Does Anybody Listen to You? 4 Steps to Becoming an Influencer

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The things we do at work matter, but our achievements alone don’t necessarily add up to a successful career. For people who have reached a certain level of success through sheer hard work (as many high-achievers do early on in their careers), this can be a hard lesson to learn.

After all, if you’re putting in long hours and knocking critical tasks off of your to-do list every single day, shouldn’t you be the most successful person on your team? Unfortunately, many people reach a plateau in their careers because their hard work doesn’t carry them forward the way it used to. So what’s missing?

Communication and influence.

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Why Stack Rank Doesn’t Measure Up

In this two-part guest series, Ellen Chisa shares her experience at Microsoft and how its review system affected her psyche and productivity. (Read part 1 for an overview of Ellen’s time at Microsoft.)

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Stack ranking is a performance review system that ranks employees against each other. Critics point out that a review process that creates inevitable losers and requires managers to fight on behalf of reports is unfair and disconnected from the quality of the performance itself. Microsoft recently decided to get rid of the stack rank.

Stack ranking hurt Microsoft employees. It negatively impacted the work and damaged people’s views of themselves and their ability to improve.

Here’s how:

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My Microsoft Experience: from Promising Start to Personal Hell

In this two-part guest series, Ellen Chisa shares her experience at Microsoft and how its review system affected her psyche and productivity.

This first part gives an overview of Ellen’s time at Microsoft, providing insight into the company’s environment as well as the successes and failures of everyday management. The second part discusses stack rank specifically.

Ellen Chisa Microsoft experience

Recently Microsoft decided to get rid of the stack rank system they used for reviews.

Stack ranking is a performance review system that ranks employees against each other. Also referred to as “rank and yank”, stack rank creates a zero-sum management system in which one person’s positive ranking means another person’s loss. Critics point out that a process that creates inevitable losers and requires managers to fight on behalf of reports is unfair and disconnected from performance quality.

I’m really happy with this decision: the stack rank negatively affected me, and many people I know. I saw multiple people have the same experience:

1.  Promising start (say, 1-3 years)
2.  Something goes wrong (a project, big manager conflict, etc.)
3.  The issue isn’t addressed when it happens and festers until review.
4.  Bad review, general angst, uncertainty
5.  Talented person quits and moves on to a great career elsewhere.

One obvious takeaway is that Microsoft was probably hemorrhaging a lot of talent. The more insidious one is the toll on its employees’ self-perception and effectiveness.

I wanted to write about how that feels. Here I outline what happened in my first eighteen months at Microsoft, which were interesting and challenging — to how things started to go wrong.

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The Boss Doesn’t Always Know Best

Bosses:  sometimes your team is going to go above and beyond the call of duty, and you’re not even going to notice. It happens. Unless you spend your days micromanaging — and nobody ever wants this — you’re not going to see every amazing thing they do.

Why is this important? Because it means you’re lacking important information about how people are doing and so, are less able and likely to give feedback.

Feedback in the workplace is essential for making progress. So if you can’t know everything that’s going on at work, how can you create a great culture of frequent, helpful feedback?

That’s where peer feedback comes in.

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Are You Thinking Enough Before You Commit?

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Back when I was a first-year physics graduate student, one of my favorite professors used to get on my case about using pencil instead of pen for my notes and problem sets.

He’d say, “think and then commit with ink!”

As I progressed through my studies, I realized that my use of the pencil was a symptom of something deeper. I’d developed the habit of trying to get toward a solution by writing equations down and having to erase my errors as I went along.

This is fine at first. But when a complete equation involves so many complexities and spans multiple lines, you begin to confuse the activity of writing for clear thinking, diving in for the sake of starting. Using the act of writing as a way to figure out what’s going on in a physics problem can end up obstructing itself and taking too long for a good feedback loop to form. It becomes difficult to actually think because there are so many adjustments and things on the page to take in.

I eventually did switch to ink.

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Break the Bad Habit of Ineffective Meetings

Why do we continue to have bad meetings? Seriously, 99% of the human population seem to hate them, and there are surveys showing again and again that there are x many meetings everyday that cost gabillions of dollars worth of wasted time and productivity.

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Is it some horrible concoction of misplaced optimism that this time it’ll be better, resigned acceptance that this is a required dog and pony show — the business world’s tradition of dance, monkey, dance — and a massive buildup of bad meeting history that’s created such intense inertia that only superheroes can help us pull away into the light?

Imagine that a group of you had to build a doghouse like Snoopy’s, and you got a toolbox, some wood, and pencils and paper. Your team is revved up about this cool doghouse, you can envision it, you have all these super useful tools, but all your team does with the pencils and paper is doodle pictures of cute dogs instead of making a blueprint or marking down measurements. Then when you run out of paper, you ask for more paper — only to doodle more pictures of dogs.

That’s how we’re treating meetings. Meetings are a helpful tool to decide and plan things. But misused, they’re just a bunch of meaningless doodles that don’t lead to anything being built and Snoopy with no place to live.

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How the Golden Rule Melts Away Management Hurdles

Treat others the way you want to be treated. It’s a simple enough concept that long predates any management manual. Yet somehow the notion of treating people like, well, people when it comes to managing them gets lost in the landscape of meetings, memos, and motivational posters.

Is it that power actually gets to people’s heads? Adam Galinsky, a professor of management at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, tested whether there are heady effects. In one study, a group of participants were first primed to feel powerful by writing about a time they felt authority over others. They went on to make more mistakes when guessing the emotional expressions of faces showing happiness, sadness, fear, or anger, compared to the control group.

So the job of managing itself may reduce your ability to empathize and perceive what others are feeling and experiencing. When you lose touch with your team as people, you cause them to feel frustrated, demotivated, and unacknowledged — not only harming relationships but performance as well.

Too many of us have been trained to focus on work, as if it exists in a vacuum, that we forget that fixes aren’t limited to considering and discussing the work itself.  Here’s how three companies avoid that trap by putting a priority on treating their employees like human beings.

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How Love With Food Found its Working Rhythm

Love With Food is a subscription service that delivers a specially curated box of organic and all-natural snacks every month. For every box that’s sent, the company donates a meal to feed a hungry child.

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Founder Aihui Ong embarked on Love With Food after seeing a friend forced to shutter her stir-fry sauce business because she was unable to secure wider distribution. Aihui (pronounced “I-we”) not only saw the need for alternative channels of distribution and marketing connecting food entrepreneurs to consumers but also an opportunity to help the one in five children in America at risk of hunger.

From a company of one in late 2011, Love With Food has grown to twelve employees. While growing any startup is challenging, Aihui notes that LWF’s mission helps her hire:  “In the last eighteen months, we’ve donated more than 100,000 meals, and that also draws the right talent to our company. People who want to join us really value that we’re giving back and doing something innovative to disrupt the food industry.”

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GitHub + iDoneThis: Bring Your Commits Into iDoneThis

Note: we have disabled the integration described below. It is to be replaced with an improved version. 

GitHub + iDoneThis Integration

Hellooo Octocat! We’re so excited to announce our new integration with GitHub that makes it a cinch to gain motivation and momentum from seeing your progress and sharing those steps forward with your whole team.

(Ready to go? Start by setting up the integration.)

Why GitHub?

When you’re coding all day, it’s easy to forget to take stock of the great work you and your team are getting done. We use GitHub here at iDonethis and realized that our commits are a rich exhibit of our work that often goes unrecognized. So even if you get a ton of stuff done every day, you can’t fully appreciate all your progress and accomplishments.

The content of commit messages provide pretty accurate reflections of what you get done during the workday — and it’s annoying to have to re-enter that information into iDoneThis. What happens when you don’t record those dones, though, is that you miss out on acknowledging and getting that higher level view of all your awesome work. When you fail to celebrate your amazing coding progress, you’re not fully using your potential motivation and planning power.

Plus, developer communication with other team members is a perpetual challenge and always seems to require a disruptive step out of your existing workflow. This integration streamlines that process. Now your coworkers not only get a better idea of what you’re up to, they’ll stop interrupting you with the inevitable “What are you working on?” and you can work in peace. Everyone wins!

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Jeff Bezos’s Hiring Anti-Pitch

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Today, the competition for top tech talent is as fierce as it’s ever been, and without a high-performing team, it’s tough to survive. It makes sense that such intense competitive pressure drives startup founders to pitch their company to prospective hires in ever more grandiose terms, exaggerate how well their company is “crushing it,” and make their company culture sound like the happiest place on earth.

How else can you stand out to a top candidate who’s considering offers from all of the hottest companies?

It’s counterintuitive, but Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos takes a totally different approach to Amazon hiring: he gives prospects a hiring anti-pitch.

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