Category Archives: Marty Martin

How to Manage Distracted Employees

By Dr. Marty MartinMarty Martin

As all managers know, workday distractions are everywhere, stealing your employees’ precious time and productivity. Between new technologies that beg for people’s attention to the prevalence of shortened attention spans, everyone on your team has the opportunity to be more distracted today than in the past. Of course, being distracted at work creates numerous problems from missed opportunities to strained business relationships. Therefore, you need to effectively manage your employees so their distractions are minimized.

First, realize that there are two categories of distraction. One is internal distraction, and the other is external distraction. Internal distractions include any physiological, emotional, attitudinal, biological, or physical discomfort. Some examples include having an upset stomach or a headache, worrying about a personal or professional matter, feeling overwhelmed with tasks, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, experiencing anger toward a co-worker, grieving a loss, etc. Any of these things can quickly take an employee off track from his or her tasks.

External distractions include other people and technology. Some examples include co-workers who stop by someone’s office to chat, social media and text alerts ringing on a smart phone, email notifications popping up on a computer screen, other employees who talk loudly in the office, etc. These seemingly innocuous items easily divert people’s attention.

The real challenge is that most employees aren’t experiencing just one or two of these distractions. They’re facing multiple each day. Consider this common scenario: A customer service representative is responsible for telephone, email, and chat communications. When a customer calls in, the rep has scripts to follow for each scenario. In addition to working from the memorized scripts, she is also instant messaging with customers and answering emails. In fact, her computer screen is divided into quarters: one quadrant has the details of the caller on the phone, and the other three quadrants are active chats she’s engaging in simultaneously. She’s also in an office space where the physical difference between her and the next customer service representative may be 5 to 8 feet. Even though she’s wearing a headset, she can still hear the other reps talking. The person to her right likes to stand while he talks, so that visually distracts her. The chair she is sitting on is old and uncomfortable. And because the company is trying to save money, they have the thermostat set to 80 degrees in the middle of summer. The distractions seem never-ending!

On top of all the internal and external distractions, organizational structures have changed over the years, packing in more duties and responsibilities to every job description. That means your employees today have to spread their attention thin just to complete their expected workload. With all of these factors, it’s no wonder so many people feel distracted at work.

Fortunately, most distractions can be eliminated from the workplace, if you take the time to manage them. Here’s how.

Design or redesign a job from a distractibility point of view: When a manager has a distracted employee, it’s natural to blame the person and say things like, “He’s not a team player,” “She’s not motivated,” or “He doesn’t work well here.” The manager may even reprimand the individual for poor performance. But before you go that route, take a good look at the job and environment to see if it’s making the employee distracted.

In other words, look at the job from a distractibility point of view. What are the job duties, both the ones explicitly stated in the job description and the ones that person just always seems to do? What’s the working environment like? What visual or auditory distraction triggers are present? How is the office set up? How are the lighting, the chair, and the desk layout? What other factors impact the employee’s efficiency, effectiveness, and performance?

Realize that if the work environment and the job are poorly designed, you will continue to bring in highly talented individuals who will not do well—not because of them, but because of the bad job design. Therefore, before you reprimand, analyze! What you find may surprise you.

Create a Distraction Elimination Plan for your distracted employees: Think back to your elementary school days. You likely had a few kids in the class who always bothered others, threw spit balls, or just stared out the window for hours. What did the teacher do? She had a plan. If the kids were disruptive to the class, she’d move them up front near her. If they were window gazers, she’d orient their desk so they could no longer see the window. No matter what the disruptive behavior, she knew what to do because she had a plan in mind for it.

Good managers do the same. They sit down with the distracted employee and together create a Distraction Elimination Plan (DEP). By working together, they may decide on some physical changes in the office that can help, such as moving to a new cubicle or changing the lighting, or they may figure out some strategies the employee can use to maintain focus, such as not having an email program always open or disabling smart phone alerts.

The great thing about a plan is that it gives you something concrete to reference and use as a benchmark to gauge progress. Additionally, all organizations have risk management plans, strategic plans, operational plans, and business plans … so why not also have distraction elimination plans? Remember, distractions rarely self-resolve. So the better the plan, the better the results.

Offer other resources when needed: Sometimes, even with the manager’s help and a solid DEP in place, the employee is still distracted. In these cases, the manager has to know when to offer additional resources. If your organization has an employee assistance program, you may want to consider making a recommendation to an appropriate resource or service.

If your organization does not have an employee assistance program, then present the idea of additional help in a supportive and neutral fashion. You could even suggest it as a step in the DEP, as in “If the outlined steps in this plan don’t resolve the issue, then the employee will seek outside assistance in the form of a counselor or therapist.” The key is to help the employee find the needed resources in order to determine if their situation is more serious than simple distractions.

No More Distractions: The next time you notice you have some employees who are underperforming, don’t immediately reprimand them. Instead, take the time to determine if there’s something you or the company can do to remove the distractions from the workplace. Distractions don’t have to be a major part of the workday. You can help minimize them. Remember, the fewer distractions people have, the more productive they’ll be.

Dr. Marty Martin, known for his state-of-the art content presented in an engaging, dynamic fashion, has been speaking and training nationally and internationally for many years. His book, Taming Disruptive Behavior, is being published by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE). Dr. Martin is the Director of the Health Sector Management MBA Concentration and Associate Professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, please visit his website: www.drmartymartin.com.

Three Mindset Changes that Can Enhance Your Career Trajectory

By Dr. Marty MartinMarty Martin

Positioning yourself in the marketplace and staying relevant to potential employers involves much more than simply developing career specific skills and writing a great résumé. Your mindset and attitude play a large part in your professional success. In fact, there are three specific mental programming techniques that can make a huge difference in whether you fulfill your career aspirations or flounder occupationally.

1. Abundant Thinking: You can approach your career, job search, or anything in life from one of two viewpoints: scarcity or abundance. With scarcity thinking, the belief sounds something like this: “There are a limited number of jobs, and there are many more people who are qualified for any particular job. Therefore, I have to make sure I’m number one. Too bad there’s really no unique way for me to stand out.” Scarcity thinking tends to fuel competitiveness, aggressiveness, and even learned helplessness. After all, why bother trying if you tell yourself that you don’t have a chance of succeeding anyway?

The flip side of scarcity thinking is abundant thinking. With abundant thinking, the inner dialogue sounds something like this: “There are plenty of opportunities available. It’s just a matter of finding the one that works best with my unique skill set and experience. With a little patience and time, I’ll be able to find the right position for me.” Abundant thinking tends to promote tenacity, persistence, and realism. It enables you to reflect on your gifts and talents in a more holistic fashion, rather than a narrow fashion.

Of course, abundant thinking doesn’t mean delusional thinking. You have to be realistic. For example, perhaps the career you want really does have a limited number of positions, such as being an astronaut. Mathematically, it’s true that there are a limited number of astronauts. If you think abundantly, though, you can say, “My chances of being an astronaut may be limited, but perhaps there’s a position that supports astronauts that I can investigate. So what are some astronaut-related occupations? Who supports astronauts? What technology do they use a lot? If they have a crisis, who helps them?” When you keep your focus on abundance rather than scarcity, you are better able to recognize the opportunities available to you.

2. Creativity: A positive effect of abundant thinking is that it fosters creativity, which is also important when seeking a new position or enhancing your professional life. For example, suppose you’re contemplating a career change. When many people start envisioning a new future for themselves, they immediately believe there is only one path to get there (scarcity thinking). However, there’s something called the law of equifinality, which means there are multiple paths to the same destination (abundant thinking). In essence, when you’re creative your goal might be fixed, but you recognize that there are multiple ways to achieve that goal.

Suppose you want to be a nurse because you’ve heard it’s a growing profession with many opportunities and high pay. At first you may just see one path: enroll in a bachelors in nursing program (BSN). If enrolling right now isn’t feasible, you may give up on the idea, believing there’s no way you can do it. Here’s where creativity comes into play. While enrolling in a BSN program is a valid path, it’s really just one option. You could also start out as an emergency medical technician (which requires less training), then get an associate’s degree or diploma in nursing, and then go to the BSN program. You could join the military and go to nursing school there. You could start by working in a support role within a hospital or medical practice to gain some medical experience and then enroll in a BSN program. If you think creatively about what you want, you’ll find numerous ways to get to the end goal.

Of course, for some people, knowing they have numerous paths anywhere can be cognitively overwhelming, because human memory limits are, on average, seven bits of information. In other words, it’s difficult for many people to keep all those variables in their head. The good news is you don’t have to keep all the options in your head. You can use a spreadsheet to track the information or just jot it in a notebook. The key is to allow yourself to creatively think about your future so you can expand your possibilities.

3. Emotional Nonattachment: To decide on which path to take, you can’t be emotionally attached to one certain way. If you have scarcity thinking, you have one destination and one path, so you are naturally extremely emotionally attached. All your eggs are in one basket. If it works out to your advantage, you’re exhilarated. But if it works out to your disadvantage, you’re devastated. And if you’re uncertain as to how it will work out for a long period of time, you’re chronically anxious.

Being emotionally nonattached does not mean to be apathetic or lethargic. Emotional nonattachment means having an underlying recognition that all things in life are temporary. Of course, this doesn’t mean you don’t want to commit yourself. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to fully enjoy and be in the experience. But it is the recognition that everything eventually goes away.

Here’s how emotional nonattachment can work for you in a job search. Let’s say you go into an interview and tell yourself that you have to have this job. You have to come out on top. You have to make sure they’re impressed with you. You have to make sure they extend a job offer. Clearly, you are emotionally attached. So that may come out as you being over enthusiastic, as being a little bit too pushy, or as being overly aggressive during the meeting. But if you’re emotionally nonattached, you can be engaged in the conversation of the interview without being attached to what the outcome is. As a result, you come across as natural, relaxed, conversational, and sincere. Basically, being emotionally nonattached takes the pressure off of you, which naturally makes you look better. If you don’t get the job, you will still experience disappointment, but to a lesser degree. So it’s not about ignoring the emotion. By all means, feel the emotion; just don’t be attached to it.

A New You: When you engage in abundant thinking, focus on creativity, and practice emotional nonattachment, you’re actually changing your perception of your career, of the job market, and of yourself. As a result, you gain the confidence needed to make a major change in your professional life. In fact, the more you apply these three mindset principles, the more successful you’ll be in all areas of life.

Dr. Marty Martin, known for his state-of-the art content presented in an engaging, dynamic fashion, has been speaking and training nationally and internationally for many years. His book, Taming Disruptive Behavior, will be published by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2013. Dr. Martin is the Director of the Health Sector Management MBA Concentration and Associate Professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, please visit his website: www.drmartymartin.com.

To Drive Performance, Manage the Whole Employee

By Dr. Marty MartinMarty Martin

The term “human resources management” is essential in business. But have you noticed that the majority of the literature about the topic focuses on the “resources” and the “management” aspects but barely addresses the “human” element? As a result, most managers see their employees as resources to be managed, and not as a whole person that can contribute so much more.

Managing the whole person means acknowledging that everyone is multi-dimensional and has numerous roles to balance in life—all of which affect job performance. However, this goes much deeper than simply work-life balance. It’s about recognizing all aspects of an employee to ensure a work-life “fit” that benefits the company and each individual. In fact, when you focus on the whole person rather than just on an employee’s work performance, you build more meaningful connections with employees, which results in greater loyalty and productivity. Following are some suggestions for better managing the whole employee.

See the input, not just the output, of each employee: When managing the whole person, you need to look beyond the person’s job description. Look beyond the output (the deadlines, the expectations, and the day-to-day job duties) and start looking at the input factors, as these determine the quality of the output.

Input factors are the drivers and drainers in the employees’ lives that affect their job performance. Some typical input factors include:

  • The employee’s best time of day to get work done
  • What’s going on in the employee’s family
  • The employee’s physical, mental, and emotional health
  • Other stressors the employee has, such as being a caregiver to aging parents, being pregnant, being the only income-earner in the home, etc.
  • What community or hobby events the employee is committed to

Basically, it’s about paying attention to all of the different drivers and drainers of what motivates employees to either perform at the level of acceptable performance, to go above and beyond an acceptable level of performance, or to underperform to expectations. Because all of the various inputs affect the overall output, being aware of the input makes good business sense.

Acknowledge that everyone is multi-dimensional: Many managers believe that finding out about their employees’ lives outside of the work role is intrusive. They don’t want to ask personal questions for fear of appearing nosey. The good news is that you don’t have to ask questions to find out about people. You simply have to acknowledge the clues that are all around you.

For example, if you see photos of children in someone’s office, you don’t have to ask, “Are those your kids?” You can simply comment, “Those are beautiful children.” With that one acknowledgment, most people will open up, tell you who the children are, and offer lots more personal information. Likewise, if you see sports gear stashed away in a corner of someone’s cubicle, you don’t have to ask, “Do you play tennis [or whatever sport is evident]?” Instead, you can comment, “I’ve always been interested in tennis.” Again, the person will naturally start talking about the sport, the team or league she’s on, her accomplishments, and so much more. While it’s true that most people don’t want to sit through a session of 20 questions with their manager, they do enjoy being acknowledged—not just for their work, but also for their other interests.

Look at the big picture, not just the day-to-day details: The average full-time employee works 2,080 hours per year…at the office. That doesn’t include time the employee puts in at night and on the weekends. With all of today’s technological innovations, more and more people are connected to work 24/7, even while on vacation. As the separation between work and life becomes narrowed—what many people are referring to as a “blur” of roles—a person’s ability to focus intently on any one role becomes more difficult, resulting in errors and burnout.

In many organizations the managers set the expectation for this blur because they’re not looking at the big picture of what the organization accomplishes; rather, they are focusing on the day-to-day stressors, the errors, the requests for time off, or the employee’s lunch hour that was really an hour and a half. By keeping your eye on the day-to-day details, you’re missing the big picture of what your people really contribute. In essence, you’re adding undue stress on everyone—including yourself. Of course, details are important, but it’s also vital to take a step back and look at the big picture so you can see your employees as people and not as parts of a machine to be fixed.

Take Management to a “Whole” New Level: When you put the “human” element back into human resources management, you’re acknowledging the needs of the employees so they can perform better. When employees feel recognized as more than just a number on a monthly report, they tend to give you more discretionary effort or what’s called “citizenship behavior,” where they’re supportive of other employees and of the organization as a whole. As an added benefit, when employees are more supportive of their managers, the manager’s workload becomes less stressful too. Ultimately, the sooner you recognize all the drivers and drainers that impact people and then manage them, the sooner you’ll be able to create a high-performing team.

Dr. Marty Martin, known for his state-of-the art content presented in an engaging, dynamic fashion, has been speaking and training nationally and internationally for many years. His book, Taming Disruptive Behavior, will be published by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2013. Dr. Martin is the Director of the Health Sector Management MBA Concentration and Associate Professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, please visit his website: www.drmartymartin.com.

To Stay Professionally Competitive, Invest in Cutting Edge Skills

By Dr. Marty MartinMarty Martin

Today’s job market is changing at an incredibly fast pace. To stay competitive, to safeguard your career, and to ensure you can always find new work in the future, you need to be continually updating your knowledge and skills.

Of course, for many people, going back to school to further their education is the last thing they want to do. Some struggle with the structure, some don’t perceive any relevance to school, and some have not mastered the basic writing and quantitative skills needed to get to the more pragmatic topics. In other words, many people have excess “baggage” when it comes to upgrading their capabilities.

Realize, though, that investing in your skills doesn’t necessarily mean going back to a college classroom. From online courses, distance learning, and seminars to self-study, volunteer work, and on-the-job “stretch” assignments that add to your current capabilities, you have many options for getting out of your comfort zone and updating your skills.

When you’re ready to make yourself always employable and in-demand, use the following steps to begin the re-training and re-educating process.

Assess your strengths to determine your unique selling advantage (U.S.A.). In today’s economy, no matter what your profession, you have to sell your knowledge, skills, and abilities to advance. That means you must have something unique that’s sellable. If your core skill sets are commodities, you won’t be able to command higher wages or fees. In other words, if hundreds of other people do exactly what you do, you’ll never stand out. You need to go beyond the commodity skills and make yourself unique.

For example, if you’re a college professor who does classroom teaching, you’re a commodity. However, if you also know how to design and administer online courses, then you have a unique skill. Or, if you’re a graphic designer who creates web sites, you’re a commodity. But if you create web sites that integrate the newest design and SEO practices, then you have a cutting edge skill.

Therefore, be brutally honest with yourself by answering the following questions:

  • What does the future of your career look like?
  • What new skills do others have that you do not?
  • What are the skill deficiencies that are holding you back?
  • What are you good at (your strengths)?
  • What are you not-so-good at (your weaknesses)?
  • What do you do (or what can you learn) that others don’t currently do or know?
  • What skills are you missing that you are not willing to obtain now?

Once you’re aware of what new skills you need to stay relevant in the current and future work world, as well as what your strengths and weaknesses are, you can figure out the ideal way to position yourself so you stand out from the competition.

Leverage your strengths to address your weaknesses. While you do want to work on your weaknesses that may be career-killers, you don’t have to work on every weakness. For example, suppose you determine that one of your weaknesses is a lack of attention to detail. Whether you work on that depends on your industry. If you’re a trainer and you have a couple of misspellings on a slide, it’s not a big issue. But if you’re writing an opinion for a judge, detailing a contract, or are in the nuclear power industry, a lack of attention to detail is a big issue you need to correct.

After you address the career-killer weaknesses, spend the rest of your time and resources leveraging and improving upon your strengths rather than addressing every weakness. When you build upon your strengths and focus your re-training on those areas, you’ll increase your unique selling advantage and be more in-demand in your field.

Write a 30 day, 90 day, and annual action plan to invest in cutting edge skills. After you assess what skills and knowledge you are missing and which strengths or weaknesses you want to build upon, create a 30-day, 90-day, and annual action plan to get the training and education you need. What do you need to continue advancing on your career path? It may be to enroll in a certificate program, to take the lead on a project, or to do some volunteer work to gain new skills. Whatever it is, schedule the steps in a planner and take action.

Then, re-check your plan every 30 days. This enables you to increase your level of accountability. Additionally, if you do a check-in every 30 days, you will see progress. If you see progress—even small progress—you’ll keep going. By the 90 day mark, you’ll see some significant change. So while your long-term vision that’s a year or more out might be a giant leap in skill advancement, the shorter term goals that are 30 and 90 days out are generally more manageable. And since most people can manage 30 days better than a year, the chances of you accomplishing multiple smaller goals that lead to a big goal is higher than if you just dangle that big goal out there with no mini-steps along the way.

Finally, don’t keep your training and skills attainment goals to yourself. Share your plans with others, such as a spouse, boss, co-worker, or business coach. When you have other people who care asking you questions about your progress, you’re more apt to stay the course. Use these people as sounding boards for tough decisions and for motivation when things get rough. Even if you’re good at self-accountability, still engage others. Accountability is the key to sticking to a re-training path. The more people holding you accountable, the better.

Commit to Lifelong Learning: While learning something new may seem like a daunting task, remember that you have been learning ever since you were born. When you embrace the fact that learning is something you do continually, either formally or informally, you’ll always have the skills you need succeed in the future, and learning won’t feel like a monumental task. Therefore, commit at least three hours per week to updating your skills and refining your knowledge. That’s the surest path to stay competitive in the job market and to ensure you thrive in your career.

Dr. Marty Martin, known for his state-of-the art content presented in an engaging, dynamic fashion, has been speaking and training nationally and internationally for many years. His book, Taming Disruptive Behavior, will be published by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2013. Dr. Martin is the Director of the Health Sector Management MBA Concentration and Associate Professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, please visit his website: www.drmartymartin.com.

How to Position Yourself for Your Next Career Move

By Dr. Marty MartinMarty Martin

Have you thoughtfully planned out your next career move? Most people have not. While they may have a vague idea of what their profession will look like in the future, they aren’t sure how to position themselves for optimum growth. But because the work world is changing so rapidly, planning your path and positioning yourself for the next advance is a critical step all professionals must take.

Of course, since no can foretell the future, planning often involves ambiguity—and that’s where the challenge lies. Most people have a low tolerance for uncertainty, so they don’t bother creating a plan. And while it’s true that neither you nor anybody else, not even experts, can predict the future, you can map out possible scenarios. Doing so increases your ability to adapt to changing situations and helps you see future opportunities others may miss.

Following are some suggestions for making your plan as realistic as possible so you can properly position yourself for future success.

Conduct research on the current and future job market. You can find many online resources to help you better understand which professions and industries are growing, which are shrinking, and which are evolving into something different. One is the Occupational Outlook created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/). The other is O*NET Online (http://www.onetonline.org/), which is a partner of the American Job Center Network. Both of these resources will give you an accurate overview of a variety of professions, including both current and future trends. Use this information as a way to gauge job growth (or possible shrinkage) in your industry.

Read magazines that focus on future trends. There is an entire profession focused on future studies in which people called Futurists analyze trends in particular areas and make educated predictions about where we as a society are heading. Sometimes, the predictions focus on a key area or profession, such as healthcare or robotics. Other times the predictions are more general. The World Future Society is the leading futurist organization. In addition to their website and blog, they publish a magazine called The Futurist. Read some current issues or subscribe to it so you can keep up-to-date on upcoming career and industry trends.

Develop a written vision for your career spanning a short term, medium term, and long term horizon. Using the information you gather about the probable future of your profession or industry, combined with what you know or personally see going on around you, create a vision for what your career could look like in five years, ten years, and fifteen years. Granted, as you extend the timeline, you increase the level of uncertainty, but the goal is not perfection. The goal is to give you a vision of what’s possible so you can start positioning yourself for that future vision today

Map out more than one path to get to your destination as depicted by your career vision. With your vision of what reasonably could happen, write out what you deem the most logical path to reach that vision. Then, write out an alternate path that is just as viable, but perhaps not what you deem as ideal. For example, maybe in one path you continue working in your current organization, helping to shape the future of your position. And perhaps in an alternate path you open your own firm, go to work for a competitor, or become an outsourced employee to your firm (as a freelancer or consultant, for example). Feel free to come up with several paths to the vision. Of course, you have no idea which path will actually transpire. But when opportunities present themselves from any of the outlined paths, you’ll be able to recognize them and act on them because you’ll have already done some planning. As a result, you’ll find yourself a step ahead of everyone else. Sometimes it’s those little steps that position you the best.

Engage in scenario planning by fully detailing the various paths to your vision. The more detail you can give the various paths you outline, the better. While there’s no need to go overboard with a 50 page document, you should detail each path as much as you can, including timelines, new skills or training you’d need, resources that would help you at key junctures, etc. Some people naturally think in pictures and graphs, so they create a series of diagrams. Other people think in the narrative form. Regardless of your preferred style, you need to capture the information, record it, document it, share it, and then continuously refer to it and update it as things change.

It’s Your Future – Plan It: While all this may seem like a lot of work for something that may or may not transpire exactly as you plan, it really only amounts to about three hours a week of planning time. Chances are you spend more time than that watching television or surfing the Internet for fun. What if you took a few minutes from those activities and spent it reviewing the Occupational Outlook, reading articles about what the future may hold, reviewing your scenarios, sending out emails and connecting with people who may be able to help you, going to certain social and networking events, etc.? What could that do for your professional outlook?

Remember, you are responsible for your own career and ability to earn a living, not society, not the government, not your employer, not your family, and not your friends. The safety nets of yesteryear are slowly disappearing. That means it’s up to each of us to ensure our future employability. The better you position yourself for the next advance, the better your ability to respond to a changing job market and reach your career goals.

Dr. Marty Martin, known for his state-of-the art content presented in an engaging, dynamic fashion, has been speaking and training nationally and internationally for many years. His book, Taming Disruptive Behavior, will be published by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2013. Dr. Martin is the Director of the Health Sector Management MBA Concentration and Associate Professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, please visit his website: www.drmartymartin.com.