The Business Side of Volunteering

volunteer-1326758_1280I recently spoke on a panel regarding my career and how living overseas has impacted my options. During my preparation, and referenced in my speech, I thought about how volunteering is a big aspect of my life. The idea of giving back is a core value of mine that was instilled in me from a young age by my parents and was further solidified as a lifelong obligation once I became a member of Sigma Nu Fraternity. While giving to others and the community is an important aspect of life, personal benefits can and should be taken away from those experiences. Following the panel discussion, I spoke with several individuals about leveraging that volunteer experience to specifically add value to one’s career.

There are tangible benefits that come with volunteering. I have written about this idea before, but now I want to get into greater detail. Below is a breakdown of the business/career related benefits I have witnessed and/or received through volunteering:

  • Interpersonal skills: With each new organization and event, volunteering exposes you to a variety of people along all measures of diversity. Being able to effectively communication and build relationships in this capacity is excellent practice for speaking to customers and coworkers.
  • Networking: Along with interpersonal skills, the same people you come into contact with offer a great opportunity to share what you do and learn about them. These are connections that you would not have otherwise made and likely vary from your current network.
  • Time management: Adding time commitments to your schedule forces you to review how you spend that time. This is great practice for when work becomes more hectic due to increased responsibilities. Managing your time effectively requires practice.
  • Leadership: This is one of the best potential benefits from volunteering. Overall, I think leading a volunteer group can often times be more difficult than a work group because many of the same incentives for individuals to follow through are not there; such as not receiving a paycheck.
    • Management: Effectively managing and organizing is a great takeaway and helpful because it is often done with a limited budget.
    • Motivation: With no pay, new ways to motivate people must be found. Positivity and enthusiasm can go a long way, but the small things like recognizing others and creating small wins can help keep the ball rolling.
    • Delegation: Being able to delegate and follow-up with people on different projects or aspects of projects is great practice for the workplace. It is about finding the balance between allowing someone the freedom to own their work and not letting deadlines fall by the wayside.
  • Recruitment: Bringing in new people is an important aspect of volunteering, especially when looking for leaders. Seeking out the right people with the right skills at the right time is an important aspect of both the work world and for volunteers.
  • Business Development: Whenever someone has had to do fundraising as a volunteer, it is quite similar to conducting business development for a company. You have to try to find individuals and companies with a connection and lead them down a path towards “making a sale.” There are clear differences in the two ideas, but the strategy behind them is quite similar.
  • Problem solving: When volunteering, problem solving is often one of the most important skills to have across all levels of involvement because the solutions usually require a high level of creativity.

These are real benefits that can be taken away from volunteering. Taking on a leadership role only increases the opportunities. Using one’s skills when volunteering is a great way to give back and learn something new along the way.

Please share a time where you were able to use volunteer experience to benefit your career in a comment below.

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Motivation

blue-1845901_1920Motivation is a topic that is constantly on my mind. For the past few weeks, my motivation has not been at its normally high level.  It could be from getting over not feeling well, returning from a long trip, the holidays, a few work items not coming together or some combination of multiple factors. Either way, I must find a way to get back into my normal grove of high productivity though consistent motivation.

I know I am not the only one who struggles with motivation, so I compiled the top three actions that work for me to help get and stay motivated. Hopefully these can help others do the same.

  • Start with a routine: For me, part of motivation is about staying on track and reducing the amount of mental energy needed to get “in the zone.” This means creating a routine that allows me to auto-pilot certain activities. The easiest one is right when I get up; get dressed, eat breakfast, read the news and check for any important personal emails. This takes about thirty minutes, but allows me to feel ready to go and helps to knock out the small items that can usually distract me. After that, I can usually get several hours of work done without missing a beat. The fact that I work remotely presents additional distractions, but that is a different topic.
  • Finding a reset: After those few focused hours, my mental cup begins to overflow a little and I need to find a way to reset to get back on track. Working from home, I will often do something small around the house; dishes, laundry, a snack, work on a personal project, etc. Once I accomplish that small item, I am ready to return my focus back on work with a fresh set of eyes. There are also times that I need a larger reset, such as after a big call or meeting and writing the follow-up notes. For this, I often go to the gym, have lunch, call a friend or family member, etc. Then I get the drive back to finish off the day. The important aspect of this is doing a singular task that makes it easy to immediately go back to work.
  • Accomplishing a goal: One of my greatest keys to staying motivated is setting goals and achieving them. These will range from small to large. The small ones can simply be getting through all of my emails in the first hour of work or checking off my scheduled activities throughout the day. The large ones could be completing a project by the end of the week. Once I accomplish a goal, I feel better about what I am doing and am able to keep my focus until the next accomplishment.

Finally, as an additional element, I believe that time management and heavy involvement help keep me on track. Besides what I wrote above, keeping myself busy with different endeavors (work, volunteering, hobbies, exercise, community involvement, etc.) keeps my mind focused. By having multiple types of responsibilities, I am able to stay motivated and manage my time well because I am not having to focus my motivation in the same direction all the time. I regularly have fresh items that need my attention. I have to make sure I don’t over extend myself, but that is just a matter of finding the right balance.

Please share what helps you stay motivated in a comment below.

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Finding the Right Job After Graduate School

tie-690084_1280As soon as I began the UNR MBA Program in 2014, I always had an eye towards what I wanted to get out of my studies and my first job following graduation. There was a very different feeling looking at a new job knowing that I would have a master’s degree than when I was completing my studies as an undergraduate. There are several key elements that I felt I needed to emphasize. The first is that I had over eight years of business and organizational development experience, and the second was that I was not looking for an entry-level position. Because of my experience, I also felt that it gave me a good footing for negotiating. Below are three things I think soon-to-be graduates should consider when looking for post-graduate school employment.

  • Value: What value do you bring to the table? How are you going to improve the organization? What value in compensation do you expect in return? What long-term compensation items are most important to you, and is there potential for compensation growth? I feel these are important questions to have answered when considering a position. While compensation discussions should wait until an offer is made, the research on industry norms should be done early. Most importantly, you should know your strengths and what they could mean for a potential employer.
  • Future: What are the possibilities for growth within the organization? Will you be forced to move to another company to reach a higher position? Is there someone in the company who will help guide you in career planning? What is the culture related to growing people internally, as opposed to hiring from the outside? In looking at a new position, it is important to also look where it could lead down the line. Especially following graduate school, a career focus is more important than just getting another job.
  • Structure: What is the structure of the organization? What is the culture? Do both fit in with how you best operate? If not, do you feel the company culture will help you improve your skills and abilities? Do you feel you will be productive and find success within their framework? Is there potential for you to have your own working style within that company? How you work is extremely important and being able to maximize your productivity through focusing on your strengths is crucial. I have found it better to work for a company with a matching culture and structure that can allow you to shine than picking a better job on paper in a company where you do not fit in well.

There are several key facets when looking for a job after completing a graduate program. This period has far greater career implications with the job you take, more than almost ever before. Everyone should make sure a new position sets them on a path towards future growth and successful advancement of their skills, compensation and goals. I believe it is better to sometimes wait for the right opportunity than settling for the wrong one.

What do you believe is the most important aspect of a job after receiving a graduate degree? Please post you thoughts in a comment below.

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Putting It All Together

jigsaw-puzzle-1315356_1920Having just graduated from my MBA program, I have done a lot of reflecting about what I took from the program and how much of it I will be able to apply to my new job. A few of my classmates held a presentation on a joint independent study project that really helped to showcase the knowledge and skills we gained. All three work for the same company and took on a different area of operations to review and provide recommended changes to improve operations. Throughout the presentation I thought to myself the methods and ideas they used were taken straight out of the material covered in the classroom. It could not have been a better timed experience.

After thinking about the presentation, there are a few things that came to mind about important takeaways from my MBA program. This list is not everything I took away, but the larger concepts that I feel allow for the other important elements and ideas to come together.

  • Strategy: Strategy and its various elements have been a major subject of focus for me over the last ten years, but the level of detail that was covered in one of my courses really help to get into the fine details of not only creating a strategic plan and  operating plan, but the “why” and importance of each as well. The importance of what I learned is in taking the highest level vision and creating the architecture infrastructure that will make it happen.
  • Business Process: Another major idea that was covered is looking at the actual design of how the various processes of a business are put together. By mapping out how things are being done and what needs to happen at each decision point, it is much easier to identify where improvements can be made.
  • Change: This topic is one of, if not, the most important of my entire MBA program. While all of the other information is highly important, being a successful change agent can make or break an attempt to introduce positive improvements in an organization. The books we read and discussions in class really hit home the point of how to approach and initiate change in both a personal and professional landscape.

By chance, these three topics were the main focus of each of my final three courses. This helped to bring everything in the program together for me at the perfect time. Ultimately, the best thing I took away from my MBA program was acquiring available tools and understanding the right questions to ask to find a path towards success. I found the time spent to be extremely valuable and am actively working to implement as much as possible into my professional career.

Check out the website for my new company, EnBio Industries.

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Adventures in Networking

world-1264062_1920As a young professional, I believe networking is one of the most important aspects of looking towards the future regarding my career. I will be graduating in about  a month, so relationships and connections are ever-present on my mind. The important idea to remember is that networking is a two-way street, and giving more will often get you more in return. The topic of networking has come up several times for me in the last few weeks, including facilitating a discussion on the topic for a group of undergraduates, so I decided to put my thoughts down here to help prepare.

  • Networking: To me, networking is about sharing information, contacts and ideas with people you are connected with based on past experiences, affiliations and other individuals.
  • LinkedIn: This is an amazing tool for networking, especially when looking for a job. It is used by so many that I feel it has become your online resume; your profile often comes up as a top hit when Googling an individual. Keeping it updated can be extremely important because you never know who is looking at it. LinkedIn can be used to find connections you would have never known about, as it shows all the links and connections for you; based on the information you provide, your affiliations, groups you join and people/organizations you are connected. There are many resources on how to put together a great LinkedIn profile, so I will not get into that here. I suggest that you add everyone you are connected with as you never know how they may be able to offer you in the future. This includes friends, family, coworkers, clients, etc. However, I would only add people you know and only add those you feel appropriate.
  • Volunteering: I feel volunteering is one of the most rewarding personal experiences and a great way to give back to the community. Volunteering can be an excellent networking tool because you will likely be connected to others who have the same general outlook on life regarding giving back. By putting yourself out there and meeting others who are volunteering, you open up an entire new network of people. As you volunteer more and more, and move up into being on a board, this network just continues to grow.
  • Professional groups: Professional groups are another great way to meet people and expand your network. I recommend only joining groups you have an interest in and not waste your time on something because it is the thing to do.
  • Business Cards: Business cards are a simple way to provide all of your relevant contact information in once place. Even if you don’t have business cards for work, you can still make personal business cards for almost no cost. I feel that people should wait to be asked for a business card before giving them out. Some may disagree, but I feel it can come off as pushy when people just sling out their business cards.
  • Staying connected: Once you have made a contact, make sure that you keep up with them. Depending on the circumstances, some individuals don’t need much in terms of relationship management. I have reached out to people who I haven’t spoken to for years because of the way the relationship was built. However, not all relationships are like that and I follow-up much more regularly with many in my network.
  • Giving and Getting: Now when it comes to actually using your network, I feel there are best practices to consider. I have found that giving to your network is a great way to build credibility; not asking for a favor for yourself, but someone else. That is most of what I have done over the past few years. When it actually comes time to ask for a favor from someone in your network, be honest and upfront.

I have been very fortunate with how large my network is, but it has only developed through the work I have put in to make sure it continues to grow.

If you would like to introduce yourself and find out ways we can network, contact me here.

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Building The Bridge As You Walk On It

QuinnI just finished reading the book Building The Bridge As You Walk On It by Robert E. Quinn for a class on change. Like most of the other books assigned by this professor, I walked away with new insights on an idea I had previously felt well-informed. There were so many revelatory ideas in the book, at least to me, that I found it difficult to limit myself to just describing a few. Below are the top concepts that came to mind, but I recommend checking out the book for yourself to find what speaks to you.

  • Fundamental State of Leadership: One of the main elements of the book is the idea of the fundamental state of leadership; the state of mind where individuals “enter into a creative personal state that gives rise to a creative collective state.” In order to enter this state, we much change the way we approach situations.
  • Change ourselves before others: The main theme of the book comes down to this simple idea; we must take charge in first changing ourselves before we can hope to change anyone or anything else. I view this idea in several lights; being that we have to show others we are willing to take the necessary steps and being seen as genuine in our efforts. When reading the book, I look back and see that I was truly only able to make change when I had allowed myself to put purpose as the priority and not myself.
  • Increased integrity: Something Quinn mentions is that integrity is the “alpha and omega of leadership.” I feel this is a powerful statement as I agree that integrity is a process, not a destination. In order to address and lead change, we must confront our own gaps in integrity; what we say we do vs what we actually do. We have to monitor our own integrity and address our own hypocrisy. This self-reflection allows us to focus on purpose, rather than ourselves. This allows change and Quinn describes his 8 leading change characteristics converge on integrity.
  • Addressing our own hypocrisy: An idea that really struck me was this idea of hypocrisy; first having to address the biggest hypocrite – the one we see in the mirror. We often go into situations and don’t like what we see, but try to change everyone else, but not ourselves. A major example of this idea is of a CEO going into an organization and telling everyone below them to change, without willing to change themselves first.
  • Group discussion: A specific idea that I have been involved with and hope to continue to refine is the idea of using a group of individuals to share ideas and provide feedback. Working with entrepreneurs, I see this a lot, but would like to see it more with groups of managers, owners, etc. In a closed environment, trust can be built, and real solutions and advice can be shared. Quinn refers to these groups as being in a “sacred place.”
  • Real-time learning: Change is not a matter of applying past actions to a present situation. It is about being able to learn in real-time and create the solutions that are needed for those particular set of circumstances. For me, this helped me to redefine how I approach situations requiring change. It is not about applying traits or actions, but adjusting to ask the right question(s).
  • Not being present for the initiation of change: The last element I will discuss here is the idea that change agents must accept that they are likely not going to be present for the change they work to implement. Most organizations and leaders are comfortable where they are and proposed change is fought against. Change agents are often fired for attempting to alter the status quo, but the lingering questions and seeds planted from their attempt remains. This requires leaders of change to be more centered on purpose than themselves.

These are just a few of the great ideas I took away from Quinn. I would encourage anyone looking to help enact personal or organizational change to read the book. It is just as important to read the words, as it is to reflect on your own past actions to come up with plans to improve your processes for the future.

Check the book out by clicking here.

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Change from the Middle

change-1076220_1280A topic that has been on my mind for the last year is the idea of change coming from the middle; people like myself who have about ten years of experience, but don’t have a title with the authority to make change without approval. There were several case studies I read in my Organizational Behavior class and a few experiences from my own career that have kept it consistently on my mind. With a course about change coming up in the final semester of my MBA program, I wanted to write my thoughts about the subject now and then reevaluate in several months.

With millennials now over 50% of the US workforce, I am in a category of individuals who desire to make positive change, but are up against an older generation with different perspectives on many issues. In this situation, change can come slowly, if at all. So, how does one go about making change then? These are my thoughts.

  • Become a leader: This doesn’t have to come with a title or position, rather the feeling of those around you. Take on added responsibilities and/or volunteer for projects, don’t take shortcuts, do what is right and not what it easy. These are the practices that others see and understand the value of positioning themselves alongside.
  • Be the change: As is stated in my favorite quote from Gandhi, we have to be the change we want to see. What this means to me is that if I want something to be different, I have to put myself out there and set the example and take the risk. An example of this is challenging an established culture and choosing to blaze your own trail, such as working hard because that is what should be done, as opposed to doing the minimum because no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • Define the change: Even though those from a different generation may hold different perspective, it does not mean they won’t understand and consider change. I think it is a matter of sharing in terms they will be able to understand. An example from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago comes to mind. He didn’t understand how spending time and money on being environmentally responsible would also be profitable. I explained that by being environmentally responsible, a different group of customers would be attracted to his business, which would increase revenue. A bit simplistic, but an example nonetheless.
  • Data: When all else fails, take the time to run the numbers and show what change can mean to the bottom line. This can result in more motivated employees, a more efficient sales force, better ways to reach potential customers and so on. Put together projections and reports using relevant data and let the numbers speak for themselves.

These are the best methods I have found and used to create change in my own environment. Now, I just have to see what new tools can get added to my “change” tool-belt this semester. I have big expectation from my professor, Dr. Bret Simmons, whom I have had for two other courses.

What other methods of positive change have you tried? Please add what has worked for you in a comment below.

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