Karyn Schoenbart is CEO of The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services to the world’s leading brands. A working mom, she often gave career advice to her daughter Danielle as she was growing up. By the time Danielle entered the workforce, she joked that she had received a “Mom. B.A” giving her a tremendous competitive advantage. Now years later, Karyn has written MOM.B.A: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next, based on her “lessons” to Danielle as well as on her thirty years of experience building a successful career. The book, filled with wise advice and numerous personal anecdotes, is noteworthy for Karyn’s candor and her delightful sense of humor. I recently spoke with Karyn about her favorite tips for those just starting out or climbing the corporate ladder.
“Your integrity is your biggest asset.” –Simon Chadwick
What’s the best way to make a good first impression?
It starts with how you show up. It’s important to dress appropriately for the occasion. But that doesn’t mean it is a “one size fits all” rule. Dress the way that matters to the people who matter. And when in doubt, find out! A few years ago, we were looking for someone to fill an executive position that would report to me. One of the candidates came to the interview in a very low cut dress. She was clearly qualified, but we didn’t know what to make of her choosing that particular dress for the interview. In the end, we all agreed: The candidate’s attire demonstrated a lack of judgment, and we didn’t want someone with poor judgment helping to run our company. We didn’t hire her.
How you speak is also a reflection on you. Avoid bad vocal habits like the dreaded up-speak (where every sentence ends as though it is a question).
In my experience, people like it when you call them by name – it shows you care. Make it a practice to remember and use people’s names. My tip for remembering names is to use it three times when meeting them; when introduced, during the conversation and finally when saying goodbye. It really works!
How do you build a good relationship with the boss?
Be the person your boss can count on. Step up and go above and beyond. Every positive interaction that you have is like putting money in the bank. Then if there is a problem, you have something to withdraw. Think of criticism as an investment in you. Your boss is taking the time to help you be better.
It’s also a good idea to get to know your boss as a whole person. Find out what matters to him or her and show an interest. One way to break through is to check in on a Monday or Friday, which creates an opportunity to interact on a more personal level (i.e. do you have any interesting plans for the weekend?).
“Focus on being a good listener, which includes being patient and attentive.” –Diane Bowers
How we work is changing. Technology is ushering in new possibilities. New generations enter the workforce with different expectations. With all the changes in play, there are some things that stay the same: the desire for fulfillment and purpose, the need to balance the professional with the personal.
Mason Donovan tackles these challenges in his new book, The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce. Mason is managing partner at The Dagoba Group, a New England-based diversity and inclusion consultancy. I had the opportunity to ask him about the changing nature of work, including generational changes, balance, mindfulness, and inclusion efforts.
Success Tip: Balance improves your relationships, satisfaction and productivity.
Is work-life balance possible? Why is it so important?
Work-life balance is possible. There are a lot of gurus out there that say it is not in order to capture your attention in this crowded field. Emphasis is on the word balance. If you ever walked on a high beam or anything else in which you needed to physically balance yourself, you most likely fell off a few times. Your balance will fall off to one side or the other. It is important that you anticipate for these moments of imbalance, so you have a plan to get up.
Achieving balance will make you more productive in and out of the workplace. It will enrich your relationships and allow you to achieve greater satisfaction in life.
“Alignment of purpose allows for the elimination of distractions.” -Mason Donovan
In the book, I tell the story of executives on an interpersonal retreat climbing a mountain. Their primary purpose was to reach the summit without talking about business. The objective was for them to get to know each other better personally and share an accomplishment. Without spoiling the story, their original goal is interrupted because they lost their purpose.
In order to know where you are going in life, it is important to understand why you are going there. Work-life balance is no exception. Only a handful of people actually stop and reflect on why they get up every day to spend the majority of their waking life in an organization. When that somewhat simple-but-necessary reflection does not take place, you will default to acquiring things and making money, which almost inevitably leads to the golden handcuffs phenomenon. You work more because you have to make more money. You make more money so you can acquire things that require you to work more.
There has been a societal shift in why individuals engage in work. Part of that shift is due to generational changes, while for others it was their awakening due to the Great Recession. Aligning your personal purpose in life with your work and organizational purpose will help you eliminate all of the noise that does not fit that purpose. Balance comes from awareness. In The Golden Apple, I provide simple exercises to not only develop, but also align your purpose at each level.
What are you finding in terms of generational changes? What are the new generations demanding at work? What’s the best way for current leaders to respond?
It is important to note that we are all unique individuals but are influenced by our shared group memberships such as our generation. Clumping everyone together and solely defining them by generational attitudes can overgeneralize any particular person. It is helpful to understand the influence of generational membership, which will give you a starting point when discovering their individuality.
Each generational cohort has a defining moment in the shaping of their shared psyche. When it comes to employment, for Generation X it was the broken promise of the organizational loyalty which fostered the cradle to grave jobs their parents subscribed to. Millennials were highly influenced by the Great Recession which ushered in massive layoffs, foreclosures and lowered career expectations. These defining moments create a collective influence on how cohorts view the work-life equation.
PwC’s NextGen study uncovered a generational shift when it came to work and personal engagement for their Millennial population. Uncovering this shift was important to them since by the year 2020, they expect that fully 80% of their employees will be Millennials. In short they found this group was far less likely to give up their personal life today for the prospect of a partnership down the road. The value structure was shifting more towards experiences than acquiring things.
Interesting to note is how this new value structure is also being reflected in Baby Boomers. The Great Recession robbed them of the ability to retire early as they saw their investments fail. It required them to reassess what they valued in life: time or things. Most have decided to choose to have life experiences in the time they have remaining. Downsizing acquisitions and upsizing experiences has become the trend for this generation.
Leaders need to better understand the value they offer to their current and future employees. By integrating work-life balance into their overall package, they will increase engagement and retention. They should look at this challenge through a holistic lens so they do not perceive it simply as a specific generational or gender issue. Policies and practices should be geared towards an inclusive solution that impacts the overall workforce.
Study: long working hours made 58% more irritable and over 25% depressed.
I’m a big believer in managing to strengths, and your book provides a set of tools for doing this effectively. What’s a quick definition of an attribute? How is that different from a skill?
An attribute is an inherent, instinctive trait. Think of it like the wiring of a person’s internal microchip. Attributes determine our perceptions of the world and the way we behave toward it.
It’s not surprising that people can sometimes confuse attributes with skills. Here’s the key: skills are learned and practiced rather than instinctive.
For example, a person with a high Relational attribute exhibits an innate sensitivity to other people and their feelings. This person can’t help but feel sad when others are sad, happy when others are happy, etc. That’s not a skill; it’s a natural attribute.
Now let’s say that this same person wants to really leverage her Relational attribute, so she decides to practice some related skills. She might choose to hone her effective listening skills, to help her tune into other people for even more profound insight.
In this way, skills can enhance our strongest attributes. But they’ll never replace those innate characteristics.
“Skills enhance our strongest attributes.” – Bill Munn
You talk about 3 forces that fuel some negative biases. Let’s focus on #1: the myth of well-roundedness. It seems that this appears everywhere. Why is this one damaging to professional growth?
The myth of well-roundedness pervades our world today—this idea that we’re somehow supposed to be good at everything. What a damaging theory! That’s not how we’re built.
Just look at the most successful people—those you know, those in the public eye, those who have defined history. They’re full of flaws and failures, and they’re full of greatness. Do they become successful by trying to become well rounded? No. They focus on what they’re great at, so they are great.
“Successful living requires prioritizing.” –Bill Munn
The fact is, successful living requires prioritizing. If we were immortal, we could waste years trying to get a little better at our challenge attributes. But we have limited time. And if we focus on optimizing our power-alley attributes, we’ll see a much higher return on investment for the effort expended. Our teams and companies benefit much more from this approach—not to mention our own careers (and personal lives).
Think of it this way: An eagle could probably improve its swim stroke a bit, to become a more “well rounded” creature. But with that same effort, think what it could do for its flight speed and soaring height. So when was the last time you saw an eagle working on its backstroke?
“Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.” –Zig Ziglar
Never! I love that example. Would you share an example or two of an attribute from the inventory?
Developer is our term for one who naturally encourages, teaches, and prioritizes other people’s growth and development. This person prefers working behind the scenes, rather than getting the spotlight for himself. Actually, Skip, Developers make great leadership bloggers—or coaches, teachers, mentors, etc. They’re also great leaders, because when people care about your growth, you want to follow them.
A Logician perceives the world in terms of cause, effect, and logic. She assumes that events flow rationally and that people do things for logical reasons. (As you can imagine, she’s an opposing attribute to the Relational we talked about earlier, who is so tuned into emotion and other “illogical” factors.) The Logician looks for data and analytics to describe situations and assumes that solutions lie in the facts.
How do I find out my own high and low attributes, my profile?
We actually use an array of tools to do this, including a questionnaire, assessment, and analysis exercises that you can do on your own or with a partner. The goal of all these tools is to help you define your own profile, which will consist of a few different categories:
Power-alley attributes: Your most natural traits, the attributes you basically exhibit no matter what – in fact, it would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) for you to avoid demonstrating these traits.
Functional attributes: These attributes (which we break down further into 3 functional levels) are like tools you keep in the garage rather than on your tool belt – they’re available to you, but it takes a bit of extra effort to access them.
Challenge attributes: These are the 1 or 2 attributes at the bottom of your list – the things that you just don’t do really well, no matter how hard you work at it.
When I’m working with others, knowing their attributes is as important as knowing my own. What’s the best way to do this (if I can’t have them take a test)?
This is where our tools for listening (and watching) for revelation become so valuable. Since our attributes are inherent and ingrained, we reveal them constantly in the things we do and say.
It’s analogous to a radio station constantly broadcasting. But to hear it, we have to tune in. Same with people. We constantly “broadcast” our attributes through our descriptions of events, our stories about people we liked or disliked, our reactions to outside stimuli – in short, through our response to life events.
Effective listening focuses on accurately tuning into the content of what the speaker says. That’s essential and always important. Listening for revelation, however, is an additional step that goes beyond content and unearths the speaker’s attributes.
First, you teach your team that the attributes they find so irritating in others are actually the very traits (and people) best positioned to help them better perform, grow, and develop.
Second, you emphasize that there are no “good” or “bad” attributes. Each attribute brings something important and valuable to the table. This perspective helps people become intrigued by others’ behaviors. Team members soon stop thinking in terms of who they “like” and start supporting one another in incredible ways.
That’s the big picture. There are also many nuts-and-bolts tools for applying this concept in building, balancing, and growing your teams—team attribute matrices, team-building ideas, hiring practices, etc.
Hyrum W. Smith is the co-founder and former CEO of Franklin Covey. His latest book The 3 Gaps: Are You Making a Difference?, shows how to lead a fulfilling life by closing these gaps. The book is filled with stories of people who overcome challenges to live a life of purpose.
“Governing values are simply a description of one’s highest priorities.” -Hyrum Smith
I recently asked him about his latest work on achieving a meaningful and impactful life, a life in balance.
3 Life Gaps
The Beliefs Gap. The gap between the behaviors that meet our needs and those that do not.
The Values Gap. The gap between what we value and where we actually spend our time.
The Time Gap. The gap between what we plan to do and what we actually do.
You share four steps for monitoring and changing your beliefs. Is there one that most people struggle with?
Typically, the hardest thing for any of us to do is to admit that “the only problem in my life is me.” This is why the very first step is to admit that the problem lies with us. It is perhaps a sign of our times that we tend to externalize more today than ever before. We don’t look first to ourselves but tend to blame circumstances or the actions of others for our challenges. Getting past that first hurdle is the key to closing this gap.
“Any belief that drives behavior that does not meet your basic needs over time is an incorrect belief.” -Hyrum Smith
How and why do people often get off track with their stated values?
One of the ways we miss the mark is by failing to realize the importance of identifying our key values. Life is filled with “have to do” events and “someone expects me to do” events and “once in a while I’d like to do something for myself” events. It takes a concerted effort to identify the values that should be our highest priorities and then to compare our activities to those values. We get off track because we don’t focus on these values. We assume that they will take care of themselves. They usually don’t.
“The only thing you have 100% control over is you.” -Hyrum Smith
This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.
Questions to Shape The Year Ahead
It is that time of year when many people assess the past year and make plans for the next one. Businesses develop strategies and goals, individuals write resolutions and families plan vacations. Many individual plans involve possessions, places and events.
One of the most important, but perhaps difficult, topics to assess is personal improvement. If you are happy with yourself and your current situation, everything else will seem better. Since it is sometimes more difficult to “see yourself” and develop actions for self-improvement, here is a list of questions to help identify some candidate areas for improvement.
The list covers many topics to generate ideas. I suggest that you simply read the list, make lots of notes as you go and not try to develop or prioritize actions until later. Suggestions for next steps are discussed at the end.
“If you are happy with yourself and current situation, everything else will seem better.” –Bruce Rhoades