear as a pushover when push comes to shove, I am the one who will pay the highest price for my choice. 

Here's an example. A student gets ill during an exam and must leave class. Later on, that student comes to me and wants to finish his exam. Do I give him the same exam knowing he's had several days to look up answers to the one he's seen before, knowing no other student got that opportunity? No other student would see if he did the same exam. It would be my word against his, right? It is worth far more to me to say, "I'm sorry, but I cannot let you retake the same exam. You can, however, take a different version of the exam at a later date." Then set a date with the student to come in outside of class hours to make it up. The student may tell me I'm unfair, that my attitude stinks because I'm implying he cheated, and so forth, but in the end, doing the right thing is worth the momentary wrath of someone who has put me in a position to make a call of integrity, responsibility and respect.