Category Archives: Career

Work related posts.

Real Managers Know About Trust

bestboss__largeI was reading an interesting post about first jobs and the headline Good Bosses Are Key immediately gave me a flash back to my first “real job”.

I had gone through a year of programming school to which ended with a three month internship at a small company.

I turned up for the first day feeling, frankly, a little cock sure of myself.  That subsided quickly.

My first task was debugging a program used to calculate rent on properties and had been written by a programmer that was no longer with the company. After hours of pouring over the code I not only couldn’t figure out why it was going wrong, I couldn’t even figure out how it could ever have worked at all!

sadwalkI left that first day with my tail between my legs and thinking I had made a huge mistake. But I turned up for work the next day and tried again…and the next…laying out pages of hand written sheets showing variable values.

After a couple of weeks I went to my boss and meekly suggested that the way to solve the problem was to completely rewrite the core calculation routine. I was convinced he would laugh me out of the office.  Instead he asked how long it would take and I told him two weeks.

Put yourself in his shoes.  You have an 18 year old in front of you that you have only known for two weeks.  He’s fresh from college and telling you that the solution to your problem is to completely rewrite the system core which written by an experienced programmer.  What would you do?

My manager looked me in the eye, picked up the phone, called the biggest (and most vocal) client we had and told him we would have a solution in two weeks. Then told me I’d better get started.

Holy Cow!  The game was now truly afoot.

I’ll cut to the chase.  I worked night and day to make that deadline as there was no way I was going to let down the man that just put it all on the line.  We installed the upgrade and…IT WORKED!

I look back on that now and realize that was a formative moment for me.  That was when I made the jump from boy to man, and it has affected my career ever since.  But how many managers today would dare to take such a risk?

Sadly, today, managers are almost totally risk averse.  Failure is not something that is tolerated, and that is leading us to a world where opportunities for growth are giving way to excuses and playing it safe.

Personal growth happens when you step outside your comfort zone and we are punishing people if they do that. In doing so we are stunting the growth of our employees.  

I learned so much from my first boss that I will never be able to adequately repay him.  The company only lasted a few years (there were other bigger issues) but the three years I spent there were some of the happiest and most formative of my life.  All I can say is…MP…Thanks for taking the risk.

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MP hanging with my daughter

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What makes a professional?  

professionalWhat makes a professional?  

I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.

Obviously there’s the simple definition of a person that performs a role and gets paid for it.

But I believe it’s more than that, particularly in today’s world where people can have a “portfolio career” where they perform many roles, some paid and some simply for the love of the work.

There is an implicit understanding that when you hire a professional they have the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the task.  

But I’m sure you can think of plenty of people who get paid and yet do a shoddy job.  I bet you also know people who do things as a pastime and produce work of the highest caliber. Between these two which one would you say is the professional?  

I’ve read plenty of articles about how be a professional or what professional needs, and yet most of those focus on things such turning up on the time always giving 100% and so on. Those are table stakes.

Many years ago one had to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship before being considered a professional, often not reaching that stage until many years into a career. But in today’s world, where knowledge and experience are often outdated in a very short amount of time, apprenticeships are often a thing of the past.   

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that, for me, one of the defining characteristics of a professional is someone who has learned from their mistakes. And the best professionals consistently push the boundaries of their knowledge and experience and use the mistakes inevitably found in new endeavors as a core part of their education.

Anyone can be a professional when everything fits together, people deliver on time, and there are no surprises.

But to be truly worthy of the title “Professional” you need more.  You need to be able to adapt to changing situations.  You need to be able to anticipate problems and solve them before they occur.  And, when finally something does go awry, you have the skills, experience and confidence to work the problem and keep things on track. THAT is what makes a real professional, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re paid to do that or not.

Want to see what a true Professional looks like?  Watch the movie Apollo 13.  NASA was constantly pushing boundaries.  They knew the risks and when things went wrong the Professionals at NASA kept their cool, took what they had and created innovative solutions to get their people home.  

Money?  That has nothing to do with being a professional.  It’s all about attitude and a passion to continually learn.

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Management F-Laws

Anyone that sees my Goodreads feed will see that I regularly post updates of books that I am reading / have read.

This year I’ve read 20 books so far, and yet one book has been on my “currently reading” list for several years.  This is all the more surprising when you consider that the book in question is only 162 pages of relatively large print.  

Am I that slow a reader?

Well…yes is the answer to that question.  But there’s more to it than that.

mflThe book is called Management F-Laws by Russell Ackoff and is described as “A full collection of more than 80 of Russell Ackoff’s management f-laws: the uncomfortable truths about how organizations really work, what’s wrong with the way we design and manage businesses, what makes managers tick… and how we can make things work better.” and therein lies the problem.

Every time I pick up this book I read just two pages and ideas pop into my head sending me off writing a new blog post, updating some piece of work or just discussing the idea with anyone who happens wander nearby…often my long suffering children.

So, after several years, I’m about half way through the book which, in a very strange way, is the about the best recommendation I can give for it!

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Did I Hear That Right?

Mandatory training in America is usually there to protect the company rather than teach you something new.  But a number of years ago I attended a class that taught a life lesson I have tried to pay attention to every day since.

This particular class was entitled “Diversity Training” and I expected the usual loss of an hour of my life while someone explained things that were (or should be) patently obvious to anyone with an IQ above that of a hammer.

flipWe knew something was up when we arrived to find a room with no tables or chairs, just flip charts and some pens in each corner.

The instructor got down to business by dividing us into groups and giving each group a piece of paper.  Our instructions were simple: Read the paper, listen to the scenarios that she would read out and then write down our thoughts on the flip chart we had.  

After several scenarios were read and thoughts written we compared the results.

The first scenario she read was as follows:

“The person on your sheet has just brought in the biggest account the company has ever had.”

The flip charts were arranged such that the groups could not see each others answers so imagine our surprise when we found the following results:

Group 1

Group 2

  • Fantastic!
  • What a guy!
  • We should take him out for a drink to celebrate
  • Give him a big bonus!
  • Give him a promotion!
  • I’d like to shake his hand
  • He got lucky
  • Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while
  • Probably stole the account from someone else and didn’t give credit
  • If he can do it then anyone can

Huh?  Same question, read by the same person at the same time.  What happened?

The difference was what was on the piece of paper.  

Group 1 had a paper that read “The person you are about to hear about is well liked, hard working, intelligent and expected to go places.  Everyone expects that he is on the fast track to senior management.

Group 2, by contrast, had a paper that read “The person you are about to hear about is lazy, not particularly intelligent, never helps anyone out and is fully expected to be let go in the near future.

There were more scenarios such as the person losing the biggest account (Group 1 commiserated while Group 2 wanted him fired) but I think you get the picture.  The message was the same, but what people heard was completely altered by what they personally brought to the table.

This is human nature and it is very hard, if not impossible, to avoid infecting what you hear with your own biases, but I still try.  More importantly I try hard to keep my thoughts about someones faults to myself to avoid infecting others.  I can’t say I am always successful, but at least I try.

So the next time you hear something that you feel negative about take a moment to think about it.  Are you getting the real message, or the message you wanted to hear?  

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Who’s Grass is Greener?

Some time ago I was talking with a friend who was pretty fed up with her job.

grass_is_greenerDespite the fact that her work was intellectually engaging, provided interaction with interesting people, and the autonomy to do things the way she wanted to do them, there were some niggling chronic issues that were bothering her.

She was starting to become disengaged or, as she put it, “The grass elsewhere is looking pretty green these days.”

That reminded me of a quote and so I told her “Your grass would be just as green if you would water it once in a while.”

She looked at me with a mix of shock and surprise, then laughed and said “You know…you’re right!”

She’s still at the same place and every so often I get a ping from her saying “Still watering that grass!”

If you’re starting to feel like a change, look around you.  Is the situation really that bad that you can’t fix it with some care and feeding?  Would the change elsewhere be better than the change you can make in your own back yard?

Keep watering that grass and see what you can grow!

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How to love your job (even if you hate it)

Fantastic advice. I can’t remember who said it but the quote “Your grass would be just as green if you watered it” springs to mind.

John Stepper

Punching the clock  (Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS) When I asked her “What’s the best part of your job?” she looked at me wistfully and said “Nothing, really.”

She was smart, young, and creative, but somehow her spark had gone out. She told me she didn’t want it to be that way but, given the environment she was in – the people around her and the way things were – she didn’t know how to feel better about work.

I tried to show her she had more control than she thought.

A Job, a Career, or a Calling?

It turns out that fulfillment and meaning at work aren’t correlated to our specific jobs as much as they’re correlated to how we approach our jobs and the conditions in which we do them. The job of a surgeon isn’t innately more or less fulfilling than the job of a factory worker. What matters more is their very subjective view of…

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One Year Ago…

One year ago my wife was on a long anticipated trip to Paris with a good friend while I was at home being “Mr. Mom” and temporarily between jobs.

I say temporarily because the company I had been with for the past three years was converting me to a consultant – just one more in a series of broken promises and management shuffles since I had joined them – 7 different managers in 3 years surely has to be some sort of record – no?  

This situation had resulted in what has to be one of the most bizarre conversation I had ever had.  It went something like this.

HR: “Since you are part of the RIF you’re no longer eligible for a bonus this year because you’re no longer considered an employee.  But we want you to stay until March next year at which point we will convert you to a consultant in a different part of the bank.

Me:  “But since bonuses are paid in February I’d still be eligible for that right?”

HR: “No, because your on the RIF list and therefore not considered an employee.   However you will be receiving a severance package.

Me: “OK.”

HR: “But once you join the new company as a consultant you will have to give back the severance package because you would then be considered an employee.

Me:  “OK, so then I get the bonus back in that case right?”

HR: “No. Because you’re not considered an employee…

It was now April and I was out of the office for 2 weeks so that they could hire me back again – HR policy doesn’t allow people to leave and then immediately come back as a consultant (sic).

Needless to say I had stewed over this situation for several months. Part of me was saying that “The money is good so suck it up so that the bills get paid.Another part of me, which was growing louder by the day, was saying “Get out of there!  They are sucking your soul dry!

The phone rang and I heard the dulcet tones of my wife who had clearly been indulging in the local vino.  I don’t think she even said hello.  As soon as I answered the phone she said “We’ve been talking about [your company] and decided that you shouldn’t go back there.  They don’t deserve you.”

I can’t tell you what those word meant to me.  It was as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and the clouds had parted.  Suddenly the decision was just so clear – she was right.  Going back there could never be the right choice.

The next day I called the office and told them that I wasn’t coming back – oh, and I was keeping the severance package thank you very much.

I felt terrible for the people who I was leaving behind as, despite the company being screwed up, they had some amazing individuals.  But I had to do what was right for me.

One year later I can say that was absolutely the right decision.  I spent some time indulging my passion for building websites, getting closer to my kids and learning what being a stay at home Mom is like.  I took a motorcycle trip that had been on the bucket list for some time and then landed a job with a company where my contributions are recognized and rewarded.

It’s been an amazingly fun, exciting, fulfilling and empowering year and…as is so often the case…it all started with my best friend…my soul mate…my wife.

 

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