You Will Be Underestimated During the Course of Your Career

You will be underestimated at some point in your professional life. If you haven’t yet been the underdog, it’s bound to happen. It doesn’t matter how impressive you are as an individual, how many letters and designations are in your title, or where you’ve worked. Even the most qualified individuals get typecast into roles and find themselves victims of all kinds of stereotypes. While great employers challenge you with a position which poises you for growth, many companies seek only to maintain a status quo which they’ve likely already outgrown, and revising the organizational structure would mean – you guessed it – uncomfortable change.

Whether you’re put into a position for which you’re overqualified or for which you aren’t being adequately compensated, these are both common forms of underestimation. See, being underestimated doesn’t just mean that someone thinks you’re incapable of something or doubts you, it can also mean that they don’t understand and value what you do and what you’re made of.

Being consistently underestimated can be demeaning, especially when it affects your life in a professional, monetary, or social context. But you can move past it, and maybe even learn to laugh at it. Although you may not be able to change someone’s perception of you, you can change your own value proposition and reinforce the way you view yourself, which is something that should never be compromised. Once you can adequately communicate what you’re worth, you will have no problem outwardly conveying that message to everyone around you.

It’s Not You, It’s Them – But It Might Be You

I frequently emphasize the importance of believing that you’re never wrong for feeling something. Emotion is human, and our reactions to people and circumstances are often hardwired into us. Just like you’re not wrong for getting your feelings hurt if someone offends you, you’re not wrong for recognizing the injustice of being underestimated (and wanting to do something about it). But it’s important to work in chronological order when looking for solutions to relational problems. You can’t start in the middle and work backwards. The first steps are always to retrace the events that led you to the present, reflect inwardly, and try to identify the origin of the problem.

Since we’re talking about being professionally underestimated, think about the application process. When you applied for this position, did you undermine yourself? Was there another (higher) position available, for which you felt unqualified but could have landed? Did your own personal insecurity cause you to stay inside your comfort zone, otherwise known as the place where nothing grows?

Now think back to the precedent you set during the interview process: Did you present yourself as you’d like to be perceived, or did you shy away a bit? Did you put your best foot forward, or did you present a slightly inferior version of yourself? And what did you accept? Was the ensuing job offer exactly what you had hoped for, more than you could’ve asked for, or do you feel like you settled? Did you have an offer in mind that you felt you were honestly worth, and were your expectations met? Do you feel like you measure up to what you were offered, or do you feel like you’re worth more (than x salary, benefits, position, responsibilities, the way you’re treated)?

Conversely, did you over-sell yourself and give your employer the impression that you were comfortable taking on more than you can actually handle? Did you present yourself as a real “team player” and “go-getter,” or did you present yourself as a “leader”? Sure, many leaders get to be leaders by exhibiting the qualities of team players and go-getters – but these buzzwords have different meanings to the ears of employers. Whether you undersold or oversold your potential, your abilities, and what you were looking for out of the job, if you gave your employer the impression that you needed the job more than the job needed you, the reason you’re being underestimated might be staring you right in the face. But it’s not too late to course-correct.

Get Right With Yourself First: Writing Your Personal Value Proposition

Admittedly, this is pretty generic advice that you could apply to any area of your life, especially in relationships. But in a professional setting, writing your value proposition may be difficult because it’s tied to your income and livelihood. Many people are uncomfortable deciding what they think they’re worth because they’re afraid to be told they’re wrong and they feel like it’s better to have any job than no job. But the right employer will make you feel like they need you (and are lucky to have you). They will try to impress you, show you why their company is a great place to work and why they’d love to have you, rather than sitting back and asking to be impressed. So don’t be afraid to prepare a personal value proposition and keep it in your mind (or in your pocket) the next time you go on an interview.

When writing your value proposition, it’s important to adopt an abundance mindset (as opposed to one of scarcity). More on abundance vs. scarcity mindsets here. If your beliefs are self-limiting, you will not be able to effectively communicate your value and the energy you give off will resonate at a much lower level than the energy of self-assured confidence, which will increase the likelihood of being underestimated. You have to set your sights high and really believe that you’re qualified, worthy, and capable. Bill Barnett wrote an article for The Harvard Business Review in which he lists four steps to build a strong PVP:

“Set a clear target:” think of the target as something that needs you, not something you need.

“Identify your strengths:” where does your expertise lie and why is it valuable? Be specific.

“Tie your strengths to your target position:” think like an employer and illustrate why your skills are a fit for the position (keeping in mind that they’re trying to fill it. This is about more than you looking for a job).

“Provide evidence and success stories:” you are so much more than your resume. Talk about achievements and situations where you used your talents to overcome obstacles, accomplish goals, and exceed expectations.
When preparing your PVP, I would also say to do your research. Find out what type of compensation the other top-level talent in your area is being offered for similar roles. The benchmarks won’t totally define what you should ask for and what you’ll actually get, but at least you’ll have more insight so that you can negotiate strategically instead of being way off-base with your expectations. It’s like making an offer on a house: if the asking price is $250k but the market value is only $240k and it needs a ton of renovations, then you could go in strong with an offer at $200k (or maybe even lower) without running the risk of offending the seller. You might receive a counter offer, but you’ve shown that you’ve done your homework and know what you’re willing to pay for the value of the item in question. And if your offer is refused without any further discussion, then it wasn’t the right house for you. Make sense?

Nope, It’s Definitely Them

If you’re already well-versed in knowing your worth and presenting yourself accordingly, but you’re still getting treated like less than, it may be time to take corrective actions. Being underestimated can mean more than being overlooked for a desirable promotion – it could also mean that you’re treated unfairly in the way a colleague communicates with you or in the way you’re perceived by the rest of the company via that person’s opinion of you. Aside from being undervalued or inadequately compensated, underestimation can also masquerade as being unappreciated, undermined, misrepresented, and mistreated.

Perhaps your counterpart expects you not to speak up, thinking you’re not assertive enough to defend or promote yourself. Maybe they diminish you by expecting you not to be a change-maker, thinking you’ll sit there quietly embracing the status quo while watching others around you climb higher, because they don’t think you have it in you to compete. Anyone who doesn’t listen to you, consider you, and validate you or who discounts you as someone who is fearful, small, and unlikely to succeed or separate from the pack has their own personal issues (get the book The 4 Agreements and reference agreement # 2).

They most likely lack certain components of emotional intelligence, they may be egotistical, entitled, or believe that advancement happens by means of intimidation and ruthlessness and at the expense of others. Inside, they may feel insecure or threatened, regardless what they convey on the exterior (or they really could just be a mean person). Either way, it’s time to shed light on the areas of your career and professional relationships that aren’t living up to your personal value proposition.

Reframe Others’ Perception of You

When stepping up to the plate to present your worth to those who underestimate you, remember these two things:

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and
It’s important to be as professional as possible.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and just because you march into your boss’s office and demand a promotion doesn’t mean you’ll get a raise tomorrow. You need to be assertive and confident while maintaining your professionalism, objectivity, work ethic, poise, and dignity. Don’t whine, grovel, tattle, finger-point, demand, complain, or insult. Do provide factual basis for why you feel that you’ve evolved beyond the work you’re doing, why you feel ready to take on that big project or next position, and how you’re willing to help the company advance in order to prove your eligibility for increased compensation. If you position your argument in such a way that focuses on the good of the team and not just the good of your family’s finances, you’ll get more of your boss’s attention.

You’ll also need to be aware of the bigger picture. They say “ask and ye shall receive.” Many times that’s true, but you can’t expect to get something just because you ask for it. You also can’t let fear of hearing “no” stop you from asking – if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be no. Depending on the size of the company you work for, it may not be possible for your boss to just wave a wand and give you what you want. They may very well agree with you and see your vision. They may trust in your abilities, and even agree to advocate on your behalf. But if the directives from the very upper echelon aren’t in alignment with your proposal, your boss’s hands may be tied. If your boss is reasonable, he or she will most likely be willing to compromise and offer you some sort of consolation prize, if you will. But don’t think this will come without conditions just because you asked for it – you will have to uphold your end of the deal by proving you’re worth it, can handle it, and will do what it takes to out-perform yourself (whether that means taking on more responsibility or working longer hours). And if your employer is worth their salt, they’ll notice your hard work and look for ways to reward you for it.

When All Else Fails

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what we do, we can’t make the wrong job right for us. If you work for a decent company where you’re treated fairly most of the time and you feel that management works hard to ensure that each level of the organization is incentivized, that’s one thing. If you work for a company that doesn’t evaluate and reward performance and puts undue pressure on its employees because upper management is complacent and not future-focused, growth-oriented, and/or not operating sustainably, then underestimation and being undervalued could be the norm and, unfortunately, it’s probably better to cut your losses and move on than try to be a crusader for company culture and organizational restructuring.

Leadership comes from the top and good leaders have to be willing to look at themselves before any real change can trickle down through the ranks. As much of a leader as you might be, if you’re not at the top, your changes may very well improve certain functions but they won’t change the way the company is run and the way the decision-makers think. Job satisfaction is such a big and important part of life, and it encompasses meaning, purpose, recognition, appreciation, and being seen for who (not what) you are. If you’ve made it clear to leadership that there is a fundamental problem which is impacting your job, your performance, and your satisfaction, then you’ve done your part.

If said leadership does nothing to examine the issue, re-evaluate your role, and expects you to keep chugging along in a position that is beneath you or that doesn’t pay you adequately for what you bring to the table, it may be time to get back out there. Likewise, if you have made someone aware that you feel you’re being mistreated and the behavior continues, it’s time to stay true to yourself and go somewhere that will restore your faith in humanity by making you feel like a valued member of a team, not a cog in a wheel of hierarchy.

In closing, when you feel you’re being underestimated in any way, assess whether you’ve undermined yourself or presented yourself well, and get a grip on what your value statement should be. Communicate it professionally, be willing to adopt it into your work ethic, and give the changes time to take place. If they don’t, then it may be time to go get what you’re worth somewhere else – whether that means more money, fairer treatment, being trusted with important and challenging work, more meaning, or all of the above. Life is too short to be unhappy at work. Go get ’em tiger, you can do it.

Small Business Owners: Improving Profits in Daily Operations

When you own a small business, there are dozens of people and projects vying for your time and attention. It can get hard to figure out where to focus your resources and easy to become overwhelmed.

Furthermore, in my years of consulting what I have found to be the difference in success or failure of a business was not the amount of money, a business owner had on hand, nor the education level of the management team. It was his or her daily habits and beliefs, that determined success or the lack there of.

What is profit? It is simply, how much money the business makes after transaction and paying taxes is over.

Traditional thinking about profit says, Revenue – Expenses = Profit. However, this method fails to measure lost opportunity.

What is lost opportunity?

First, business has people performing activities each day. The lost opportunity is in not measuring, managing and leveraging those activities on a real-time basis.

Management fact, your company profitability depends on how well your people consistently perform specific activities minimizing errors.

The following are 12 tips to help your business increase operational efficiency, reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction, and stay ahead of the competition.

1 – Living a balanced life

A. Work and business are not the be-all and end-all of your life. Learn to have fun! Spend more time with your family. Take a vacation once in a while. Engage in activities that will rejuvenate your spirit and your life. Take care of yourself, and your health, exercise and eat fruits and vegetables. Your productivity and focus will improve if you are stress-free and healthy. Bad health and divorces has destroyed more businesses than I have room to write about in this article.

2 – The Destination: Goals, Themes and Vision

A. Go find your business plans and update it. Since your business’ inception, a number of factors must have changed – from the overall business climate to your product line. Take all those changes into consideration, consider the business and economic climate, factor in your and your family’s goals, and get a clear assessment of the direction of your business. Get in touch with your business coaches, if any. What is your overall vision of your business? What are your goals 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now? What is your business theme and brand to your customers? Is it relevant to your business and memorable and fun for your customers?

B. Setting Team Expectations

1. Small business owners need to insure all managers and employees are on the ‘same page’ daily. Setting proper team expectations and accountability, is the most impactful thing you can do to insure the success of your business. Have weekly meetings with management teams to discuss accomplishments and challenges.

3 – The System: Starting your day off with motivations

A. Take a notebook (or a laptop or tablet) and jot down your thoughts and plans for the day. Whether you prefer doing this in the morning or in the evening, it is always best to take a step back, review what happened during the day (or the day before), and think of ways how you can do better. Take time to review your profit scorecard, in order to find quick hits and losses. Send out an email where you see outstanding work, done the previous day.

B. Figure out the 20% of activities that are producing 80% of desired results. Eliminate activities that are keeping you busy but not producing results, daily.

4 – Understand Customer Needs

A. Write down ideas, whether for your marketing strategies, product lines, or new projects that you want to take on. List your ideas on how to expand and energize your business. Only through innovation and continuing adoption of relevant new products and ideas can your business improve its competitiveness and profitability.

B. Take time to tap into your customer database and get in touch with your existing customers. Whether by phone, email or letter, contact your customers to greet them and remind them that your business is ready to serve them again. Get their opinions about what they think about your business (and make getting customer feedback a part of your business processes). You need to constantly look for ways to encourage repeat business. Although marketing and advertising are important to get more customers, quality, service and customer satisfaction are what keep a business successful in the long run.

5 – Understand the Profit Formula in your day to day operations

A. What are the critical success factors in your business, daily and monthly targets to meet or exceed annual profitability?

B. Develop a system for monitoring operational progress on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

C. Compare the employee time documentation with information gathered from your operational monitoring process. If productivity is not meeting or exceeding goals, look at employee time logs where time is not being used as effectively as possible and make adjustments to that employee’s job role. If operations are running on track with goals, consider elevating goals by small increments until you reach a point of equilibrium.

6 – Keep employees involved, motivated and trained

A. Good employees are hard to find; yet they are an important element in your business. It all comes down to choosing the right person and personality type for each role so that no one is doing tasks that they resent. Forget coaching weaknesses (too time consuming), focus on leveraging strengths and passions. Check to see if they are getting what they need and make them part of the team. Help them understand the importance of their role in your business and how their job impacts the business as a whole. Review your relationship with your employees and find ways to keep your relationship happy and avoid costly attrition.

B. Hiring the right leader, someone who owns the operation from start to finish.

1. The small business owner needs to hire someone to own the operation from start to finish. This person should be obsessed with the details, the metrics, and the numbers. They should be elated to hit their goals, inspired by business coaching to do better when they miss it. They love the success of your company; it’s not a job but an adventure to them.

7 – Keep an eye on new opportunities, markets and products

A. Start the year by exploring new markets for your business. Whether you are looking at targeting a new demographic or getting your business up on the web, take time to plan how you can expand your existing market. Look for ways to improve your marketing, whether by winning easy publicity, arranging an open house or preparing direct mails.

8 – Find Ways to Operate efficiently with lower cost

A. Motivate employees with production goals and ask employees and managers what they need to improve workplace operations. If suggestions seem practical and are within budget, consider implementing them. Example, only scheduling 30 minute meetings unless subject requires extra attention.

B. Documenting your Processes

1. Document the workflow of every operation within the business, with policy and procedures and special customer instructions. Yes, this is a time-consuming, tedious, boring exercise, initially. However, if you are able to provide clear and concise documentation to your team, it leaves very little room for things to be miscommunicated. Documentation makes it easier to onboard new employees, saves business from being reliant on any one person and allows the business to continuously improve and innovate operations, without having to waste months and money, researching and gathering workflow procedures from inexperience contract workers. Documenting helps to avoid ‘lost opportunity’ of being slow to change operations in the marketplace.

9 – Use Process Improvement initiatives to your competitive advantage

Six Sigma methodologies is a tool that can be utilized to improve process, people and profits. By establishing performance measures for key processes, asking the following questions.

• What is the purpose of the key process?

• What is the expected deliverable?

• How will the process owner know if there process has succeeded?

Six sigma benefits for small businesses are

1. Provides a road map and tools to determine root causes and solve problems

2. Reliable facts for decision making, improved metrics and measurements

3. Improvement in order accuracies and on time delivery

4. Improvement in labor efficiencies enterprise wide

5. Increased customer confidence and profitability (customer buy more better quality)

As a business owner, it is vital that you understand how ‘technology’ helps me to make more money by eliminating errors, overhead expenses and attracting more customers.

Invest in new technology that will help streamline operations and improve productivity. This could include new computers or equipment related to your industry or designing more efficient work stations and telephone systems. Provide training for new hires to ensure they are aware of how to effectively perform the functions of their job. If seasoned employees are underperforming, send them for training refresher courses.

Documenting processes, installing six sigma and implementing technology improves the customer experience with your business, makes your profit planning measurements more transparent to employees throughout the enterprise.

Implementing an employee recognition system and recommendation process, continuously improves operations aligning performance with corporate vision, mission, performance measurements and corporate profit scorecard. Quality improves your customer emotional attachment to your business. Loyal customers are repeat customers which will recruit others to your business, increasing profits.

10 – Identify and Resolve Weak Spots in the System

A. Take stock of all aspects of your business operation and list down the areas that you want to improve. If your list of delinquent receivables is longer than Santa’s list, find out how you can improve your billing and collection process. Perhaps you need to improve your record keeping to help flag you on delinquent accounts

11 – Keep an eye on your competition

A way to get the inside edge on your competitors is by asking your customers for help. This need not be especially difficult or complex. Simply ask your customers (in the form of a survey or follow-up call) if there’s anything a competitor does (or sells) that they wish you did. Now, the idea isn’t that you’ll necessarily turn on a dime and honor every request that comes in.

Own a share of stock in their publicly-traded competitors. This alone entitles you to detailed financial information about the company each and every year. But what if you and your competitors aren’t public companies? The basic idea is the same: any financial data you can get your hands on is worth having. You want to know as much as possible about what their costs are, who their suppliers are and how you stack up in comparison.

If there is a trade journal or research study about your industry, now is the time to subscribe – and digest what it contains.

In addition to using your competitor’s products, you should go through and closely study their sales funnel. Every successful business has a system for attracting, educating, selling and following up with customers. Whether it’s via direct mail, Internet marketing or the telephone, this is the infrastructure that actually turns their prospects into buyers. How do you know if your sales funnel is performing at max capacity if you don’t compare it to the competition?

12 – Go Play Golf: Network, Network, Network

Effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for your business.

Join business associations to meet other business owners, you might be surprised at who will assist you towards your success or what ideas you hear that can solve your current dilemma.

Join your areas Chamber of Commerce and participate in community service events. Get involved in your community by volunteering, donating to and/or sponsor local events. It gives you the opportunity to network with other business owners and maybe cross promote with other local. These monthly meetings let you know what going on economically in your area.

How to Create an Environment That Builds Teamwork

When people start talking about recreating the office space, there are immediate references to the Google Headquarters where workspaces are filled will bean bags and wall paintings. Not all companies can afford that kind of luxury. But, there are changes that you can bring about as a team mentor that can promote team work and increase productivity. The key here is better communication with your team members and displaying the right attitude.

The tips below will help you in creating an environment that builds teamwork.

1. Break the ice: A team may comprise of employees who have been drawn from various departments. They may or may not know each other. As a team mentor, it is your duty to make proper introductions. Each of your team members brings a different set of expertise to the table. Therefore, it is crucial that everyone know whom to approach for a particular problem. You need not take your team members out for lunch or trekking parties to nurture team spirit, you can do that during team meetings too. Ensure that you are available whenever they need someone to talk to.

2. Share a common objective: It might sound unbelievable, but individual members of the team often have personal objectives, which may or may not be productive for the team as a whole. It is therefore your role as a team lead to ensure that these collective objectives add up to the team’s target. You can use meeting times to lay out the road map and assign clear-cut targets to individual team members. Make them aware of the shared common goal so that they understand what part of the cycle they fit in.

3. Encourage difference of opinions: A team often consists of members with varying perspectives and thought processes. And this can often result in difference of opinions. Contrary to popular perception, this need not necessarily be a problem for you. In fact, you can use these different opinions to your advantage. For this to happen, your team members should have the confidence to open up to you. You need to be a respectful listener whom they can approach anytime they want.

4. Maintain an open line of communication: Nothing fosters team work better than a team mentor who encourages his members to interact with each other as well as with him / her. Discussions need not be set aside for meetings alone. An ideal team is where the members are in a constant state of discussions, arguments, counterarguments and idea generation, all under the graceful guidance of the team mentor.

The above tips can go a long way in establishing an ideal environment that fosters team work.

Steps for a Successful Business

The Business industry is like a world with the motto “Survival of the Fittest.” This is a very realistic statement when the business world is being talked about. Many business aspirants have succeeded but a lot more have failed. Business is a very challenging pursuit, for an aspirant to be successful; he/she must possess exceptional skills and capabilities.

These are the 10 Vital Steps for a successful business pursuit:

1.) Be Innovative. Invent and Improve. Try to think about your market and their interests. Or you might want to know what their problems are and try to make a business that will be of help or solve their problems. Your Idea will start your business. Make an idea that will seduce your customers.

2.) Define your Market. After creating an idea, determine your market. Know their needs and also their wants. If your target market are teenagers, then know what they need.

3.) Make a Plan. Plan out your budget and the materials that you need. Jot down everything you need with a corresponding budget so you won’t fall short of your budget.

4.) Develop a vision. Imagine your workplace. Would you need employees? What is the ambiance of your workplace? Imagine all these things. It must portray and set the feel of your product.

5.) Study your Business. Research. No one has ever been a successful businessman without research. Know your business.

6.) Hire Employees. When you hire employees, choose those who are also a good fit for your product. Train them physically and emotionally. Always impart in them the power of discipline.

7.) Market your Product. Business without marketing is dead. Marketing will bring life to your business. Create strategies.

8.) Be an Advocate. Do you wear or use your own product? This is one way of assuring your customers that your product is effective. This is also one more very effective way of promotion.

9.) Keep Learning. Never stop researching and studying your product and your market. Update and Improve. Change is a factor so there must also be change and improvement in your product. The change must also be congruent with the changes of your consumers.

10.) Keep your Budget checked. Poor financial management will surely bring failure to your business. Track your expenses and your profits.

Business is sometimes hard work and pleasurable at the same time that is why it is best to always make sure that your business is your passion. However, business should not only be based on your needs because it is not meant to cater to your needs. Business is meant to cater the needs of your consumers. So always make sure that their needs are being met.

Build rapport with your consumers and leave an impact on their lives. This is how your business will flourish and succeed.

How to Negotiate Terms of a Contract With a Client

A negotiation starts at the planning stage where you go into a meeting not simply to hear what the other side wants, but also for clarity of what you want out of the process. The first step in planning is the consideration of your vision.

Where do you want to be in three years?
What do you need to get there, and how does this person or organization fit into this plan?
Have an idea of what makes a good client and what makes a bad client, and then ask questions to assess where an organization fits along that scale. Typically, a good client is one who needs your products and services to reach their vision and goals. They value your work and pay you on time, whereas a bad client is one that forces you to compromise and asks you for results outside of your comfort zone in a counter-productive direction.

Learn as much as you can about the other party before meeting with them:

What are their dreams, who do they typically sell their products to and for how much, and what type of business do they want to avoid?

What is the other person’s authority? Hobbies? Family? Budget?
What is the meaning of this type of contract to them?
As you form an idea of the key aspects of what a client wants, keep in mind the three columns of commerce: time, quality, and price. If you are like me, and won’t skimp on quality, then the two variables to balance are time and price. The quicker a client asked you to do something, the higher the price, and the lower the price a client is willing to pay, the further the deadline occurs in the future. Often, an increase in price will help mitigate difficult client relationships.

Organize your thinking about contracts in terms of Value-Price-Cost.

What values can you provide to this client, and what is the highest amount a person in their position will pay for the highest value you are able to provide?
What price will the market bear in most cases. What is your competition getting for this type of work, and what is reasonable to expect?
Finally, what are the aspects of the contract that will indicate to you that it is time to move-on? It makes it easier to think about this final aspect of your negotiation if you have a clear ‘best alternative’ in mind. Where are you going to move-on toward?
With proper planning and information, anyone can approach even the most difficult negotiations with a higher degree of confidence.