Spring Cleaning Your Work

I think I share the sentiment of many when I say I am happy that spring is here – but I say that not just for weather-related reasons. The beginning of the year can be a whirlwind, between getting back into the swing of things after holidays and trying to get things in order for the year. It’s easy to get so focused on execution that you lose sight of longer-term strategy and goals. Now is as good a time as any to take stock – to do a little “spring cleaning.”

Spring cleaning is about decluttering and reorganizing, and though it’s typically applied to closets or yards, it can be easily applied to our work lives as well. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Reevaluate your goals for the year – It’s important before making any actual changes that you think about what you wanted to achieve this year, whether organizationally or personally. Then, identify what steps you need to take to be able to achieve those goals. I relook at the plans I set and think about what is working and what is not.  Three months isn’t long enough for new ideas to really show results, but there are mile markers you can check for progress. Are we are moving forward or does it seem there is no progress? If so, then maybe the approach needs to be re-evaluated.  Now is the time to do it and change if necessary.
  2. Prioritize your activities – It’s a surprise to no one that our time is very limited and we’re easily overstretched. Not everything can be a top priority all the time. You have to look critically at all the activities you are currently working on. Ask yourself, which are helping you to achieve your goals and which are not? Which are necessary and which aren’t? Which drive you forward and which slow you down?
  3. Cut the clutter – Whether it’s a weekly meeting or a side project, we have all collected some clutter by this point of the year. Clutter isn’t inherently bad, and that’s what makes it so hard for us to identify and remove. But while not necessarily bad, clutter is distracting; it can get in the way of achieving what’s important. So even if it’s a group your colleague asked you to join, if it’s taking time away from the tasks you should be focused on, then you have to cut back. As rules of thumb: If it’s something you can’t contribute to meaningfully or can’t explain fully, then it’s clutter. If it’s something where you spend the whole time on your phone or laptop checking email and responding to other things, then it’s clutter.
  4. Recommit to your goals – Now that you’re free of the clutter, it’s time to get refocused on your goals. Make sure you have established a clear plan and instituted the necessary activities for achieving your goals. Then commit to staying focused, keeping organized (e.g. don’t let the clutter take over again) and on task, and frequently checking in on your progress.

At the end of each year, we get excited about the prospect of a new year and what it can bring. We set goals for ourselves and our organizations, but then the new year comes and we can lose track of those things in the day to day. But soon those days become months and we can find ourselves derailed from our original paths. Spring provides us an excellent opportunity to get back on track. As a time of renewal, it reminds us to renew our focus. Sometimes that takes a little (or even a lot) of spring cleaning, but once we’ve decluttered our work lives, we can achieve great things.


You don’t know what you don’t know

Take a look at the four people pictured below. What do you think are their jobs?

Ingrid_newshot-220x243 Brian+Cornell+Target+CEO+Brian+Cornell+Rings+BgL1u09Lfmgl Ben Huh 340bbca

Now, I’ll tell you one of the above people is a CEO, who do you think?

This was a bit of a trick question, because I never said only one of them is a CEO, the answer is, they all are.  When you were first imagining what jobs they might have, did you think CEO? Did it change based on what they wore or looked like? When you knew one could be a CEO, did you think all of them looked like they could be or did you think it must be the woman in the suit or the white male?

The reality is that we all have unconscious biases. We all make assumptions based on what we think we know, what our past experiences have taught us, or things we have been conditioned to think based on the society we grew up in. No one is free of bias. This is not the problem. The problem is being unaware of these biases and letting them dictate our actions in negative ways.

When we think of bias, we think it must be something obvious that anyone could spot. However, bias can be subtle and it can have unintended consequences. Google recounted their own experiences with more subtle biases: “When YouTube launched their video upload app for iOS, between 5 and 10 percent of videos uploaded by users were upside-down. Were people shooting videos incorrectly? No. Our early design was the problem. It was designed for right-handed users, but phones are usually rotated 180 degrees when held in left hands. Without realizing it, we’d created an app that worked best for our almost exclusively right-handed developer team.”

This story points out that biases aren’t just about race, gender, and other big differentiators; they can be about what someone wears, how they talk, what school they went to, if they’re introverted or overweight or even left handed. And that’s what can make it so hard to identify.

So why am I writing about this? As we think of leadership, mentoring and professional development, awareness of biases needs to be on the list.  Corporations, as they look to increase their diversity of their organization, must think about educating on unconscious biases as well.  Individuals can also take initiative and become aware of our own biases. We can all make efforts to minimize unconscious biases by evaluating things with a diverse perspective – whether hiring, promotions, or other opportunities. Individual biases may seem insignificant, but when we multiply those small biases over the course of an entire organization and population, the results are significant.

What’s been your experience with unconscious bias? Share in the comments.


  1. Quick Left CEO, Ingrid Alongi
  2. Target CEO, Brian Cornell
  3. Cheezburger, Inc. CEO, Ben Huh
  4. Corporate Counsel Women of Color CEO, Laurie Robinson

Championing Diversity

It is a critical responsibility of any leader to act as a Diversity Champion. There is no need to have a degree in Human Resources nor do you need to have conducted research on the topic; you just need to be committed to the cause – to serve as a voice and a driver of diversity.

Of course studies have shown and common sense tells us that we are most successful when we bring varied minds and experiences to the table. But more importantly it is the right thing to do and the more leaders in an organization who are actively and meaningfully involved with increasing diversity, the more diverse the organization will become. This is because it’s not just about setting quotas, which any single leader could do, but about recognizing the value of different perspectives and seizing it.

As noted in Lessons from the Leading Edge of Gender Diversity from the McKinsey Quarterly, “Culture and values are at the core: Gender-diversity programs aren’t enough. While they can provide an initial jolt, all too often enthusiasm wanes and old habits resurface. Values last if they are lived every day by the leadership on down. If gender diversity fits with that value set, almost all the people in an organization will want to bring more of themselves to work every day.”

So let this be a call for you to join me, for you to be a Diversity Champion for your organization. There are many ways you can do this, but here are a few to get you started:

  • If you have a voice, use it! As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote in their recent NY Times article on gender diversity, “Instead of quieting down, men can use their voices to draw attention to women’s contributions.” But it’s not just about men or about women, we can all bring awareness to the amazing contributions of people who don’t look or sound or think like us. This is about recognizing success that is based on merit and achievement, not superficial factors.
  • Sponsor a junior employee: Not only can you serve as role models and mentors, but you can also support an employee’s career and help them to achieve their goals. As a sponsor, you act as their advocate and help them gain access to opportunities.
  • Be self aware: We all have biases that we need to recognize and transform, not deny. For example: Do you favor a certain view point? Are you likely to promote certain types of people? Look at the team around you, what is their makeup? It’s not easy to recognize our own biases, but it’s important. This article provides some tips for identifying and reducing bias.

Maybe some of you wish we could work in a world where there was no need for Diversity Champions, but I like to think of it as an integral piece of a well balanced organization. No matter what, we should always be committed to bringing in new perspectives and new ways of working. However, being a Diversity Champion shouldn’t just be a temporary role or a position for a few, instead we should all see ourselves champions of diversity every day.

Friday Fast Tip: Be Empowered

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. – Alice Walker

No matter where you are in your career, no matter what your title may be, everyone has the power to make changes, to suggest improvements, or to do something significant for their organization. Most often the issue is not if you have the power, but whether or not you are willing to use it. Don’t be afraid to have a voice, to have an opinion, and to bring your expertise to the table. However, don’t forget to spend just as much or more time learning and listening still.

How to love your job

Work is work and so it’s not always fun, but it’s how we spend the majority of our day and can greatly impact our overall mentality. Not to mention, how you feel about work impacts your productivity too. That’s why it’s important to love your job, to feel good about going to work, not necessarily every day, but in general. So how do you do that?

Maintain a hopeful outlook

As I said, work can be hard. Organizations go through changes, people come and go, and our individual work can ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s easy to become negative about the future, especially when others around you are expressing their discontent. While it’s important to be realistic, it also doesn’t get you very far to be pessimistic, so focus on the things you can control, the things that are working, and stay hopeful that the challenges  you are currently facing will pass. Uncertainty can be scary, but most things in life are temporary, so take it in stride and you may be surprised to find that the outcome is better than before.

Create solutions not complaints

Sometimes issues will arise that can inhibit your ability to work effectively or may impact your job satisfaction in other ways. Don’t let these issues be a reason to give up and check out. Instead, think of potential solutions. Remember that if you’re spending your time complaining about the problem, you are only contributing to making the problem worse. Nothing is perfect and that’s ok, because each of us can be part of making our situation better. By focusing on solutions, not only will you have the opportunity to resolve the problem, but just taking the initiative can boost your engagement and commitment to your work.

Help others

We all have unique experiences and skills, which we can leverage to help others. Not only does helping others make us feel good (not to mention the professional benefits of being a team player), but it also shows us our own value. Through the process of helping others you learn more about yourself and gain a sense of purpose. “Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and into work without groaning and grumbling — something that you just can’t fake,” wrote Janet Choi in her article, The Motivation Trifecta.

Do more than your day to day job

If what you do day in and day out excites you, that’s great. But if you feel like you wish you could do something else, something more, well than you can… and you should. Even better, you don’t have to switch jobs to do it. Don’t feel restricted by your job description.  Ask how you can help a coworker on a project, get involved with an internal effort, become an intrapreneur. If there is something within your organization that intrigues you, get involved.

Go outside your comfort zone

Change is hard, and often we prefer the safety of where we are now. But the flipside of change is stagnation, and as we stagnate we grow bored, less productive, and dissatisfied. Change may mean trying something new, something you’re unfamiliar with, or not an expert at. It may mean going from being the most experienced person to the least, but it is absolutely worth it. The only real way to grow is to get a bit uncomfortable. As professionals, we should seek to grow constantly. Admit it, we’re most excited at work when we’re learning, trying, and mastering new things, so step out of your comfort zone and take on something new.

From a personal perspective – some days are very difficult to have fun and love work. However, the positive attitude with which you approach any situation does impact your well being and those around you. I try and look at things not from a day-to-day perspective, but from an overall perspective and recognize that things will turn better. It is each of our responsibilities to make the environment in which we work a good working environment and to create ‘fun’ and joy with our activities.

What I’m reading now: Employee Motivation

Although engagement gains did predict subsequent increases in organizational financial and market performance, the reverse was also true. In fact, gains in financial and market performance tended to boost certain aspects of employee engagement more than the other way around.

  • Author: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
  • Title: To Motivate Employees, Help Them Do Their Jobs Better
  • Source: HBR

How to excel as a new college grad in your first career

I spent a day last week talking to recent college grads readying to launch their careers.  Among the things we talked about was how do you do well in your fist job.  There are a few things that everyone, regardless of experience level, can do to excel.

Get involved in as much as you can – learn the business

Completing your regular job tasks is critical, and it’s important to not take on so much that you are unable to do that. But if you do have the capacity, taking on additional projects is a great way to grow professionally, learn parts of the business you may not be in, get to know others, and really help out your management team. When your manager asks for help – think of each ask as an opportunity for you professionally.

Take Initiative

We all know that when we finish one task, we should ask our manager what more we can do. However, you don’t always have to wait for direction. The best employees take the initiative to add value beyond their day to day work. Whether that’s thinking of ways to improve work processes, creating new ideas to serve clients, solving a problem that has yet to be addressed, or developing your skills there are plenty of ways to add value without waiting for your boss to tell you what to do.

Admit to problems early

No one likes problems, but problems are inevitable. The important thing is to not think that you can avoid them, but to be prepared to deal with them as they arise. The worst thing you can do is hide a problem that may impact your team. Instead, meet with your manager as early as possible, tell them about the issue that has developed, and provide details on how you’re working to quickly resolve the issue. If you aren’t sure of the best way to resolve the problem, ask for help. Asking for help is always better than risking making the problem worse.

Do your best and stay positive

When we start our careers, it’s not uncommon to be doing something that we don’t love or aren’t yet experienced at. The first part of our careers is about developing our skills and finding our interests. It’s also the time when our colleagues and managers learn how we work. So no matter what you are doing, whether you love it or not, do your best and show your manager that you can be counted on to take on bigger tasks.

Equally as important, is keeping a good attitude. Let’s face it, work can be hard work. It can be stressful and chaotic and having someone around who takes changes and challenges in stride can make a big difference. You can always teach an employee a new skill, but you can’t teach character.

You don’t have to be an expert to make a positive impact.  Managers appreciate employees who take on additional tasks, add value to projects, keep problems from getting bigger, and do their best while staying positive. The key is to be a positive contributor, add value, and expand your capabilities in the process.