Three Reasons Twitter Helps Your Business – And Three Reasons It Doesn’t

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In recent months, we’ve witnessed countless ways that Twitter has either helped or hurt a person’s business or reputation. It doesn’t take much for a person’s comments on Twitter to stir up an avalanche of responses, for good, bad and indifferent.

Twitter is a platform for sharing news, data, comments, stories, images, videos, observations, and a whole lot more. Marketers love the medium for its ability to help their businesses create brand awareness and connect with new and existing customers. But as we have seen too many times before, it can also hurt your business in terms of lost opportunities, lost customers and damaged reputation.

(Editor’s note: I am currently not on Twitter though I do see benefits of it for customer engagement. On a personal level, I don’t feel a need to use it to gain followers because I value my privacy far too much. Facebook takes up too much of my time as it is.)

According to a Pew Internet survey as of February 2018, 24 percent of Americans use Twitter on a regular basis, or about 67 million people in the U.S. That’s a huge increase from 2012 when only 13 percent of Americans used Twitter. Still, in recent months, the platform has fallen behind Instagram, which boasts 27 percent of American users.

Demographics tell a larger story. Four out of 10 Twitter users fall in the 18 to 29 age group while 27 percent are between the ages of 30 and 49. If your business targets these age groups, Twitter is the ideal platform to market to them.

There are a few downsides to consider when using this platform. Below are three reasons Twitter can help your business and three reasons to use it with caution.

Three sound reasons for using Twitter:

1. Brand awareness. If you are just launching your business and you are looking to build your customer base, Twitter can help create awareness for your brand. The key is to interact regularly with followers. Don’t push your product or service too much or too often, which will only turn people off. Being overly promotional is a common mistake with new business owners.

Instead, share your insights about the latest news, your knowledge and your commitment to the industry, related to your brand. Keep it professional, which increases your credibility with customers. Make sure people understand who you are and what you do.

2. Customer engagement. Once you’ve built your following, you have to keep them following you. Keep them engaged by sharing tips and tricks related to your business. If you run a tax business, for example, you might share an idea for saving money or a new update from the IRS that could impact their next tax return.

Many businesses also turn to Twitter for faster customer service. The key is to respond to customer complaints or feedback fairly quickly. That’s important because many customers have short attention spans these days. A recent survey by Sprout Social finds that 89 percent of social media messages to brands are ignored. The average time that a brand responds to a complaint is 10 hours while the average user is willing to wait only four hours. That’s a huge gap of time. The sooner your business responds to customer complaints, the better you look in the eyes of your customer base, and the more likely they will stick with your company.

3. Reputation management. By providing valuable information to your followers, you are seen as an expert in your field, which only boosts your reputation. For example, a physician specializing in women’s health might post links to reports about the latest breast cancer research and follow up with additional posts to comment on it. Each time you post a comment, an idea, an observation or link to a new study or an article of interest to your customers, you are seen as the go-to expert in that field, and your customers and clients will continue to seek out your professional opinions. In fact, they will continue to expect the same level of knowledge and expertise each time.

Three ways Twitter can hurt your business:

1. Gaining followers is more important than gaining customers. Twitter is a communications platform designed to help you develop meaningful connections with people. When you focus exclusively on its ability to tell you how popular you are, however, then those connections have no meaning for your business. At the first sign of trouble, those followers will have no reason to stay and will likely abandon you. Focus on the quality of relationships rather than quantity.

2. There’s no guarantee that your followers will translate to actual customers. Followers are just that – followers. But are they the right followers for your business? Are you reaching the right audience in terms of demographics? If you serve high-end customers but your followers aren’t in the same income bracket, you might have to rethink your marketing approach.

3. It’s too easy to abuse and misuse. As we’ve seen too many times before, comments can spread like wildfire in the Twitter-verse (see Roseanne Barr, Kathy Griffin). Faster than you can say “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to write that,” the damage is done. As your own brand, it’s imperative to mind your manners when you are on social media. Avoid getting too personal on the medium; keep it professional if you use it for professional purposes. Twitter and Facebook are great for connecting with people but it is also easy to post something without thinking about the consequences. That said, it is possible to express a dissenting opinion without resorting to personal attacks or bullying tactics.

Twitter is a valuable platform for marketing purposes, but it’s not for everyone. Not everyone in your targeted demographic will be on Twitter either. As long as you play it smart and avoid the minefield of trolls and critics hiding in the Twitter-verse, Twitter can be an asset for your business.

Related reading:
Why Do Normal People Struggle with Twitter?
10 Reasons You Should Stop Using Twitter Now
Don’t Write Off Twitter

 

Why Vacations Matter for Your Professional Life

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Yes, Virginia, you are allowed to take a summer vacation.

The long Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer, and the start of summer vacation season. But many American workers are likely to forego any summer plans. For some it is because it costs too much to pack up the kids and the dog and head to far-off destinations. For others, work calls for them to stay close to home and to their jobs. If you’re one of these workers skipping your summer vacation because you are tethered to your job, you are not alone.

According to a 2017 survey by employment website Glassdoor, 66 percent of American workers report working when they take a vacation, up from 61 percent in 2014. Fewer employees are able to completely “check out” while on vacation (54 percent in 2017 versus 63 percent in 2014).

Even when they were able to take time off, 27 percent of workers said they were expected to stay aware of work issues and get involved if a problem arose, and 12 percent were expected to be reachable by phone or email, deliver work projects and participate in conference calls while on vacation.

Much of this has to do with technology, which has enabled people to work anywhere and at any time. But it also makes it difficult to shut down and unplug ourselves, to truly unwind and relax. Most employers give their workers earned time off for a reason – to regroup mentally, emotionally and physically so they can return to work refreshed and avoid burnout.

But not everyone takes advantage of this employee benefit. We should though. Science says so. A 2016 study by the University of California-San Francisco and Harvard University finds that taking a vacation for one full week brings about genetic changes in our body that reduces stress and boosts the immune system, and the mood-enhancing benefits can last up to 30 days.

To get that mood-enhancing benefit, you have to take the time out for yourself. You need to give yourself permission to take a vacation. No one is going to force you to take it. It’s all about setting boundaries to your work life.

The key, say scientists, is to do it right. Yes, apparently, there is a right way and wrong way to take a summer vacation. According to small business expert Barry Moltz, here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your summer vacation.

1. Make a plan. Put it on your calendar. Browse destination websites and brochures and learn about places you plan to visit. Just by researching and looking at travel images can boost your mood – before you have even begun your vacation.

2. Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram every activity into every day. Keep your schedule loose, and allow time to just “veg out.” There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing. That’s what vacations are for.

3. Break free of patterns. Try something different that can get you out of your comfort zone. For example, try disconnecting from electronic devices and talk to people you are traveling with, or sleep in until 8 a.m. if you are used to waking up at 5 a.m. When you change up your routine on vacation, see what creative ideas come up.

4. Seek out blue spaces, like bodies of water. Blue is associated with calmness and leads to lower levels of stress, according to researchers. I would also seek out green areas too, which is grounding and calming. Think public parks and golf courses.

5. End your vacation on a positive note. Enjoy a romantic dinner for two or plan a fun adventure, like sky diving or zip lining. People tend to remember their vacations more favorably if it ends on a high note.

With these suggestions, there’s no reason to skip a summer vacation. When you do it right, you’ll come back to the office more refreshed and energized. Your bosses will thank you, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Have a safe and relaxing holiday weekend!

Closing the Career Skills Gap

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This is a strange time for the job market. On the one hand, there appears to be a lot of jobs available, judging by the number of job posting sites I subscribe to. On the other hand, there still seems to be many qualified individuals who are underemployed or not working at all. The problem seems to be a gap in the skills required by employers. What job seekers have is not what employers need.  Employers are specific about what they want and are willing to wait for the right candidate to come along, even if it takes up to a year.

This is not an aberration. The skills gap is a very real thing, according to a new survey by staffing agency Adecco. In its 2018 Workforce Report, 56 percent of business leaders believe the skills gap is real, even though 96 percent of workers felt qualified or overqualified for the last job they applied for. What is more interesting is that business leaders said many candidates were lacking soft skills – communication, creativity, collaboration, ability to learn, and critical thinking, among others. These soft skills are just as important, if not more so, than hard skills, like writing and technology. Hard skills can be taught, while soft skills usually cannot. It might be beneficial to emphasize these softer skills on your resumes and cover letters. (Adecco recommends that hiring managers recruit for the soft skills and train for the hard skills.)

Add to this the fact that job titles and job requirements have changed significantly over the past few years. When I left the corporate world five years ago, communications manager meant one thing. Now the job description is more expanded with more and different responsibilities than before. It’s no wonder returning workers like myself feel cut off from the workplace. Employers expect a lot from their workers and job requirements reflect that.

So that leaves a lot of otherwise qualified individuals out in the cold. How does the person on the outside close the skills gap? Where can they go to get skills training that can open up doors for them in the job market? Here are a few sources to kick start your own skills upgrade program.

* Online courses. A quick Google search reveals a whole host of online course sites, such as Udemy, Lynda.com and Coursera, to name a few. Those in the public relations and communications fields might also check out Mediabistro, which offers more specialized courses for their industry. These courses are taught by industry experts who have real-world experience in their particular field. That said, the quality of information and teaching may not be up to par with what you need, but online courses are a great way to get up to speed on industry practices and terminology. Also, costs may vary, so check these sites often for special offers and discounts.

* Community colleges. For those on a budget or are looking for a quick, down and dirty training program, check out your local community college. Many of them offer certification programs from culinary skills to paralegal or medical assistant. This might be especially helpful if you are looking to change careers but don’t have a budget or time for a full four-year program.

* Business networks. Check out local associations for your industry which may offer workshops or one-day conferences about the latest practices. For example, here in Chicago, the Independent Writers of Chicago held an evening workshop about breaking into freelancing. Check out organizations in your own locations to find workshops in your area.

* Staffing agencies. Many of these agencies offer online resources, workshops and open houses covering topics such as resume writing, interviewing and writing cover letters. The job market is constantly changing so it’s helpful to learn the latest trends in resume writing so you can present yourself in the best possible light.

* Internships. Another option to explore, especially for those new to the workforce, is internships. Some are paid; others are not. Some are advertised on job sites; others you may have to dig deep. In any case, for a short period of time, perhaps as much as one year, you can gain valuable work experience and update your skills through an internship that you might not get anywhere else.

* Volunteer work. If you know you are lacking certain skills, such as sales or proposal writer, look around your community for organizations that might need someone to help with writing proposals or selling tickets for upcoming events. You’ll be acquiring new skills and helping your community at the same time.

These are just a few starting points for skills development, and there’s no guarantee that it will open the doors you hope will open for you. If anything, it will keep your brain and job skills fresh and ready to go when the right job does come along.

How Do You Know If You Are a Good Fit for a Job?

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It’s a tough job market these days. So many candidates for fewer jobs makes it tougher for anyone to stand out. Even if you possess top notch skills, there is no guarantee that hiring managers will be knocking at your door to hire you.

We’ve all been there before, mired in a job search that isn’t yielding many results. You send out hundreds of resumes for jobs you think you are interested in and are qualified for, but you never hear back from employers. The problem may not be you, and it may not be the employer. Instead, it may be that the hiring manager does not see you as a good fit for the job.

So how can you be sure that you do fit the job description? Staffing firm Careers in Nonprofits revealed a cheat sheet of questions job candidates can ask themselves when applying for jobs. I’ve outlined each of the four questions below.

  1. Does the job description match what you are currently doing? If the job description calls for someone with basic accounting skills and you currently do not have those skills in your current position, then that may one reason that hiring managers have dismissed your application. The more closely your current work matches the job you are applying for, the more likely a hiring manager will follow up with you.
  2. Is the job title similar to other job titles you’ve held in the past? If you held similar job titles in the past, that might make you more appealing for prospective employers. For example, if you have a history of working in administrative assistant jobs, it may be much easier to apply for a similar role. But what if you want to move up from an administrative position, perhaps into a managerial role? In that case, emphasizing your skills set would be critical, especially if you supervised other workers or managed a department or program. Those skills can be transferred to a bigger role elsewhere.
  3. Are you applying because you want THAT job or because you want A job? There’s a big difference between the two. It can be tempting to apply for any old job that comes along just because you’ve been out of work for a while and are desperate to find something, anything to pay the bills. But hiring managers aren’t interested in hiring someone who wants to collect a paycheck. They want someone who is committed to doing that particular job, do it well and do it for the long term. If you can’t commit to that, then you are likely not a good fit.
  4. Do you meet most of the qualifications? While you don’t have to meet every single requirement for a job, meeting most of them will help gain the hiring manager’s attention. CNP Senior Manager Kimmi Cantrell says being overqualified can be as problematic as being underqualified. Hiring managers tend to dismiss overqualified candidates believing that they are only interested in a short-term employment until something better comes along. However, if you really like a job, love the work you are currently doing and you meet most of the qualifications, then go ahead and apply.

While these questions are a great starting point for any job search, they don’t take into account career changers. What if someone worked as a teacher previously and now wants to move into nonprofit management? What if you’ve worked as an accountant for many years and are now switching gears to become a graphic designer? I imagine there are different sets of questions to ask yourself as you apply for those jobs.

As you investigate job opportunities in your own field, run through these questions and see where you stand. I think it’ll be easier to dismiss many jobs that are clearly not right for you. True, you will probably send out fewer resumes, but they will be more qualified applications. You will need to spend more time crafting your cover letter and customizing your resume so that you can properly showcase how your skills and experience match what is required in the job. But the extra effort can pay off.

Remember, it’s not how many jobs you apply for, it’s the quality of the applications you’re submitting. And that can result in more job interviews and ultimately, job offers.

 

Should You Reveal Your Salary History to Employers?

equality-1245576_1280I’ve been completing a lot of job applications lately.  I am appalled whenever an employer asks for my salary history. I understand that the question is meant to weed out candidates who may be perceived as “too expensive” for the employer. But it seems that this outdated practice smacks of discrimination.

Attitudes appear to be changing, however. As many as eight states, jurisdictions and cities have banned questions about past salary from job applications, including the city of Chicago for its city employees, and more states and cities may follow suit. Many private-sector companies are doing it on their own without any legal mandate. The belief is that banning this question will help close the pay gap between men and women.

It’s a good move in a positive direction. Asking about salary history is meaningless in the current employment climate. There are too many career changers, too many stay-at-home moms trying to return to work, and too many professionals taking career breaks than ever before. How are these workers supposed to present their past salary when there are gaps in their work history? Does it really matter what a person earned in the past, and does that information have any bearing on their current or future employment? Maybe that worked in the past, but not anymore.

In a recent LA Times news article, employment attorney Jonathan Segal said older workers and those who have taken career breaks and are trying to re-enter the workforce at a lesser pay can benefit from the question’s ban because they are more likely to be subjected to bias. “Eliminating this question not only helps eliminate the pay gap for women but may help older employees who are being excluded because employers think they won’t be happy working for less,” he told the LA Times.

Other questions should also be eliminated from the hiring process, such as age, graduation dates, skills and experience. Hiring managers can still get a sense of candidates’ qualifications simply by asking performance-specific questions, says executive recruiter Lou Adler of The Adler Group. He says the banning the salary history question can open up the talent pool with candidates who would otherwise not have been considered for the job. Adler recommends that hiring managers ask candidates what they accomplished in their career that best matches the performance requirements of the job they are applying for. Their response often will reveal their level of experience, skill and knowledge without managers having to check off requirements from a skills list.

Think of this performance-based question as an essay question on an exam rather than multiple choice or true-false questions, which don’t always reveal how much a person knows about a subject. Adler adds that unqualified candidates will self-select out of the hiring process because they won’t be able to answer the performance-based question.

Age is another taboo question in the hiring process. I was surprised when a job application I completed recently did not ask my birth date. Only problem was they asked what year I graduated from college. It can be all too easy to calculate someone’s approximate age based on their graduation date.

So how should you handle these taboo questions during the hiring process? Employment experts suggest the following tactics:

1. On the application form, leave the salary history section blank or put in zeros.

2. Delay any discussions about salary until you’ve learned more about the job. Most likely that means waiting for the in-person interview. Example: “I prefer to table this discussion until I know more about this opportunity and determine if it’s right for me.”

3. Don’t ask about salary up front in initial conversations. Adler suggests candidates miss out on job prospects because they are so focused on salary that they disregard jobs that  don’t meet their own salary expectations. The best opportunity may offer less salary but also offer other perks such as education reimbursement, retirement savings plans or additional vacation time. When assessing a job opportunity, consider the entire package.

4. When asked about education, put only the school name and the degree received on your resume and application. Leave off the graduation date. If the online application form asks for a date, put in zeros. It’s far more important for employers to know that you did attend college and earn a degree, but they don’t need to know when you graduated.

Of course, there is always a chance that employers could disregard your application on the grounds that you are not revealing these details, but then you need to ask yourself if this is a company you’d want to work for anyway.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you want to create a level playing field. You don’t want to reveal more about yourself than employers need to know.

Can a ‘Returnship’ Help You Transition Back to Work?

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Mid-level professionals who have taken career breaks are gaining in popularity. So too are returnships, or sometimes called re-entry programs. Returnships sound a lot like internships, but they are geared toward mid-level professionals who want to return to the workplace after an extended leave of absence, whether to raise a family, care for an elderly parent, travel the world, pursue more education, or simply take time to rethink their career path.

The concept of returnships was developed in 2008 by Goldman Sachs’ execs when they found through their research how difficult it was for women to return to the workforce after a long break. Returnship programs offer short-term employment, usually 10 to 12 weeks, where returnees can become re-acclimated to the business world, update their skills and gain valuable real-world experience to close the employment gaps in their resumes. It’s especially difficult for mid-level professionals to return to work if they choose to pursue a different line of work or enter a new industry, and returnships can aid in that transition.

As I go through my own struggles to re-enter the workforce, the concept of returnships is intriguing. What I like about returnships is that they provide employers with a valuable recruiting tool to help them when hiring. Both the employer and employee can use the program to test out the working relationship to see if it can work for the long term.

But not everyone is sold on the idea and there are a few downsides. For starters, most re-entry programs seem to target financial and technical professionals and are sponsored by larger companies, such as GM, J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse. If you’re not inclined to work for large firms or don’t have a background in finance, operations or tech, then these programs are probably not going to appeal to you. If more small and mid-sized firms offered these programs (and they probably do and I just haven’t heard about them), they might appeal to more people. (If you do know of a small or mid-sized business with a similar type of program, I’d love to hear about it.) The rest of us (including myself) may be better off pursuing temporary and contract gigs.

Some opponents suggest that returnships don’t always result in job offers at the sponsoring company, which puts you back to square one. But even if the program doesn’t result in a longer-term situation, returnships can open the door to other opportunities that you did not have before. With the new and updated skills you’ve acquired, an expanded professional network and valid work experience, you have more to offer future employers. Those are major pluses you did not have before. So in that sense, a returnship is not a total loss.

Another argument (see Working Mother blog) is that returnships are a waste of time, and you are better off skipping the temporary gig/internship route and pursue permanent placement right away. The theory is that you already have established skills and workplace experience, so a returnship isn’t necessary. But the truth is when you spend any length of time away from the workplace, there is always the risk that your skills may acquire a bit of rust. Also, not everyone has the confidence to leap back into the workplace after an extended break. Returnships allow returning workers the chance to get their feet wet, slowly at first, until they do gain confidence in their skills.

If you’ve been out of work for more than two years, it may be more difficult to convince potential employers to hire you. Perhaps too, your network of professional contacts isn’t producing the leads you had hoped, or you are trying to enter a new field. Returnships can ease the transition, but a lot depends on how comfortable you feel about returning to work in the first place, how much time you have spent away from the office, and how rusty your skills are.

If considering this path to a new career, here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

1. Do your homework. Just as you would research a potential employer, take time to research returnships. They are not all created equally. Find out what kind of work you’ll be doing, how long the returnships last, and what the pay would be. Also check out sites like iRelaunch.com which help  returnees navigate their way back to the working world and find an appropriate re-entry program.

2. Keep expectations low. Even if you are accepted into a returnship program, there is no guarantee that it will result in a job offer. You may very well have to start over with a new job search. See it for what it is – an opportunity to get re-acclimated to the workplace, update your skillset and gain valuable experience that may be a stepping stone to the next opportunity.

3. Have a Plan B. If you aren’t accepted into a returnship program or they don’t fit in with your career plans, consider other options. There’s always contract work and temporary gigs to help you transition back into the workplace.

Returnships are not for everyone, but they can be a viable away to return to the workplace and gain new experience.

5 Ways to Make Remote Working Work for You

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Congratulations! You’ve just been offered a job that allows you to work remotely either full time or a couple of days a week. Or perhaps your boss has finally given his approval for you to have a more flexible schedule so you have time to care for an ailing parent or pick your kids up from school. You’ve just become one of the growing number of remote workers in the U.S.

According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting Report, produced jointly by Flexjobs and Global Workplace Analytics, 3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005. That’s a whopping 115 percent increase since 2005. The average remote workers is 46 years old, holds a bachelor’s degree and earns a higher median salary than an in-office worker.

What makes this shift possible is rapidly changing technology, which allows workers to connect with their in-office mates, and the changing family dynamic. Many of today’s households are headed by a single parent or with two working spouses, making it difficult to meet responsibilities at home. People are also increasingly recognizing the value of work-life balance and don’t want to waste their time on lengthy commutes.

So if you are one of the lucky ones who can work from home, here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your remote work opportunity.

1. Develop a new routine. Once you are working from home, you may find that your normal work routine won’t necessarily transfer over to your home life. That’s because you may have home responsibilities that may disrupt your day, such as taking a parent or child to the doctor. Your day will need to be planned around these activities, which you may not have had to do before. Further, you may spend more time planning your day than actually completing work tasks, making you less productive. Depending on your personal situation, you will have to use some ingenuity to figure out a new routine to work productively.

2. Honor your commitments. Take your remote work opportunity seriously. Be available for team meetings. Start your day at the same time, even if it means starting at 6:30 am. Meet your deadlines. Meet with your boss regularly, by phone or by Skype. Make sure you understand what is expected of you. Your company is trusting you with this arrangement, so it’s up to you to show them you are able to continue to do your job at the same or higher level of effectiveness than before.

3. Keep the lines of communication open. Even though you may work from home, you are still part of a work team. Not all remote workers feel this way. A November 2017 Harvard University study found that many remote workers reported feeling shunned and left out by their in-office workmates. Office politics can play a big role in this. It’s up to you, your manager and co-workers to communicate on a consistent and timely manner so you feel you are part of the team. Set up weekly meetings and conference calls. Be available to answer co-workers’ questions. Put project details in writing. Be present; be visible. Don’t be a ghost.

4. Make space at home. This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you have a designated space in your home to work with few interruptions. Make sure your technology and wi-fi is up to date, that you have a comfortable chair to sit in. If possible, keep the door closed so you can work quietly and let others in the household understand that you can’t be disturbed unless there’s an emergency.

5. Monitor your work hours. Believe it or not, working remotely may open up the possibility of working longer hours than you anticipated. A recent Quartz study finds that remote workers who have more direct control over their hours tend to work longer hours, thus increasing their chances of burnout. Keep track of how much time you spend working. If you feel overworked, bring the issue up with your manager before burnout hits.

Not everyone is on board with remote working. A March 2018 survey by Crain’s Chicago Business finds that many Chicago area businesses are slow to adapt to remote working programs. Nearly four out of 10 respondents (39 percent) said their company does not offer flexible schedules at all or if they do offer them, they are difficult to use. One out of four (25 percent) respondents said their company does not allow employees to work from home, while 20 percent reported that the option is offered but their company makes it difficult to use.

According to a 2017 survey by Cyberlink, one in six workers think remote workers are less valued by their company and get promoted less often. That kind of mentality can  deter workers from seeking remote opportunities within their own company.

Despite some of the drawbacks and slow adoption by many businesses, remote working and flexible work arrangements are here to stay. As more workers realize the importance of creating better work-life balance in their lives, they will continue to demand more flexible work options.

 

 

How to Fire an Employee: Text, Email or Meeting?

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It’s no fun being fired from a job, especially one you’ve enjoyed for many years. Neither is it fun to be the one who has to fire someone. Just ask anyone who has ever been in that position.

There is no good way to tell someone that they no longer have a job or end a working relationship. With the prevalence of texting, email and social media, it can be tempting use these tools to do the job for you. It might be easy and convenient, but is it wise? And is it professional?

Texting and emails have become commonplace in the office, especially for routine tasks like scheduling meetings, confirming appointments and sharing ideas. At the same time, in-person meetings and phone calls are losing favor, especially among millennial workers.

When it comes to being fired, millennials prefer getting the notice by email or text. A recent survey by software company Cyberlink finds that one in eight workers between the ages of 21 and 31 said they prefer getting fired by text or instant message. (I suppose the other seven out of eight surveyed still prefer in-person meetings, phone calls or some other method.)

Despite the increased popularity of texting and emails for firing people, in-person meetings are still the best way to go, according to millennial expert Dan Schwabel in his book “Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.”  Today’s workforce yearns for personal communication in the office, he says in a recent story in the New York Post.

While it might be easier to shoot out a quick email or text message to fire someone, it can come across as cold, impersonal, and in some cases, downright cowardly. Are you too busy to meet with the individual in person, or simply want to avoid confrontation? In-office meetings to fire someone, regardless if that person performed poorly on the job or is being downsized, is more appropriate for the situation and shows more respect for the individual. It is more crucial if the individual has worked with your organization for some years, since you have already established a relationship with them.

Whether you choose to dismiss an employee by email, text or in person, a lot depends on the type of relationship you have with that person, how long they’ve worked at your organization, your age and your communications style. Still you want to treat them respectfully and professionally, no matter how lackluster their performance has been on the job.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you were the one being fired, how would you want to receive the message? Do you really want to get that notification in a text message, or would you prefer an in-person meeting so you can ask questions and iron out all details?

There is no kinder, gentler way to tell someone they’ve lost their job. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. But meeting with someone in person, rather than hiding behind a text message or email, I believe, is more personal and sincere.

Texting, emails and social media have their place in the workplace. But there’s a time and a place for them. When it comes to firing someone, meeting in person is still the best option.

What Makes a Story Memorable?

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Have you ever read a book that stayed with you long after you finished reading the final page? Or watched a movie that kept you awake all night as scenes replayed over and over in your mind?

There are few stories that are so memorable that they grab you by the throat and throttle your senses, or grip your heart so tightly that you want to cry or scream. Most reactions to stories are more subtle, of course, but still effective. Sometimes, a film or book drains you instead, so all you want to do is clutch a warm, soothing cup of tea and sit huddled on the sofa staring into space trying to relive the story in your mind or erase it because it was too horrible to experience again.

Recently I re-discovered one of my favorite all-time films on cable and again, I experienced that “stickiness” of a good story. I grew up watching Fiddler on the Roof enchanted by the music and the romance in a time and place far away from the here and now. The story is about a Jewish peasant in prerevolutionary Russia contending with the marriage of three of his daughters. It wasn’t until I was older and watched it as an adult that I understood the historical and religious undertones of the story. Still, as I lay in bed that night a few weeks ago, the story, the characters and the music continued to play in my head, delaying sleep.

What stories have you read or watched that made you feel sad, angry, joyous, surprised, frightened or ecstatic? What films have made you take notice of an issue, a person or a piece of history that you had not noticed before? What stories or characters made you want to take some sort of action — to dance and sing, to hug your children to make sure they were safe and felt loved, or hop on an airplane to a place you had never been before, just because you saw it on the movie screen or read such a vivid description that you had to see it in person?

In the business world, the term “stickiness” refers to a website’s ability to keep eyeballs browsing its pages. I suppose the same “stickiness” can be applied to a story’s ability to stay on in your memory long after you closed the book. The story gives us so much pleasure that we want to experience that pleasure again.

So what makes a story memorable? What elements do memorable stories have in common that make them worth seeing or reading over and over again? Here are a few common elements, based on my own observations.

Fully developed characters. If fictional characters were real human beings, they wouldn’t be flat, emotionless people. Characters need depth, flaws, and qualities that makes them more like one of us. Strong characters don’t necessarily have to be good characters and they certainly shouldn’t be perfect or we wouldn’t be able to relate to them. Complex, multi-dimensional characters make the most memorable characters, and they aren’t always the most likable. Think Ebinezer Scrooge or Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort.

Sense of time and place. We might remember a story for its unique setting or its place in history. For example, the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz is memorable because its unusual color transcends what we believe to be true of traditional paths that are made of other materials and other colors. It makes us realize that this is not part of our world.

Emotional connection. A story can be memorable by the emotional connection it creates between the characters and their readers or viewers. We can sympathize with Topol’s father figure in Fiddler on the Roof because of the emotional conflicts he faces. We feel the love he has for his family and his community, and we witness the pain and confusion in his eyes as he sees his old comfortable world falling apart, and he feels helpless to do anything to stop it.

Suspense. Without suspense, there isn’t much of a story, just a bunch of scenes with no connection to one another. Suspense creates tension, which is the engine that drives the action forward. As each chapter unfolds, another clue, character, or plot twist keeps our interest. If we want to know what’s going to happen next, we have to keep reading.

A satisfactory conclusion. There is nothing more disappointing than reading a page-turner only to get to an ending that makes you wonder, “What happened?”  The ending may not be what you or I have in mind, but it makes sense from the author’s or director’s perspective. We are so conditioned to believe in “happily ever after” that we expect happy outcomes in movies and books. So when a story ends differently, like Thelma and Louise driving their convertible off a cliff, or two young lovers split up at the end of La La Land, it can be a bit startling. The satisfaction comes with understanding that there is a resolution to the conflict in the story; it just may not be the one we wish it to be.

Granted most of these examples are films, but these tips work just as well for books, TV shows, even song lyrics. They tell stories too. Whether you write stories, or just enjoy reading them or watching them on film, remember that stories aren’t worth experiencing unless you can make them memorable.

Want to Succeed in Business? Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

icon-1623888_1280The romantic relationship that went sour after six months. The job interview that didn’t result in a job offer. The startup business that shut down.

What do these situations have in common? They’re all examples of failure. It is such a normal part of our existence. Without it, how can we possibly expect to succeed?

While failure is as common as eating or walking, it’s how we react after we’ve experienced failure that defines us. Either we can suffer in silence and decide to never try anything again, or we can dust ourselves off and get back on the horse (or bicycle, if you prefer) and keep riding. As someone recently shared with me this bit of wisdom from her CEO: “Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Aren’t we all afraid of failure? Failure is normal. It is expected. How many of us want so much to be successful in everything we do that sometimes we turn a blind eye to the value failure brings to our experience? Perhaps we should begin to honor our failures as much as we celebrate our successes. After all, we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. We learn perseverance, patience and resilience. We learn the conviction of our ideas, our talents and our hard work.

For each project that fails to meet a deadline, for every team that does not achieve its year-end sales goals, for every relationship that slips away, and for every business that shuts its doors, there is something to be gained. We cannot be afraid to fail. It is as vital to our lives as breathing. We cannot be afraid to fail if we want to be successful someday.

Just look to Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln, two of the most successful men in American history. We might remember them for their successes, but they had many failures too. We remember Thomas Edison as the inventor of the light bulb and phonograph, but he invented many other items in his lifetime that failed to catch on with the public, such as electric pens, automatic vote recorder, and tinfoil phonograph. But he didn’t allow the failure of these inventions to derail him. He kept going, and kept inventing.

Abraham Lincoln ran for public office multiple times, and won a few races along the way. But we remember him for his ultimate victory, becoming the 16th President of the United States.

The reason why these men eventually succeeded was because they refused to dwell on their past failures. Dwelling on failures will only slow you down and make you doubt yourself, and that’s the last thing you want to feel about yourself. As a colleague told me many years ago, “Fear and doubt will kill every opportunity that comes your way.” Perhaps more troubling than failure is not trying at all.

So what if we fail? We can all learn from Edison and Lincoln, who clearly refused to let their failures define them. They refused to give up. I believe what is necessary after a loss or failure is to take a step back and reassess what happened and why, and more important, to do so without blame or self-recrimination (which can be tempting, but counter-productive). Most of all, remember that just because a project ended or a business failed, it does not mean you are a failure as a human being.

Failure may be the best thing that happens to us in our lifetimes. We might feel embarrassed, ashamed or guilty about our failures, but there is nothing to fear from them. Maybe it’s time to appreciate them for what they are and how they make us better people over the long term.