The Unteachables

By:  Joanna Zimmerman

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce recently released a report titled “Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020,” which discusses job growth by industry and occupation, while providing projections for both areas. Curious about the most sought after skills in high-growth, high-wage and high-demand occupations, the report piqued my interest.

According to the report, the top two skills are active listening and speaking, respectively. This is both shocking and not too surprising. Most of us have been honing these skills since our earliest social interactions — skills for which we rarely receive formal training. And these “unteachable” abilities are the most valued in high-growth and high-wage industries.

Much — if not all — of my job as a trainer and Client Services Representative is hearing problems and providing solutions. Whether this solution is spoken or written, having the facility to convey information in an easily understandable manner is essential to my role.

But, when all the talking is done, what am I hearing?

For people who must do much of the talking, it’s easy to forget to provide your audience with an opportunity to respond and react to the information being provided. I must remind myself to ask my trainees what they feel is or isn’t working so that I can become a better trainer.

Hearing this type of feedback doesn’t mean you agree with every suggestion. But simply providing your colleagues with this opportunity will make you more sought after and more valued in your professional relationships.

Put Your Sunscreen On

I recently attended my little sister’s modest college graduation. Given the short ceremony, the speakers were still able to elicit a few tears among the assembled. As a fan of a good graduation speech, I appreciated much of what they said. During a later discussion of the afternoon’s events, the classic “Sunscreen” speech came up.

Why sunscreen? Well, because it works.

I’ve always loved the staccato rhythm of this speech. But, more importantly, I love its simplicity and the author’s focus on what matters in life. It’s powerful because — like the best advice — the words teach you how to take care of yourself and the people around you.

In that vein, here are a few takeaways from a Forbes article that posits some commandments for professional life. While it specifically addresses leaders, I believe these suggestions also apply to would-be leaders. Think of it as a graduation speech for the corporate world.

According to the article, leaders should:

  1. Take care of their employees
  2. Empower their people
  3. Eliminate negative politics in their organizations
  4. Be trustworthy
  5. Recognize their people

This mirrors much of what we intuitively know. If you show loyalty and compassion to others, you’ll receive the same in kind. So — whether in your personal or professional life — always remember to take stock of the good things, take care of your people and plan for the future.

And don’t forget your sunscreen.

The Little Things

By Craig Messenger

Sometimes it’s easy to become caught up in large, overarching projects at work and neglect important priorities at home. We spend so much of our time working to achieve everything we want in life, it’s easy to forget about the little things.

Yes, the little things.

At work, our projects or goals are composed of smaller responsibilities. And, many times, our ambition may get the better of us. As a result, we forget that sometimes the journey is what gives us the greatest pleasure. Each new skill we learn — no matter how small — not only helps us work toward larger accomplishments, but also gives us a stronger professional foundation to stand on.

Outside of work, we should cherish the time with our friends and family or just learn to enjoy quiet time alone. These moments help build a stronger personal foundation that will sustain us during challenging situations and bolster us during happier moments. Cherishing the people around us is important to maintaining a healthy work/life balance and provides a necessary reprieve from the (sometimes) tough slog up the professional ladder.

Whether at the office or at home, it’s important to maintain proper perspective. Focusing on the little things ensures that we won’t become overwhelmed by big projects at work and allows us to properly recharge our batteries at home.

Dig a Little Deeper

Living at home with your teenage brother has its perks — well, for him. Being a doting sister, I drive him to practice, bake him cookies and sometimes search his messy room for the “Orange Rocket” diagrams he forgot to take to school.

When he asked me to find them, I looked high and low. During my search, which went on way too long, I found some trash — namely, granola bar wrappers and empty Gatorade bottles. I also found things I didn’t want to see such as an AP Language quiz with a few too many red marks and, of course, more trash.

Surprisingly, I also found the Ray-Ban sunglasses he thought were lost and calculus homework (which was beyond my comprehension) that he scored a perfect grade on. All these disparate items were just lying around waiting to be discovered. Looking for my brother’s diagrams in a sea of papers, trash and dirty clothes was a lot like reading open-ended responses in surveys.

Even with features to prevent GIGO, some responses will still be useless junk. There will also be a few candid comments you won’t expect, yet provide helpful feedback nonetheless. But — buried beneath it all — you’ll discover some incredibly useful insights that validate your excavation efforts.

With open-ended responses, you may not always find exactly what you’re looking for (my brother had the diagrams the whole time), but allowing your participants to provide open feedback will give you a more substantial understanding of your respondents and a better idea of what’s working and what’s not.

Attempt the Impossible

Joanna Zimmerman

The first time someone sent me this article, I kindly accepted their suggestion and went on with my business. Though I like to remain informed about matters affecting my hometown, I was busy on this particular day and didn’t have time to read it. But, after receiving the article two more times, ignoring it proved much more difficult.

Titled “How A Young Community Of Entrepreneurs Is Rebuilding Detroit” the article, featured in Fast Company, describes how people of various ages and backgrounds are working to restore my hometown to its former glory. While the magnitude and approach of their methods differ vastly, they all seem to share an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to scoff at the impossible, while embracing the unknown.

After spending my entire childhood in this fading city, I know just how difficult rebuilding will be. But, because the article reminds us “Where everything’s broken, anything’s possible,” the thought of tackling this seemingly insurmountable quagmire of despondency leaves me not just inspired by these men and women but invested in the outcome of their efforts.

As all good writing does, this piece forced me to think about my own challenges, especially in the workplace. What is my version of the impossible and the unknown? What areas of my work am I not improving because I haven’t thought critically and creatively? If we’re lucky, many of us work in companies where “everything isn’t broken” — places where paths have been blazed and guidance is available.

Even in these settings, however, attempting to implement new processes can seem daunting. But I encourage everyone, as I encourage myself, to engage your managers, those you manage and your peers. You’re surrounded by invaluable resources, and it’s your duty to make the most of them, especially because you never know what may inspire your next great idea.

Detroit’s gradual rehabilitation is poignant because people are looking underneath the city’s neglect to rediscover its beauty. Attempting the impossible requires you to embrace the opportunities and challenges around you and occasionally approach situations in unconventional ways. This is not only a model for fixing what’s broken, it’s also a model for creating something new and better.