Polishing Your Professional Image

Your professional image can make or break you. With frenzied competition for jobs, employers have an “out” if you don’t match or exceed their standards of professionalism. Much like horseracing, the last one out of the gate is at a disadvantage and needs a miraculous run to place first. Every day presents and opportunity for you to reinvent your professional image in order to get that dream job or ensure longevity in your current position.

Why is this important? There is a cycle that influences your success that you should recognize and manage:  Perceptions, opinion, performance, productivity. Perceptions start the ball rolling. This leads to opinions, including judgments and perceptions about your professionalism, either real or imagined, which can affect your performance and productivity. Ultimately, people develop new perceptions about your productivity and the cycle continues.

The first step in polishing your professional image is to to undergo an image audit. Elements include:  appearance, interpersonal interaction, written communication, and networking. Perform a mental audit. Most of us know what our strengths and weaknesses are. Consult a trusted friend or mentor to give you feedback. Purchase professional image coaching services or receive them as part of free training offered by public/private job placement resources.

Your employer or future employer can help too. As HR experts, we know that employees need guidance and expect employees to represent our company professionally.  We have instituted an Ethics Policy (all aspects) and Social policy (focused on networking and public alcohol consumption) to help us legally support our philosophies. Ask your employers for a copy of similar policies and compliance coaching.  

Communication is a significant part of your image. Written, verbal, and non-verbal aspects present daily challenges. The classic example is e-mail. There is no excuse for sending a message without using spell check. From an HR perspective, we remind employees that email lives forever in the file backups. Use good judgment. Before you push “send,” ask yourself, “Do I want this e-mail published on the front page of the newspaper? 

The overarching message is that someone is always watching. You don’t need to wear makeup to go to the grocery store, but image does matter. We don’t know where we will be working tomorrow. Today’s technology allows real-time communication and instant judgments. Think about someone taking a phone video of you with “bed head” at the grocery store - like paparazzi do to the stars - and posting it on YouTube.  

So, think before you push send. Your image depends on it.


Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR Solutions for today’s workplace. Applied Business Solutions’ Celeste Peterson, PHR, Applied Business Solution’s Division Manager, contributed to this article.

One in Four CEOs Has a “Listening Deficit”


Listening in Business

Harvard Business Review reports results of a 360-degree feedback study: one out of four CEOs has a listening deficit. Did you hear that? Let me repeat it for the 1/4 of you that did not hear me. One out of four CEOs possesses a listening deficit. Just imagine the effects. What a collaboration killer. It can derail a company, yes your company.

What happens when you really listen?

You reach an understanding of your employees, customers, vendors, and other community partners. People listen less as they go up the career ladder because:  1) they get "I am in charge" syndrome; and 2) they develop an "I am expected to already know this" fear. When you put a frog in boiling water, it immediately jumps out. Put a frog in a pot of cold water, slowly turn up the heat, and the frog will cook in place. The same thing incrementally happens to a CEO. Everyone comes to a CEO for answers. The CEO may feel they cannot say, "I do not know" as they may lose the respect, but by listening to colleagues, they may develop solutions in a shorter time versus independently.  

Do you have two ears?

God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. HR representatives, customer service folks, and especially sales people, shut your mouth and listen. As a peddler first, I coach, "Don't spill your candy in the lobby." Listening takes time. The rewards are great for those who invest in listening versus taking a short cut or making assumptions.

What are listening limits?

As HR professionals, we invite dialogue to maintain a workplace with open and honest communication, which can be contentious. We let people rant, yet refuse to be sucked-in. We sit quietly and listen. The popular TV series, Downton Abbey, plays with this powerful silence technique. The old, "When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen," TV commercial also comes to mind.

More listening opportunities?

Social media has given us a lot more "ears" listening to stories about our business, as well as a lot more mouths talking about us - both positively and negatively. Another channel to "tune into" on a regular basis, if we ignore it peril waits. Recently, an insurance plan used by our Professional Employer Organization (our company and client employees accessed it) was less than desirable. People let us know. Did we go with status quo? Nope. We listened to the recommendation that we go back to the prior carrier. The positive response has been overwhelming.

Listening means more business, better business. When evaluating new clients, you will "hear" what is coming, know what you are getting into a head of time, and begin to pick opportunities that are more profitable. Imagine that classic magician's trick. You'll pluck a gold coin from behind your ear and the applause will be deafening.


Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Read this article in the Reno Gazette-Journal here

How To Be An Effective Follower

The word "follower" these days is closely associated with social media like Twitter, who you are following and why. Forget the blue bird and celebrities for just a minute. As an employee, you can influence your career by knowing what's "trending" in the workplace regarding followership. Oh, and just to be fair, check out #followership when you're through reading this.

What is “followership”?

It is not subservience or passive obedience. Followers engage in constructive critical thinking as well as interact with and support the leader to help achieve a task. Sadly, follower has a negative, "Oh...you are just a follower, next!" connotation as in a situation of the "haves" and the "have nots." Nothing is further than the truth. Followers often have more power - although typically more informal - than leaders. Leaders say, "Hey I have a great idea let's do it!" The role of the follower is to ask questions: How is it going to work? Why are we doing this? Is there an alternative? By empowering followers to handle key initiatives, we can create more refined and targeted ones.

Leadership only works if there are followers

If there were only managers, there would be a lot of talk and planning but no boots on the ground. One does not reach responsible leadership without demonstrating effectiveness in a functioning group. All leaders are followers depending on circumstances. A CEO leads, yet also has accountability to board of directors and or shareholders. Congressional leaders are beholden to their constituents back home.

Who has the power?

Great followership has a process: review, challenge, change, innovate, then go back and review again. This type of critical thinking influences and creates action. It starts with good judgment. Good followers must be able to take direction, but they have an underlying obligation to do so only if the direction is ethical. No one disputes good judgment as a core competency in a good leader, but it is just as important skill in a good follower.

Steps to effective followership

Good followers first need to be good workers: diligent, motivated and achieve and exceed their performance objectives. They do not believe leaders will make decisions for them so all they have to do is A) show up to work, then B) go home. Competent followers cannot follow properly unless competent at the task directed by leaders. Followership takes courage and honesty, which requires discretion and the avoidance of gossip.

Be proud if you are a good follower. Realize that as long as you are engaged, you can live up to your full potential. The more positive messages about good followership that leaders and followers can communicate, the better off we will be as a business community.

Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied's division directors, contributed to this article.