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  • 0 Mindfulness in Mentoring—an Opportunity for Shared Exploration and Discovery

    The practice of mindfulness has been around for centuries, dating back to 500 B.C. as an integral element in Buddhist teachings.  It has been woven into many cultures and philosophies since then, and made its way into American considerations in 1979 via the efforts of Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.   Over the years, Kabat-Zinn and others have helped mindfulness grow in popularity, partly by playing down the religious and philosophical elements that often turn off prospective practitioners, and focused on its potential to help people reduce stress and increase focus on everyday tasks.   A quick internet search generates a plethora of books and articles on the subject.  They all center on the same core premise that practicing mindfulness involves learning how to be more aware of what is going on around you in the present moment.  And a key element in every approach is making an intentional effort to be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without passing judgement or making commentary.    Many resources teach you to implement mindfulness techniques into your daily life, and how the practice can improve physical and emotional health as well as improve relations with friends, family, and co-workers.  Some resources delve into diet, exercise, and leveraging everyday opportunities to practice awareness.   So how do you choose which path is right for you?  Start with your own search and tug on the threads that catch your eye.  Are you interested in the roots of mindfulness as they relate to Buddhist teachings and the practice of Vipassana and Metta meditation?  Or do you just want to learn a few exercises that can help reduce stress and improve focus?  Perhaps you are interested in recent studies conducted that show the science behind the potential benefits of practicing mindfulness.       Learning more about practicing mindfulness can benefit mentoring partnerships in at least two ways.  First, it can help partners discover ways to be more in tune with their mentoring moments, and more aware and present for each other during their meetings.  Second, partners can explore the topic together, identifying things about practicing mindfulness that they share an interest or curiosity in.  

  • 0 6 Keys to Building High Performing Teams

    6 Keys To Building High Performing Teams A high performing team is not just a group of people who have learned to cooperate with one another. True teams share a common, compelling mission and capitalize on the uniqueness that each team member brings to the table. High performing teams create a culture that values people and clearly defines the character and behavior the team strives to achieve. These organizational philosophies vary from place to place and working toward a common purpose is critical to the team’s success. Ask any manager what they look for most when hiring a candidate, and they will likely tell you it is the ability to be an effective team player. High performing teams hold themselves accountable at both the individual and team level. Team members count on each other to complete assigned tasks with a standard of quality within an agreed upon time frame. Individual team members are the key to overall team success. In order to become a high performing team, each team player must participate fully by committing to the following guiding principles:      1. Define clarity of purpose and set expectations When all members of the team have one common goal, it is much easier to assign tasks and establish timeframes and deadlines. Clear and direct expectations sharpen the focus and lessen the chance for division among the team. Commit to cooperation and thoughtful consideration of other members Strong and successful teams are not only cooperative, but considerate. It is perfectly fine for a team member to make an alternate suggestion provided it is presented in a way that is constructive and positive. The focus should always be on the project, not the person, so any and all new ideas should be encouraged for the betterment of the project. If those ideas are not implemented, team members know not to take it personally. Embrace the collective Highly effective teams understand that every member brings specific technical and interpersonal skills to a task or project. What may be the best role for a person on one project, may not be the most optimum role in another. Accept feedback from all members of the team but understand the specialized talents certain members of the team possess and get the most out of those talents. Build camaraderie The best way to tighten the bonds of the team is to lift its members. If there is a common respect among all team members, these differences can be used as advantages. Acknowledge acts of kindness, jobs well done and great ideas. Navigate the team’s values with integrity Strong values ensure a positive, productive and ethical working environment. Values are the emotional rules that guide behavior, attitudes and actions. Although values are generally slow to change and strongly held, they actually define the character and culture the organization strives to possess. Each team member should clearly understand their level of empowerment, decision-making authority and team norms.  For example, your personal standard might be to respond to an email within 24 hours. But, if the team’s collective behavior places a high-premium on work-life balance, you may want to send that email on Monday morning rather than disrupting team members by sending it on a Friday night. Celebrate success and commemorate the journey When a great project has been successfully completed, it is important for all members to celebrate. A casual get together can strengthen the bonds of the team members and gives them even more motivation to successfully complete their next task! Conclusion High performing teams hold themselves accountable at both the individual and team level.  Team members count on each other and bring a strong sense of purpose and an internal compass that gives the team what is needed for success. One of the most important (and sometimes the most challenging) contributions you can make to the team is your ability to find balance between your technical expertise, your interpersonal skills and your ability to understand team norms and guiding principles.   How do you accomplish these things? Become known as that expert on your team that adds value to the team’s mission and purpose. Build high quality, positive relationships with people at all levels within the team and learn how to quickly put people at ease. And lastly, understand what you value, what the organization values and navigate those values with integrity!  

  • 0 Mentoring Millennials

    Every generational workforce has brought its own stereotypes and perceptions - and the latest workforce is no different. Millennials – those born 1981 to 2000 – number nearly 90 million of the U.S. population and are now the majority of the workforce. They are considered the “social media” generation and are very tech-savvy. They prefer life experiences over material gains and are marrying later, having kids later, and owning homes later. But millennial employees are still young and have a lot to learn before they become the next wave of leaders. They tend to leave a job earlier than their older colleagues after only a few years unless they have a compelling reason to stay. This is where mentoring programs can play a vital role in the retention of this emerging talent pool. Traditional mentoring relationships aren’t particularly appealing to millennial workers – just as they don’t respond to the same recruiting strategies and have unique and different expectations of their employers - so it’s worth reconsidering how we approach mentoring them. The first step is understanding what’s different about the millennial generation. Millennials are generally regarded as quick learners, are comfortable with change, and incorporate and appreciate creativity in their work life.   The following tips will help you mentor, manage and motivate this younger generation: 1. Mutual Respect. If you’ve ever had a tech problem and immediately turned to a millennial for help, then you already know there are just some skills they have more experience with. From social media to cloud storage, concepts that still seem unfamiliar to older generations, millennials are digital natives and technology has almost always been a part of their lives.So, a millennial mentoree will have a considerable amount of tech savvy they can teach their mentor – and they WANT to. If you’re facing an issue, consider bringing your mentoree into the problem-solving process. Ask them what they think is the best option. Don’t be surprised if their answer sheds some much-needed light on the situation. Furthermore, for millennials, honesty is the most important quality in a leader — more so than their vision, confidence, or patience. Even if the truth involves negative feedback, millennials would rather hear it straight. And don’t withhold vital information from them as a learning tool. The adage “you learn more by figuring out the truth for yourself” won’t cut it. In fact, this group will more likely feel betrayed, and it will do more damage than good. Millennials prefer that you save them time and energy by giving them all the information they need up front, so they can properly apply it. 2. Collaboration. Millennials want more than the typical boss-employee relationship where the boss directs and reviews the worker. Millennials crave feedback and collaboration and working with a mentor over the course of 9-12 months can help satisfy this need. Millennials also have seemingly unlimited access to information. They can watch how-to videos on YouTube to learn how to network effectively, and they can follow industry leaders on Twitter to get up-to-date tricks of the trade. But they still need the guidance and the wisdom of experience of a mentor who knows how the organization “really” works. Anyone can write a blog about being successful in business, but that doesn’t make them an expert. Help millennials navigate through it all by connecting them to real-world people and places they can turn to for more advice and tips. Introduce them to collaboration partners in your own network, as well as worthwhile podcasts and insightful articles. That way, you play a role in providing reliable sources to them to gather the information that is right for them. 3. Integrity. Going hand-in-hand with the previous point, as the most collaborative and inclusive generation to date, these young adults expect their place of work to share the same idealism and values they embrace. A recent survey found that 82 percent of millennials who stayed with the same organization for more than five years felt their values aligned with those of the organization. Here’s the thing about millennials: if they’re not happy, they will leave. The Millennial Generation is the most educated generation, meaning they feel secure moving from one job to the next if they are dissatisfied. A perception of knowing what they want and having the confidence to seek it out can be misconstrued as void of agency loyalty. While you don’t need to agree with every opinion they have, a good mentor will show their millennial mentoree how to incorporate his or her values into their work, making the job more meaningful. For example, if a millennial feels strongly about environmental sustainability, encourage them to find ways to help their department incorporate “green” initiatives. Also, take any opportunity to tie those values back to the organization so they can see their personal values at every level of what they do. A strong mentoring program can be an integral element in employee satisfaction and talent retention — particularly with this younger generation which continues to grow. Tailoring mentoring relationships and approaches to workforce needs will keep top-notch employees from moving on!  

  • 0 Effective Communication

    The office is a dynamic place. Deadlines are in constant motion, work volumes fluctuate, org charts shift and departmental responsibilities change.  And that’s just when things are moving along normally. Today, this quick pace is even further compounded by several concurrent trends. For one, we are all navigating a historically robust workforce with as many as five generations working side-by-side in some offices. With our age differences comes different expectations from our social interactions. Also, rapid advances in technology means we regularly need to take time to learn new systems and alternative approaches to productivity, which can be stressful and require us to speak with employees outside of our regular workflow. While the physical workforce is changing, so is the way we work, including flex schedules and more time spent in home offices. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 74% of American workers spend between 1 and 10 hours a week working remotely with either their computer or electronic device. This means less in-person collaboration and more reliance on email to get the job done. Successfully navigating a changing workforce and organizational culture requires a firm foundation in effective communication. Things might feel confusing and hectic at times, but in this newsletter we will share some simple strategies for your written correspondence and face-to-face interactions that will improve your office relationships and set you apart as a competent employee. Five Tips for Communicating Effectively Every interaction in the office is an opportunity for you to both positively impact your projects while also asserting your competence and leadership potential. Here are some tips to remember in your next correspondence or meeting. Share ideas when communicating issues. When explaining a problem to your supervisor, think ahead to some possible solutions. Instead of simply dumping a conflict on their plate, use your critical thinking and decision-making abilities to take the first stab at developing the fix. For example, consider the difference between these two messages: Example A. “I’m stuck on the proposal paperwork. The budget isn’t coming out right. Can you help?” Example B. “I’m having some trouble with the numbers on the proposal paperwork. If we allocate three employees to the project for three months, we’ll go over budget. I wondered about having two fixed employees and asking a third to come on at the very end. Or, instead, we might ask if we can be assigned one of the summer interns.”   Be clear and concise. Whether writing emails, leaving voicemails, or speaking in person, steal a page from a newspaper journalist. Share the most important information first. Be direct and clear. Follow-up with the details. With everyone’s inboxes overflowing, assume you will only have the reader’s full attention for the first two sentences. Listen. Remember the old saying, “Listen more than you speak. That’s why you have two ears and one mouth.” Listening is a difficult skill because our brains are busy with ideas and interjections. Practice putting them on hold here and there. When communicating, let the other person finish their thoughts. Intense listening communicates sincerity, trustworthiness, and caring. Drop defensiveness. Things go wrong. Every day. The way you handle those problems speaks volumes about your leadership potential. If your supervisor approaches you with a question about a mistake on the meeting agenda, instead of replying, “That was Briana. I wrote the agenda but Briana was the one who was supposed to be editing it.” Try something like this, “I’m sorry to see that. Would you like for us to distribute a clean copy to the team?” Read communication preferences/styles. We each have different preferences when it comes to communication and decision-making. For example, if your colleague is quiet and reserved try to limit the chatter, write your notes out ahead of time, speak a little quieter and stay focused. Plan your discussion in bullets. Have all the details in hand. Don’t just drop by - plan the meeting in advance so they have time to prepare. Get your emailing skills together As we said, keep your communication clear and concise. This is especially true when it comes to email which - because it is one-sided- can become long-winded and disorganized. Fast Company suggests this brilliant acronym for a well-constructed email: BRIEF. B- Background: Provide some context. R- Reason: Tell them why they should put this issue on their radar. I- Information: Share 2-3 details and consider putting them in bullet form. E- End: Set the tone here. Are you asking for help? Or letting them know you’ve put things on track? F- Follow-up: Consider the kinds of questions the recipient might have and get the answers ready. Shut down your email every once in a while A recent Forbes article discussed the risks of an organizational culture that is completely reliant on technology. They argued that email is too fast, too organized and, that its “effectiveness” can at times be its greatest flaw. Wrapping up our response quickly and streamlining our questions might squash the possibility of discussing what they call “the first whisper of a new idea or potential solution to a problem.” Although face-to-face communication is hard work, can be messy, and leaves us open to being challenged, it’s often how innovation is born. A quick reminder about non-verbal communication What you say is important. But don’t underestimate the impact of what you don’t say. Here are a few things you can do to demonstrate poise and focus without uttering a single word. Check your posture. Both feet flat on the floor, shoulders back, neck straight so that your ears are just over your shoulders. Stop to notice their eye color. When you meet someone, pause to see what color eyes they have- the extra second will communicate your sincerity. Give them a little room. If the person you’re speaking to folds their arms- step back a little. They might be telling you that they need more space. Show that you are calm, pleasant, and optimistic. Plus, smiling makes you feel good.  

  • 0 Take our Daughters and Sons to Work

    • by Eileen Marshall
    • 04-26-2018

    As a mentoring company, The Training Connection’s mission is all about helping organizations grow and develop by tapping into their most valuable resource – their people.  Many of our mentoring programs include shadowing as an integral component – a method of passing on technical and institutional knowledge and expertise, and a valuable developmental experience.   And you don’t have to just take our word for it.  Thursday, April 26 was “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” – a popular idea intended to get children thinking about their future careers.  This kind of cross-generational mentoring can be extremely powerful.  But why not take participation to the next level?   An idea from the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation is encouraging organizations to include children from housing authorities and shelters, nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends, granddaughters and grandsons, and more.  Often, children find themselves in similar positions as their parents on the social and economic ladder, not due to lack of ability, but from lack of opportunity – or even awareness of options!     Given this, the case for exposing kids to a wide variety and type of jobs is pretty clear – and the same can be said for the other side of coin. Teenagers from more advantaged backgrounds often live in a bubble, surrounded by friends, neighbors and fellow students who share similar backgrounds.   While we’re at it, why not make it a standing quarterly effort?  It’s a great way for organizations to give back – and you never know, you may be inspiring the next tech wizard or design prodigy!

  • 0 VA ORD EPA Benchmarking Event

    • by Eileen Marshall
    • 04-16-2018

    As part of any successful mentoring program, offering participants unique and valuable opportunities for growth is paramount.  In their ongoing series of Benchmarking events, the VA ORD mentoring program participants are doing just that by partnering with other organizations to learn about their mentoring programs.  Benchmarking is a continuous learning process which involves the sharing of knowledge inside and outside an organization, or among organizations. Through this process, mentored employees can learn how other organizations are implementing mentoring and other programs for positive change.   This Benchmarking session was a collaboration between the mentoring programs of the VA ORD and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – the Leaders and Learner Mentoring Program (LLMP) which spans a variety of EPA offices and regions.  This Benchmarking event was held at the Washington, DC EPA offices and attended by nine VA ORD mentoring participants and the program coordinator, Rebecca Crawford.  Brian Twillman, from EPA’s Office of the Administrator, served as the lead presenter and facilitator for EPA, providing a history and broad overview of the EPA’s mentoring efforts and initiatives over the years.  Several other EPA LLMP Program Coordinators, including Allen Maples, Lorraine Butler, Lisa Treadwell, Jack Naylor and George Hammer also fielded questions from attendees.    Brian kicked off the session with an overview of the EPA LLMP mission, program parameters, funding details and information about the overall diversity of the program participants.  Brian also covered EPA LLMP future plans – to build a robust situational mentoring cadre and to further develop supervisory engagement and support.  A lengthy and dynamic Q&A period followed, with VA ORD participants asking questions regarding overall employee satisfaction, leadership buy-in, program resources available to participants and program successes.   Brian also shared a few best practices for ensuring and sustaining the success of any mentoring program.  For example, there must be leadership support and it must be demonstrated and communicated often.  Maryann Petrole, a senior executive and champion of the program since its initial launch, attributed the success of the program to “the superb collaboration and teamwork provided by the LLMP Program Coordinators.” She went on to say that, “the LLMP was the best run developmental program in the Agency.” While there must be an attitude of partnership as a skill that can be learned at any level, it is essential that these skills be exemplified and displayed among the program coordinators as it is essential to the ongoing success of the formal program.  Bryan Bloomer, an active mentor in the program, also shared that from a supervisor and mentor point of view, “the mentoring program offers a safe place to explore career goals and aspirations, develop relationships of trust, attend networking events and explore organization to enhance engagement and satisfaction.”   Finally, two participants from the EPA LLMP provided their testimony regarding their experience as a mentee and a mentor, Patricia Hemmer, a mentee, appreciated being matched with an SES mentor and took full advantage of the program’s resources, to include online tools, trainings and her mentor’s personal availability.  Mentor David Meredith, who had just returned from providing hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, said the program structure contributes to its success, with enough latitude to personalize mentoring experience. David also stressed how the DISC assessment has been helpful and has changed the way he interacts with those inside and outside EPA.   Two main take-aways from the session debrief that really piqued the interest of the VA ORD mentees: the EPA LLMP allows mentees to repeat participation in the program; and the EPA also has online resource tools that connect participants to available developmental details.       

  • 0 Mining for Tip and Technique Gems You Can Use Today

    Perhaps one of the most valuable benefits offered by being involved with a mentor is the opportunity to learn pragmatic tips and techniques that can help you do your job better.  Certainly, anyone entering into a mentoring relationship does so hoping to improve personally and professionally.  Long-term goals, five-year plans, and skills and career development goals all tend to find their way into action plans that help define the bigger learning needs.  But what about the microlearning needs?  Examining every aspect of your program goals helps shape your plans for navigating a mentoring partnership throughout the program’s course.  Addressing these elements helps you identify topics of conversation and potential activities to help you attain your longer-term goals.  But wouldn’t it be great to be able to take something back with you from each meeting?  Something that you can immediately apply to your job.  Some of that just-in-time learning that helps solve a current need so you can be more productive, or more effective at completing your current tasks.  Discover the not-so-big-secret by simply paying attention to your day-to-day tasks, and work small bits into your short-term plans: Create a meeting agenda.  Your agenda should be a staple element of each meeting with your mentor.  When you work on your agenda, include time for discussion on your overall goals, status or follow-up on your current activities, and a little time devoted to strengthening your partnership connection. Now, add a few minutes to mine one small nugget of knowledge from your mentor; something that you can take back to the desk, field, or customer site simply by considering the things you do day-to-day. Focus on one skill you can take back to your job.  Think of the “little” things that you do on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.  Using MS Excel to track progress or calculate project costs, for example.  Was there some issue you were having with creating a more effective formula or approach to completing tasks there?  Examples of how to improve skills with software tools are endless; and you don’t always need to take a full-fledged class to make gains.  Many mentors have skills with a variety of software tools that you are currently using; you could benefit from their experience. The possibilities extend well beyond software tools.  Many occupations require the use and application of hardware or technology, some involve developing skills for customer interaction, and every job benefits from improving communication skills.  Almost everyone can think of a situation they’ve been in where they wondered, “How do I ask this person something about what I need in the best way possible?”  For example, “What’s the best way to ask my supervisor for more responsibility.”   “Better feedback on how I am doing.” Or “Help with a troublesome task.” Ask your mentor for advice.  Asking for help with something that might seem trivial to you is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of ability or motivation.  Certainly, you can do the homework and figure out many issues on your own.  But sooner or later, everyone runs into a snag that can be simply resolved by asking someone else for their thoughts.  In the end, a little insight often helps resolve a smaller issue that might be holding you back from taking the next step toward a bigger goal, or it might just help you simplify a common task and make your day go just a little bit smoother.  

  • 0 VA ORD Speed Networking

    • Training
    • by Eileen Marshall
    • 04-10-2018

    One of the most rewarding parts of being involved in facilitating and helping to sustain mentoring programs is the opportunity to watch innovation become reality and produce results.  Mentoring Program Managers and Coordinators are constantly challenged to motivate their participants and offer them opportunities for growth, both personally and professionally.  That’s why working with Rebecca Crawford at the Veterans Affairs, Office of Research and Development (VA ORD) has become synonymous for me with being on “the cutting edge” of mentoring program design! I was fortunate enough to be part a Speed Networking event that was Rebecca’s brainchild – an event that brought mentees from multiple federal agencies and organizations together at the National Press Club. What is “Speed Networking,” you might ask?  Speed Networking is a fast-paced and powerful way to cultivate strategic relationships!  It’s unique, interactive and encourages participants to make impactful introductions and build respect and rapport among their peers – outside their own agency. It also creates a wonderful ripple effect, because participants leave feeling rejuvenated and energized, eager to share their experience with others in their own organization. This event was facilitated by Pam King, a gifted and engaging facilitator with The Training Connection, Inc. who kept the participants on track to make as many connections as time would allow.  Pam also offered a brief introduction about honing your “elevator speech,” and making the most of the few minutes participants would have to add to their sphere of influence. Rebecca is one of those Program Coordinators who not only wants the best for her mentoring program participants, but really invests in cultivating and nurturing her mentees with pioneering, meaningful opportunities.  Special thanks to Mentoring Program Managers Brian Twillman (Environmental Protection Agency), Cheryl Harley (Department of Homeland Security), Sabrina Clark (Veterans Affairs) and Jane Sanville (Executive Women in Government) for their assistance in the recruitment of participants for this exciting event.

  • 0 Phyllis is Enjoying Retirement!

    When I started work at TTC we had a Team Building session within our office and Kathy had us all do a Vision Board. I had never heard of this and when she explained the purpose I was let's say, “skeptical.”  However, as time went on sure enough the pictures and words I put on my Vision Board started to become reality!  So, fast forward about 7 years or so when I felt it was time to retire, Kathy suggested that I update my Vision Board since so much had already happened. So, I did, because I wanted some different things and there were still some that had not happened yet.  Well, I am still amazed that most of what is on my board is once again:  a reality.  We have been able to travel and spend much time with our family and friends.  My son married a wonderful woman and we now have another grandbaby on the way. We purchased a fifth wheel camper and can load up the motorcycle and hit the road any time we want to.  I volunteer at the Fauquier Hospital Gift Shop one day a week.  The saying, “I don't know when I had time to work" is so true!!! I am so blessed to be married to my best friend for 46 years and look forward to celebrating 50 years and beyond!!!!

  • 0 The Pareto Principle: Maximize Efficiency with the 80/20 Rule

    There has been much written and researched about the Pareto Principle; a theory about productivity and efficiency and pea pods, discovered over 100 years ago by Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. His work focused on the distribution of wealth in society, where he observed that 80% of the wealth and income was produced and possessed by 20% of the population.  What was most fascinating about Pareto’s work was that this 80/20 distribution turns up everywhere.  Pareto even saw this rule occurring in his garden - 20% of his pea pods contained 80% of the peas.  He came up with a guiding principle for, well, everything:   80% of the outputs are the results of 20% of the inputs.   So, it seems it’s been scientifically proven that effort, reward and output do not directly correlate with each other.  A certain minority of activities result in the majority of the outcomes. For example, who hasn’t been involved in a group project where 2-3 of the people do 80 percent of the work?  Interestingly, this principle also says that individuals and organizations are spending 80% of their efforts to accomplish 20% of their results.    How can this simple principle be exploited to the very best advantage? The key is to put the maximum effort in areas that will gain the most return.  Stop and think about the areas of your life that could benefit from the Pareto Principle.  Ask yourself:   Do you own at least five amazing suits, but 80% of the time or more you grab the same one or two? Do you have 10-15 rooms in your home, but spend 80% of your time in just your bedroom, family room, and kitchen? Do you have 50 different mobile apps on your smart phone, but 80% of the time you are only using about 10?   The fact is, there are opportunities for efficiency in every area of your life.  And the best part is, because it’s something you have control over, it’s something you can improve.   So how can you apply Pareto’s principle to increase your return on your time/energy/money investment?  Many professionals are constantly faced with the challenge of limited resources. Instead of trying to do the impossible, a Pareto approach is to truly understand which projects are most important. What are the most important goals of your organization, or boss, and which specific tasks do you need to focus on to align with those goals? What tasks can you delegate or let go? This can also be applied to your personal life. Concentrate on those areas that provide you with a happy and healthy lifestyle and meaningful relationships.  

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