careers

How To Spot An Irreplaceable Employee

Great employees and employers show mutual admiration (Shutterst0ck)

Employees and employers have a shared interest in discovering the attributes that define the all-time favorite employees. Employees want to be the most-favored, and employers seek to attract those individuals who seem irreplaceable.

Michael Gottlieb is the founding partner of Momentum Law Group – a law firm that serves entrepreneurs. At a recent meeting of his monthly CEO round table, he asked the group, “ What attributes would you use to describe your all-time favorite employees? ” The list of attributes is surprising. Even more surprising is that the group of 12 CEOs all agreed on the list.

No Drama

At the top of the list: Lack of drama. These favorite employees don’t complain. They don’t seek attention. They don’t gossip. They simply perform their jobs without a need to draw attention to their professional or personal challenges.  They don’t see a need to remind others of how challenging the task might be. They don’t call attention to the fact that someone else didn’t complete their task.

Jeff Lesher, Principal at EntreQuest, an award-winning consultancy with a vision to shift engagement in the work world to transform the real world, says, “Most highly valued employees not only perform their jobs admirably – with skill, focus, and passion – they do so in a way that demonstrates their commitment, first and foremost, to the work.”

 Jeff further explains, “ Drama is selfish ; the more selfless, low drama approach typically is a symptom of high commitment more than a direct intent.” It reminds me of the scene between Billy Crystal’s character and Meg Ryan’s character in the movie When Harry Met Sally:

Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.
Sally Albright: Which one am I?
Harry Burns: You’re the worst kind. You’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.

Most high-drama people don’t see themselves as dramatic.

Operational Focus

The next item is commitment to operational execution. Top employees don’t just talk about ideas or identify problems. Rather, they always focus on how to accomplish the task at hand.  These talented individuals know that there is a big difference between having intention and getting things done. The most valued employees know that nothing matters until it is implemented and achieving results.

Top employees know that their commitment to customers and accomplishment can help to grow the business and engender customer trust. These superstars always follow-through and don’t need reminders of what is important .

Initiative: Confidence And Internal Motivation

Top employees don’t wait around to be told what to do. Once they know the goal and they are self-motivated to move toward that goal each day. Nothing will get in their way. Some might see them as stubborn. Most see them as possessing superpowers.

Their greatest superpower is the ability to receive and internalize feedback. They have sufficient confidence and self-awareness to accept constructive criticism as a way to improve, without seeing the input as negative.

This superpower only surfaces in work environments where employees are not punished for taking risks. Confident self-starters will happily take constructive feedback. If you punish them for taking initiative, they’ll sit back — probably while searching for a new job where they can unleash their initiative.

What The Experts Say

According to HeliosHR’s CEO, Kathy Albarado, “The fact that CEOs cite a desire for ‘No drama’ could point to a gap in hiring practices. With the right screening and interview process, you should be able to spot those most likely to be valuable members of the team.”  Kathy encourages employers to seek similar attributes that the Girl Scouts of America teach young women:  Courage, Character and Confidence.  The courage to take risks, the character to follow through,and the confidence to take feedback.

Gabe Muller is the COO of Glassman Wealth Services, named “Best Place to Work” in the Washington DC area by Washingtonian Magazine and the Washington Business Journal three years in a row. “I love the three attributes of 1) Solution orientated mindset, 2) Adaptability; and 3) The ability to receive feedback and collaborate with others.”

Notice that the themes are consistent with the CEO round table that Michael Gottlieb assembled. Also take note that nobody is listing skills, educational background or certifications. While those capabilities are important, nobody said that their all-time favorite employee had the best technical skills.

The best employees get stuff done with passion and results. If you don’t value your employees who demonstrate those attributes, rest assured that another employer is anxiously waiting to meet them.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think makes for favorite employees? Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on LinkedIn- https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4499329 or Twitter.@winerycareers.com

Bestselling co-author of Same Side Selling, Ian Altman is a popular keynote speaker, and host of the Grow My Revenue Business Cast. He has 2 children, a dog, and a wife he doesn’t deserve

Instead Of Looking For Your Purpose Or 'One Thing', Try This

When talking about their careers, there are two stories I often hear women telling themselves:

  • “Unless I figure out the one thing I’ve always wanted to do, I’m going to be miserable.”
  • “I’ve invested so much time striving to be successful in this industry, if I transition to something else it’ll have all been for nothing.”

Women (and men) often feel an urgency to find their ‘one thing.’ Or, they stay in the same industry longer than they’d like because they feel obligated or stuck. To discuss finding purpose and getting unstuck I talked with Nicole Antoinette, the host of the Real Talk Radio podcast. Antoinette is a self-described “recovering self help addict” and a queen of reinvention.

nicole-antoinette

Nicole Antoinette Photo Credit: Foxes + Wolves

With a resume that includes highlights such as camp director, owner of a web design firm, goal setting coach, and cookie shop owner, Antoinette says the theme of her career has been change.

This is a dramatic juxtaposition to her husband, an engineer at Twitter whose path has been pretty linear. She says, “He’s taken the more traditional or ‘recommended’ path that was put on a pedestal when I was younger: pick your thing and become really good at your thing.”

Around the time she turned 30, Antoinette struggled with shame and guilt that she hadn’t found her ‘one thing’ like her partner. Without her ‘one thing’ all the choices she had made in her 20s felt like a waste. She asked herself, “What’s wrong with me that I’ve had all of these seemingly unrelated careers?”

Paths Aren’t Always Linear, But Skills Are Transferable

Antoinette felt badly about this pattern of behavior until she had a realization. “The model of pick one thing, get better and better at that thing, and always be continually interested in that thing is actually pretty rare.” Stories of achieving greatness through perseverance in the same profession (picture Michael Phelps) are the ones celebrated in the media, she argues, which causes us to falsely believe that kind of career consistency is the norm.

In addition to craving an idealized ’one thing’, people are reluctant to lose all the opportunities they’ve created for themselves in their industry. Antoinette, who’s had at least 4 careers already, says if you go to do something else, all the experience, skills, and relationships you’ve developed come with you. “ It’s not like you leave a job or an industry and someone comes and ‘Men in Blacks’ your brain ,” she explains referencing the memory erasing technology from the popular film series.

For example, the same organization and communication skills that made her a good camp director were a tremendous asset when she ran her own business. As I started my consulting practice, a woman I’d met in my last role, managing a political campaign, became my first client.

Ask Yourself Good Questions

When it comes to her own transitions, Antoinette says the best advice she’s ever gotten is to ask yourself good questions, such as:

Referencing her own experience, Antoinette says, “If you’re actually willing to go back and ask yourself again and again, eventually you just get sick of yourself,” and get to the answer.

Asking herself those questions relentlessly, she realized she didn’t care about having a big flashy career. She says it took all of her 20s to accept that a “capital C Career” wasn’t important to her. She challenged the idea that there was a finite destination to reach, and she’s not looking back. Or as she says,“F*ck, I’m so much happier now.”

Whether you’re just starting out in your career or decades in, consider giving yourself permission to explore what kind of work is fulfilling rather than searching frantically for your ‘one thing’. Who knows, maybe cookie shop owner is in your future.

Lelia Gowland helps women negotiate and navigate their careers. Learn more about her e-courses on negotiating a raise, a promotion, and a new position at gowlandllc.com.

The Case for Executive Assistants

Among the most striking details of the corporate era depicted in the AMC series Mad Men, along with constant smoking and mid-day drinking, is the army of secretaries who populate Sterling Cooper, the 1960s ad agency featured in the show. The secretary of those days has gone the way of the carbon copy and been replaced by the executive assistant, now typically reserved for senior management. Technologies like e-mail, voice mail, mobile devices, and online calendars have allowed managers at all levels to operate with a greater degree of self-sufficiency. At the same time, companies have faced enormous pressure to cut costs, reduce head count, and flatten organizational structures. As a result, the numbers of assistants at lower corporate levels have dwindled in most corporations. That’s unfortunate, because effective assistants can make enormous contributions to productivity at all levels of the organization.

At very senior levels, the return on investment from a skilled assistant can be substantial. Consider a senior executive whose total compensation package is $1 million annually, who works with an assistant who earns $80,000. For the organization to break even, the assistant must make the executive 8% more productive than he or she would be working solo—for instance, the assistant needs to save the executive roughly five hours in a 60-hour workweek. In reality, good assistants save their bosses much more than that. They ensure that meetings begin on time with prep material delivered in advance. They optimize travel schedules and enable remote decision making, keeping projects on track. And they filter the distractions that can turn a manager into a reactive type who spends all day answering e-mail instead of a leader who proactively sets the organization’s agenda. As Robert Pozen writes in this issue: A top-notch assistant “is crucial to being productive.”

That’s true not only for top executives. In their zeal to cut administrative expenses, many companies have gone too far, leaving countless highly paid middle and upper managers to arrange their own travel, file expense reports, and schedule meetings. Some companies may be drawn to the notion of egalitarianism they believe this assistant-less structure represents—when workers see the boss loading paper into the copy machine, the theory goes, a “we’re all in this together” spirit is created. But as a management practice, the structure rarely makes economic sense. Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well. Although companies have embraced this logic by outsourcing work to vendors or to operations abroad, back at headquarters they ignore it, forcing top talent to misuse their time. As a longtime recruiter for executive assistants, I’ve worked with many organizations suffering from the same problem: There’s too much administrative work and too few assistants to whom it can be assigned.

 

 

Granting middle managers access to an assistant—or shared resources—can give a quick boost to productivity even at lean, well-run companies. Firms should also think about the broader developmental benefits of providing assistants for up-and-coming managers. The real payoff may come when the manager arrives in a job a few levels up better prepared and habitually more productive. An experienced assistant can be particularly helpful if the manager is a new hire. The assistant becomes a crucial on-boarding resource, helping the manager read and understand the organizational culture, guiding him or her through its different (and difficult) personalities, and serving as a sounding board during the crucial acclimation. In this way, knowledgeable assistants are more than a productivity asset: They’re reverse mentors, using their experience to teach new executives how people are expected to behave at that level in the organization.

Getting the Most from Assistants

Two critical factors determine how well a manager utilizes an assistant. The first is the executive’s willingness to delegate pieces of his or her workload to the assistant. The second is the assistant’s willingness to stretch beyond his or her comfort zone to assume new responsibilities.

Delegating wisely.

The most effective executives think deeply about the pieces of their workload that can be taken on—or restructured to be partially taken on—by the assistant. Triaging and drafting replies to e-mails is a central task for virtually all assistants. Some executives have assistants listen in on phone calls in order to organize and follow up on action items. Today many assistants are taking on more-supervisory roles: They’re managing information flow, dealing with basic financial management, attending meetings, and doing more planning and organizing. Executives can help empower their assistants by making it clear to the organization that the assistant has real authority. The message the executive should convey is, “I trust this person to represent me and make decisions.”

Not every executive is well-suited for this type of delegating. Younger managers in particular have grown up with technology that encourages self-sufficiency. Some have become so accustomed to doing their own administrative tasks that they don’t communicate well with assistants. These managers should think of assistants as strategic assets and realize that part of their job is managing the relationship to get the highest possible return.

Stretching the limits.

Great assistants proactively look for ways to improve their skills. When I was the assistant to Pete Peterson, the former U.S. commerce secretary and head of Lehman Brothers, I took night classes in law, marketing, and presentations to burnish my skills. Today I see executive assistants learning new languages and technologies to improve their performance working for global corporations.

 

 

In my work, I frequently encounter world-class executive assistants. Loretta Sophocleous is the executive assistant to Roger Ferguson, the president and CEO of TIAA-CREF; her title is Director, Executive Office Operations. She manages teams. She leads meetings. Roger says that he runs many decisions past Loretta before he weighs in.

Another example is Noreen Denihan, whom I placed over 13 years ago as the executive assistant to Donald J. Gogel, the president and CEO of Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, LLC. According to Don, Noreen fills an informal leadership role, has an unparalleled ability to read complex settings, and can recognize and respond to challenging people and circumstances. “A spectacular executive assistant can defy the laws of the physical world,” Gogel says. “She [or he] can see around corners.”

Trudy Vitti is the executive assistant to Kevin Roberts, the CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi. Often when you ask him a question, he’ll say, “Ask Trudy.” He travels for weeks at a time and says that he has utter confidence in Trudy to run the office in his absence.

Compared with managers in other countries, those in the United States do a better job of delegating important work to their assistants—and of treating them as a real part of the management team. Outside the United States, educational requirements for assistants are less intensive, salaries are lower, and the role is more typically described as personal assistant.

You can often tell a lot about an executive’s management style—and effectiveness—from the way he interacts with his assistant. Can the executive trust and delegate, or does he micromanage? Do assistants like working for her, or does she have a history of many assistants leaving quickly or being fired? Not every boss–assistant relationship is made in heaven, but an executive’s ability to manage conflicts with an assistant can be an important indicator of his overall ability to manage people.

Finding the Right Fit

Hiring the right assistant can be a challenge. In some ways, it’s trickier than filling traditional management positions, because personal chemistry and the one-on-one dynamic are so important—sometimes more so than skills or experience.

Expert assistants understand the unspoken needs and characteristics of the people with whom they work. They have high levels of emotional intelligence: They respond to subtle cues and react with situational appropriateness. They pay close attention to shifts in an executive’s behavior and temperament and understand that timing and judgment are the foundation of a smooth working relationship. A good assistant quickly learns what an executive needs, what his or her strengths and weaknesses are, what might trigger anger or stress, and how to best accommodate his or her personal style. Good matches are hard to come by: That’s the reason so many good assistants follow an executive from job to job.

After many years of debriefing assistants who’ve been fired, I’ve identified several factors that make for bad relationships. The most common missteps an assistant makes are misreading the corporate culture, failing to build bridges with other assistants, failing to ask enough questions about tasks, agreeing to take on too much work, and speaking to external parties without authorization. Bosses usually contribute to these deteriorating relationships by not being open in their communications or not being clear about expectations.

There’s an assistant I placed recently who’s having trouble developing the right relationship with her boss. The executive called me and said, “Melba, I expected her to read through these memos and then get them out very quickly to my managers. But she left them on my desk, didn’t call me over the weekend, and didn’t send them out.” I asked the assistant about it, and she said, “He didn’t tell me it was important—I can’t read someone’s mind.” But in fact, in this job you’re supposed to be able to read minds—or, at the very least, you’re supposed to ask questions.

Simply put, the best executive assistants are indispensable. Microsoft will never develop software that can calm a hysterical sales manager, avert a crisis by redrafting a poorly worded e-mail, smooth a customer’s ruffled feathers, and solve a looming HR issue—all within a single hour, and all without interrupting the manager to whom such problems might otherwise have proven a distraction. Executive assistants give companies and managers a human face. They’re troubleshooters, translators, help desk attendants, diplomats, human databases, travel consultants, amateur psychologists, and ambassadors to the inside and outside world.

After years of cutting back, companies can boost productivity by arming more managers with this kind of help—and executives who are fortunate enough to have a skilled assistant can benefit by finding ways to delegate higher-level work to him or her. Executive–assistant relationships are business partnerships: Strong ones are win-wins between smart people. In fact, they’re win-win-wins because ultimately the companies reap the benefits.

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Melba J. Duncan is the president of The Duncan Group, a retained search and consulting firm specializing in senior management support resources, and the founder of the Duncan Leadership Institute, which offers training for administrative support staff. She is the author of The New Executive Assistant .

 

How to Ace Lunch Interviews?

How to ace lunch interviews? You made it through your first interview!  Your second interview is over lunch with your perspective new boss.  It is at a great restaurant near their office and you have been there before.  What do you need to know?  What will the employer look for? And this is the wine industry so??? wine with lunch or not?

The Legend

Henry Ford invited job candidates to lunch with him.  He would observe if the candidate would salt his food before tasting it.  If he did, he would not hire him.  If he tasted the food first, he was a person who evaluated situations before taking action.  Henry Ford believed in testing his candidates and this was it.  Many employers evaluate candidates during lunch interviews for things you never think of.

The Test

Are you ready for your test?  You expect hard questions, but many employers want to see how you act in different situations such as a lunch interview.  A lunch interview means you need to juggle a meal, good manners, answer questions while eating a meal, and still be persuasive.  You still need to be aware of being observed while you answer or ask questions.

What is the test?  You may not know, but employers are looking for certain traits.  It could be character, integrity or certain personality!  You cannot prepare for this part so just be natural.  Would the employer do something to see how you would react?  It is possible.  It is more likely that during the meal, he may describe a scenario and ask for your opinion.  Remember, they want to see how you think.  There is no right or wrong answer or is there?

About five years ago I read about how CEOs evaluate candidates based on how they treat waiters in a restaurant.  Some may call it the unwritten rule of lunch interviews.  Would an employer be above staging something and seeing your reaction?  You may never know if it was staged or not!  Handling mistakes, poor service or an accident provides insight into the candidate.  A person who is nice to the employer and rude to the waiter or to others is not a nice person.

Personal

This an interview and you should dress for it.  You never go wrong with a great suit and good grooming. But again the wine industry as a whole is not corporate. If everyone at the first Interview was in fuzzy vests and jeans …then you can tone it down but never to their level.  Always collared shirt, jacket and khakis for the guys and a nice tailored dress & or slacks for the gals.

Do your research and have questions for the employer.  Bring along your questions, a portfolio of your best work and anything else you think is important.  Manners are important, but you need to juggle that and trying to impress the employer too.  Order something simple so you can eat and answer questions without difficulty.  You want to appear confident and at ease with the situation.

The Interview

Arrive early and wait for the employer.  Allow the employer to lead, wait for him/her to sit, take the napkin and order.  Drinks??? You can keep it nonalcoholic such as ice tea, sparkling water or perhaps even juice, but remember this is the wine industry…follow your potential bosses lead… Ask him/her what they would like then order accordingly.  Know what you will order from the menu before you get there.  It takes the pressure off, if the employer makes a quick selection.  Be polite to the server.  Don’t make a big deal about a mistake.

Remember the employer sees how you handle everything.  Don’t eat too fast, or eat and speak at the same time.  Eating too fast or not at all looks as though you are nervous.  Small bites will keep you ready to answer or ask questions.  Never order dessert unless the employer does.  The interview is not over until you are gone.  He may observe you waiting for your car or how you handle a problem.  You are always being evaluated.

Simple things will prevent you from getting the job.  How do you finish the interview?  You should have questions or sample of your work to demonstrate your interest in the job.  Be conscious of the employer’s time.  Make your points and avoids mistakes,  how you handle things will either help you get the job or keep you from it.    What are you going to do?  When you are finished with your meal fold the napkin and leave it by the plate.

Final Thoughts

Lunch interviews put you on the spot!  Keep in mind that the employer is observing you eating, answering questions and how you deal with problems and people.  You can only prepare so much for this type of interview.  You can practice the questions, work on your manners and even work on your people skills, but you need to act natural.  Most experienced managers or executive see right through someone who is not genuine.  Being genuine and confident is important.

Getting Traction

Dawn Bardessono Careers in Wine September 11, 2012

You have done everything right. Tweaked the resume. Bought the new suit. Got a new hair cut. Networked with everyone …twice.

And your getting no call backs..why is that?? Buddy it’s not you..

Hiring slows in August

It’s a time where you need to resource your network, a well groomed resume and a realistic outlook on the career you are seeking.   At Benchmark we see countless candidates seeking pre recession salary levels when there are others equally qualified – willing to take less.

This is a time where ‘less is more’ – some money is better than no money.  It’s also a great time to reassess your career path and consider upping your credentials by taking a class or online course related to your field.  These types of certificates alone distinguish one candidate from another – it proves that you are willing to go the extra mile to ‘make it happen’.

Benchmark can talk to you about your options and suggest a path that may be best for you and your long range goals.