Category Archives: Career

Work related posts.

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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Filed under Career, Education, The Human Condition

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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Self Assessment #Fail

On Monday I sat down to pull together the dreaded self assessment.  As a manager this is doubly hard because there’s a fine line between giving all the credit to other people (“you did nothing“) or taking credit for things that you managed but didn’t actually do yourself (“credit pirate“).

buzzWhile performing a brain dump of the accomplishments this year I typed the words “right sized” and, before I knew it, my ADD kicked in causing me to search for corporate BS generators.  I was chuckling at some very humorous lines created using nothing more than random buzzwords when my manager stopped by my office.

” What’s that on your screen?”  he asked as he leaned over for a closer look and I turned around to see my draft self appraisal on one monitor and a page with a huge banner headline of “Corporate Bulls@@t Generator” on the other…

It’s a good thing he has a sense of humor!

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Filed under Business, Career, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition

Meetings are not free!

Reading Russell Ackoff‘s excellent book Management F-laws recently I came across the following

“The amount of time a committee wastes is directly propotional to its size.”

Ackoff then goes on to remind us just how ineffective meetings, and particularly large meetings, are at actually getting things done.

He ends with

“Those who convene committee meetings (or any meetings) should be required to pay for the time of those who attend.”

megaphone-manI am a big believer in communication and I prefer, when possible, to do this face to face.  But with a few rare exceptions large meetings are a vast waste of people’s time and the companies money.  If a broadcast is needed there are usually more effective ways to do this with today’s technology.

The next time you are in a large meeting take a look around.  How many people are checking email on their phone or laptop, how many actually look engaged and, if it’s in the late in the afternoon, how many are struggling just to keep their eyes open?  These people probably either don’t need to be there or, if they do, don’t need to be there for the whole time.

The meeting clock

It’s easy to forget that people are being paid to be bored.  But there is something you can do about it – use a meeting clock.

This is a simple app into which you enter the number of people and an average hourly rate and then click start.  As the meeting progresses you will see a number counting up showing how much it has cost to run the meeting in real-time.

You don’t have to do this too many times before you start to realize just how much money is being wasted when people could actually be doing something productive.  I guarantee that before you know it you will be keeping meetings to a minimum, doing more one on one meetings (where real things happen) and trying to make better use of the collaborative social platforms available.

 

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If you’re trying to change how your company works, you probably won’t

“What’s happening instead is the near-extinction of the people inside large companies who are trying to change things. Not the pundits but the people leading change from the inside.”
“In a room full of senior people whose missions were changing how our respective firms work…our running joke was that one objective was simply to keep our jobs.”

As a self confessed agent of change…this rings all too true!

John Stepper

If you’re trying to make work better, you may be feeling, as Margaret Wheatley writes, “exhausted, overwhelmed, and sometimes despairing even as you paradoxically experience moments of joy, belonging, and greater resolve to do your work.”

You may believe in and like what you do, but you’re under-gunned, under-staffed, and under-appreciated. And the thing you’re trying to change – the corporate machine that has dehumanized work – seems impermeable to change anyway.

Now what?

The management revolution that isn’t 

A recent article in Forbes claims “a veritable revolution in management is under way.”

That’s simply untrue. We’re not even close to changing how companies work. A few select anecdotes and some books on new management approaches don’t add up to much. (It’s like claiming the Occupy Wall Street movement revolutionized financial services. That movement was interesting, maybe even inspiring, but it fell far short of producing meaningful change.)

The…

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