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Archive for IT Professional Development

According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, the number people working at home has risen by 115 percent since 2005; that’s almost 10 times faster than growth in other sectors. And, this number doesn’t take into account those who are self-employed.

It’s not unusual for IT pros to work remotely, or virtually. When they do, and especially for those who may be introverts, it can be tough to stay in touch. But that’s exactly what you need to do.

That trite saying “out of sight, out of mind” is trite for a reason—because it’s true! In the traditional workplace, “watercooler conversations” are a common means of staying connected. Employees pass each other in the hallways, run into each other in the lunchroom, say “hi” and “bye” in the parking lot and interact in a variety of ways, formal and casual, throughout the day.

Remote workers don’t have these same opportunities for interaction. And, while there’s some benefit to this—more productivity, for instance—there are also drawbacks. Forming and nurturing connections with coworkers, managers, senior leaders and others can have a wide range of benefits.

So, how can you keep communication channels open when working remotely?

Be Mindful

Recognize the fact that communication between yourself and others is important and that it is likely to be more challenging when working remotely than when in the workplace. Considering that communication can be very challenging within the workplace, should alert you to the potential for issues to emerge when working remotely.

If you tend to be an introvert, being mindful of the importance of interaction is particularly important. While you may draw your energy and inspiration from being alone, you must make an effort to connect with others to be successful in your remote role.

Become Adept with Multiple Tools

There are a variety of tools that can make it easy to connect with colleagues whether they’re in the work environment, or also working remotely. If you’re working for a single organization, make sure to become adept using whatever tools they have in place to communicate with remote staff. Or, if they don’t have any tools in place, or the tools are clunky, make some recommendations about other options.

If you work with a variety of clients, you likely enjoy both the benefits and potential frustration of needing to learn and use a variety of tools. That variety can actually be a good thing, though, because it can help you identify those tools that work best for you—and that might work better for your clients than what they’re currently using.

This Groove blog post lists a number of tools (including Groove, of course).

Schedule Times to Connect

Don’t leave communication to chance. One of the best ways to ensure that you’re staying connected is to schedule regular times to connect with key members of the work team. That may be a quick morning check-in, or a weekly session to discuss progress and upcoming deliverables. You may need to schedule different types of interactions with different people, or teams. Getting these regularly scheduled events on your calendar will ensure that you’re staying in touch.

Don’t Overlook Personal Connections

When working remotely, it’s easy for any communications you have to be all about business. But working effectively with others means also connecting on a personal level. Take the time to do that by:

  • Not diving right into business when starting a call
  • Using video-enabled tools like Skype to get more personal – putting a face (and voice) with a name is important
  • Ask to be looped in on company communications—news- or e-letters, company-wide announcements, etc., so you can stay on top of what’s going on
  • Acknowledge special days or occasions of those you interact with—birthdays, promotions, etc.; it only takes a moment to send a quick email or, better yet, pick up the phone and connect personally, but your efforts will mean a lot
  • Speaking of the phone…don’t over-rely on tools like e-mail, group chat or other electronic means of communication; a phone call can deliver a much more personal touch

Making an effort to connect personally, as well as professionally, will help to ensure that you’re “in mind” for your coworkers and other members of the organization.

Stay Engaged

This is all about caring. You really need to care about the people you work for and the company you work for and make a personal effort to stay engaged—to not blow off meetings or calls, to make an effort to learn about the people you work with, to check in from time to time—even when formal meetings aren’t scheduled. It requires effort, but that effort will pay off.

Aim for Face Time if Possible

Finally, if possible, find times when you can connect with members of your team face to face. If you’re located in the same city, obviously, you can do this more regularly than if you’re located across the country—or in another country.

Despite the ability of technology to allow us to work with anyone, from anywhere, there are times when making contact face-to-face really makes a difference.

Warning Signs That a Job May Not Be Right for You

Over the years Amazon has taken some heat for its “terrible” culture stemming back to 2015 and a blistering piece in The New York Times. But whether the culture is terrible, or not, is really a matter of perception and personal opinion. The determination of whether a corporate culture is effective, or not (and effective is really a better descriptor than “good”) has to do with whether the company achieves its goals.

It’s not really about good, or bad—it’s about fit. And that’s one of the first considerations that a prospective employee should bring to mind when considering whether a job may be right for them.

People who are competitive, hard-driving and thrive on pressure, tough deadlines and direct feedback will likely thrive in Amazon’s culture. People who prefer a more laid-back, collegial atmosphere probably won’t.

One person’s great job can be another’s worst nightmare. It may have nothing at all to do with the company, or the position, but a lot to do with you—your preferences, values and work habits. What warning signs should you be alert to when considering a job offer?

Personal Values

Much of what determines whether or not a job will be a good fit are your own personal values, beliefs and expectations. A good starting point when seeking a job, or thinking about changing jobs, is to think about your own personal mission statement.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People popularized the concept in his book. Personal mission statements, just like organizational mission statements, serve as a foundation against which to measure, compare or consider various decisions. Your person mission statement, then, can be a guidepost to help you determine jobs that may, or may not be a good fit. A company with values that don’t align with your values is not likely to be a good fit.

Little Signs

During the job application, interview and screening process you are likely to encounter a number of signs—subtle, and not so subtle—that can give you some clues about what working at the company might be like:

  • Are employees friendly? Do they greet each other—and you—when they encounter you, or do they turn away?
  • Do employees seem happy? Do you see employees chatting with each other in the hallways? Are they smiling? Or are they sitting at their desks, behind doors, looking frustrated or frazzled?
  • What is the environment like? Is it clean, modern, open and light—or cluttered, even dirty; cramped and dark? Are desks, furnishings and equipment in good condition suggesting that the company is willing to invest in its employees—or old, dilapidated and worn out, suggesting an environment that might be extremely budget conscious?
  • Has the job been open for a long time, or is it a job that seems to be posted frequently?
  • Why did the former person in the job leave? If it was for an internal promotion, great! If you ask the question and the interviewing team seems uncomfortable, perhaps not so good.

Take advantage of the time you have to personally interact with a company—not only the hiring team, but others you encounter while you’re on site. Those interactions can tell you a lot, if you’re attuned to the signs.

The Critical Questions

There will come a point in most interviews when you’re asked whether you have any questions for the interviewer(s); you should. This is your opportunity to delve into some of the issues that will help you determine whether, or not, the company will be a good fit. For instance:

  • If you’re applying for a managerial position and want to get a sense of the level of authority you may have, you might ask about your level of sign-off for expenses, and the approval process. A response of: “Managers can approve up to $50, anything over that amount needs to go to their director and the CFO for approval” sends a clear signal that this may be a very tight ship.
  • If corporate social responsibility is important to you, you might ask about the causes that the company supports and opportunities that employees have to get involved, or about whether the company allows time off for volunteerism.

The point is that you will have an opportunity during the recruitment process to ask the critical questions that can help you determine whether this job is right for you.

Does the Company Have a Bad Reputation?

Just as prospective employers should check into the backgrounds of their applicants, prospective employees should check into the reputation of the companies they’re considering working for. That’s relatively easy to do these days with sites like Glassdoor providing transparent insights into what it’s like to work for a wide range of companies—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Companies take these reviews seriously; you should too.

In addition to Glassdoor, LinkedIn can be a good source of information and insights into company culture and climate. Are you connected to anyone who works, or has worked, for the company you’re considering? A simple search on LinkedIn for the company name will quickly tell you. If not directly connected, you can always find mutual connections to help make an introduction.

Check out the company’s social media sites—including any sites that may belong to company leaders or employees. You can glean some key information about the style and tone of the organization by reviewing how the company, and its staff members, respond to online comments—and the nature of those comments.

Finally, heed the subtle warning signs that may be keeping you up at night. Don’t accept a job that just doesn’t seem to be a fit. It probably isn’t.

New Ways of Thinking About Performance Management

Face it. Performance management and employee reviews are the bane of existence for most managers—and the employees they manage! It’s unfortunate that a practice that should be designed to improve employee performance and contribution to the company, while developing career-related skills that are personally important, often becomes a dreaded—and, sometimes, contentious—once-a-year interaction. It doesn’t have to be that way; here are some new ways that HR is approaching the performance management process.

From Episodic to Ongoing

The idea of having a formal meeting, once a year, between an employee and his or her manager to get useful feedback to drive effectiveness and performance improvement is clearly flawed. In an era where jobs were narrowly defined, goals were clear, and the internal and external environment was very stable, that approach may have worked to a certain degree. It really doesn’t work today, though.

More companies are moving to more frequent ways for employees and managers to have conversations related to performance.

Adobe has gone from an annual performance review process to a Check-in approach that requires managers to meet with employees regularly to provide feedback. The result, according to Adobe, more engaged and empowered employees.

A Focus on Measurable Outcomes

What does a “3” really mean on a scale of “1-5”? That question has been the source of much conflict and consternation for both employees and managers as they attempted to navigate the often qualitative application of quantitative metrics to employee performance.

Google has been at the forefront of taking a more metric-driven approach, guided by KPCB’s John Doerr who encouraged Google to adopt Intel’s approach to using objectives and key results (OKRs) in performance evaluation, as outlined in a Fast Company article.

A key point made in a Harvard Business Review article, “The Performance Management Revolution,” by Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis, is this: the biggest drawback to annual reviews is their focus on past, rather than future, behavior. “With their heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments and their end-of-year structure, they hold people accountable for past behavior at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future,” say the authors.

It’s a good point. Whichever model of, or approach to, performance management you take, a focus on how the process will serve to positively impact performance, productivity and profits should guide your decisions.

The Balance Between Hiring for Fit and Inclusion

Talent managers these days talk a lot about “hiring for fit” and the concept is sound. After all, to create and maintain a strong corporate culture, companies are well served to ensure that those they hire will fit into that culture.

But, there’s a flip side to this commonly held wisdom. Building a culture based on “fit” can serve to keep those who are “different” in some ways out of the organization. That can create risks both from an EEOC standpoint and, perhaps more importantly, from an innovation standpoint. If your organization is built of people who look, act and think the same what innovative ideas and opportunities might you be overlooking?

The Argument for Fit

Culture could be thought of the morals and mores that hold an organization together. That shared beliefs that define “how work gets done here.” Fit, we’re told, is an important factor that goes into determining whether, or not, an employee will be successful at an organization and organizations are uniquely known for their individual cultures.

Amazon, for instance, is reputed to be cut-throat and competitive. REI, on the other hand, is known for a culture where employees can give “life to their purpose.” It’s a team-based environment where employees collaborate rather than compete.

What makes a culture “good,” of course, will be highly dependent on each individual employee’s preferences. Competitive employees, for instance, may find Amazon to be a much better culture than REI. Those who prefer a collaborative environment, on the other hand, would be wise to steer clear of organizations like Amazon.

That dichotomy underlies the argument for hiring for fit, as many top companies—like Google, Southwest Airlines, Zappos and more are widely known to do.

But, in the process of hiring employees who “fit” are companies also at risk of minimizing the value that can come from diversity of thought—and background? Is a focus on a more inclusive, rather than homogeneous culture more beneficial?

The Argument for Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are two closely tied concepts that a growing number of organizations are focused on today. Diversity generally refers to the differences among people. In a workplace, those differences might be related to sex, age, race, religion—and a wide range of other factors. Inclusion, in a work environment, refers to the ability to include—or allow—a wide range of thoughts and opinions to flourish. It’s not just about having a diverse workforce; it’s about ensuring that the diverse ideas of that diverse workforce can be leveraged.

Differences of opinions, and diversity of thought can lead to breakthrough thinking that can fuel innovation and lead to new discoveries—new products, new markets, new processes. If everybody thinks the same, common wisdom would suggest, breakthroughs are less likely to occur.

Bringing the Two Together

Can cultural fit and diversity coexist in an organization? Of course. The answer lies in ensuring that we are considering these constructs appropriately.

When we’re talking about cultural fit we’re talking about shared values or philosophies about how we will interact and work with each other. Fit shouldn’t be, as it sometimes is, used to consider how well you might “get along with” or “agree with” individuals. Fit, for instance, isn’t about ensuring that a high-tech company is staffed with Gen Y and Gen Z employees because Baby Boomers “aren’t like us.”

When we’re talking about diversity we’re not just talking about differences in the way we look. Importantly, we’re talking about—or should be talking about—differences in the ways we think, the unique background and perspectives we can bring to bear to ensure that conversations that take place can drive innovation. And, yes, our different ages, sex, ethnic backgrounds and religions all serve to provide us with important differing perspectives that can open new ways of approaching the work we do.

Southwest Airlines, for instance, has a strong cultural focus on customer service and fun. That means that hiring managers will look for employees who value serving others and value having fun. That doesn’t mean that they will avoid certain segments of employees based on perceptions that they “aren’t fun.”

Yes, it is okay to hire for fit when you’re looking for employees who will uphold your organization’s values based on objective criteria that indicate whether, or not, they will do so. No, it’s not okay to hire for fit and base decisions on biases or misperceptions. “Older people aren’t flexible.” “Women can’t be tough.” “White males are too conservative.”

For organizations to succeed in an increasingly competitive and increasingly faced-paced business environment they need to draw upon the input and wide range of backgrounds and opinions of employees they select to join their organizations. Cultural fit does not mean the employees you hire all look or think alike. It means that they have the likelihood of thinking differently, together, with a shared focus of supporting the organization’s mission, vision and values.

Leveraging Diversity Through Dissension and Discord

The political environment has certainly ramped up the level of potential dissension and discord within workplaces around the country. And, while that dissension and discord can be disruptive and divisive, there are times when it’s just what’s required to leverage the value of diverse perspectives, backgrounds and experiences. It’s a lesson NASA’s widely known “group think” issue related to the space shuttle Challenger disaster should have taught us all. But we may not have needed that lesson.

The Origins of GroupThink

In 1972, psychologist Irving Janis coined the term Groupthink, to refer to the tendency of cohesive groups to agree with each other—to seek consensus and avoid disagreement. That may seem to be a good thing on the surface. However, in business settings, agreement for the sake of agreement can lead to missed opportunities, and even mistakes.

That’s what famously occurred during the Challenger disaster when scientists, concerned about the functioning of an O-ring seal on one of the rocket boosters failed to voice their concerns. As a New York Times piece reported in 2003, “Worries about the O-rings circulated within the agency for months begore the accident, but ‘NASA appeared to be requiring a contractor to prove that it was not safe to launch, rather than proving it was safe’.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/09/weekinreview/the-nation-nasa-s-curse-groupthink-is-30-years-old-and-still-going-strong.html) While not the only incidence of Groupthink in American history, it’s one of the most widely known and a cautionary tale for companies that seek too quickly to reach consensus.

The Value of Diverse Thought

In a 2016 article for Harvard Business Review, “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter,” authors David Rock and Heidi Grant make a persuasive argument in favor of diverse teams, noting that they:

  • Focus more on facts
  • Process facts more carefully
  • Are more innovative

“Diverse teams are smarter,” says Shirley Engelmeier, founder and CEO of InclusionINC, a global consulting and learning organization that specializes in inclusion and diversity solutions. “When people are different they’re more willing to actually look at the facts more carefully, rather than just immediately going along with what others are thinking.”

That’s important, Engelmeier says, because in business “getting to quick agreement isn’t the point—when people have differing opinions is when innovation occurs.”

Beyond Discord and Dissension

While seeking discord and dissension may be taking the issue too far, Engelmeier says what companies should really seek is “disagreement and different perspectives.” And, importantly, they should really take the time to listen to those differing opinions. Many leaders fail to do that in their focus on outcomes and the constant pressures of business life. Quick decisions sometimes seem like the best decisions, but they rarely are.

Seeking, even encouraging different perspective and different ways at looking at issues is what can lead to the kind of breakthrough thinking that characterizes organizations like Amazon, Google and others are known for. It’s not about “getting everyone on board” – it’s about hearing what everyone has to say, especially those who are closest to the customer, says Engelmeier. “Ask me what I think because I’m closest to the job and then actually be willing to listen to what I say.” Even, and especially, if what they say differs from your point-of-view. That point in time when you’re presented with a diverging opinion or different perspective from your own, is a point in time when you may be poised on the precipice of an important new insight.

Encouraging New Perspectives

For leaders and managers seeking to build a culture that embraces divergent ideas, there are some relatively simple steps they can take:

  • Actively build diverse teams both within organizational functions and within ad hoc teams or committees. If you look around a meeting room table and everyone looks like you, that’s a bad sign.
  • But don’t just build diverse teams. Diversity without inclusion is meaningless, asserts Engelmeier. The work of her company is focused on helping organizations do something productive with the diversity they build. That starts with seeking, and listening, to diverse viewpoints.
  • Set the example. If leaders are known to immediately shoot down any new idea, or opinion, the flow of those new ideas and opinions will quickly stop. Conveying a willingness to both seek, and listen to diverse inputs will set the stage for others to do the same.
  • When agreement is too quickly achieved, ask explicitly for divergent views. This is often referred to as seeking a “devil’s advocate”—someone who will take an opposite, or different, perspective to help spur thoughtful conversation.
  • Celebrate the outcomes of divergent thinking—and, yes, even discord and dissension. Respectful disagreement can be positive and shouldn’t be avoided.

By thoughtfully building diverse teams, nurturing a culture that supports different perspectives and viewpoints, and setting an example by being a leader known to accept—even embrace—different views, you can go a long way toward driving innovation and breakthrough thinking in a competitive business environment that demands it.

Are wearable devices the next HR tool? [Video]

Wearable technology, such as fitness trackers and smart watches, has become incredibly popular. According to Entrepreneur, over the next 2 years, more than 81 million adults are expected to be using these devices. And not just for personal reasons.

They can also help improve business and HR operations.

Hi and welcome to the APN video blog!

How can leveraging wearable technology help improve employee satisfaction, performance and reduce costs?

Motion data, sensors and location-tracing functionalities can be used to encourage healthier lifestyles and increase workflow efficiency. Also, Salesforce found that wearables can enhance workplace security, employee productivity and communication. 

However, many workers’ will likely have privacy and security concerns. So wearable technology at work should be optional, not mandatory.

HR leaders must be clear on what and why the data is being collected.

Thanks for watching. For more staffing and HR tips, stick with APN!

How to diversify the workforce [Video]

The underrepresentation of women and minorities in today’s workforce is a major issue that organizations must address immediately.

Hi, and welcome to the APN video blog.

Companies that fail to recruit professionals from diverse backgrounds are limited in their perspective, performance and creativity. Some hiring managers aren’t even aware of their biases.

To diversify your workforce, The Multicultural Advantage recommended conducting an employee survey to identify problem areas, and using the results to guide an actionable plan of improvement.

Another strategy is to promote women and minorities to leadership roles, since they will be more likely to consider diversity when making decisions.

Businesses should also ensure they are perceived as equal opportunity employers, and that typically entails partnering with a diversity supplier, such as APN Consulting.

The National Minority Supplier Development Council has certified APN, meaning that we have proven to possess the ability to help companies create a more diverse and, ultimately, successful workforce.

Thanks for watching, and for more recruitment tips and insight, stick with APN!

Although artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies have begun to eliminate the need for administrative and customer service workers, IT pros need not be concerned.

And a recent study showed that many aren’t.

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Some have argued that as AI systems advance in their abilities to think creatively and solve complex challenges, the demand for tech workers may start to decline.

But these innovations are actually expected to improve the IT job market.

Not only will IT pros be able to focus more on the creative and strategic aspects of an organization, but robotics and automation technologies will help make these individuals more efficient at completing their jobs.  Plus, as these self-teaching systems advance and more companies adopt them, the IT job opportunities available to applicants will grow. 

Artificial intelligence will undoubtedly change the IT job market. Fortunately, these adjustments will benefit IT pros.

That’s all for today. For more IT staffing insight and tips, stick with APN!

There's been a lot of discussion surrounding the possible shortage in IT talent.

CRN reported on a recent panel held at the Massachusetts State House in which Verizon Senior Manager Manuel Zapata said that there are simply not enough computer scientists in the workforce available to fill the tech positions that are increasingly opening up. As a job-seeking IT pro, this should be great news. With more opportunities available, you can be more selective in which company to work for, right? This is true. But there's something else you should take into consideration when applying for jobs: Many corporations are reconsidering what qualities and skills they find most important in the people they hire for tech positions.

Google Industry Director Brian Cusack pointed out that, it's not a shortage in IT talent that is becoming an issue. Instead, he said, "I think the question is finding the right talent for the job. We need to hire individuals who have those same types of analytics skills that can be combined with salesmanship."

"There has been a shift in the kind of qualities companies want in IT pros."

The strategy of  recruiting job seekers that possess a blend of specialties is being adopted by giants in other segments. PwC FinTech Director Jeremy Drane recently told Coin Desk that filling financial technology positions can be challenging, not because the candidates aren't highly-skilled, but because they are overly specialized in one category. 

"For us, we're looking for people that cut across all domains, and there aren't a lot of people out there," he told the source.

It's not just businesses, then, that are experiencing increased competition in the job market. Developers and engineers now have to compete with applicants that have specialties in areas even outside of IT.  This is why, to become a more appealing candidate and improve your hireability, you need to focus on skills that aren't just about writing algorithms.

Here are some of the most important qualities and how you can demonstrate them in the recruitment process.

Critical and strategic thinking
In an interview, you already expect to be answering programming questions. Often, the hiring manager will ask you to solve a coding challenge. But it's important to keep in mind that gauging your ability to solve a problem isn't the only purpose of these puzzles. They're not just interested in the final conclusion, but the process you took to get there. Were you decisive and confident? Did you change strategies at any point? Did you need guidance or were you productive with exploring the issue on your own?

When you are being asked questions during the interview, don't just limit yourself to one answer. The hiring manager may highlight a (real or fake) problem they had and inquire about what solution you would propose. To demonstrate that you are capable of strategic thinking, instead of suggesting, for example, a single programming language, cover multiple scenarios where one may be better to use over another.

The approach IT pros take to problem solving can be as important as the result. The approach IT pros take to problem solving can be as important as the result.

Communication skills
It is important that you not only show you have the technical skills to solve the business challenges, but that you are able to clearly articulate to non-IT pros how and why a particular process was used. Practice discussing the way you solve an issue from start to finish. As companies begin to integrate the perspectives and opinions of tech workers more heavily into the overall corporate strategy for innovation in growth, it is going to be valuable to have an IT expert that can maintain clear communication. Therefore, it is important that you're able to convince the hiring manager you are able to communicate well.

If you're being interviewed by a hiring manager that isn't trained or knowledgeable in IT, avoid using too much industry jargon. So, before you head into the interview, it may help to explain some specific technical projects to a non-tech-savvy friend. If he or she is able to understand, you're likely doing it right.

Teamwork
IT continues to overlap with other areas of the business. Therefore, it is going to be increasingly important that you are able to collaborate and work well with other workers. This can be demonstrated on multiple levels, starting with that you include on your resume. Open source projects, for example, may indicate that you're comfortable working with other programmers' code.

"In IT hiring, it's not just technical skills that matter."

To convince a hiring manager that you are an IT pro who will fit in and get along with the staff, you need to hone your people skills. Ask about the company's current tech team and what struggles they face on the job. Inquire about other areas of the business to show you are looking at the big picture of the organization's performance, not just the individual responsibilities of the specific role you're applying for.

As the competitiveness of IT recruitment intensifies, you want to make sure you are prepared to promote yourself in a way that will be most appealing to the top companies. And, right now, that means harnessing a wide range of qualities and skills, only some of which are directly related to programming.

Most business leaders and decision-makers understand the importance of data security. But, according to a recent study conducted by Dell, not enough know the right way to go about it.

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Research has shown that 67 percent of IT pros agree that their organizations are not investing enough into data security budgets. And more than half of those surveyed said that cost is a major concern when installing new security features. 

 This information can give job-seeking IT pros an advantageous angle to persuade hiring managers when it comes to demonstrating the kind of value they can bring to the company.

Here’s the pitch: By recruiting you as a top data security specialist, your future employer can ensure strong security, without having to waste revenue on ineffective methods. 

That’s all for today. For more IT tips and insight, stick with APN!

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