All posts by Allison M. Vaillancourt


Do You Want Feedback or Validation?

Two frustrating feedback requests in a single week have prompted me to ponder how much advice people really want when they request it. When are requests sincere, and when are they simply a guise for obtaining recognition and validation?

Last week began with my receiving feedback on my feedback. Because we have a university policy that isn’t really working as it was intended, several of us agreed a revamp was in order. I was enormously grateful that another colleague offered to take the lead in w…


When the Old Rules for Success No Longer Apply

A friend of mine who recently assumed her first senior-level position asked to schedule some talk time to discuss the topic of organizational politics. She has moved around and up through the years and has generally been regarded as a superstar wherever she’s been. But what worked in the past doesn’t seem to be working now, and she’s having trouble making sense of her new organization’s culture—and, more important, what it takes to succeed in her new role.

She began the conversation by admitting…


When You Report to a Chicken

How Not to Fire Someone” was the intriguing title of a Harvard Business Review podcast I listened to over the weekend. The engaging, likable speaker told a story about the first time she’d had to fire an underperformer, a botched experience in which she plowed through a work version of the “It’s not you, it’s me” breakup script. As you might imagine, the employee left without ever knowing what she had done wrong and was probably doomed to repeat the same mistakes at her next job.

While the podc…


Emerging From a Funk

The annual College and University Professional Association for Human Resources conference was last week, and I joined three colleagues from around the country to do a presentation on disengagement. While we touched on the research that leads employees to feel disconnected and dejected, and provided a quick overview of the latest thinking on human motivation, our talk was designed to be more personal. Rather than talking about disengagement in the abstract, we had an honest conversation about wha…


Who Are You, Really?


Album cover of Who Are You, by The Who

Employment-related screening tools were the focus of conversation last week in the human-resources class I teach. As I expected, there were plenty of questions about how employers use Internet searches to make decisions about applicant suitability and a fair amount of outrage about how completely unfair employers are when it comes to using digital content to make hiring decisions.

While employers may deny they are using Google and other tools to evaluate yo…


Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

A colleague called me last week to discuss an unexpected expression of interest from another university. While he began the conversation sounding amused by the possibility, it quickly became clear that he is hoping everything will fall into place so he can pack his things and go. He is amazing, and the new place will be lucky to get him.

My colleague’s reaction to this opportunity caught me by surprise, as he has never struck me as the leaving type and has turned down better offers in the past. …


Why So Soon?

There are few things more devastating that discovering your new dream job is more like a nightmare. At first you might second-guess your initial gut instincts: I’m new. I’m figuring things out. This is just all part of the transition process. My colleagues will warm to me soon. The person I report to is just under stress. I came at a tough time, but it will be better soon.

Over time you will come to understand that it’s not you, it’s them. That’s when the hard decision has to be made: Do you sti…


This Is Not What I Expected

A friend of mine spent the summer months gushing about the new job she was about to begin. She was ecstatic over having landed a strategic role free of the annoying day-to-day operational issues and money pressures she had dealt with in her last role. “I will get paid to think!” she exclaimed.

All did not go as she planned, however. Week 1 had her sounding tentative. In Week 2 she started sounding nervous. By Week 3 she looked drained as she laid out her situation to a group of us who met after …


You Are So Kind to Think of Me

My last post focused on when to say “no” to people or activities that aren’t aligned with your most important priorities. Deciding to decline a request is the easy part. Delivering the news in a way that doesn’t damage the way people think of you is a bit tougher. Because I struggle with disappointing others, I pay special attention to the artful ways the “thanks, but no thanks” message can be delivered. I received a particularly good template for future use last week.

At a colleague’s suggestio…


Are You Disappointing the Right People?

Managing an academic career often feels like an endless set of hard choices. Do I meet with the student who is struggling, or the one who shows great promise? Should I make an appearance at the often-pointless department meeting, or could I use the time to finish my manuscript? Will anyone notice if I skip the ribbon-cutting ceremony to meet with a high-potential donor instead? With more demands than time available to meet them, we must constantly evaluate where to invest our time and energy.