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Water Cooler

Information and insight about your career and the workplace at large
October 2004

News and Views

How do you get your team to really care about customer service? You have to sell them (and keep selling them) on the following five principles: (1) Customer service is not negotiable; (2) It makes everyone's job easier; (3) It is one of the most valuable skills because it is transferable and eternal; and (4) Every customer is a potential contact worth impressing; and (5) Take care of our customers, and we'll take care of you. More

Goal setting has a dark side, according to a recent research paper by a Wharton faculty member and two colleagues, especially when goals are tied to performance rewards. Among the findings: (1) People with unmet goals were more likely to overstate their performance than people who focused simply on "doing their best"; and (2) People who failed to reach their goals by a small margin were more likely to falsely claim they'd reached their goals than those who failed to reach their goals by a large margin. The researcher stops short of eliminating goal-setting entirely, especially if goal-setting motivates workers, but he warns against "steep reward systems that have a big discontinuity." More (registration required)

Congress could increase protection for whistleblowers who risk their jobs when they expose criminal activities, gross mismanagement, and dangers to public health and safety. Though 1994 amendments tightened protections for whisteblowers, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit subsequently introduced loopholes and exceptions that made it nearly impossible for cases to proceed. The new protections are expected to give civil servants the confidence (buttressed by law) to protect and defend the U. S. and make it more difficult for agencies to retaliate against them for doing their job. More


Get 15-minute summaries of business books that give you the knowledge you need to succeed by subscribing to e- summaries of books for business people. I'm a satisfied subscriber myself, and am happy to pass on a gem from this week's featured book: Confidence — who doesn't need a little bit more of that?! Here it is: "The secret of winning is clear: try not to lose twice in a row," Kanter writes. "Confidence doesn't guarantee that you'll win every time. But confidence does make it more likely that accountability, collaboration, and initiative will kick in to shape positive expectations for the next round." Read the summary for Confidence

Making It Work for You

Readers, this is your space—for tips on how you've solved a problem on the job, "gotten over" not tooting your own horn, or anything else related to being your own best advocate in the workplace. Special Offer: Get a complimentary copy of Mentor Me when your story is selected for publication in WaterCooler . Send your story to and watch for your byline in a future issue.

This month's story is from a trail-blazer who not only took a mid-career break and then wrote a book to tell the story, but then re-situated herself in a new locale, and made a successful transition back into the workplace and into a new life.

From Learning Initiative to Legacy

It was a tumultuous time at the rural city-owned hospital where I was the public relations director and director of volunteer services. The administrator had been sentenced to prison. The hospital's doubtful future dominated the weekly newspaper headlines for months.

A nearby city medical center leased the hospital and hired a permanent administrator. I wouldn't say that my position was on the line, but it wasn't considered very important, and so I felt I had to prove myself to the new administrator, especially since the hospital had been tainted by so much scandal.

During this time, I came across a curriculum through which hospitals paired at-risk middle school students with adult mentors. The point was to create a partnership that would allow the mentors to introduce students to healthcare careers. I thought this would be a great program to turn around the climate at the hospital, and one that presented a good opportunity for me to show what I could do.

But the hospital culture presented a challenge. In times of crisis, the staff tended to stay with the status quo. I had to work on my own willingness to take the initiative, and to have enough confidence that I would eventually win the support of my colleagues.

I decided to approach my new boss first with the general idea and some details. The administrator OK'd my plan. Then I approached the department head. I spelled out the program in a way that made it seem easy: I would do all the leg work; the department head would just have to show up once, for two hours to deliver the curriculum I already had in hand, making any adjustments he wanted.

I realized that they could look at this initiative as a burden, so I focused on presenting the benefits: hospital managers would get a rare chance to show their excitement, knowledge, and skills; they'd get to showcase their departments; and they'd lay the groundwork for hiring more educated employees. And of course I said that the administrator backed my plan.

There was a happy ending: the program received strong support from the middle school administration, the hospital department managers, and the hospital volunteers and local community leaders who served as mentors. Not only that—it generated positive local media coverage and helped to increase employee morale.

Soon after the first group completed the program, I asked my boss for a raise—and got it. Initiating the program was the most fulfilling task I did during my tenure at the hospital, and it became my legacy when I left. I'm pleased that it's still going strong, five years since its inception—and pleased that I was confident enough to believe it was possible, and to give it a try.

—Jayne Raparelli, Author of Finding Our Way: Journey Across America (and former Director of Public Relations and Volunteers), La Follette, TN. For information about the book, contact

Book Review: Unstuck: A Tool for Yourself, Your Team, and Your World

We've all been there. It's the supply problem that seemingly can't be fixed, the personnel decision impossible to make, the budget quandary with no win- win solution. In short, you can't make a decision. You're stuck.

Written by Yale School of Management professor Sandra Spataro and management consultant Keith Yamashita, Unstuck is a short but sweet field guide for individuals and organizations paralyzed and unable to move forward.

Born out of a class that Spataro and Yamashita taught to MBA students at Yale, the book presents a process that leaders can use to identify, diagnose, and remedy their condition of paralysis. After facing up to the fact that you are stuck, the authors suggest seven potential causes for your condition: overwhelmed, exhausted, directionless, hopeless, battle-torn, worthless, and alone. But don't despair. Unstuck also offers seven solutions with case examples that readers can use to emerge from the fog. An innovative and refreshing presentation of photos, diagrams, and illustrations adds to the book's effectiveness.

If you can't decide which business book to buy, maybe Unstuck is the right choice. To purchase, click here.

—Jeff Sacht. Reprinted with permission from Equity-Skills News and Views

NEW: WaterCooler (WC) Personal

October Is Fire Safety Month—do yourself and your family a favor by checking your smoke alarm. The majority of fire deaths occur at home, but death by smoke inhalation is preventable. Each level of your home should have a working smoke alarm installed. For extra safety, install a smoke detector in each bedroom. Use this reminder about October being fire safety month to replace batteries in existing alarms. Then test your alarms every month. For more information, visit The Home Safety Council.

Fourth-Quarter Special from Ahh-Hah Discovery Toys

As the year winds down (yes, it's the fourth and final quarter), it's a good time to re-assess your progress on the career path you've chosen, and lay your plans for ending the year with a strong finish that inspires you to even greater heights.

As in the saying, "two heads are better than one," consider using Mentor Me: A Guide to Being Your Own Best Advocate in the Workplace in conjunction with the Mentor Me Career Advancement Kit to really get yourself focused and organized for that next career milestone.

Ahh-Hah Discovery Tools is offering a special 25%-off package deal (which includes free shipping) for readers of WaterCooler who buy the Mentor Me book and the Mentor Me Career Advancement Kit together.

The book (see sample chapters here) gives you lots of solid information, quick tips, and examples for mentoring yourself into a job and a career you love — plus guidance on recognizing when you need a MOM (a "mentor of the moment") and where and how to find that expertise.

The Advancement Kit, an attractively packaged binder with a table-of-contents page and 10 pre-indexed tabs, helps you organize your career advancement plans, track your accomplishments, and launch your "mentor me" action plan.

Bought separately, you'd pay $30.50 plus shipping and handling. Take advantage of this special offer, and pay only $23 —with no shipping/handling costs for either product. To view product descriptions, click here.

To order and receive your 25% discount, call Holly Hospel (1-317.823.7051) and mention that you saw this special offer in the October 2004 edition of WaterCooler.

Coming Up

Workshops and Book Signings

Meet the Authors, International Women’s Writing Guild, New York, NY. October 10, 2004. Contact: Hannelore Hahn, 212.737.7536;