Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Perfect Decision

Decision-making, and the ability to make timely, effective decisions is said to be a key and necessary trait of a true leader.

I'm currently working with an organisation whose managers, on the whole, lean toward an 'avoidant' management style - that is, they put off making decisions. This is problematic because it can slow organisations down, mean that they become more bureaucratic with much consensus sought before someone has the confidence to make a decision. Rather than driving change and being in control, these managers become reactive and buffeted by constant change happening around them. It makes them more cautious and locks them in a cycle.

I find this a particularly interesting phenomenon because it is (as a CBT psychologist might say) the product of faulty thinking. Managers with an avoidant style tend to believe that there will be a perfect answer to their problem -they just need to figure out what that is. Sometimes this is driven by (and also drives) an immature organisational culture where people are either golden children (good) or sabateurs (bad). These cultures are often punitive and unforgiving, with manager having little confidence to stick their neck out or making a stand. They encourage others to tow the line. (Note: the opposite style is outwardly aggressive)

The second trait many avoidant-style manager have is that they are very high on the 'agreeability' continuum of personality. For them, being unpopular is a painful experience they fear. Whilst their personalities attract supporters and they can be quite influential, when it comes to the cold hard truth, this is their weakness. They can appear to be passive aggressive - agreeing to one thing and doing another.

So what do you do if you are a manager who gets hot under the collar when you are pressed for answers, or you are managing (and hopefully coaching) someone like this?

The first thing is to understand that sometimes a timely decision is more important than the right decision; often more data or yet another meeting does not mean a better decision. For a greater appreciation, read 'Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell.

If you work in an organisation, or with people like this, it is important to support them in their decision, encourage them to take more risks, and don't punish them when one goes wrong. Emphasise that it is important to keep learning and developing competence. As Bill Gates says 'success is a lousy teacher'. Sometimes our mistakes make us better, more human (an appealing trait in a leader!) and more competent on the whole. No-one wants to work in an organisation where you are always looking over your shoulder and don't have room to breath.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Resume Writing

I am often asked to give input to friends or family brushing up their resumes. I'm inclined to give you a diatribe but then a 'zenibyte' is meant to be short and sweet! Assuming that you've got the basics sorted, here are my top practical tips:

1. Don't use adjectives (descriptive words) to sell your skills
I read so many resumes where people claim to have 'high level communication skills' or 'excellent time management'. Speaking frankly as the person whose desk your CV lands on - what you perceive to be 'high level communication skills' and what I know them to be are quite different things - they are subjective. They don't help your case in any way because they suggest that you are trying to fudge your resume or fool me because you don't have the goods.

2. Set out the skills you developed in a role instead of providing a position description
A lot of people use up space describing what the company did, and the activities their role involved. This tells me nothing about how effective you were in the role and how you got along with others. To overcome this, use one line only to describe your duties, then list the skills or technical knowledge you developed in the role.

Remember that you developed important skills in your very first job which you have built on. For example, for my first job at McDonalds I 'developed an ability to work in a relentlessly busy environment' and 'an understanding of how to communicate clearly with team members'. As I moved into restaurants I built on this by learning 'interpersonal skills allowing me to deal with many types of people - chefs, colleagues and customers'.

3. Work hard to avoid listing generic skills
The skills that are listed on every resume I see are: attention to detail, organised, communication skills. These not only bore me but do nothing to convince me you actually understand or have these skills which are different at different levels and types of jobs. To overcome this, think about the challenges you had in each job you worked in. When I think back on my time working in a busy, inner city restaurant/ cafe, I always remember how angry the chefs were and having to put up with this! On my resume it becomes 'ability to deal with different types of people', or 'ability to deal with conflict'.

If you can do this well, it sets you up for a good interview too. An interviewing manager will say 'it says here that you worked in a restaurant and dealt with conflict - can you tell us about that?' You know your own history so it will immediately remind you of some scenarios you dealt with and can tell them about.

4. Layout
Use a contemporary, fresh layout that represents you. Do not use Times New Roman, this says that you are old fashioned and probably don't have great computer skills. There are plenty of free templates available for download. Try

5. Don't talk about being enthusiastic or a fast learner
I see this so often! It tells me that you don't meet the criteria I've advertised, but you want me to give you the job anyway. To overcome this, try to identify what we in HR call 'transferrable skills'. An example of this is when I wanted to move into employee/ industrial relations which involves negotiating with unions. I had very little experience negotiating with unions, however I had been working as a volunteer crisis telephone counsellor for a while and I certainly did some difficult and tense negotiating there. I picked up some experience which was applicable to what I wanted to do and my prospective employer felt more comfortable that I would succeed in negotiating with union officials.