An abundance of research data has been generated by a number of highly reputable firms (including Gallup, Towers-Perrin, and Watson Wyatt) and it suggests that, in the average U.S. workplace, less than 30% of employees are positively engaged in their jobs (i.e. loyal, enthusiastic, and productive) whereas about 55% are passively disengaged. That is, they are going through the motions, doing only what they must, “mailing it in,” coasting, etc. What about the others? They are “actively disengaged” in that they are doing whatever they can to undermine their employer’s efforts to succeed. They have a toxic impact on their associates and, in many instances, on customer relations. These are stunning statistics.
What to do? I have no specific suggestions but others do. First, Robert Fulghum in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:
Don’t hurt people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
Watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Now from Don Miquel Ruiz and his book, The Four Agreements:
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.
Finally, from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
Begin with the end in mind.
Put first things first.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Sharpen the Saw.
If all else fails, try The Golden Rule. In fact, that should be where to begin the repair process.
Here is an article written by Steve Tobak for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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You learn how to learn in school. You learn how to do a job at work. And if you work hard and groom yourself well, you may eventually learn how a business operates in an industry. But once in a blue moon, through experience, you pick up one of those lessons that nobody can teach you. Those hard to come by lessons are truly priceless.
Last week, in 5 Business Books That Made a Difference [click here], I mentioned Mark McCormack’s What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. That inspired me to share a few big lessons I’ve learned over the years. Each one figured prominently in my success:
If you want to gain management cred, tell folks what you’re going to do and then do it. Having the guts to stick your neck out and take a big risk, then executing and delivering on the promise, has management written all over it. It works both internally and externally. Broadcasting an aggressive goal and then achieving it is far more effective than just doing it. Just make sure you pull it off. Sure, it’s a risk, but no risk, no reward, right?
If you’re way behind on a hot deadline, take some time to relax and chill out. First, you’ll think more clearly and be more productive going down the stretch. Second, there’s a reason why you’re behind to begin with and that pause may provide just the right inspiration or perspective you needed all along. Third, in case you need anyone to help you, nobody likes working with a stress monster.
If you want something badly, consider what would happen if you don’t get it. The earth will continue to turn and your life won’t end. In fact, nothing will happen, except that you’ll lighten your load, reduce your expectations, and in so doing, actually increase your chances of getting what you want. It’s the whole “if you want something let it go” thing. It really works.
If you want to be calm during an important presentation, stress-out beforehand. When you stress yourself it raises your blood pressure and your arteries widen to account for the change. Afterwards, when your body returns to normal, you feel a physical sense of calm that lasts a pretty long time. It’s the same reason you feel relaxed after getting out of a hot tub or a sauna. I noticed this empirically; a doctor I know added the explanation.
If you want to get support for a groundbreaking product or program, lose the big pitch. Grassroots efforts sell new ideas far more effectively than mass-market approaches. It works internally or externally. Get support from key stakeholders one-on-one rather than attempt to take on the world and sway everyone all at once. Pretty sure that was inspired by Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm.
If you want someone to talk, shut up. Whether it’s a customer, an employee, your boss, whoever, set the stage by stating your purpose and then shut up. In general, people like to talk and that’s exactly what they’ll do, probably telling you far more than if you’d tried to drag it out of them bit by bit. If the person is unusually guarded, then give a little to get a little. Ask leading questions and listen actively, of course.
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Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He’s the managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, executive coaching, and speaking services to CEOs and management teams of small-to-mid-sized companies. Find out more at www.invisor.net.
Here is an excerpt from an article co-authored by Herminie Ibarra, Nancy M. Carter, and Christine Silva. To access the article if you now subscribe to Harvard Business Review, to purchase the article, or to subscribe to HBR, please click here.
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Nathalie (all names in this article are disguised), a senior marketing manager at a multinational consumer goods company and a contender for chairman in her country, was advised by her boss to raise her profile locally. An excellent intercompany network wouldn’t be enough to land her the new role, he told her; she must also become active in events and associations in her region. Recently matched with a high-level mentor through a companywide program, she had barely completed the lengthy rework assigned for that when she received an invitation to an exclusive executive-training program for high potentials—for which she was asked to fill out more self-assessments and career-planning documents. “I’d been here for 12 years, and nothing happened,” observes Nathalie. “Now I am being mentored to death.”
Amy, a midlevel sales manager for the same firm, struggles with a similar problem: “My mentor’s idea of a development plan is how many external and internal meetings I can get exposure to, what presentations I can go to and deliver, and what meetings I can travel to,” she says. “I just hate these things that add work. I hate to say it, but I am so busy. I have three kids. On top of that, what my current boss really wants me to do is to focus on ‘breakthrough thinking,’ and I agree. I am going to be in a wheelchair by the time I get to be vice president, because they are going to drill me into the ground with all these extra-credit projects.”
With turnover sky-high in the company’s fast-growing Chinese market, Julie, a much-valued finance manager with growth potential, has likewise undergone intensive mentoring—and she worries that she may be getting caught betwixt and between. When she was nominated for a high-potential program, her boss complained that the corporate team was interfering with the mentoring operation he was already running in the region. Julie also took part in a less formal scheme pairing junior and senior finance leaders. “I’d prefer to be involved in the corporate program because it is more high-profile,” says Julie, “but it all adds up to a lot of mentoring.”
Are women as likely as men to get mentoring? Yes.
Nathalie, Amy, and Julie are not atypical. As companies continue to see their pipelines leak at mid-to-senior levels even though they’ve invested considerable time and resources in mentors and developmental opportunities, they are actively searching for ways to retain their best female talent. In a 2010 World Economic Forum report on corporate practices for gender diversity in 20 countries [click here], 59% of the companies surveyed say they offer internally led mentoring and networking programs, and 28% say they have women-specific programs. But does all this effort translate into actual promotions and appointments for both sexes?
Does mentoring provide the same career benefits to men and women? No.
The numbers suggest not. A 2008 Catalyst survey of more than 4,000 full-time-employed men and women—high potentials who graduated from top MBA programs worldwide from 1996 to 2007—shows that the women are paid $4,600 less in their first post-MBA jobs, occupy lower-level management positions, and have significantly less career satisfaction than their male counterparts with the same education. That’s also the case when we take into account factors such as their industry, prior work experience, aspirations, and whether they have children. (For more findings, see Nancy M. Carter and Christine Silva, “Women in Management: Delusions of Progress,” HBR March 2010 by clicking here.) Yet among that same group, more women than men report having mentors. If the women are being mentored so thoroughly, why aren’t they moving into higher management positions?
To better understand what is going on, we conducted in-depth interviews with 40 high-potential men and women (including Nathalie, Amy, and Julie) who were selected by their large multinational company to participate in its high-level mentoring program. We asked about the hurdles they’ve faced as they’ve moved into more-senior roles, as well as what kinds of help and support they’ve received for their transitions. We also analyzed the 2008 survey to uncover any differences in how men and women are mentored and in the effects of their mentoring on advancement. Last, we compared those data with the results of a 2010 survey of the same population, in which we asked participants to report on promotions and lateral moves since 2008.
Do men and women have the same kinds of mentors? No.
All mentoring is not created equal, we discovered. There is a special kind of relationship—called sponsorship—in which the mentor goes beyond giving feedback and advice and uses his or her influence with senior executives to advocate for the mentee. Our interviews and surveys alike suggest that high-potential women are over mentored and under sponsored relative to their male peers—and that they are not advancing in their organizations. Furthermore, without sponsorship, women not only are less likely than men to be appointed to top roles but may also be more reluctant to go for them.
Why Mentoring Fails Women
Although more women than men in the 2008 Catalyst survey report-having mentors [click here], the women’s mentors have less organizational clout. We find this to be true even after controlling for the fact that women start in lower-level positions post-MBA. That’s a real disadvantage, the study shows, because the more senior the mentor, the faster the mentee’s career advancement. Despite all the effort that has gone into developing the women since 2008, the follow-up survey in 2010 reveals that the men have received 15% more promotions. The two groups have had similar numbers of lateral moves (same-level job assignments in different functions, designed to give high potentials exposure to various parts of the business). But men were receiving promotions after the lateral moves; for the women, the moves were offered in lieu of advancement.
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Herminie Ibarra (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor of organizational behavior and the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning at Instead in Fontainebleau, France, and the author of Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career (Harvard Business Review Press, 2003).
Nancy M. Carter (email@example.com) is the vice president of research at Catalyst, a New York–based nonprofit that works with businesses to expand opportunities for women; she is also a visiting scholar at Instead.
Christine Silva (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a director of research at Catalyst.