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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fatal mistakes when starting a new job

When you start a new job, obviously you want to impress your co-workers and bosses so you'll thrive. Milo Sindell and Thuy Sindell, Ph.D., a husband-and-wife team of consultants for clients like Charles Schwab, Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo, and Yahoo!, are authors of a book called Sink or Swim (Adams Media, $14.95) and a website (www.hitthegroundrunning.com) that just might help.

Some excerpts from recent conversation:

Q. Why do so many new hires wash out in their first year?

Milo: A big reason is that a huge percentage of new employees, including new managers, are not clearly told what they were hired to do or what their goals should be for the first six months and the first year.

Thuy: They also usually aren't told where to find information that they need, so they spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel - and their managers think they're idiots for wasting so much time and not asking colleagues or bosses for help.

Q. What are some "red flags" that might indicate you're in trouble in a new job?

Thuy: One is, if you don't know why you are doing something. If you don't know your goals or what success looks like, you can't succeed. Another red flag would be if you frequently find your mouth open. You need to listen at least five times as much as you talk.

Milo: It's a warning sign, too, if no one on your team comes up to you and tells you they're glad you're on the team. If you don't know what your team wants from you and how they want it, you haven't got a chance.

Q. Suppose there are people with hostile attitudes or petty turf concerns who are really hoping you'll fail at this job? How can you deal with that?

Milo: Three things. First, try to bring to the surface the reasons behind the attitude. Ask questions to understand what's really going on. Second, change the conversation. Focus on the goals of the group, team, or company.

Thuy: And third, rise above. If all else fails, you need to be the one who takes the higher road.

Q. Your book emphasizes the first 12 weeks in a new job as being the most crucial for laying a solid foundation. What is most important for someone just starting his or her first job out of college?

Thuy: Meet as many people as you can, and explore lots of different opportunities and areas of interest. Constantly look for chances to build your experience.

Milo: Make sure you deliver on every commitment that you make.

Get recruiters to call you with great jobs

What's the best way to get headhunters to call you the next time a terrific new opportunity crosses their desk? It helps to always take - and return - their calls. Headhunters remember people who make their own jobs easier.

"There is a lot of quid pro quo in our business," says Dale Winston, CEO of Manhattan-based executive recruiters Battalia Winston International. "We keep people in mind who have helped us find good candidates in the past, and we like to reciprocate that help."

Translation: Even if you aren't the right person for the job a headhunter is trying to fill at any given moment, you may be the right person for the next one. So take those phone calls, and see if you can't come up with the names of a couple of good prospects, or at least be willing to try.

It's also important to be as visible outside your own company as possible. In other words, get your name and accomplishments out there where headhunters will notice them.

"If you're not sure how visible you are to recruiters or to other people who might be interested in you, Google yourself," Winston suggests. "Headhunters do use Google to spot people who are leaders in their fields. So be there."

What if you try it and nothing comes up? Time to get busy. If you're already active in a trade association or professional group, try to take a more influential role, perhaps by running for elected office (treasurer, secretary, president...) or heading up an important committee.

"We do look at who is in leadership positions in professional organizations, because these tend to be smart, energetic, proactive people," Winston says.

Giving speeches at conferences and other industry events is another way to get yourself on the map (and your company's very own public-relations folks may be more than happy to put you forward as a possible speaker).

You might also write articles for trade journals or your local newspaper's opinion page on topics in which you're expert, particularly if they're timely.

"You need to make the time to get significant exposure beyond your own company - and do it before you get totally frustrated with your current job," says Winston. "Once you reach the woe-is-me stage, you're not going to be a good candidate."

3 things B-schools don't teach

I had the best time of my life at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. It is a great institution and the overall ambience is highly conducive to intellectual pursuit.

The campus, designed by Louis Kahn, is inspiring to say the least. First-time visitors to the campus are likely to think that this is where great businesses of the future will be conceived. I wish it were true.

My experience in life has taught me that while a business school is a great stepping-stone into the corporate world, it is not necessarily the best guide to navigate successfully through it. B-schools exist as a part of our formal education system and serve a purpose: to provide two years of immersed study into various aspects of the science of management. No more, no less.

However, the MBA lore, culture and mystique has got so much media attention over the past decade that star business schools have acquired a larger-than-life image. Do we expect business schools to provide us the DNA for success? It would be a very tall order.

There is a lot that B-schools do very well. For instance, it was at B-school that I got my first lessons in deconstructing problems, logically structuring an argument, learning how to communicate effectively, and so on.

It is also a great place to network with people from across the country, understand different mindsets, aspirations and lifestyles. But there are huge gaps between critical factors for business success and what they do not teach you.

So, what do they not teach you at B-school? A lot really, and it is easy to sermonise about this. But if the purpose of a B-school is to produce wealth and value creators, then the people who run B-schools need to take a hard look at real life and model the curriculum based on how value gets created. So, here is my prescription of creating a cutting-edge curriculum

1. Life-skills: It is well known that the information and knowledge component of what we learn will soon be forgotten or become irrelevant, so focus on life-skills in the affective domain - that is, communication, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Measure how many new ideas each student comes up with. Don't make this a course, make this a part of every course. You have 24 months to change the thinking paradigm of each student, make full use of it.

2. Higher-order thinking: The ratio of theory to real-world learning should be 70:30. The real world is all about higher-order thinking; therefore, the ability to develop higher-order thinking skills such as application, design and evaluation should be valued more than knowledge and comprehension, and the evaluation and grading system of B-schools must reflect this.

3. Exposure and global outreach: When you start working, by definition your mental landscape becomes myopic and focused on work life.

B-schools should seize the opportunity to expose the student to things that he will find impossible to do on his own - take him to places like China and Brazil, let him hear from a business leader, thinkers and institution-builder each evening. Let him experience and learn to think multidimensionally.

How about a course on art history and seven days in an Indian village? You will trigger a thought process or open new doors in his life and help him redefine his life goals; thanks to this new and real perspective.

Above all, business schools have to reinvent themselves each year and hopefully, every B-school dean is awake at night thinking precisely this: what do I not teach at my school that I should?

Shantanu Prakash graduated from IIM, Ahmedabad in 1988.

How Companies Got their Name

Apple Computers
It was the favourite fruit of founder Steve Jobs. He was three months late in filing a name for the business, and he threatened to call his company Apple Computers if the other colleagues didn't suggest a better name by 5 O'clock.

CISCO
It is not an acronym as popularly believed. It is short for San Francisco.

Compaq
This name was formed by using COMp, for computer, and PAQ to denote a small integral object.

Corel
The name was derived from the founder's name Dr.Michael Cowpland. It stands for COwpland REsearch Laboratory.

Google
The name started as a joke boasting about the amount of information the search-engine would be able to search. It was originally named 'Googol', a word for the number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeros.After founders - Stanford graduate students Sergey Brin and Larry Page presented their project to an angel investor, they received a cheque made out to 'Google'

Hotmail
Founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail via the web from a computer anywhere in the world.When Sabeer Bhatia came up with the business plan for the mail service, he tried all kinds of names ending in 'mail' and finally settled for hotmail as it included the letters "html" - the programming language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective uppercasing.

Hewlett Packard
Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard tossed a coin to decide whether the company they founded would be called Hewlett-Packard or Packard-Hewlett.

Intel
Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore wanted to name their new company 'Moore Noyce' but that was already trademarked by a hotel chain so they had to settle for an acronym of INTegrated ELectronics.

Lotus (Notes)
Mitch Kapor got the name for his company from 'The Lotus Position' or 'Padmasana'. Kapor used to be a teacher of Transcendental Meditation of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Microsoft
Coined by Bill Gates to represent the company that was devoted to MICROcomputer SOFTware. Originally christened Micro-Soft, the '-' was removed later on.

Motorola
Founder Paul Galvin came up with this name when his company started manufacturing radios for cars. The popular radio company at the time was called Victrola.

ORACLE
Larry Ellison and Bob Oats were working on a consulting project for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). The code name for the project was called Oracle (the CIA saw this as the system to give answers to all questions or something such). The project was designed to help use the newly written SQL code by IBM. The project eventually was terminated but Larry and Bob decided to finish what they started and bring it to the world. They kept the name Oracle and created the RDBMS engine. Later they kept the same name for the company.

Sony
It originated from the Latin word 'sonus' meaning sound, and 'sonny' a slang used by Americans to refer to a bright youngster.

SUN
Founded by 4 Stanford University buddies, SUN is the acronym for Stanford University Network. Andreas Bechtolsheim built a microcomputer; Vinod Khosla recruited him and Scott McNealy to manufacture computers based on it, and Bill Joy to develop a UNIX-based OS for the computer.

Yahoo!
The word was invented by Jonathan Swift and used in his book 'Gulliver's Travels'. It represents a person who is repulsive in appearance and action and is barely human. Yahoo! Founders Jerry Yang and David Filo selected the name because they considered themselves yahoos

Get a rude co-worker to shut up

A reader writes: "Dear Annie: I was hired about six months ago to do part of the work a colleague had been doing. Lately, he has developed the extremely rude habit of interrupting whenever I'm speaking - and almost always leaping to the wrong conclusion. He shouts me down to interrupt me. It's not that I'm delivering long monologues; I try to keep my remarks brief and to the point. This is really aggravating an already stressful working relationship. How does one make "shut up and let me finish" sound polite?"

The solution? "From your description, I'd say the person interrupting you is not only rude but is also a bully. For bullies, everything is a control issue, so you need to let him know that you are in control," says Frank Kenna III, CEO of the Marlin Co., a 93-year-old workplace communications firm in North Haven, Conn. "How you deliver your message is just as important as what you say. It's up to you to strike a delicate balance, somewhere between a battering ram and a doormat."

When your co-worker starts to interrupt you, Kenna suggests saying something like, "One moment, Fred (or whatever his name is), I'm not finished." Say it with "a strong and confident tone," Kenna says. "If you have a soft voice, you might also accompany it with a forceful hand motion. Make sure to do this consistently every time he interrupts." Sooner or later he'll get the point.

One other thought: It sounds to me as if this guy might be struggling with some turf issues, raised by your having been brought in to take over part of his job. Many people's egos are quite fragile and easily bruised, and that can give rise to some pretty obnoxious behavior - constantly interrupting, for example. Maybe he'd calm down and let you finish a sentence if you gave him a pat on the back once in a while and made a point of acknowledging his contributions to the team. It's worth a try.