Author Archives: Jimmie Flores

How to Impress Your Boss

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Advancing in your career is much easier than you might think!

Sort of!

The successful people in your organization know precisely what is important to their boss. They take the time to look at work from the perspective of both the management and leadership teams. Instead of doing work merely to look busy, the top-notch employees are keenly aware of results that impact the bottom line.

Focus on What Matters the Most

If you want to know what is important to your boss, take the time to ask. While the operational or day-to-day activities matter, it’s important to consider the benefits provided by projects. That is, projects are designed to generate revenue and to create internal efficiencies. You should also be aware that project work is usually cross-functional, which means that they are visible across the entire organization, including to the people at the executive level.

Offer to Handle the Tough Work

Here are examples of easy work:

  • Checking and responding to email
  • Processing payroll
  • Informing customer that the order is on its way
  • Discussing an update to a contract with a vendor
  • Updating an MS Excel sales presentation

The items listed above are routine in nature. This type of work is tedious and redundant, and anyone can learn how to do it. In fact, most people are hired to do process-oriented activities. After a few weeks on the job, they might even be called “experts.”

To get yourself on the radar, it’s smart to ask for mission-critical work. For example, your organization might be in the process of hosting an important convention. You can ask your boss what you can do to help with this effort. You might be tasked to contact the individuals and companies that are going to attend. The more attendance that you get at the convention, the more opportunities for your company to sell its products and services. I want to stress that this work is likely not on your job description, but that doesn’t matter to you. The point here is that you’re committed to doing whatever possible to help your company do well. From my many years of business experience, I can tell you that very people take this challenge and volunteer for additional work.

Stop Making Excuses

When issues arise, the easiest thing to do is make excuses. We blame colleagues, assistants, vendors, and anyone else that is an easy target. Differently, the best employees take ownership of the problem, even when they did not create it. I appreciate working with people who know that someone else created the problem, but they’re unwilling to make the issue personal. Instead, these individuals will formulate a plan to resolve the issue, and get back on track.

I want to stress that gaining respect from your boss can take time. It takes far more than working extra hours here and there. In fact, many people who advance in their careers work a regular 40-hour week. The difference is that they focus most their time on high-value items.

Work the Plan – Always!

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The easiest thing to do when times get tough is to quit. If you think about, giving up takes no practice. All you have to do is stop trying. That’s it!

Keep Your Eyes on What You Want

I’m sure you’ve read that successful people can visualize what they want most in life. If you’re interested in doubling your income in the next 12 months, it’s imperative that you know the number. Let’s say you earn $50,000 right now. This means that $100,000 is your target. You need to do everything possible to work in an occupation that allows you to earn this kind of money. If you don’t, it’s time to make a change.

There are going to be many days when you will be tempted to take a day off from your goal. While it’s understandable that some activities will keep us busy, we must never forget that progress needs to be made each day. If you’re in sales, this might mean making at least one more call to qualified buyers. The problem with taking it easy is that it might become a habit. Even one small step toward our goal can make a huge difference down the road.

Stop Working Alone

For many years, I ran a business that went nowhere. I thought that I could do it all by myself. I was the CEO … the “Chief Everything Officer!” While my payroll stayed in check, I was not generating any momentum. The other big problem was that the business was not making any money. In fact, I was near closing the doors.

My luck changed when I realized that I needed to hire talented people. Of course, this decision required that I have sufficient operating income to make payroll. The first step was to hire part-time workers who could build the technology that I needed to service our customers. The customers were pleased with our work, so they awarded more contracts. In just a few months, we had enough money to hire full-time workers. The business is doing well today, and the credit goes to my capable team who has bought into the vision of our organization.

Act Instead of React

There are many leaders who prefer to take a reactive approach to running the business. Instead of adopting new technology, they take a wait-and-see attitude. The idea here is to let other companies test it out first. If it works, they will use it. While I understand that early adoption of anything carries risk, I also know that doing nothing is even riskier. To remain competitive in today’s dynamic market, it’s essential that we’re willing to take some chances. One way to be proactive is to speed up the planning phase. If an upside is possible, give it a try.

Working the plan each day does not guarantee success. However, failing to have a plan in place that is constantly executed will certainly lead to failure. Hard-working and diligent people might fall short here and there, but in the long run, they will undoubtedly experience success.

Small, Constant Actions Lead to Huge Results

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It’s human nature to want things now. Also, most people are unwilling to put in the hard work over a long period. Instead of pursuing happiness, the goal is instant gratification. Any reasonable person will tell you that it’s far better to reach success faster rather than slower.

Fast is a Relative Term

I’m reminded of the entrepreneur that spent 20 years working on her business without receiving any publicity. She had many challenges along the way, and even came close to shutting the doors several times because sales were low. However, she kept working the business plan, and eventually secured several big contracts. Now that cash flow was better, she had the funds to hire talented people to help her. Because of her commitment to excellence, the customers were happy with the results, and kept giving her company more work. This business became well-known in the industry, and soon new work was arriving each day.

After 20 years, this entrepreneur was featured on a business magazine. The people who do not know her story thought that she was able to quickly make it big. The reality, however, is that she worked nonstop for more than two decades to create a successful company. For some people, 20 years is far too long to wait for success. Successful people will tell you that wealth-building takes many years, and perhaps even a lifetime. For this reason, it’s imperative that one is only doing work that is meaningful. If so, the effort and commitment is enjoyable and rewarding.

Focus on Today’s Work

Think about a book that has 365 pages. For many, it’s impossible to find the time to read a book this big. What if you decided to write a book about a subject you like, and it must contain 365 pages? For this project, I will allocate a year to get it done. If I committed each day to writing just one page for this book, I could have it done within the allotted time-frame. You see the mountain appears too high and steep to climb until we decide to take small steps each day.

The other benefit of sticking with a plan each day is that our performance improves. The more you dedicate to writing, the easier it will get. The words and sentence structure will come naturally over time. At first, writing a page required several hours of effort, but now you can get have it done in 60 minutes.

For work to be meaningful, one must consider the big picture. You should know exactly why you are engaged in the current work. Perhaps you are trying to gain more experience so that you can climb the corporate ladder. You might be working on a project that can create future opportunities for your organization. By having a clear vision, the chances of success will skyrocket.

There will be many days when you believe that little to no progress is made. However, even when you experience challenging days, know that you kicked the ball down the street. The ball didn’t travel too far, but you are heading in the right direction.

How to Find the Career that is Right for You

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As an online college professor, I receive many emails from students asking for career advice. In fact, when I served as department chair for the School of Business at a university, one of my duties was to meet with students to discuss how the program they selected could translate to a good job. I’ve been fortunate to have worked at some major companies, such as Shell Oil Company, Prudential, and USSA. Because of this experience, I have a good idea of what employers desire from the candidates they interview for key positions within the organization.

Decide what you want to do. 

Before anyone can provide career advice, it’s important that each of us knows exactly the type of work that we want to do. If we’re unsure regarding what makes us happy, any recommendation is going to fall short of expectations. While attending undergraduate school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, I realized that my future was in education. In other words, I was going to share knowledge with people who wanted to learn. While I started teaching at Houston Community College, I later realized that my instruction skills were also in demand as a corporate trainer, which expanded advancement opportunities.

If you are unhappy with your current career, take action today to make a move. This doesn’t mean that you will submit your later of resignation tomorrow morning, but it does mean that you are going to start the process to make the change. Many of you are probably doing that right now by pursing a degree, earning a professional certification, and gaining work experience.

Don’t be afraid to take an entry level job. 

Most people are unwilling to change careers because it feels like they are starting brand new. Doing something else for a living might mean that one must accept an entry level job, which might be necessary. However, because of your experience, and your passion to do well, promotions will come faster. If the pay differential is too big, I recommend putting money aside that will allow you to maintain a similar lifestyle until the compensation in your new job catches-up. You will undoubtedly have to make some sacrifices, but being happy about your career is worth it. The opposite is that you keep working where you are even though you can’t stand it.

Make sure to focus on the long-term benefits. 

It’s human nature to expect good results as fast as possible. The most successful people are usually 40-years and older. The reason people earn more money with age is because the work experience they have is invaluable. These folks have learned how to make tough decisions even when insufficient data is available. With experience, we also learn how to communicate with different types of stakeholders, ranging from frontline personnel to the executives.

Please know that I’m making a general comment about how work experience can lead to good results. I do understand that some young people are doing super-well today, especially because they possess strong technical skills. However, company leaders are looking for candidates who have a macro or big picture understanding of the organization. These skills are earned over many years of trial-and-error.

The takeaway here is that once you are clear with your career of choice, make sure you’re 100% committed. The mistakes you make today will pay off down the road because you will know what doesn’t work.

How to Get Approval for a Project

How to Get Approval for a Project

Getting a project approved can be a daunting task, and it’s much more difficult when someone lacks decision-making power. However, if you have a good idea that you believe will provide value to the organization, it’s important that you present it to the management team. Instead of going to a colleague, it’s better if you schedule an informal meeting with your manager to discuss it. The problem with going to a team member is that this individual might discourage you from moving forward.

The Meeting with Your Manager – Example

Hi, Melody –

I appreciate your taking the time to listen to my project idea.

 Here it is … during the past few months, I’ve noticed that customers are complaining about incomplete and wrong orders. In one case, we sent a unit without the power cord. My guess is that shipping is overwhelmed with the number of orders we’re receiving, and they’re failing to perform the necessary quality control steps. There’s no doubt that getting more orders is good, and we can’t tell the marketing group to stop advertising, so it’s best if we initiate a project to identify the root cause of the problem.

 My research during the past 35 days shows that 6 orders out of 100 are wrong. In the past, when we had fewer orders, only 1 order out of 100 was incorrect. Again, we can’t just assume that the increase in orders is the reason for the additional mistakes we’re making, so this is why I recommend that we launch a project to investigate the underlying problem.

 I know that people are super-busy, and I doubt that anyone can take on the extra work of running this project. Therefore, with your permission, I can assume the project manager role. As you know, I will need your approval to get started, and I suppose you will need to get clearance from the higher-ups. As part of this work, it’s essential that I speak to stakeholders in various departments, such as shipping, marketing, operations, IT, and others. If approved, I will need to schedule a meeting with these individuals.

 I know I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, but I know this project can make a big difference in the way we do our work, and the value we provide our customers. Please take the time to think about my proposal, and let me know if I can proceed.

 I’m sure you have questions, so please feel free to ask.

 Adrian

As you can see here, Adrian, who likely has little power to initiate a project, has made a strong presentation to his manager, Melody. He has focused on how the project will yield immediate value to the organization. In addition, he is willing to assume the work of leading the project. There aren’t many people who are this proactive, so his idea is likely to be well-received.

The other point I want to make is that coming up with ideas is only a small part of the solution. The difference-makers take the initiative to make something happen. In other words, they’re not afraid to do the work.

How Smart People Get Promoted

How Smart People Get Promoted

There are far too many people hoping they receive a promotion soon. In some cases, the belief is that longevity with a company will eventually yield good news. I do know that advancements are sometimes given based on seniority, but having to wait until one gets older to receive a promotion is a strategy with a double-edge sword.

The smart people have a sense of urgency. They want to get around the bases as quickly as possible. The first step is to figure out where you want to go. Do you want to become the Director of International Marketing? How about the CIO? I’m sure that some of you want to eventually make the big decisions and become the President or CEO. While some of these goals may seem hard to reach, rest assured they are impossible unless you believe there is a way to make them happen.

Take Care of What You Can

There are many people who think they are failing to progress because of politics. They don’t know the right people in the company, and they’re unwilling to “play the game.” To excel in any organization, one must able to interact with the decision-makers. I suppose some will say this is politics; if so, do what you can to participate in the process.

Here’s a good way to get in front of the people who can fast-track your career … get involved with projects that will add value to the company. There are many opportunities to participate in these initiatives, and many of these projects are spearheaded or championed by the executives. This means you will meet face-to-face with these individuals, and you may be asked to make a presentation. I recommend that you ask for the opportunity to lead a meeting or present an update on how the project is progressing. In many cases, getting this opportunity is easy because others are intimated to speak before the organization’s leaders.

Focus on Success

The people who climb the ladder quickly are effective in their work. They know what the result is supposed to look like, and they will do whatever it takes to get it done. There will undoubtedly be challenges along the way, but these top-notch employees will find a solution or workaround to ensure the product or service is delivered as close to the proposed schedule and budget.

You will also notice that successful people are great communicators. When a problem arises, they will immediately alert the appropriate stakeholders. Just as important, though, they will have a contingency plan in place. Because they are committed to meeting expectations, they will seek guidance from subject matter experts (SMEs) and company leaders. If they are heading in the wrong direction, these top performers are willing to accept it, and take the necessary corrective action.

Many people believe there is a secret to success, but there isn’t. Everything that one needs to know about becoming successful is already printed in books. The first point to recognize is that success starts with knowing exactly where one wants to be in the future. With this in mind, the person begins a journey that is filled with roadblocks, obstacles, and unforeseen challenges. When a problem or issue arises, regardless of its size, it’s imperative to find the best possible solution, and keep moving forward. This no-nonsense attitude to getting work done will eventually lead to the finish line, and it will give you on the radar. Once the leaders know you who are, and the good work you’ve done, the promotions will come quickly.

Lots of Great Ideas But Zero Action

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In my years working in corporate America, medical practices, and running my own business, I’ve heard a ton of great ideas; unfortunately, in most cases, no action is taken to make these ideas a reality. I’ve put together a short list of reasons why leaders, managers, and staff members decide it’s best to forget that something good can happen if action were taken.

Work is Painful

As a project manager, I often notice that people are enthusiastic about the results the initiative will yield. For example, a project is launched to create a new product that has huge potential in the market. The excitement usually comes to a screeching halt when work is assigned to the team members. Even though the project is important to the success of the company, the people feel the extra work is burdensome, and they hope the idea is scrapped. One rationale is that the project can wait one more year.

Mediocrity is Fine

Believe it or not, some leaders are willing to accept falling behind the competition. To get in the game, this project and many others must be initiated, planned, executed, and controlled. The leaders believe they have a share of the pie, and while it’s not great, it’s good enough to stay in business. The bills are paid on time, and people are willing to work in the company. Given that most of the work pertains to current clients, the workload and stress are manageable. In other words, the mediocre company is operated by mediocre leaders and employees. The unfortunate reality is that the days for these types of companies are numbered. Within a year or two, their market share will disappear, and mostly because the customers will decide that someone else can provide a better value.

Incompetence Reigns

Like me, I’m sure you’ve worked in companies where the leaders lack a clear understanding of what it takes to make the enterprise successful. I remember one situation where an executive petitioned for the main office to be moved to a location closer to his home. He was tired of driving the 15 miles to the current office, and felt he could be much more productive if his commute was cut to 5 minutes. You will find it interesting to know that he raised this issue at least 10 times in meetings with key stakeholders. His wish never came true, and he soon left the company. The job he accepted was 25 miles from his home. Go figure!

The takeaway here is that great ideas are only meaningful if someone is committed to making them become a reality. This means that a champion is required, which is someone who will work tirelessly to ensure the planning and work get done. This person must be either a decision-maker or someone that has the ear of the executive team.

There are people in companies that are willing to take on the challenge of getting things done. These individuals know when they can take on more work, and they also know when to ask to be removed from other work to focus on critical work. I’m sure you know who they are in your organization. You won’t find them near the water cooler or at break time because they’re busy doing the work. The other notable characteristic of go-getters is that they find excuse-making a waste of time.

How to Get Back on Track After a Failure

Quitting is not an option

Falling short of expectations is never fun. Even when we work hard, it just wasn’t good enough. Whether we place 2nd or 26th, it’s still not a good feeling. The most successful people don’t look at failure as a dead-end. Rather, they consider the situation a learning opportunity, and commit to making sure it doesn’t happen again. Of course, for individuals who are constantly competing, failure is bound to happen from time-to-time. The flip side holds true as well … the more one tries, the more times one will succeed.

Rejection after Job Interview

We’ve all had a job interview where we failed to advance. In some cases, we made it to the last two candidates standing, but received the unfortunate “you are the runner-up” phone call. If the job was important to our career, we are going to be unhappy, dejected, and cautious about any future interviews.

The top-notch people take a different approach altogether. While they’re unhappy about the bad news, they look for ways to make a better impression at the next interview. I recommend that we use this opportunity to be introspective. Let’s take the time to consider why we failed to earn the position. Were we unprepared for questions that were asked? Did we lack confidence? Did we project arrogance? In some cases, though, the cards were stacked against us, and there was little we could do to be selected. The other candidate was running on the inside lane because he was well-liked by several executives. Regardless of the circumstances, we must do whatever possible to address issues that we can control.

Failing an Important Professional Certification Exam

In my work as a corporate trainer, I prepare students to take tough professional exams, such as the PMP®, Agile Scrum, and ITIL® Foundations v3. For the PMP from the Project Management Institute (PMI), students will often invest up 100 hours of study time. The exam consists of 200 questions, and many of them are situational in nature. Even when well-prepared for the exam, many students report that the exam was grueling.

Unfortunately, not all students will pass the PMP® exam on the first try. I knew of one individual who fell short of the passing grade, and he stated the following: “This exam is not for me. There’s no way I will ever pass it … so I’m not going to try anymore!” From my interactions with this student, I was confident that he could pass it, but he needed to have the motivation to study and learn the material.

I know another individual who failed the PMP exam, and he called me for advice. Near the end of the call, she noted: “Dr. Flores, I was discouraged with the results, but I’m not going to quit. After thinking through my test experience, I have a clear idea how to prepare for the re-take.” Two weeks later, this student called to inform me that she was a brand new PMP! The people who are unwilling to accept defeat will eventually realize success. It’s only a matter of time.

We should look at failure as part of being competitive. It will hurt to fall short of our goal, to be sure. However, once we accept the situation, and figure out how to resolve it, we can give it another try. The lesson here is that perseverance is often the answer to earning what we want from life.

How to Handle Scope Questions on the PMP Exam

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The Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam will feature a good number of scope-related questions, which means that test-takers must understand the topic well. To keep it simple, know that scope also means the work to be executed on the project. Once the customer is clear regarding the final product, service, or result, the project team will define the work and how it will get done.

Start with the Customer

The customer often speaks from the standpoint of what they want the deliverable to do. For example, “We’re want the building to include state-of-the-art technology that allows our workers to stay connected at all times.” The project team must ensure what is meant by “state-of-the-art” and “stay connected.”The customer has an idea or vision regarding the output, but the details are often left to the subject matter experts (SMEs). Of course, it’s important to have a good idea regarding the budget so that the recommendations are viable.

Know the Order of the Scope Management Processes

One can expect many tricky questions on the PMP exam related to scope, but knowing the processes in order for this knowledge area can make your job easier when selecting the BEST answer. For example, one must know that requirements are collected before the scope is defined. In the “real world,” the requirements may be gathered as the project is moving forward, and sometimes the project team assumes they know what the customer wants and will skip the process of collect requirements.

Here are the processes in Scope Management, and I will share a short definition to make them easier to understand:

  • Plan Scope Management (5.1): The process that creates the scope management plan, and explains how both project and product scope are defined, validated, and controlled.
  • Collect Requirements (5.1): The process of determining the stakeholder needs.
  • Define Scope (5.3): The process of developing a detailed description of the work to be performed.
  • Create WBS (5.4): The process of decomposing the project work into manageable pieces.
  • Validate Scope (5.5): The process of confirming the work completed has met the requirements as stated in the project scope statement.
  • Control Scope (5.6): The process of taking corrective action when there is a variance with scope, such as when the customer requests additional work beyond what was agreed (i.e., scope creep).

 I recommend that you go through all 47 processes, and create your own short definition. By doing so, you will have more control when taking the exam. The questions are written to test your overall knowledge, which means that memorization will have little value.

These 3 Credentials Can Ignite Your Career

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As a corporate trainer, I spend many days teaching students how to prepare for certification exams. These individuals are fortunate because the companies that hire me pay for the entire training, including all the materials. I enjoy doing this type of work because the students are motivated to earning a professional credential. It’s great when I receive an email from a student who has just passed an exam. This is what makes my work gratifying.

Here are the professional certifications that I recommend to my students: Project Management Professional (PMP)®, ITIL Foundations v3, and Agile Scrum. In fact, I refer to these three as the Iron Triangle. The advantage of these credentials is that they are industry agnostic. In other words, they will benefit you regardless of the industry where you work.

Project Management Professional (PMP)®

The PMP® is considered the Gold Standard in the project management industry, and it doesn’t matter where you live because the Project Management Institute (PMI) is an international organization. To qualify, candidates with a 4-year degree must have 4,500 hours of leading and directing projects; those without a 4-year degree must show 7,5000 of leading and directing projects. The exam is 4 hours in length and consists of 200 questions. The test is difficult, and I recommend taking a prep course so that you’re well prepared. The average salary in the United States for a PMP is $109,000. There’s no doubt that you will have more opportunities after earning this in-demand project management credential.

ITIL Foundations v3

ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), and we are currently teaching Version 3. While this is a technology-related credential, even non-techies should consider it. In fact, I teach this course to account managers, marketing analysts, budget coordinators, event planners, and so on. In a nutshell, ITIL pertains to IT Service Management, and focuses on how Business and IT can work together to provide value to the customer. The candidates are allowed 1-hour to take a 40-question exam, and the passing score is 65% or 26 questions correct. ITIL-certified individuals can expect to earn roughly $75,000 annually.

Agile Scrum

Agile Scrum has taken off in recent years. Agile is the preferred approach for IT-related projects because flexibility is required. For example, software projects are unpredictable, and change is necessary. The Scrum team must embrace changes, which means the customer is not charged for these updates. In fact, the work is completed in two-week sprints. The core Scrum team includes the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team. This group delivers business value after each sprint, and provides a demo to the key stakeholders. Based on this feedback, the next sprint is planned. I recommend taking a Scrum Master 2-day course that includes the certification exam. The Scrum Master credential can earn more than $70,000 in the market.

With good planning, these three certifications can be earned in one year. Make sure to find out if this training is offered in your organization. If not, you can find the classes in the open market, both face-to-face and online delivery. Even if your company fails to reimburse for the class and exam, I recommend that you pursue them. Remember that this is an investment in your future, and you will reap the benefits.