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Crucial Applications: How to Overcome a Career-Limiting Habit

We recently completed a study which reveals the top five Career-Limiting Habits (CLHs) that cause employees to miss out on raises and promotions. According to the study, 97 percent of employees report they have some habit that keeps them from achieving their potential at work.

 

The Top 5 Career-Limiting Habits:

1. Unreliability
2. “It’s not my job”
3. Procrastination
4. Resistance to change
5. Negative attitude

Other CLHs that limit employees’ progression include: disrespect, short-term focus, selfishness, passive aggressiveness, and risk aversion.

The research found that these habits are the main obstacle to career advancement. Nearly half of bosses report that addressing employees’ glaring bad habit is three times more important than increasing their technical skills. Unfortunately, bosses also report that only 10 to 20 percent of their employees actually make profound and lasting changes to their CLH.

Despite this, the study found there are predictable paths to success for employees who want to reverse their CLH. Here are some tips for shaping better habits for career success:

  1. Create a Personal Motivation Statement. When you hit a motivational wall while changing your work habits, motivate yourself by visiting your “default future”—the career you’ll have if you are repeatedly passed up for promotion.
  2. Invest in professional development. New habits always require new skills. Top performers hone their craft. Actively develop the skills you need to be viewed as a top performer through training, workshops, or books—but make sure this is only one part of a bigger change strategy.
  3. Hang with the hard workers. The Career-Limiting Habits that keep you back are likely enabled, tolerated, or encouraged by others. Use positive peer pressure by surrounding yourself with hard-working friends who share your career goals. Distance yourself from the office slackers.
  4. Find a mentor. Changing habits requires help. Find a trusted mentor to encourage your progression and help you navigate the career development opportunities that exist within the organization.
  5. Put skin in the game. Reward yourself for reaching short-term goals by placing money at risk. For example, if you reach your goal in your next performance review you can purchase a reward with the money you set aside. However, if you fall short, the money goes to support the political party you oppose.
  6. Control your workspace. Make your new habits easier by enlisting the power of your surroundings. If you’d benefit from close association with another team, ask to move offices. When possible, turn off electronic interruptions that keep you from being as productive as you need to be to move ahead.
Crucial Conversations QA

Addressing Inappropriate Work Attire

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.
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Crucial ConversationsQDear Crucial Skills,

I need advice on how to have a conversation with a subordinate about her provocative attire. It’s tricky because her clothes are clean and very nice—just more revealing than is appropriate for our office. To make it more complicated, I’m a man and I’m wondering if that should make the conversation any different than if she had a female supervisor. Her attire is holding her back from progressing and limiting how management can use and develop her skills. I’m nervous about discrimination and harassment accusations that could result if I handle this wrong. And yet, I know I need to have a conversation with her.

Revealing Conversation

A Dear Revealing,

Since you’re in a legally sensitive area, I asked Jaclyn, our HR Manager, for some advice. Between Jaclyn and myself, we’ll give you our best thoughts.

1. This is about policy not preference. The first thing you have to do is ensure your company has a clear dress and grooming standard in place. If they don’t, you are on shaky legal ground if you approach a specific employee and make this an issue of personal judgment. If the policy was implemented correctly, it should already have been communicated to all employees, and even signed by them to acknowledge their understanding and commitment. If this step is done right, your conversation will be much easier to hold. So, address any gaps in the policy deployment before opening your mouth with your employee.

2. Just the facts. When you sit down with her to explain where she’s out of compliance, be sure you scrupulously avoid mixing any of your judgments or “stories” into your description of the problem. For example, if you said, “Some of your clothes are a bit more provocative than appropriate for an office setting” you would cross the line into judgments. Rather, refer factually to the gap between what she wears at times and what the policy says. For example, “Our policy says ‘clothing should not be form-fitting or revealing of large portions of the legs, chest . . .” After sharing the relevant excerpts, you could ask how she thought her outfit yesterday, for example, compared to the requirements. Once again, the focus is not on judgments but on facts.

3. Make It Motivating. Mention that part of your interest in holding this conversation is a concern for her potential in the organization. Be sure to mention that. Let her know that a key reason for her to comply is to keep doors of advancement open. Using her career as motivation could help her to keep her commitment while also ensuring she understands your goodwill toward her.

4. Make It Safe. You’re likely to feel uncomfortable in the conversation because it is an area of sensitivity and you’ll be worried she’ll be offended or hold a grudge against you. That’s where make it safe skills come in. I’d encourage you to use contrasting after having shared your concerns to help her understand your motives and respect for her.

For example, you might say, “You and I have worked well together in the past and I want you to know that I do not want that to change. I have a great regard for the quality of your work and have no concerns in any area other than this. This is an uncomfortable conversation for me just as it is for you. I was nervous that you would misunderstand my reasons for holding it and hope you know it is only to ensure I’m doing right by the company while contributing to your development as well.” Using contrasting in this way can help her understand you are not simply doing this to be a prude or to make life hard for her.

You also asked about whether the conversation should be any different given that you are a man speaking with a woman. Jaclyn and I agree that it should not. Your mindset in this conversation is that you have an employee who is out of compliance with a clear policy. Period. You should describe the gap between her current practice and the existing policy factually and respectfully. Then conclude by both confirming her understanding and asking for her commitment to comply in the future.

On a personal note, as I wrote this to you, I reflected back on my first really sensitive conversation with an employee. I was an entrepreneur in a small company and had a half dozen people working for me. One had a tremendous hygiene problem that was offending customers. Sal was 25 years old. I was 17. He was a good friend. I hardly slept for a week as I obsessed over whether and how to deal with the problem. When I finally had the crucial conversation, my stomach was in knots, so I know how easy it is to turn inward when these challenges face us.

And that’s the idea I want to leave you with. The reason we do so poorly in so many of our crucial conversations is that we’re more concerned with how the problem and conversation affect us than we are with how they affect the other person. My selfishness in the situation with my employee made me more worried and less effective than if I had kept my attention on what I really wanted to do for Sal, my customers, and my colleagues.

At last I had the conversation. I don’t recall well enough what I said to be a judge of whether or not I was skillful. But I do remember what happened. Sal began bathing. He bought some new clothes. He got some badly needed dental care. His circle of friends increased. In the next year he got married—something he had longed to do for some time. Now, I don’t take credit for all of that. But in my quiet moments when I deliberate about whether or not to talk to someone I care about, I try to get outside of myself and focus on what I really want for those I care about.

Best wishes,
Joseph

Crucial Accountability QA

Working with a Difficult Employee

Dear Crucial Skills,
When I recently assumed my current job, I “inherited” an employee who has a long history of bad behavior such as being rude, stirring up trouble, and refusing to work with coworkers as a team player. How do I confront this person when the whole department has played into his behavior for years?

Inherited Employee

Dear Inherited,

“Inheriting” an employee with a history of bad behavior is a concern for any leader. I strongly recommend your first conversation with this employee not be a “shake-down” or a “you’d better be careful cuz I’m watching you!” speech. Rather, you ought to extend a sincere handshake followed by friendly introductions.

The next step is orienting your employees to your leadership style and expectations. Even before exploring specific duties or concerns, explain the operating values and principles of your team and your expectations of team members. It’s best if this is a collaborative process involving the entire team, but at a minimum, everyone needs to be clear about the team values and operating principles. Explain that employees are not only responsible to produce results but are also responsible to produce results in a way that strengthens the team in the process. Give specific examples of what is acceptable behavior and what is out of bounds. This kind of orientation with your team sets clear expectations and gives everyone a chance for a new start—independent from past patterns and personality conflicts.

Your next leader-role with the team is teacher and coach. This requires gathering data through contact and observation, especially with the employee you have concerns about. Over the next few days, catch the employee, in the moment, doing things right. Acknowledge when his behavior approximates an important team value or principle and thank him. For example, you might say:

“Hey, Brent, I noticed in the team meeting when Alice asked for ideas about her project, you gave several helpful suggestions. That is a great example of our team value of collaboration. Your input helped Alice and helped to build a stronger team. Thank you.”

Similarly, when you see behavior that violates the team’s values, confront it as soon as is reasonably possible. Do this by first describing the gap by factually detailing what happened compared with what is expected. Next, ask why it happened this way. You could say:

“Brent, I noticed that when Jerry presented his proposal, you said his plan was ‘idiotic’ and asked him if he had ever heard of ‘professional standards’ before. One of our team principles is to treat each other with respect. Your comment was clearly disrespectful. Why did you say that?”

If he responds that he didn’t realize his comment was disrespectful, take the opportunity to define more precisely what is meant by the value of respect.

If he replies that it’s no big deal, then you have the opportunity to teach consequences and make the invisible visible. It could be that one reason for his past friction with employees is that no one helped him understand the negative, natural consequences his behavior had on others.

If he replies that he knows he shouldn’t do that, but can’t help himself, it becomes an opportunity to teach him the skills to start with heart or master his stories.

After each conversation, move to action. Get a clear and specific commitment from him about who will do what by when, and then follow-up on that commitment.

Clear expectations, as well as frequent and immediate praise and confrontation, are your best chance to help someone work well with others in a new setting.

Of course, this approach requires patience and persistence, and you must always give people the opportunity and the help they may need to improve. However, if over time, he does not comply and his poor behavior continues, make sure he understands that following the team principles and values is not a suggestion, it’s a requirement of his job.

At this point, it’s time to move from helping him understand the natural consequences of bad behavior to the consequences you will impose on him if he doesn’t comply. Clarify that the consequences of not working within the team standards are the steps of discipline identified by the organization, even including termination. Make sure he understands that failure to comply with your requirements around teamwork will result in you applying the steps of discipline. Moving this far is very serious and will most likely damage your working relationship with him, but at some point, his failure to abide by the team’s standards is a detriment both to the results you’re after as a leader and your other team members’ quality of life. Choosing what’s best for the team is more important than trying to preserve a troubled relationship.

My experience has been that this approach helps most employees—even those with a history of bad behavior—to improve their behavior and relationships with others. It also improves the team’s results. Please keep in mind this approach does not guarantee the changes in others you desire; it’s not a way of controlling others; it’s not a trick for manipulating others. This is a way to respectfully help individuals choose to be successful. Ultimately, it’s the individual’s choice whether or not to be a part of the enterprise you lead, and that’s as it should be.

All the Best,
Ron