Apr 282008

Published in the Evening Echo 28/04/2008

image Do you ever feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day? Well, you’d be right. Researchers in the US recently discovered that typical middle-class city dwellers are cramming 31 hours worth of ‘life’ into each 24 hour period thanks to multi-tasking and an array of time saving gizmos.

Hands up who’s checked their e-mail on their laptop or blackberry while making their morning coffee? Or used a bluetooth headset to join a conference call on the commute to work, while listening to the traffic report on the radio and checking out alternative routes on the sat-nav?

We’re multi-tasking like crazy to try and squeeze more into our busy lives. Apparently the technology of today has allowed us, for better or for worse, to shoe-horn an additional seven hours worth of tasks into the average day compared to only a decade ago (primitive old 1998 – back when nobody had ever heard of Google).

After a flurry of activity in the morning we arrive at work – which is often a blur of e-mails, calls and meeting combines with switching between multiple tasks to meet unrealistic deadlines. But, according to the study, conducted by global consumer research firm OTX, all of the multitasking we do during our working day pales in comparison to the frantic task juggling that happens once we get home in the evenings.

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Apr 222008

Published in the Evening Echo 21/04/2008

Telecommuting, remote working, working from home… call it what you will, the whole concept of working out of the office is an alluring one. The technology that enables remote working – a decent internet connection, mobile computing and mobile digital communications devices – is starting to become practically ubiquitous in our lives, bringing the prospect of remote working out of the realm of fantasy, and making it a very real possibility for many.

If you work on a computer, then you can do pretty much everything you normally do at work sitting at your desk at home (or even in your local coffee shop, if you prefer). Liberating yourself from the shackles that bind you to the office desk isn’t complicated or costly any more – but does demand very careful consideration. Ditching the daily commute, traffic jams and office politics may appear idyllic, but it’s not always the panacea it promises to be. Remote working comes with its own set of problems, in their own way every bit as challenging as those you’ll find in an office environment.

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Apr 162008

Published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on Monday 14 April 2008

CSR; when I first heard it I thought it was another one of those far fetched American crime dramas. Then I discovered it was an acronym for Corporate Social Responsibility… and remained none the wiser.

So I Googled it (interesting aside: did you know that the name Google was an accidental misspelling of the word googol – the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes), and was promptly presented with 4,530,000 results on everything anyone could ever want to know about Corporate Social Responsibility.

First stop, Wikipedia, that font of online knowledge, which informed me that CSR: “is a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations. This obligation is seen to extend beyond the statutory obligation to comply with legislation and sees organizations voluntarily taking further steps to improve the quality of life for employees and their families as well as for the local community and society at large.”

When I got my breath back I read it again.

CSR then is basically a commitment by an organisation to do business in a socially responsible way… to go that extra mile, to be a good corporate citizen and to look after the people and the environment it interacts with. It’s about businesses looking outside the corporate box and acknowledging their broader responsibility to society as a whole.

Which all sounds very laudable. But are businesses really doing it?

Plenty of high profile Irish organisations profess to be. That Google list I mentioned earlier contains links to comprehensive CSR Statements from the ESB, Coillte, Tesco Ireland , KPMG, Repak and others. But are they just words, or is the concept of CSR really resonating with organisations and punching through the profit-skewed view of Irish CEOs?

How many employees, for example, really and truly believe their employers are putting their best interests ahead of the corporate bottom line? Or that management would opt to go with a more costly supplier simply because they could demonstrate better environmental credentials? Would your HiPPO (Highest Paid Person in the Organisation) choose to forsake profit for the greater good? Some might answer yes, but my guess is that the vast majority would have to say no. Or at least not yet.

But that could be changing. The pressure on businesses to become more environmentally and socially responsible is growing all the time, thanks largely to the high profile of environmental issues surrounding climate change. Higher consumer and employee awareness of these issues and of how corporate entities are responding to them means that addressing them is moving out of the realm of positive spin and PR, and is fast becoming an economic imperative.

People are demanding more accountability from the companies they do business with, and the companies they choose to work for. These days if a company can’t demonstrate that its taking its social responsibilities seriously it can potentially impact the calibre of its future workforce and erode its customer base. Corporate Social Responsibility isn’t just about doing the right thing any more… it’s about staying competitive in a rapidly changing world.

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Apr 012008

“Working it” column published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on 31/03/2008

Day-dreaming at work again? Not focussed on what you’re doing? Join the club! Apparently though, day-dreaming can be a useful tool in helping you to excel in the workplace – especially when it comes to delivering a killer presentation.

Presentation skills are something that, sooner or later, most office- or corporate-based employees will need to develop at some point in their career. If you’ve had to deliver a presentation already, then you don’t need me to tell you how nerve racking it can be to get up in front of your peers and deliver a knowledgeable, entertaining and informative performance. Because that’s what an effective presentation is, essentially: a performance, and one that all too often falls flat.

But Janet Howd, a professional singer, actress and presentation coach, maintains that we can all harness the energizing power of day-dreams to help us deliver more compelling presentations. Writing in Management-Issues, Janet explains that, once we’ve done our research and know our subject matter, rehearsing the presentation in our minds can pay real dividends.

“As soon as your knowledge is in place, envisage a sparkier, more fluent, more assured, more attractive you,” she suggests. “Once you’ve got that vibrant persona in mind, visualize this new self giving the presentation you’ve been working on to a group of close friends who are all rooting for you.

“As you develop your message, stay well within this comfort zone. If you find yourself lost for words just follow Shakespeare’s example and invent some! As soon as you have finished this imaginary performance, write down or dictate as much as you can remember of what you said. Don’t think about anything else until you have written those first impressions down.”

Once that’s done, she goes on to suggest that you make notes of your mannerisms and intonation in your imaginary performance, how and when you used equipment an props, and how you engaged with your audience. Then, by analysing your notes you should be able to distil the salient elements into a template or “script” you can use for your presentation proper.

To cover all the bases, and make sure you have everything under control, Janet suggests that you make another foray into your imagination, this time putting yourself through a worst-case-scenario presentation. In this nightmare experience from hell you may have lost your notes, your laptop crashes, and the projector’s on the blink; suddenly you’re at a loss for words in front of an openly hostile audience. How do you cope with these setbacks, what do you do, how do you feel?

“Once you’ve analysed that hellish vision and incorporated any useful data from it into the real presentation, you are far les likely to be thrown off course during the real performance,” says Janet. “It also makes it unlikely that members of your audience will choose to visualize themselves anywhere but in your presence.”

Which is all good – and of course there’s another benefit: the next time your boss catches you daydreaming at your desk, you can, with a straight face, tell him or her that you’re actually hard at work on your next presentation.

Mar 242008

“Working it” column published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on 24/03/2008

I’ve published this week’s Working It column — a review of the Internet Marketing seminar “Getting Results in Online Marketing” by Praxis Now — to my Digital Marketing blog, because the subject matter fits.

Mar 172008

“Working it” column published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on 17/03/2008

I’ve started using LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) a sort of grown-up social network for business contacts. It’s kind of like the business world’s equivalent to Facebook and MySpace, but it’s serious stuff – no Vampires, no throwing sheep, no movie quizzes and no posting embarrassing photos of your friends for all the world to see. LinkedIn may be an online social network, but it’s all strictly above board.

The reason I mention it is that, though I’ve had the account for quite a while, I only started to use it last week. I uploaded by e-mail address book into it and hey presto, it found loads of people in my contact list who were also on LinkedIn. Great… I invited the ones I actually knew to connect to my network. Some of them even accepted. Wonderful. I looked at my profile. There was nothing in it.

I needed to dig out what I’d been doing over the years, and when… now, where was I going to find that sort of information? Certainly not in the sieve like contraption that serves as my memory. Oh yes… it would be on my CV: that long neglected document languishing somewhere in the bowels of my hard drive.

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Mar 122008

“Working it” column published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on 10/03/2008

What do you think of your boss? It’s OK, they’re not listening… so go on, what do you really think of them?

Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones, and have a boss who really values his or her team, listens to what you have to say and actively seeks constructive contributions; a boss who offers direction and guidance when you need it, but is wise enough to step back and let you get on with your job when you don’t.

Then again, perhaps not.

Bad bosses, of course, have always been around, and always will be… but for some reason its a problem that seems to be on the rise, and it’s generating animated discussion off- and on-line.

Survey results indicate that approximately 40% of employees have, at some time or another, had to deal with a bad boss. A Gallup survey of more than 1,000,000 employees discovered that if a company is losing its best people, it can normally be traced back to problems with their immediate supervisors. Bad bosses, it seems, are the primary cause of staff turnover. “People leave managers not companies,” says Gallup. “So much money has been thrown at the challenge of keeping good people – in the form of better pay, better perks and better training – when, in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue.”

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Mar 032008

“Working it” column published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on 03/03/2008

What do you really want out of life?

Sounds like a simple enough question, doesn’t it? But it can be surprisingly tricky to come up with an answer. Have you ever really sat down and thought about what your really want from your career, your family life, your social life?

It’s easy to come up with a set of things you’d like to one day aspire to in all of these areas. “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” scenarios are ten a penny. Setting real personal goals that transcend the inevitable conflicts that arise between the different elements of our lives, truly prioritising what we want to achieve is infinitely more difficult. Which of course is why so few of us manage to do it effectively… myself included.

What does that mean? It means we tend to lack clarity and focus – or if we have clarity and focus, that we’re probably applying it in the wrong direction: excelling at something that’s not moving us towards where we ultimately want to go. Instead of taking control and driving things in a way that will deliver tangible results, we react to the world around us. We might be very good at what we do: great managers, outstanding parents and exceptional partners; but ultimately unless we know what we want out of life we’ll never achieve it.

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Feb 272008

“Working it” column published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on 18/02/2008

Valentines day has been and gone, but the date (pardon the pun) prompted online recruitment portal RecruitIreland.com to conduct a survey of romantic antics in the Irish workplace. Some of the findings of the survey were:

  • 44% of workers admit to having flirted with a fellow colleague by email or text
  • 7% have unwittingly sent a flirty text or e-mail to wrong person
  • half of all respondents think that a Valentines Day proposal is tacky
  • 92% of females said there was no way they would ever pop the question, despite this being a leap-year
  • 2 out of 3 workers believe that foreigners are more romantic than their Irish counterparts

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Feb 212008

“Working it” column published in the Career Moves section of The Evening Echo on 18/02/2008

After years of waiting I finally got hooked up to a broadband internet connection just before Christmas. I was over the moon. No more clunky dialup, no more dropped lines, no more waiting around for sites to load, no more being tethered to the phone line when I wanted to check my e-mail.

I was delighted with my 1Mb/sec fixed wireless connection – at last I could experience what this much touted “Web 2,0” had to offer. Then my wife’s sister and her family, who live in France, came to visit for New Year. I was waxing lyrical about the joys of my new broadband connection, when her partner took the wind from my sails. He told me that in France they enjoyed a 24Mbit/sec unlimited download connection for just €15 per month. My contract, for something 1/24th of the speed with a download cap of 15GB, costs me more than twice that at €37.50… and it’s the only game in town.

Suddenly my enthusiasm began to wane.

When I couldn’t get broadband I was complaining about lack of availability. Now I have it I’m relieved… but not satisfied. Why should we have to endure sub-standard connectivity compared to our European neighbours, especially when the Irish government is touting this country as a centre of technology excellence, and harbours ambitions to become a leading light in Europe’s emerging “knowledge economy”?

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