Employment Success with the Pause, Plan, Practice Process

We often hear “Top organizations want to attract top talent.” And, “Top talent wants to work with top organizations.” True enough, yes? I wonder then, what defines TOP? How do you know TOP when you see TOP? Is there a limited number of TOP? With no e-harmony for TOP, how do you connect? How does TOP find each other? Is everything not TOP less than?

We live in a world that is unpredictable, ambiguous, uncertain and many factors, technology being one of them, are demanding that we change faster than our comfort level. I pose that the question more accurately reflecting the wants and needs of organizations and individuals is: 

Who/Where Is Right For The Right Seat At The Right Time?

Jim Collins said it well in “Good to Great” with “right person, right seat.” And, we have evolved to require the addition of “right time.” We said our world is unpredictable and experiencing radical change – in this climate, our organizations and individuals are experiencing the same. What is right for both is not only unique but also changes as fast as everything else. Gone are the days of old definitions of stability, longevity, and loyalty. We are in the days of fluidity, growth, and expansion.

Why is this important? Because with the TOP requests, everyone is looking for the same thing and the same thing is not right for everyone. I have heard for almost 20 years the same comments from organizations and individuals in the hiring or career changing mode. Organizations say, “I want a lawyer from a top law school with top grades working at a top organization.” Individuals say, “I want to work somewhere that appreciates me, where I can have control over my time and make enough money.” The question mistakenly forgotten is “What is right, specifically for you?” In other words – the mating dance for a successful employment connection requires each side to know themselves first. It requires each side to ask of themselves: Who are you? What do you need/want? How will you know it when you see it? Or, I like to say, the pause, plan, practice process to successful employment.


Always going somewhere and yet never being anywhere – sound familiar? Richard Leider claims we have a new epidemic among us, “hurry” sickness. If we are running at high speed while pursuing our career steps or hiring in our organizations, we get the wrong results (“They aren’t doing what I thought they would do when I hired them.” or “This is how I felt in my last position.”) What is the cure? A well-accepted opinion in academic circles is simply to “pause.” This is the first step to employment success – it starts with you. This step is the most forgotten step with organizations and individuals and yet is the most critical. Taking a minute to recognize who you are will determine the outcome you get. Questions to ponder include: What values do you use to make decisions? These are your core values. Identify them and write them down. What are the priorities you are meeting with this position? Write them down. What behaviors do you expect to see? What would you be disappointed to see? Again, write it down. Now, look at it – this is what you are looking for – this applies to an organization looking to fill a position or an individual looking for a career step.


What process are you going to use to find the fit? What questions will you ask? What answers/examples will you give? Who will be involved? What are your strengths? What are your snafus? Your differentiators? Your uniqueness? The mistake organizations commonly make in this step is they try to pull the plan together at the last minute with whoever is available. This mistake can be costly as a weak first impression is lasting and can be the difference between an offer being accepted or declined. For the individual, the common mistake is stopping the plan at the search effort. In other words, once a resume is sent, they stop the proactive role and move into the “go with the flow” of the organization. There is little opportunity to differentiate oneself from a passive position.


Have you ever heard a good speech? How about a good impromptu speech? What do they both have in common? Practice. That’s right. Most good “impromptu” speeches have been rehearsed in some fashion. In an interview situation, both parties know it is going to happen and know what the other will want to know about them. It is not a mystery. Yet, both sides commonly approach an interview like it is an impromptu speech with no rehearsal. You have taken the pause time to figure out who you are and what you need. You have taken your time to plan your questions, answers, approach. The practice step is the opportunity for you to bring all the steps together. A chance for you to get feedback, clarify your messages, match your non-verbals. You waste your time by not doing this simple step.

So, whether you are on the hiring side of the table or the interviewee side of the table – you both want the same thing – to identify the right fit so you can be happy in this dynamic world. That is good. Research has proven time again that if there is happiness in the organization and the individual there is a legal talent management firm that provides cost-effective legal recruiting for culture fit, as well  as communications workshops, team-building exercises, leadership coaching, management training, CLE presentations, and firm and client building programs. As a trusted strategic partner, Jodi helps law firms and legal departments develop a cohesive approach to selection, development and retention of talent, directly impacting the bottom line which is vital to their success. Hundreds of clients across the country rely on Jodi’s expertise. Organizations are different and people are different. Using the pause, plan, practice process will position you in your mating dance, allowing you to identify the match that is right for you right now.

References – The Secret Weapon to Career Success

References – please submit your references. Do you have any references? How many times have you been asked for references – proposing to a new client, bidding on an RFP, interviewing for a new job, applying for membership or a board seat. We all get the same question, but our reaction to the question makes all the difference. References can make you, break you or keep you in neutral. In this hypercompetitive, constantly evolving environment, find out how to make references your secret weapon in achieving career success.

What a Difference a Reference Can Make.

There are three kinds of references: Make You, Break You and Keeping You in Neutral.

References that MAKE YOU

This reference happily reports his or her experience working with you and provides detailed examples which also meet the requirements of the new position or project you are seeking.

It is not enough for a positive reference to simply know who you are when someone calls on your behalf. Make You references are those that can speak to specific examples of performance, the difference you made or a success you contributed to. They are the

references that can share a story demonstrating who you are in the workplace. They create the confirmation that your interview process has already established, and give the extra push employers need to want to hire you.

References that BREAK YOU

This reference either merely confirms your dates of employment, title and compensation, or worse, this reference remembers working with you for all of the wrong reasons – and

boy, do they remember every detail of working with you! OK, everyone thinks: “Who would give out a reference that wouldn’t say good things about you?” Guess what – it happens, especially in the Midwest where passive aggressive communication is common. To your face someone may say, “Sure, I will be a reference for you,” but then when the call comes, and pressed with “Off the record, tell me how it really was working with them,” they do tell, but with selective memory. Our perceptions are powerful and while good experiences become better, bad experiences become worse. Much worse.

References that Keep You in NEUTRAL

This reference confirms you did the job. It was fine, but unremarkable. Sure, they’d work with you again, but you’re somewhat fungible. These are the standard, “everyone gets the same response, we are going through the motions and checking off our to-do list” references. They don’t forward your candidacy and they don’t necessarily hurt your candidacy. But consider whether they are a missed opportunity – could a Make You reference have been provided instead?

Your job in compiling a reference list is to determine who will be your best cheerleaders. Realistically consider whether a potential reference is actually good or merely neutral, and confirm you aren’t providing any Break You references.

Preparing MAKE YOU References

When employers or potential clients ask for references, they are primarily asking about two basic characteristics:

1. substantive and technical ability – do you have the hard skills, knowledge or expertise for the job

2. organizational “fit” – the soft skills – are you good to work with as defined by that organization’s culture, values, etc.

When evaluating a potential reference, applicants should consider who in their professional lives can speak both to their expertise and to their interpersonal skills. This group can include current and former supervisors, peers and clients. Others sources are volunteer or community groups where you have a significant responsibility, like a seat on a charity’s board of directors. In all instances, employers want to hear stories about your performance, how you helped achieve a difficult goal, met or beat a deadline, managed challenging personalities, and yet were always pleasant to work with.

Ask First; Plant the Seed. Once you identify a list of Make You references, confirm a reference’s willingness to serve – yes, you have to ask them! This highlights the upcoming change and weeds out potential Break You references. That said, the best time to ask for a reference is before you need it, following the close of a successful project. When you ask later for a specific opportunity, it is easier to say yes again.

Prime the Pump. Lawyers are good at asking leading questions; this is the perfect time to employ that skill. It is critical to prepare your reference for the questions he or she is likely to be asked by the employer. You also want to identify the exact traits you want them to advertise about you, specifically tailored to the job you are seeking. They may have plenty of stories about you, but you want them to share the right stories for this opportunity. “Bob, remember when we worked an all-nighter to get that brief done? You told me you really valued my persistence and attention to detail.” Remind them of the stories you want them to share – it makes it easier for them to take the inevitable call and helps shape that conversation in a beneficial manner.

Presentation Matters. Don’t just email a list of names and numbers. Frame the contact information so it is easily digestible, perhaps as a direct response to an interview question. “I have provided Bob Harper’s phone and email. We worked on a challenging litigation matter where my persistence and attention to detail really paid off.”

Return the Favor. If it makes sense, offer to serve as a reference for your reference.

The Power of Breathing

Did you know that you can increase your personal effectiveness by simply increasing your breath awareness? Research shows that the average person wastes 5 1⁄2 hours a week due to unclear communication. Research has also linked breathing with increased influence, confidence, presence … all leading to career advancement.

If you’ve ever breathed a sigh of relief or gasped in pain, you know that even our language recognizes a close connection between the way we breathe and how we feel.

In fact, when you understand how respiration interacts with your mood, you can train your breathing to help you handle your emotions. The right breathing technique can calm you when you’re feeling tense, enable you to really focus on a task or keep you from blowing up at someone. It can also help dramatically change the way you sound, since breathing patterns are the foundation of vocal production.

You experience this powerful mood and breathing connection every time you get highly emotional. When you’re depressed or sad, your breathing tends to be very shallow with frequent sighs. When you’re feeling anxious, frightened or angry, you unconsciously have pauses of varying length between your breaths, or even hold your breath.

Athletes, martial arts practitioners and singers all know that breathing is the key to physical performance. The way we breathe – whether it’s short, shallow breaths through the chest or deep, slow breaths from the diaphragm – directly communicates with the powerful vagus nerve that runs through the chest cavity up to the brain. The vagus is linked to nerve receptors in the lungs, and is connected to the limbic center in the brain, which controls our emotional reactions. Making your breathing calm and steady, instead of shallow, jerky or full of prolonged pauses, can help make your mind calm and steady and can help you achieve increased relaxation, concentration and vocal control.

If you often feel tense, you may be breathing from your chest rather than from your diaphragm. The diaphragm is the strong, cone-shaped muscle that forms the floor of the chest cavity which helps move oxygen in and out of the lungs. Check your pattern; place your hand on your upper chest. If it rises when you inhale and contracts when you exhale, you’re chest breathing.

This type of breathing pattern is very common, and less effective. It gets in huge amounts of air at once and activates the fight-or-flight alarm reaction – good in an emergency but not otherwise helpful. If you chest breathe regularly, you keep your body in a state of chronic stress. Chest breathing fills only the upper lungs, where oxygen-absorbing blood cells are sparse. The result: you breathe faster to meet your body’s oxygen needs and cause the limbic center of the brain to dump stress-related chemicals into the bloodstream, such as adrenaline.

In contrast, diaphragmatic breathing tells the body that everything is calm and alright because air goes into the lower lungs, which are rich in oxygen-extracting blood cells. The vagus nerve, going from the lung to the brain, then transmits a message of relaxation, and you are able to breathe more slowly. The next time you are feeling pressured or stressed, practice this type of breathing.

To breathe from the diaphragm, place one hand on your upper stomach, keeping your entire hand above your belly button. Inhale as if you’re filling a small balloon inside your stomach. Your stomach should gently rise as you inhale (as the diaphragm pushes down to make room for the expanding lungs) and fall as you exhale (as the diaphragm moves up to the lower chest to push the air out of the lungs). Your upper chest and shoulders should stay motionless. Once you’re breathing from the right spot, focus on making your breath as even and steady as possible. You’ll find your tension dissipating within about two breaths. With practice, this skill becomes automatic.

Be aware that at first, this breathing pattern may feel unusual or strange. It may even feel backward to you! If that’s the case, it means you have been chest breathing so long, you’ve forgotten how to belly breathe. If you’ve ever observed a sleeping infant, however, you saw that they innately belly breathe from the diaphragm. That’s how we all begin, but stress causes us to move the breathing pattern up into the chest.

You can further expand your stress-busting expertise by slowing your exhalation. Exhaling slows the pulse rate, when your breathing becomes balanced and even, slow your rate of exhalation until you are breathing out twice as long as you breathe in. Count to six as you exhale and three as you inhale. Do 10 to 20 repetitions of this breathing pattern in meetings, traffic or when otherwise stressed out. The workplace today forces us to over-schedule our lives. Calming your breathing pattern allows you to take time for yourself so you have the resources to deal more effectively with others. Try it today. Increase your breath awareness in meetings, depositions, interviews … and observe how your personal effectiveness increases.

Listening and Leadership

Statistics tell us that people will forget up to 95% of what they are told within 3-7 days.  It’s important to make an impact with the 5% that people do remember. On the other side of the coin, communication experts have found that a key method for improving leadership perception is to create better listening skills. Here are a few simple leadership listening techniques that can increase your effectiveness immediately when incorporating into your daily interactions.

It is important to remember that when you are listening, you are in a two-way conversation.  Your part in that conversation may be primarily silent, but in order for your conventional partner to feel “listened to”, they must also feel that you are committing your energy to the listening process. The listening skills suggested below will help you enhance that perception.  The true desire to listen, however, comes from within. Like a positive message that is not delivered from the heart, listening “behaviors” displayed without the heartfelt commitment to understand your speaker will be seen as phony and dishonest. 

  • Maintain relaxed eye contact with the other person.  A good ratio to maintain is 50% on your partner, 50% away.
  • Use a variety of “filler” comments such as “I see”, “OK” or “I understand”.
  • Use reflective listening techniques to draw the other person out, or when responding to critical feedback so you don’t seem defensive.  A way to say this is to use the PPP approach: paraphrase, probe, and present options.  To do so:
    1. Listen to what s/he is saying.
    2. Reflect back by saying something like, “I hear you saying ______________, is that accurate?”
    3. Continue to revise until the person feels you understand them (i.e., “So you’re saying _____________, is that correct?”).
    4. To present options, present two or three possibilities for consideration, such as, “Well, what if we tried to…”
  • Good listening is like playing a friendly game of volleyball – you want the ball to go over the net.  Allow the conventional volley to continue as long as possible. Avoid quick, dead end responses that shut down or close off dialogue.  To do so, use gentle prompts or open ended questions to encourage your speaker to share their input. “Tell me more about…”, “How did you arrive at that conclusion?”  S-T-R-E-T-C-H the response out longer than you do in normal conversation. 
  • Increase facial expression – nod, smile with understanding, raise brow if you question something, furrow the brow or squint your eyes slightly only to show concern or empathy, etc., and make sure the voice tone you use matches your mood.
  • Avoid giving a quick verbal brush-off response such as “Sure.  Now about that ______________.” If you are a fast processor or high energy person who can jump into your response so quickly that you often interrupt, take a silent count to 3 when you feel the impulse to speak.  This should allow you enough of a pause to be certain that your speaker is finished.

Take some extra time to listen, absorb and respond to what people are telling you.  A few minutes invested here can have a major payoff later, since you will appear far more engaged as a listener.

Do You Have Talent Sitting on the Bench?

Wasted Potential is Wasted Money — Five Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

In professional sports, it’s called dead money. Salaries, sometimes exorbitant, are being paid to athletes who do little more than sit on the bench. On a less dramatic scale, most businesses are paying out dead money too. By some estimates, the majority of employees are working at only 60 percent capacity. Imagine the boost to your bottom line if you could energize and inspire your employees to give you more of what they’re capable of at work. Even if you have a small staff, the results could equate to an additional full-time equivalent at no extra cost.

It’s not that employees are lazy. It’s business owners who unknowingly make it unlikely, even impossible, for employees to perform at 100 percent. 

Want everybody off the bench and in the game? These are the mistakes to avoid.

Having Sticky Fingers

Delegation is one of the toughest skills for managers to master. Most attempts fall into a gray area, where the manager kind of lets go. It generally takes one of two forms: the manager either hovers closely, making constant “I wouldn’t do it quite like that” comments, or backs off so far and offers so little input that the project is doomed to fail.

Either way, the manager eventually swoops in like a hero and reclaims the duties. It doesn’t take long for an employee to realize, “It doesn’t matter what I do. It’s going to be redone or rejected anyway.” Motivation is deflated.

Delegation works well if one is delegating the right activities to the right people.  Once the right activities and right people are identified, offer support and coaching, but make handoffs real and lasting. Let employees take full ownership — they get the accolades of the win or the consequences of the loss — and you’ll see them step up to the plate.

Creating a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Environment

So, your employees aren’t dropping by to tell you they’ve officially mastered Spider Solitaire and need a new challenge? Good. Everything must be fine.

Wrong. In our uncertain times, few employees have the courage to admit they could do more. In addition, individuals who do step forward are historically rewarded with low priority, we’ll-do-it-when-we-have-time jobs like purging old files or taking down the office Christmas tree.

People will generally look busy, and may actually be busy, but don’t assume they’re busy doing the right things. You need to ask. Make the inquiry non-threatening and mutually beneficial: “I want you to be happy and feel challenged at work. What kinds of things would you like to be doing more of?” Or, “You’re so good at keeping things organized and seem to enjoy it. How else could we put that talent to good use around here?”

Playing Dr. Evil

In the Austin Powers motion pictures, Dr. Evil was always fawning over his miniature clone, Mini-Me, while he ignored his son Scott Evil, who was usually offering some much-needed common sense. 

Managers often have more trust in others who look and act much like themselves. Or they appreciate a certain trait, like extroversion over introversion. In an increasingly diverse workplace, it’s important to recognize that talent comes in many packages. 

Challenge your own belief that only some employees have the potential to be highly productive contributors, and look for ways to cultivate performance in all individuals.

Punishing Through Promotions

The popular book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, shed light on the startling fact that only 20 percent of employees felt that their strengths were in play every day at work. That number sunk even lower the longer employees stayed with an organization and the higher they climbed up the corporate ladder.

Good performance demands recognition, monetary rewards, and additional responsibility. There are many ways beyond the traditional title change to do that. Don’t let an organizational chart dictate what it means to be successful. Figure out what talent you’re working with and let the org chart reflect it.

Forgetting to Mention What You Need

Have you ever sent your spouse to the grocery store without a list? It doesn’t end well — for either of you. Technology has brought us a long way, but there’s still not anybody who’s consistently able to read your mind. Unclear expectations are the single largest inhibitor to peak performance, breeding frustration, inefficiency, and conflict.

Tell an employee it would be nice to see a summary of recent sales results, and watch them churn. Say you need an Excel spreadsheet with total revenue by client with monthly subtotals going back to January, and you need it by Monday, and they’re on a mission.

Some of the most profound changes I’ve seen in organizations have been the result of implementing simple, but highly effective, expectation-setting tools and models. Master this one skill and you will see dramatic changes.

Clear the Bench and Win the Game

In the current business and economic environment, many things are out of your control — however engaging and challenging your employees is not among them. Smart business owners know that wasted potential is wasted money. If you have players who are coasting, observing the game instead of jumping in to help you win, it’s time to blow the whistle, huddle up, and make some changes.