Ask (guest article)

“Get what I want ’cause I ask for it,
Not because I’m really that deserving of it” 

If you are a fan of Marina & the Diamonds, you have probably heard this wildly popular track. Outside of being a fun track to dance to, it does offer some very valuable life lessons. My favourite lesson though is the one captured in the above sentences. It is one I thankfully learnt very early in my career, have reaped immense benefits from and am constantly encouraging everyone else to do.

My first ever job began by shadowing an HR Business Partner (HRBP). For two weeks, all new college hires (including me) were assigned to an HRBP each. Our responsibilities comprised of following the HRBP, observing their daily activities and helping them where possible. At the end of the two weeks, we were allocated to our respective teams. I was assigned to be a part of a newly formed team that was responsible for all company-wide HR projects and programmes. I had just emerged from an enjoyable experience of shadowing an HRBP and no intention of doing anything other than be an HRBP myself. Therefore, with my usual self-assured college confidence, I walked into the hiring managers’ cabin and let him know exactly what I wanted to do.

As I put forward my request to be an HRBP, rather than be allocated to my team, I saw a number of emotions run past his face beginning with shock, surprise and then transitioning into amusement at the impertinence of it all. For a few fleeting seconds, I felt like I had made my first career mistake. Fortunately, for me he had sufficient influence and a good heart. He started by saying that he had never before seen someone within the first few weeks of their career turn down a team. He asked me to wait, and within a few weeks, I was an HRBP.

I sometimes wonder how different my life would have turned out had I never asked.

Post the success of that request, I can quote numerous instances where I shed aside inhibitions and asked for things not normally asked for. I have, as a result, received invitations to conferences, access to training, budgets for projects, sponsored flights and more.

As one of my previous managers said, “Always ask for what you want, even if you think it is impossible to receive. What is the worst that can happen? They’ll say no.”

I very quickly learnt that the inhibitions we create in our heads are always larger than those that really exist. Asking for what you want is a competitive advantage in today’s world. Not enough people are asking. That alone increases the likelihood of requests being granted.

There are two important parts to this competitive advantage which are firstly asking and then explaining the rationale behind the request. You thought it was as easy as just asking, didn’t you? As important as it is to ask, the other half of making a successful request is to understand why you want what you want and translating it into a language that others understand. Of course, there are a few other factors such as the right time for a request and so on. However, those are good to consider but not an absolute necessity.

I love challenges and hence here is one for you: think back over the past year and mentally note the opportunities that you potentially missed as a result of not asking. Think over the next few weeks and identify opportunities that you would like but have been hesitant to ask for before. Start small. Very soon, you will realize that it is actually a very simple thing to do. If you have been asking for a while, consider snowballing it into a larger request.

Asking is liberating and an extremely fulfilling exercise. It is the best way to avoid the multiple ‘what if’ questions that haunt us throughout life. It is not a career-limiting move. If anything, it pushes your career forward faster than ever before. It is also one lesson that translates seamlessly from your work life into your personal life.

So tell me – what are you going to ask for next?

Ankita Poddar Bio

This has been a guest article written by Ankita Poddar, an HR professional based out of India. Identified as one of the emerging young HR leaders in India in 2016, Ankita’s experience as an HR Business Partner gives her the opportunity to work closely with business leaders, innovate and execute on the behalf of customers especially in areas of people analytics, employee engagement, rewards and recognition and performance management. Ankita blogs about all things HR at The HR Business Partner Story site. You can follow her on Twitter.

Would you like to write an article for The Avid Doer? Check out this link for more info.

Mitigating risk at work

It all sounds a bit corporate, doesn’t it? ‘Mitigating risk’. It’s usually a term associated with project management. You don’t need to hold a title of ‘project manager’ to manage projects; in theory, most of the tasks you carry out in your day-to-day role are either short- or long-term projects, and with each of these projects come various degrees of risk, i.e. factors that can make a project go wrong.

These factors include:

  • People – the skills, capabilities, behaviours and attitudes of those who are actively participating in the project
  • Resource – the amount of people needed for a successful project
  • Stakeholders – a step beyond ‘People’, but those who have a degree of influence and interest in the project but may not actively be involved in carrying out the project
  • Money – whether enough is available or not
  • Logistics – the logistics and scheduling needed to carry out the project
  • External influences – the economy, politics, environment, and customer behaviour.

And many more. Effective communication throughout the entire process promotes a seamless synchronicity and ensures red flags are brought to the right people’s attention at the earliest possible time.

Risk management

To quote from the aptly-named project management blog Project Manager:

“At its most simple, risk management is a process of forecasting and planning for potential challenges to your business or project. When done correctly, risk planning enables you to prioritize risk and work to eliminate or lessen the impact of the potential risks on your project or business.”

For projects, for work or for our careers, avoiding risk means that we:

  • Identify the risks, listing out all worst-case-scenarios, potential dangers and any hiccups that might and will crop up
  • Analyse these risks to determine the impact they have and which of these hiccups are in our control
  • Prioritise these risks by the likelihood of them happening
  • Mitigate these risks by putting in the appropriate and proportionate anticipatory measures – or safety nets – so that if the risks were to have an impact despite your efforts to avoid them, you can prepare and lessen the impact. This could even include a contingency plan
  • Monitor these risks, and the efforts we make, to ensure they’re always on our radar so that we are always ahead of them.

This is a standard, non-fancy risk management model. Applying this model is useful for us in two ways. Firstly, managing risk by following this model is a useful skill for anyone in any role. Managing risk from the beginning of any project you work on will help you do your role much more effectively and with minimal disruption. Not only will this promote better mental well-being (as you experience less stress from avoiding, preparing or lessening the impact of hiccups), but you also establish a reputation of being organised, credible and reliable. You are much more on top of things.

Secondly, risk management also plays a role in managing and developing our careers if we recognise it as an ongoing project. Being able to identify risks in your career trajectory means that you can adopt a more proactive approach to development, rather than winging it and dealing with hiccups as they present themselves. This is particularly helpful for those who are in an industry that’s prone to fluctuation (and really, what industry isn’t?). Being able to identify the risks that may influence your field means you can start making the necessary arrangements to mitigate that risk. We need to predict to the best of our ability where our industry will be in 5 years’ time, the demand for our skills in the market at that time, and the skill gaps that may become apparent.

For example, there’s a (necessary) focus on AI at the moment and the associated risks it brings to the job market. If you assess that your current role or career progression against this risk, you can begin now to readjust accordingly, for example upskilling, developing new skills that don’t rely on AI like soft skills, or, in really bad (but opportunistic) situations, changing careers altogether. Determining the likelihood of each risk and how it will impact your career means you can lay down the ground work in time, long before you would feel the impact and influence.

Horizon scanning

This approach to your career trajectory can be coupled with another corporate doozie: horizon scanning.

Olivier Marteaux, Principal of Horizon Scanning at the RSSB, puts horizon scanning eloquently as:

“the intelligence gathering part of strategic foresight, concerned with emerging trends, issues and uncertainties that the future may bring, and assessing their potential impact on organisations.”

While this could be seen as the same to assessing risk, I’d like to think as horizon scanning as something that scopes out opportunities, as well as risk. The quote mentions ‘emerging trends, issues and uncertainties’, and forever the optimistic as I am, their ‘potential impact’ can be just as positive as risks are negative.

Adopting this foresight means you can spot the uncertainties that lie ahead of us and see them as opportunities to learn in anticipation which can be enormously positive for your career.

Look past the corporate jargon and realise the advantages of mitigating risk and horizon scanning. Your work-life, professional reputation and career will reap the benefits if you put the effort into these.

Productive communication

Effective communication plays such an important part in working life and a solid skill to develop for greater success at getting your point across, expressing your opinions, and leading yourself and teams.

What I’m keen to explore though is a deeper step into effective communication: productive communication. It’s great that people can understand what you’re saying, but is it productive? Is it progressive? Is it helpful?

Effective communication needs to be productive; it needs to have a purpose; it needs to have a point for it to be necessary.

Of course, effective communication can also be productive; Leadership Choice lists 4 productive benefits of effective communication, for example mitigating conflict and workplace tension. They explain that whether tension is derived from misunderstanding, not understanding how others communicate, or feeling that emotional needs are being disregarded,:

‘[…] Regardless of the conflict, communication is usually an underlying factor.’

Researching into effective communication, you’ll find somewhere that explains that there are 4 main components to it.

Sorry, 5 components.

No, 6 components.

Wait, 8 over here.

Or are there 9 to be on the safe side?

Whatever the number, there doesn’t seem to be anything about the usefulness and purpose of the communication within these. Adhere to the 4, 5, etc. components and you will no doubt be an effective communicator, and I’m not here to pooh-pooh them. But what’s the point if you don’t have a point?

Your communication needs to have a purpose and intention. If you want to be an effective and productive communicator, check out a really helpful post I read on productive communication which includes these two significant elements within its 10 tips on being strategic about productive communication.

Know your point. Know your intention. Know the outcome or product of your communication.

Underused skills – reasons, consequences and solutions

Mingling within HR circles, there’s a lot of commotion about underused skills in the UK workforce at the moment. A report from the CIPD has found that nearly half of us are completely mismatched in our roles which means we are more likely to leave our jobs and less likely to be promoted.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in the grand scheme of things, we have people leaving roles to better use their skills, and by doing so leaving their now-vacant role for someone who will be more suited and satisfied to fulfil it.

Essentially, one of the main reasons this happens in the first place though is down to job design; whether the role was designed at the point of application (and the employee applied for the wrong reasons or elements of the role weren’t evident up front) or after a natural period of time, the role evolved into something else in response to the organisation’s goals or industry changes.

As avid doers, we may find ourselves in this situation at some point or other in our careers (or multiple points, sadly). Self-initiating change within our roles – and indeed our lives – is something we do to remedy job lolls and where there’s restriction to change and a large portion of our skills aren’t being used, this can be incredibly frustrating.

With frustration, comes disengagement, lack of motivation and a sense of resentment. We may forget the fact that change is our responsibility and instead place the blame elsewhere (mostly our employer) which just breeds more negativity.

So what can you do (after of course you talked it out with your manager)? Multipotentialite leader Emilie Wapnick calls the first suggested solution as The Einstein Approach which means you have a day job unrelated to your hobbies or interests and so allows you to have the mental/creative/physical/etc. stamina to work on your true skills and talents outside of work. I’ve written about this before in my article about not having one true calling, ultimately finding outlets for all your interests without relying on your day job to fulfil these entirely. Who knows – these can end up being the foundation of a bigger and better career that supplements your skills developed in your day job.

Or over at Corporate Rebels – the awesome rebels who are challenging how things work in the corporate world – they much prefer the concept of ‘job crafting’. While they write about it from an employer’s perspective, my take-away from this is that there may be some wiggle room in your role to influence it to go into a certain direction to further use those untapped skills of yours. This will benefit you, your team and your organisation by being happier, more productive and engaged, and using skills that improve the team’s spectrum of abilities. The Corporate Rebels go on to quote Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) who say that job crafting is a:

“self-initiated change behaviour that employees engage in with the aim to align their jobs with their preferences, motives, and passions”

Pretty good huh? No new role, you get to stay where you are AND be happier!

But then of course you do have the option to look for a new role that uses your skills better if Einsteining or job-crafting aren’t possible. Looking elsewhere would be the best option for those who feel they aren’t performing their best in their current role – you might just not have the right opportunity to perform the great skills you have rather than being a poor performer. Think about that possibility the next time you give yourself a hard time at being pants at your job.

Skills transference is a big theme with The Avid Doer blog, so surprise! The option of getting a new and better job also allows you to transfer skills that are both used and unused to combine together in an innovative and unique way, one that will provide a lot more job satisfaction and fulfilment (and set you apart in the application process).

So while the employers are doing what they can to address this workforce issue, there are ways or us to address it to.

Do you feel your skills are underused in your day role? Are there any of these solutions that stands out to you the most?

How to write a business case

Articulating an idea in a way that illustrates the benefits for the business usually takes its first formal format as a business case. This is used to set out the key solutions, advantages and a practical roll out plan to senior or executive leaders who must be sold on the idea without too many criticisms or concerns. 

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to layout – you might find that your company has its own particular and preferred layout whether it’s an unspoken obligation or a mandatory template.

Or you might get to choose your own layout – just try not to be too creative about it as it needs to have some sort of degree of formality to be taken seriously. Unless of course it’s a case study that the business needs to be more creative then by all means have at it!

Whichever the layout, this post explains the key sections a good business case should have to make sure everything is covered. You don’t necessarily need to stick with the title of the sections but make sure the nature of each section is included.

Introduction

The first section should introduce the business case that covers the current situation ie the problem or situation your plan can solve. At this point you don’t particularly want to touch on your proposed solution – reveal this too soon without the background story and you risk the leaders being turned off too soon.

When people hear a controversial or seemingly outlandish idea without having worked through the motions to understand why the idea can actually work, no amount of explanation can convince them to change their mind once it’s been made too soon.

The introduction would normally stick to what is happening right now in a way that suggests that an answer or resolution is needed to stop this happening.

Implications

This section broadens the introduction or current situation. The introduction has acted as a hook, the beginning of the story that convinces and sometimes shocks the audience to pay attention.

This section covers the implications of what the current scenario is producing and takes the shock further. It’s essentially telling them to look at the things that are happening as a result of this problem.

To help you with this, stick to cold hard facts and figures, any that will help you portray the issue accurately.

It’s important not to put across your own agenda, which is easier said than done, but keeping to the figures and facts, and what they’re telling you is a good start. You shouldn’t be selective with this either, omitting certain facts from the case purely because it doesn’t fight your case very well.

On the contrary, you should include these not only to prove the integrity of the business case (by being transparent with the data) but to also help pinpoint exactly where the issue lies.

For example, if you’re trying to prove that your team’s performance is dropping due to lack of wellbeing initiatives, but miss out two team members whose performance is actually increasing, including these in the case can actually help your point.

The point isn’t that the team’s performance as a whole is declining, it’s that there are localised issues, and being able to see the differences between the high and low performing members can help your case if you’re providing a specific rather than general solution.

Detriment of taking no action

The ‘Implications’ section focussed on the facts and figures now, the result of the current issue. This section looks at the detriment of inaction and projects these facts and figures into the future.

These predictions highlight the potentially escalating nature of the issue, bringing home the big message that essentially says “this is a big problem and if we don’t do something about it now, it’ll only get bigger.”

At this point graphs that illustrate a trajectory of decline and/or peril will help the audience digest the information quicker.

As I talked about in this post about presenting data using graphs is a good way to show the overall picture without the need of specific numbers, or in other words, all the lines are going in the wrong direction and that’s bad.

So far, the business case has looked at the current situation, the implications of the situation and what will happen if no action is taken. We have them at the edge of their seats for a solution!

Proposed solution

And lo you have a solution. Not only does your solution correct all the wrongs of the previous three sections, it details the proposed approach.

It’s all very well in saying, for example, employees will be rewarded for their hard work to resolve an issue of lack of engagement, but it’s not enough to support your case.

In this section, you need to detail how your proposed solution will be rolled out, anticipating any questions you might expect the audience may have. These need to be written in clear actionable points, which will in turn essentially be the specific requests you are asking the audience to agree on.

They should know exactly what you will go away and do by them agreeing these points, as well as the consequences of them, i.e. resolution.

This can be helped by referring specific actions to specific people or teams from the previous sections, to the point where if you were to read back over the problem sections, they can be ticked off one by one as “sorted”.

You could have a separate section for Results but by doing so you run the risk of subconscious disassociation between the proposed solution and the results.

As such, I recommend keeping them together, as a single unit of solution and results rather than two separate points to consider.

You may also have a number of solutions up your sleeve and want to run each of them by the audience for their preference. In which case, it’s good to have some sort of clear comparison to the options, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and your recommendation with reasons.

Conclusion

The concluding section will consist of a summary of the case and a formal request to consider it as a whole as well as agreeing those actionable points.

Where applicable, it can be helpful to use this section to direct them to any appendices or annexes* that helped you with your business case, or any extensive and comprehensive pieces of data that aren’t necessary for the business case but still available should it be needed.

This basic structure is a good starting point when constructing your business case. It almost follows a story format: this bad thing is happening, causing all of these problems, and they’ll only get worse, until help comes along to solve the issue and as a result good things happen…

Very crude way of putting it but you get the gist!

Hitting the right note is your aim, particularly if you’re in front of a tough crowd to please.

* Ever wondered what the difference between an appendix and an annex is? An appendix is additional content relevant to the main body of text that you have put together but is better as an aside, for example case studies or tables of data. An annex is a supplementary document that has been put together by someone else but still helpful for reference or part of your research, for example a report on performance by the CMI, or a relevant article. 

 

The importance of good customer service in HR

My first customer service role was at the age of 16 at a local shop/petrol station, and I quickly learned about the multi-characteristic nature of the customer demographic. I then started to work with customers over the phone in another company where I discovered a new set of characteristics to add to this customer scope. Then I started waiting on tables which broadened the demographic even further to unexpected heights (those in catering know what I’m talking about)!

All in all, I began to see all types of personalities the world has to offer. Some were a delight to serve, some not so. Some were easy to deal with, some not so. Some taught me patience, and did not so.

To me, the customer demographic is a snapshot of the broad spectrum of personalities, and in my opinion, dealing with customers early on in a career develops important people skills that HR professionals can take with them throughout their careers.

The majority of us work with people who come with their own personality (or personalities) and dealing with some of them in a professional capacity can be a struggle, even under the implied constraints of workplace etiquette.

Customers are not obliged to adhere to, or behave under the scope of HR policies, company etiquette, or even social expectation. Indeed, they can throw at you whatever personality they want and there is nothing you can do about it other than react with complete and utter servitude and diplomacy in order to resolve the situation on your toes.

Typically, HR rarely deals with ‘customers’. Those who we provide advice to are ‘colleagues’ – staff, managers, business managers, senior leaders – but at times it can be difficult to handle situations with objectivity and diplomacy as you would with a customer.

So why are good customer service skills important in HR? Here are just five out many skills that are important in both settings:

  1. Co-operation

Using good customer service skills encourages co-operation. Rather than a position of servitude, we must be able to co-operate with our colleagues for the best outcome, one which has the least negative impact by personality negotiation.

Defusing situations before tensions rise is a key skill in both customer service and dealing with colleagues, and by understanding the same principles of the server-customer relationship, we can aim to co-operate better.

  1. Respect

We each deserve respect, and in my opinion, good customer service is demonstrated when a customer is shown respect even when they themselves are being disrespectful. This shows a huge amount of integrity.

Showing respect for teams and colleagues means that you maintain professionalism even under extreme confrontations, and will find it quicker and easier to reach diplomatic resolutions. It also demonstrates general good character which is a trait that will help you organically progress in your career anyway.

  1. Listening

A good skill in general, listening – or more specifically, active listening – in customer service means you provide the customer ample opportunity to voice their objections and opinions in whichever way they feel is more productive (even when it isn’t).

Even when they’re screaming and shouting, actively listening to this in a responsive, rather than a defensive way, means you’re assessing the emotion and frustration from their vent, thus understanding the impact a situation has on them.

Hearing what is being said, and the undertones not said, you are then much more likely to be able to identify the root of the problem they have experienced. This can be applied when dealing with a frustrated or upset manager for example and use other skills as a HR professional to provide solutions to their problem.

Even if solutions cannot be found, or at least not in the manager’s favour, actively listening will assure the manager that you have taken the time to understand the issue to give the tailored solution.

  1. Process improvement

As a follow-up from the point on listening, working with customers and listening to their problems provides you first-hand opportunities to identify process flaws or gaps.

You’re at the firing line of the negative impact these gaps have on the customers, and by providing them with solutions to resolve the situation, you are in the position to address these gaps on a more permanent basis by suggesting longer-term process improvements.

In the HR environment, dealing with colleagues and other stakeholders, you act as the fixer between company’s goals and weaknesses via its people. You are in the position of having the business acumen and people skills of an HR professional, and applying these to the day-to-day issues managers and employees experience.

Process improvement is just one step for bigger successes HR can facilitate, for example improvements on culture, employer branding and the employee value proposition.

  1. Going the extra mile

Customer service roles can sometimes be incredibly satisfying, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes applying discretionary effort to helping customers.

When applying the effort on the frontline, appreciation and gratitude is (mostly) expressed immediately, and the satisfying feeling it gives you makes you want to do it again.

Applying this in HR gets the same results (if you work in that sort of company of course). Just like coming up with discretionary and one-off solutions for customers in exceptional circumstances, HR provides enough opportunities to provide the same for colleagues and stakeholders without expectation of reward or special treatment.

It begins to teach you a great sense of occupational pride, knowing that you have sometimes the capacity to go that extra mile in order for big results to have a positive impact.

So by treating those to which we provide advice as customers, we carry that mind set of pleasing the customer through the things we do at work.

The company’s customers

As an aside, HR does in fact have distant dealings with customers in that whatever we do in our daily role(s) ultimately has a knock-on effect on the customer or end user.

We guide and support managers to deal with staff who are essentially the face of the company to its customers. How this employee is managed and supported by their manager is determined by the support we can give in order for the customer to receive good service.

The benefit of understanding this, and the skills and aptitude needed for good customer service, is that we can better place ourselves in frontline staff’s shoes.

We can begin to empathise with what can be a challenging role, considering, as mentioned, there are very few restraints within which customers should conduct themselves, other than the prohibition of expletives and violence.

The stress that comes with is can be excruciating, and as HR professionals we must be conscious of this fact and factor it into our advice and strategies.

The benefit of understanding the importance of the skills needed for good customer service means we can also work better in the business with our colleagues and stakeholders in general.

Adopting a customer-pleasing approach in the things that we do ensures we go about our work with pride, respect and understanding.

If you are currently in a customer service role and aspire to become an HR professional, I hope this has demonstrated the close link between the two and encourages you to emphasise these great skills to bag your first role.

If you work in a call-centre and you want to move away from that environment, check out this article I wrote on the host of other skills you can transfer away from a call-centre environment that you might not have realised.

 

Recording yourself to improve your verbal communication

I’m delivering this post, very aptly, as a video post today in which I talk about recording yourself to improve your verbal communication.

In this video, I cover:

  • The benefits of recording yourself, including getting over the ‘umms…’, getting used to your voice, and being conscious of your body language
  • How the recording set up is easier than you think
  • What to say when you’re recording yourself
  • And the things to avoid.

I’m hoping to do more of these video posts every now and then. Let me know what you think!