year end performance appraisal

Performance appraisal time has the effect of creating discomfort amongst both the judge and the judged.

A lot has been written about the effectiveness of performance appraisal methods and no definitive best practice has been identified. Lately, employers have put a positive spin on the benefits of the process for both the employer and employee by putting more emphasis on two-way communication.

Employees might dislike the process for various reasons. It may be that internally the process is applied inconsistently throughout the organization, or there is a push to achieve a normal distribution curve despite evidence of general high performance. Managers can be biased, they can make errors and many try to avoid conflict and want to get it over with as soon as possible.  What needs to be understood is that performance appraisal is a process not an event, designed to benefit both parties. Regular feedback throughout the year avoids surprises at the end.

Performance appraisals come in different forms

  • 360 degree reviews include input from your peers, subordinates, line manager and even others that you interact with on a day-to-day basis.  This is an expensive exercise which needs tight HR management and is therefore mostly only used in large organizations.
  • Line Manager / Employee review without input from others is common especially in smaller organizations.
  • Peer reviews from co-workers, customers and suppliers.
  • Upward reviews from subordinates and team members.
  • Self-appraisal is often an element used in all of the above to round out the picture.

Whatever form it will take, formal preparation for an appraisal interview is critical, whether it has been requested or not.

Preparing for your performance appraisal

Let’s see how an employee can turn his appraisal, a bit like a visit to the dentist, into a dialogue that can provide openings into possible career opportunities and insights into personal development.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you, is not to wait till year end to discuss expectations and performance with your boss. Make it a regular conversation and have a discussion with your supervisor at least once a quarter. This will ensure both of you are on the same page and avoid surprises later on. Ask your boss how you are doing and what you can change/do to ensure that you get the rating you want.

It is also good to take your self-appraisal seriously. This requires taking a long, hard look at your work accomplishments and referring back to the expectations provided to you in your job description or by your manager.  Throughout the year, collect any supporting points and factual documentation that you can use to support your point of view and have your last appraisal ready for reference.  Many appraisers come unprepared and become subjective in their judgements, so it is crucial that you should be ready and well prepared.

Consider these questions and discussion points:

  • How well did you do overall?  Where/what did you do best?
  • What could you have done better/more efficiently?
  • How good were your working relationships with co-workers?
  • What skills training or coaching do you need to do your job better?
  • What are your goals for the next year?  What must change for this to happen?
  • What can your manager change to help you to succeed?

The performance appraisal and its outcome

The discussion can take the tone of what is called a “feedback sandwich”.  The tough issues will be fitted in between compliments and positive comments on your performance.  Be honest with yourself and stay objective in the face of criticism. Stay in control and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into arguments that don’t relate to your performance on the job.

Remember you are here to compare your achievements to the goals that were set, hopefully together, at the last meeting. Based on this comparison you can arrive at a performance rating that reflects your contributions.

Take the opportunity at the meeting to get clarity about what to expect in terms of remuneration, training and development opportunities and the possibility of a promotion or work expansion.  This information is very helpful in clearing up misunderstandings about pay, increases, benefits, etc.

At the end of the appraisal conversation, the aim is to leave it having the satisfaction of knowing that you have been heard.  It is also important to listen, even if it feels painful, as there may be clues in it for you that could determine  your future path.

Discuss with your manager how you feel he could help you to be successful.  Everyone likes to be asked for their opinion and managers like to see their staff do well as it reflects positively on them too.  Take away the positives from the conversation and consider how you can use this new knowledge to advantage.

Not all employees have a shot at a performance review, make yours work for you.

Workshops And Seminars For Professionals: Which Ones Are Worth It?

singapore workshops seminars

As a professional in any field, your day is probably busy and spending time attending workshops and seminars can be a waste, if you do not choose carefully. Let’s divide the workshops and seminars into categories and then decide which ones are worth the investment of time and money.

Workshops and seminars organized by your company

In general, do attend many of them. You might think that this 25-year old communication expert has nothing to teach your 50-year old experienced self, but your company obviously thinks otherwise. Think of it this way: companies do not waste their money. If they offer you workshops and seminars, it is an investment. They believe that their employers will become more efficient and deliver a better quality of work.

Seminars and workshops offered by your company might also give you the chance to work in different positions within the company or shoot for higher positions. If, for example, at some point you want to become a manager, attending management seminars can be of great help. The same goes for all seminars linked to skills that might be offered.

And of course, if your company provided seminars to train the employees to newest versions of software or hardware, do not miss them under any circumstances. Technology nowadays is fast and a specialist can teach you tips and tricks that would take you ages to find out by yourself. This is why your employer offers you such seminars: to save your time and his money.

Workshops and seminars not organized by your company

This can be a bit tricky, because you might need to take some days off work to attend a seminar or workshop that is weekly or takes place far away. In case the subject of the seminar will help you become a better employee for your company, you can let the human resources department and your boss know about it. They might give you a few days off and they might even encourage and fund more employees to join.

In the case, however, that you want to join a seminar that you will have to pay out of your pocket in order to enrich your CV or because you are looking for a career change, it’s obviously best to not be so open about it. If you know that you might meet people from your professional environment at the seminar, be honest with your boss about where you are going to be those two days that you will be off. Again, try to focus on how this seminar could make you a better employee. People do not like it when someone is about to leave their company.

In case you are working and need to attend seminars to prepare for a career change, try to find the ones that are organized during the weekend or even attend the ones offered online. These have the advantage that are often cheaper (both due to the lower admission fee and the fact that you do not have to travel there) and you can also attend them while wearing your pajamas. You can also take as many notes as you like, as organizers often send a video link of the seminar to the participants.

Seminars for freelancers

If you are a freelancer, you are your own boss. You are the one deciding where to invest your time and money. This is why you should make sure that a seminar is relevant to your goals and ambitions, before paying the admission fee. Searching on line for reviews about the organizer of the seminar and the background of the speaker always helps. Mailing the organizers and asking for details will also help you understand if they are really experts in the topic they are presenting. Keep in mind that a high quality workshop or seminar organizer should be able to provide the goals in clear bullets. If there is a lot of general information and no focus, save your time and money for something else.

How to Get the Most Value from Corporate Trainings

corporate training learn

You can tell your company recognizes your importance when you’re given training opportunities on a regular basis. True, training programs can seem like additional chores — especially if they don’t excuse you from regular workload. But consider this: management has seen it fit to invest company resources in your continuous development! This means that the powers-that-be know you (yes, you!) have the potential to be better, if not great.

Training satisfaction can help you achieve job satisfaction (Latif, Jan, & Shaheen, 2013; Schmidt, 2007), and in turn motivate you to stay in a job (Kolarova, 2010). It pays, therefore, to stop stressing about having to attend trainings, and start seeing how you can maximize their pay-offs. Great training experiences translate to greater enjoyment at work.

Consider the following ways you can get the most value from corporate trainings.


If your organization is doing training the right way, it’s not grabbing topics out of thin air. Instead, it invests in what is called a Training Needs Analysis or TNA.

TNA is a systematic way of identifying issues to be addressed in order to bridge the gap between present and ideal performance. Usually, it’s conducted through surveys, interviews, and focused group discussions. Seasoned managers can also identify training needs through keen observation and analysis.

It’s important to make your voice heard as early as the TNA phase. The simple act of careful reflection before answering surveys can go a long way in making sure you’re getting the training you deserve. The same goes with giving detailed, thoughtful answers. A sit down with your supervisor or training provider about your current and desired competencies is also a good idea.

Do also articulate to the training team not just gaps in your knowledge (what you know vs. what you need to know) and your skills (what you can do vs. what you need to be able to do), but also gaps in your engagement at work (how passionate you are vs. how passionate you can still be). Effective training providers address not just theoretical and practical know-how but also attitudes and feelings in the workplace. You may, for example, simply need Stress Management interventions to get the work done in time.

Just remember: you don’t have to avail of every training program offered. A well-known speaker and some well-placed buzz words can make you think you need a training program even if you don’t — so be discerning. Prioritize important and urgent needs. If you must, defer to an organizational development expert to root out underlying causes of performance issues.


How can you maximize learning during the training proper?

For starters, attend a learning event with an open mind. Yes, this sounds common sense, but you’d be surprised at how it’s not common practice. You may feel that you know more than your facilitator as you’re a specialist in the field. Or you may be attached to an old way of doing things, and don’t fancy a different approach. The training games seem too cheesy and weird. But resisting learning can keep you from getting experiences that will make you a better rounded employee.

Second, it’s important to give your training provider context in order to ground the discussion on what’s really happening in your company. Ideally, trainers should already be aware of the context participants are working in even before a program starts. But grounding concepts to actual situations is tricky business, especially if participants are coming from diverse backgrounds. So share what you’re dealing with everyday; communicate your learning expectations. A generic course on Conflict Management Skills can easily be grounded to your daily flare-ups with customers if you just provide your trainer information on where you’re coming from.

Lastly, discover from fellow learners as much as from your speaker. The person you’re seated with may actually be a fountain of best practices. The odd guy in front may have access to the resources you need. If you can make training events an opportunity to get to know your co-employees more, or to expand your professional network, then you’re definitely hitting two birds with one stone.


What you do post-training may actually be the most critical when it comes to maximizing your training experience.

According to the American Society for Training and Development, employees retain but 10% of their learnings from training programs! This is especially so when you’ve been bombarded by a massive amount of concepts, or you don’t immediately practice the skills you acquired.

Here’s a tip: immediately after training, make a list of all your key learnings. These learnings can be new principles or new ways of handling things. Keep your list short — focus on just your top 5. Too long a list can be de-motivating.

Once your list is done, come up with concrete applications of your learnings in your daily work schedule. For instance, did you learn in Project Management training that you need to clearly delineated roles and accountabilities in your team? Okay then, in which project team would you apply this learning? When do you plan to start? What are the resources (e.g. charts, help from others, etc.) that you need?  Identify as well the exact deliverables you want in your hands before you can say that you’ve achieved the goals you’ve set.

And if you can arrange it, ask for constant mentoring from seniors in the company or even from peers who attended the learning event with you. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake — learning is less about mastering things the first time, but more about being able to diagnose and improve on things that don’t go according to plan. Solicit feedback. Create accountability structures as well; for instance, you can allot a few minutes of every meeting agenda for evaluation of how well training learnings are being applied, or you can contract for a partner to report achievements to. Basically, put your learnings into action!

Happiness Leads To Success. And Not The Other Way Around


This is a very funny video, which has some interesting insights on the relationship between success and happiness.

According to Shawn Achor, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and who’s research on happiness made the cover of Harvard Business Review in 2012:

  • Most people believe that factors in the external world predict our happiness. However, 90% of happiness is based on how your brain processes the external world.
  • 75% of job success is determined by optimism levels, social support and ability to see stress as a challenge (instead of a threat). Only 25% is determined by IQ.
  • So we need to change the way our brain processes the external world and also change the formula for happiness and success.
  • Current formula: If I work harder, I’ll be more successful and then I’ll be happier. This is flawed because whenever we achieve a success, our brain changes the goal post e.g. you got into a good school for under graduation – now you need to get into a better school for post graduation. You got a good job with a good salary – now aim for a better one. So you never reach the end goal of success and therefore never reach happiness.
  • New formula: The current formula needs to be reversed. We need a way to be positive and happy in the present. . We need to be happy first, which leads us to be much more productive in all aspects of life – which leads to success.

Are US College Degrees Still Worth It?


According to a recent study at Georgetown University and other research as well, the answer is Yes – getting a US college degree can still be a good move.

A Bachelor’s degree is one of the best weapons a job seeker can wield in the fight for employment and earnings. And staying on campus to earn a graduate degree provides safe shelter from the immediate economic storm, and will pay off with greater employability and earnings once a graduate enters the labor market.

Unemployment for students with new Bachelor’s degrees is currently an unacceptable 8.9 percent, but it’s a catastrophic 22.9 percent for job seekers with a recent high school diploma.

Here are some factors to consider when deciding on pursuing a college degree in the US

The risk of unemployment among recent college graduates depends on their major.

  • The unemployment rate for recent graduates is highest in Architecture (13.9 percent) because of the collapse of the construction and home building industry in the recession.
  • Unemployment rates are generally higher in non-technical majors, such as the Arts (11.1 percent), Humanities and Liberal Arts (9.4 percent), Social Science (8.9 percent)and Law and Public Policy (8.1 percent).
  • Unemployment in majors related to computers and mathematics vary widely depending on the technical and scientific content of the major.
  • The Education, Healthcare, Business and Professional Services industries have been the most stable employers for recent college graduates.
  • Similarly, recent graduates in Engineering do relatively well (7.5 percent unemployment), except for Civil and Mechanical Engineers who are still suffering from the deep dive in manufacturing and construction activity.
  • Majors that are more closely aligned with particular occupations and industries tend to experience lower unemployment rates.
  • Graduate degrees make a quantum difference in employment prospects across all majors. However, not all graduate degree majors outperform Bachelor’s degrees.

What college graduates earn also depends on the major they take.

  • Median earnings among recent college graduates vary from $55,000 among Engineering majors to $30,000 in the Arts.
  • Majors with high technical, business and healthcare content tend to earn the most among both recent and experienced college graduates.
  • Majors that are most closely aligned with particular industries and occupations tend to have low unemployment rates but not necessarily the highest earnings.
  • Although differences remain high among majors, graduate education raises earnings across the board.

You can download the entire report here – US College Majors, Unemployment & Salaries. And here is an infographic on the subject for some quick visual information.

college degrees high unemployment low salary


Learning how to say no at work without seeming lazy


Success can be gained by being a ‘yes’ person. Especially in corporate environments, being easy to get along with, amicable, and always willing to help, could be your pathway to longevity in a company, and staying first on the list for a promotion.

This is not always possible though. There is a point when saying ‘yes’ to everything includes responsibilities that clash with each other, too large a work load, or added pressure to your own family and personal commitments.

The solution to being successful in a corporate career, is learning how to manage your responsibilities, and learning how to say ‘no’ at work, without your employers and co-workers considering that you are lazy or uncommitted.

The real pressures of saying ‘yes’ in the workplace

Employers know the control they have over their employees, their careers, their finances and their progression in life. Unfortunately, their understanding of this often leads to ‘bullying’ tactics, where a supervisor will pressure you into taking extra responsibilities.

The U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey (2007) was the largest scientific survey of bullying in the US. It concluded that bullying in the workplace is 400% more likely than illegal or discriminatory harassment. It places real stress on workers, and workplace bullies are predominately bosses, or people with supervisory power.

The use of bullying, leaves workers with the feeling they always need to say ‘yes’, to demands, for fear of losing their job, losing respect, and failing within their career. If you have huge financial demands, including a mortgage, and a family, saying ‘no’ can be very stressful, and sometimes almost impossible to do.

Being a ‘yes’ person for a high income

Sonia is a 55 year old product manager, who works with a multinational organisation. She has formed  a successful career, and is on a large annual income with bonuses, because she has always been a ‘yes’ person. Her company frequently requires her to travel internationally, and there have been times when she’s carried her luggage with her to the office, just in case she receives a phone call and needs to head straight to the airport.

Sonia says,

I always say yes. My travel is essential for my work, and it certainly does cause me to miss important days such as children’s birthdays and sporting carnivals. I can very rarely agree to anything outside of work, because of my work’s unpredictable nature; however my tendency to always agree to work, means I have been promoted, and I’m on the salary I’m on.

Being a ‘yes’ person to change jobs

Mathew is a telecommunications consultant from Sydney Australia, who works via a contract. He always ensures he agrees to his work demands, because he needs the best reference possible, to assist him with gaining a new contract.

He says,

If I leave a position, with my employer knowing I’ve worked hard, and done my best, they will always give me a good referral. Many times my contracts are forced to end, and my bosses can’t keep me on. If I have worked hard and always followed their requests, they will feel as though they owe me a positive referral into a new company. This is how I get my work.

Learning how to succeed, while still saying ‘no’ at work

Success can still be gained within your employment, while saying ‘no’. If you don’t want your career to be the only highlight in your life, you will need to learn how to balance your priorities, and occasionally say ‘no’, without seeming lazy. The secret is not what you say, but how you say it. This includes your commitment to the conversation at hand, your use of body language, tone of voice, and your dedication to achieving a win/win situation.

Listen attentively

When someone approaches you with a request, show that you are interested. Often, the first sign of extra responsibility is stress, and this can be conveyed to your requestor as negativity towards them, and rejection of their needs. Stay calm, be interested in their new ideas or projects. Show support for what they desire to achieve, and clearly communicate this. Remember, you are not dissatisfied with them or their goals, just your personal ability to help see them through successfully.

Avoid e-mails

If you need to say ‘no’, say it in person, rather than over an e-mail. If this is not possible pick up the phone. Firstly, they will recognise through this that you are making their interests a priority, and are not avoiding contact with them. Secondly, face-to-face and verbal communication provides much more conviction, and e-mail communication can often be misunderstood.

Offer an alternative solution

If you are unable to help, explain that you’d like to see results, but you are unable to help them personally. Clearly and confidently state the reasons you are unable to assist, and offer solutions that don’t involve your commitment.

  • “If I helped you, I couldn’t allocate time for at least 3 months. This looks like a project you need a quick turnaround for, and I can refer you to someone else who may achieve this faster for you.”
  • “I am not the best at this type of work, as it seems you require a specialised approach. If I learned these tasks it would take longer than I could afford. Is there someone you know who already has these skills and could get started ASAP?”
  • “I’d love to help. Do you think we could discuss this next month as I still have to finish xxx projects.”
  • “My other supervisor has asked me to do xxx. I am unsure which is more important. Are you able to arrange the priority between yourselves and notify me of this?”

Announce that you are busy ahead of time

You convey how you should be treated. When you are at work, stay focused and be publicly clear about your priorities. Explain to people that you are committed to achieving xxx, and that you will be unavailable for any other requirements, until a later date. If you act too busy, everyone will recognise this, and avoid piling up those extra pressures.

Getting Promoted – It’s More Than About Doing Your Job Well!


Few things are guaranteed to make employees feel more disheartened and demoralized than not getting a prized promotion, especially if it happens time and time again and/or if an employee feels that they have given years of faithful service with nothing in return.

However, many employees fail to make it up to that next step of the ladder either because they don’t understand that promotion isn’t a right which comes automatically with long service, or because they fall into the trap of thinking that doing an exceptional job in their current role is enough.  Whichever is the case though, these people are doomed to remain where they are, simply because they are neither prepared to fill their boss’ shoes, nor to demonstrate their ability to do so.

Perhaps in years gone by there was a time when the most senior member of the workforce was the natural selection for promotion, but even if that was the case then, it certainly isn’t now.  Irrespective of age or length of service, it is the person who can demonstrate his or her readiness for a higher level job who will be awarded it.  That readiness, however, isn’t just dependent upon performing brilliantly at the current level.  After all, that’s what employers expect from their workers anyway.  If employees are intent on making the move to the next level up, they need to do much more than this.

Although most job seekers wouldn’t dream of applying for an external job without understanding what the role entailed, for some unknown reason, many of those who apply for internal promotions don’t actually have much of a clue as to what the job involves or what responsibilities the current incumbent holds, let alone what skills and qualifications are necessary to fulfill the role successfully.  Consider though, the difference between the duties and responsibilities of an operational worker and his or her supervisor for example.  While the former might require a range of technical skills, it might rely little on communications or “people” skills.  The latter, on the other hand, not only requires at least some  understanding of the technical side of things, but it might also call for management, leadership and reporting skills, not to mention excellent planning, organizational and communications skills, an understanding of health and safety, quality, risk management and customer issues and the ability to think strategically.  Clearly then, no matter how well the operational worker does his current job, in no way will this make him prepared to fill his manager’s shoes.

So, what can employees do to ensure that they know what to expect from the next level up and what can they do to prepare for it?

The first thing to remember is that it’s never a good idea to just assume that you know what your manager does.  Instead, either use your powers of observation to assess how their time is spent and the kinds of things that they are involved in or take an appropriate opportunity, such as during the course of one of your own regular appraisal meetings, to ask.  When discussing your own performance, for instance, you could enquire as to how your own responsibilities link to those of your manager.  If this still doesn’t give you a clear understanding of what they do, then another option might be to ask your HR department for a copy of the individual’s job description.

Once you have a clearer idea of what the job at the next level up entails, you then need to consider whether you currently have the necessary skills and qualifications to fill the role.  If not, then before you even think about applying for the position, you need to put together a plan for acquiring them.  If formal training is required, then your company may be able to support you in a course of study, both in a financial sense by subsidizing course costs and by granting study leave if required.  If the skills that you are missing are ones which could be obtained on the job, then you have several options.  First of all, you could ask your manager if you can provide assistance in carrying out certain of his or her tasks as a means of contributing to your personal development.  Secondly, you could volunteer for any projects or assignments which come up in your department that would allow you to acquire the relevant skills.  If opportunities within your own team or department are thin on the ground, however, another option is to ask for or volunteer to help out with projects or assignments in other teams or departments.

Another great way to get a feel for what happens higher up the organization, and particularly at the strategic level, is through meetings.  If you want to secure yourself an invitation though, you will have to justify your attendance by demonstrating that you have something valuable to contribute.  Start by finding out which meetings your manager is scheduled to attend and getting a copy of the agenda, and then offer to assist your manager in preparing for the meeting and in presenting your findings.

Doing a first-class job in your current role is, of course, important if you want to try for a promotion, because it helps to build your professional reputation and demonstrates your commitment and sound work ethic.  On its own, however, it isn’t enough to demonstrate your readiness to take on a higher level role.  If you want to do that, you need to think ahead and factor in the additional work required to show that you are capable of doing the job and could hit the ground running.

Steve Jobs Lived The Life He Wanted. When Will You Start Living Yours?


We have seen many great CEOs and leaders – Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company), Jeff Bezos (, Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway), Ted Turner (CNN), Meg Whitman (eBay), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Jack Welch (GE) and the list goes on and on and on.

However, none of these leaders evoked the type of respect, love, reactions and admiration, that Steve Jobs did. Why?

Everyone will have their own answer to this question. I think that we are not reacting to Steve Job’s management or leadership capabilities but the way he lived his life.

Steve Jobs lived life in a way that many of us dream of but aren’t able to turn into reality. The vast majority of us are tied-down by the restrictions and norms, imposed on us by society and the people around us. We take the easy way out and stay close to what is expected and familiar. We continuously avoid the risk of following our heart, doing what we really want and expressing our thoughts/ideas to the fullest extent.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the area of work. Instead of being excited to go to work each morning and spend the day doing things we enjoy, most of us would prefer to be anywhere other than the office. Quite a sad state of affairs I think, given the amount of time we spend at the workplace.

But not Steve Jobs. Oh no. He dropped out of college, experimented with LSD, bounced back from huge career setbacks (and how!), loved whatever work he did, battled cancer and gave the world some amazing technological gadgets and animated films.

Steve Jobs gave us hope. He made us believe it’s possible to live the life you want and be successful, in the traditional sense of having  fame and riches, at the same time. We felt a little closer to our own dreams and ideal life, by watching  and talking about Steve’s life, decisions, values, successes and failures.

Great reward only comes with some amount of risk and by doing things differently. Jobs took these risks, without worrying too much about the rewards. He just wanted to enjoy the ride. Very hard to do but I think that’s what we all need to strive for.

In 2005 Steve Jobs gave a great speech at Stanford University. Here are some of the highlights:

—- I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.

—- I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. And then I got fired. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and devastating.

I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife.

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

—- Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

—- Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

—- Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

RIP Mr. Jobs – You were and will continue to be a great inspiration. We can’t live our dreams through you any more but  hopefully many of us will have the courage to start living our own lives now. I’m sure you would like that.


The First 90 Days in a New Job – Why They Are So Important and How to Mess Them Up

Job searching can be an undeniably stressful experience but if, having secured that new position, you feel inclined to just rest on your laurels and ease your way into the role slowly, then think again.  The first 90 days in any new job are some of the most vital in terms of determining how far you go from here.

We’ve all heard the old adage about never having a second chance to make a good first impression, and when it comes to starting a new job, this is certainly one that holds true.  Even before you have made it through your first day in your new role, your employer has already made what could be a considerable investment in you (remember, the recruitment process isn’t typically cheap), which means that you are going to come well and truly under the microscope to make sure that you live up to expectations.  Whatever impressions your employer has of you during those first few vital months are going to stick, so it’s up to you and you alone to ensure that you give the best possible account of yourself.  Fail to make yourself stand out as a top performer at this stage and you could very well seal a none-too-promising fate for yourself.

The traps that new hires fall into during their first 90 days are many and varied, but most are ones that don’t even cross their minds until after it’s too late.  Often in a state of nervousness and keen to fit into a whole new environment, some make schoolboy errors which they are literally never able to recover from.  Here are just a few examples of the fundamental mistakes which can leave employers wondering whether they made the right choice and new employees wishing they had played things differently.  While some might not appear, at face value, to be of any great importance in the bigger scheme of things, believe me, they can kill careers stone dead!

  1. Mixing with the wrong crowd.  Make no mistake and like it or not, you will be judged by who you associate with.  Take your time to get to know your colleagues and co-workers before forming any close bonds. Hanging out with office gossips, slackers or cliques of individuals who keep themselves separate from the rest of the organization will see you being tarred with the same brush.  Your aim should be to be polite, friendly and respectful towards everyone that you come into contact with, but only to form alliances with the influencers who can help to further your career.  These people don’t necessarily sit at the top of organizations, but they are people who have respect and credibility and whose opinions are listened to and acted upon.
  2. Failing to introduce yourself to the head honchos.  If the people at the top of your organization don’t even know that you exist, the chances of your career going anywhere are slim.  If you want to make the very best impression from the start, schedule a short appointment with the company leaders and use the opportunity to discuss their vision for the organization, how your role fits into that vision and how you can maximize your input towards company objectives in the course of carrying out your role.
  3. Doing no more than is required of you.  Putting in the designated number of hours, sticking rigidly to your job description and learning as you go along might be enough to help you retain your new job, but if you are really going to stand out amongst your peers, you’re going to have to do better than that.  Be the first to arrive and the last to leave during the early days, use every minute and every resource to expand and accelerate your learning and always be prepared to go that extra mile.  Deliver more than is required of you and ahead of schedule if possible to demonstrate the added value that you bring to the organization, and volunteer to take on projects that no-one else wants to touch.  Always aim to consistently exceed your manager’s expectations.
  4. Getting involved in office politics.  Breaching confidentiality, gossiping, talking about colleagues and co-workers behind their backs and at a personal level, becoming involved in office relationships and taking sides in disputes are all major minefields in the workplace.  If you want to ensure a sound professional reputation and be seen as credible, avoid them at all costs.
  5. Asking about promotion.  It should go without saying that you have been hired to fulfill a particular need within your organization and so indicating that you are just using your new role as a stepping stone to something better isn’t likely to go down well.
  6. Failing to engage your manager in weekly performance reviews.  Especially during the first few months of your employment, it is absolutely essential that you find out from your manager how your performance is perceived and where you need to make adjustments in order to excel in your role, rather than merely guessing.  Less regular performance reviews might be perfectly adequate further down the line, but during the initial 90 days you need to sit down and get a blow by blow account of how you are doing.

Make Your Goals Smarter Than SMART

We all set goals. We set personal goals such as loosing weight, or saving more money, or getting a new job. We set business goals or they are set for us by our boss – goals such as increasing sales, increasing productivity, or cutting costs. Frequently however, these goals are not achieved and that’s because they are not sufficiently concrete.
Vague goals are more an aspiration than a goal – they are a desire or a wish that do not have concrete expression.

However, there are those who do set goals and nearly always achieve them. People like Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic or Steve Jobs from Apple – when they set goals, they do so in a compelling way that motivates them and others to achieve them. So what is the difference between goals set by people like Branson and Jobs, and those goals that are not achieved? The difference is positively and concretely stated SMART goals and starting with the end in mind.

Many people have heard of SMART goals, but unless you understand how to make SMART goals concrete, compelling and motivating, they still may not be achieved. So we have to make goals smarter than just SMART by making them concrete and positively stated.

Making SMART Goals Smarter

S is for Specific, Simple, and Sensory-based. An achievable goal needs to be defined as precisely as possible – what exactly is it you want. Write it out in simple terms and in terms of who, what, where, when and how. It should be stated in the positive as something you want rather than as something you don’t want – if your goal is something you don’t want, ask yourself what you want instead. A goal is sensory based when it is expressed in terms of what you can see, hear and/or feel.

M is for Measurable. How will you know when you have achieved your goal? Expressing your goal specifically, simply and sensory-based (as above) will greatly help with this. When you have achieved your goal, what will it look like? What will it feel like? What will you hear? How will you know you are half-way to achieving it? How will you know you are a quarter or three-quarters way to achieving it? What measures will you put in place?

A is for Achievable and Action. Is your goal achievable? Is it within the realms of possibility? If the achievement of the goal is not completely within your control and you need others to do something, concentrate on what you need to do to get them to respond in the way you want (this may be a separate goal to pursue simultaneously or prior to your original goal). Also, if your goal is too big, it may need to be split into smaller goals to achieve it. For any goal to be achieved, action must be taken (more on this below under “T”).

R is for Realistic and Resources. A realistic goal is “do-able” and within your skill-set and available resources. Do you have the resources to achieve it? These resources may be internal or external to self. If you require other resources first, attaining them becomes a prior goal. One way to check for the required resources is to ask yourself what is stopping you from achieving it right now?

T is for Timed and Take Action. An achievable goal must be timed – it must have a deadline. When do you want it? When will it be achieved by? When a goal is timed it adds a sense of urgency to it. Most importantly, to achieve a goal, you must take action. Remember the old Chinese saying that a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step – well, to achieve your goal, you must take action – you must take the first step to achieving it.

Start with the end in mind

Making your goals smarter will make them more compelling and will build the motivation required to achieve them. Developing a SMART goal enables you to begin moving towards achieving that goal whilst bearing the achieved goal in mind. Starting with the end in mind not only keeps you focused and motivated, but will also have your mind open to all opportunities that may assist in the achievement of your goal.

So if your life goals are still dreams, if your career goals are just not happening, or if business goals are not been achieved, restate them in a smarter way and start with the end in mind. Then take the necessary first step. Go for it!

How Crucial are Academic Degrees for a Successful Career?

To most professionals and parents, especially in Asian cultures, this is a rhetorical question, with a very simple and obvious answer:  VERY IMPORTANT.

However, there are always two sides to every coin.

On one hand, it is clear that education can be an investment in acquiring skills and knowledge that enhances earnings.Nations that have high enrolment and graduation rates show faster GDP growth. Countries with fewer gender differences in education also grow faster.

However, studies have shown that only around 15% of the increase in labour productivity can be explained by formal educational achievement.  Most skills that affect productivity must come from outside traditional education or even beyond education.

What do these guys have in common?

Sir Richard Branson – Entrepreneur and adventurer. Founder of the Virgin Group. Fifth richest person in the UK, at over $4 billion.
Anton van Leeuwenhoek – Father of Microbiology. Dutch scientist best known for improving the microscope.
Sir Sean Connery – Scottish actor best known for portraying James Bond.
Jim Clark – Self-made billionaire, founder of Netscape, first Internet billionaire.
Daniel Gilbert – Professor of Psychology, Harvard University.
Andrew Jackson – Seventh President of the United States.
Dhirubhai Ambani – Self-made, rags-to-riches billionaire. His $6 billion stake in Reliance is now worth tens of billions to his family.
Li Ka-shing – Self-made billionaire. Richest East Asian in the world, at $26 billion. Nicknamed Superman, and has been called Asia’s most powerful man.

They all dropped out of high school!

This is part of a list of hundreds of famous people that includes 25 self-made billionaires, 8 US Presidents, 1 astronaut, 28 knighthoods, two James Bond actors, 63 Oscar winners and 10 Nobel Prize winners.

It includes Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry and Physics.  Imagine not even finishing the 12th grade and then winning the Nobel Prize in Physics!

There are hundreds of such famous, successful people who dropped out of, or never finished high school.  And there are millions of successful people, not necessarily famous, who have similar backgrounds.  They are not at a disadvantage because they can learn what they need to succeed on their own, outside a classroom.

Dropping out of school would be treated with embarrassment in many households today.  Yet, paradoxically, those same families would be proud to have someone from the gallery above emerge from their midst.

These three gentlemen below also dropped out, but out of college, not high school.

Bill Gates – Co-founder and leader of Microsoft. Active and innovative philanthropist. Richest man in the world for many years, he is now the second richest at $56 billion. Dropped out of Harvard.

Steve Jobs – Co-founder of Apple, and the driver of its vision. Introduced the iconic iPods, iPhones and iPads in addition to redesigning Apple laptops and desktops. Worth over $8 billion. Dropped out of Reed College.
Mark Zuckerberg – Co-founder of Facebook. Youngest self-made billionaire, worth $13.5 billion. Dropped out of Harvard.


  1. Drop out to succeed, or at least drop out of good schools and universities – no, just joking!
  2. While going to school and college is generally a good idea and helps us gain credibility, not doing so is clearly not a hurdle to phenomenal success, especially if you have entrepreneurial instincts.
  3. Formal degrees help us get our first job – the second job onwards, it’s your work experience that counts for more.
  4. The structured academic environment can be a hindrance to success and creativity – so some drop out because they can’t tolerate the structure, and others drop out because they just have to pursue an opportunity they are excited about.
  5. Only some risk-takers like the ones above have taken that plunge.  Maybe if they waited, they would have missed their opportunity.
  6. If your goal is not entrepreneurial, but to build a career within a larger company, then it is important to gain the institutional credibility from formal academic degrees, the “stamps” you need to meet their requirements.

Confidence When You Need It

Sitting in an interview or standing up to make a presentation is much easier when you are feeling confident. Confidence gives you a presence and an inner strength. Appearing confident makes you more attractive to your listeners – they listen to what you say. Being confident makes you appear in control of a situation. So wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could ‘flick a switch’ and turn on confidence when you need it? Well you can – and here’s how in 5 easy steps.

Firstly, let’s explore and play. Remember a time when you felt totally confident – fully in control – feeling I can easily do this! As you remember that event, see what you saw then, hear what you heard, and feel how you felt. Just re-live the situation until you are actually ‘there’ – seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard, and feeling what you felt. You may also have a particular smell or taste associated with the experience – if so, smell what you smelt and taste what you tasted. Let the sights, sounds and feelings come over you. Now you have that feeling of confidence in your body that you had during that past event. Doesn’t it feel great!

Even if you have not got a memory of a time you felt totally confident, you can imagine it. One of the wonderful things about the human mind is its ability to dream – to imagine – to create in your mind a situation where you are totally confident and fully in control. And as you do, notice what you see, what you hear, and what you feel. Even this imagined scenario of feeling totally confident and fully in control causes your body to actually have those feelings. Your body cannot tell the difference between a real and an imagined scenario and gives you the feelings.

You can also imagine what a person you admire feels, whether that person is a movie star, a politician or somebody you work with. In your mind, you can imagine that person in a particular situation – perhaps in an interview or perhaps giving a presentation – and you can see what they would see, hear what they would hear, and feel the total confidence they have – the feeling of being fully in control. As you do, notice that you actually feel the confidence!

So now that you know you can feel the confidence in an imagined scenario, you can also aggrandize or enhance your own memory of that time you felt confident. As you re-live that experience – as you see what you saw, hear what you heard, and feel the confidence, feel totally in control – just heighten the feelings – turn up those feelings so that you are feeling even more confident – even more totally in control – even more powerful. The only limit is the depth of your imagination.

The Technique

Step 1

Be clear about the resourceful state of mind you wish to have – above it was described as being totally confident, fully in control, totally powerful – but you should use your own words to describe the state you want to be in.

Step 2

Decide on an ‘anchor’ you will use to fire off the totally confident (etc.) feeling. The desired state of mind will be ‘anchored’ to an easily repeated gesture, or phrase or symbol. This might be squeezing the top of your little finger or making a tight fist with your hand. Or it could be a phrase you say in your mind such as “I’m confident – really confident!” or “yes, yes!”. Or it may be something you see – a symbol perhaps. Just remember that you will need to repeat this ‘anchor’ at the start of your interview or presentation, so the anchor should be easy to repeat in the appropriate situation.

Step 3

Go back to a time in the past when you felt totally confident (or however you describe it) – to a specific occasion when you felt totally confident – and re-live the experience so that you see what you saw, heard what you heard, smell what you smelt, and feel what you felt.

Step 4

Just before the experience reaches its peak – when the sights, sounds, smell and feelings are almost at their strongest – anchor it as described in Step 2.

Step 5

Now think of something totally different or look out the window and notice what is happening outside. Just come out of the state you entered. Now fire off your anchor again and notice the extent to which you feel totally confident (or however you describe it). If it is not as intense as you want it to be, repeat the process to more closely link the anchor and the desired feeling of total confidence.

Repeat this process often to reinforce the link between the anchor and your desired state of feeling totally confident. Repetition will keep the anchor active so that you can be confident just when you need it.