Get Over It

Are you pretty smart?

I am. At least I thought I was. Coming out of college – check that, high school- I was convinced I was not only smart but decisive, a take-action kind of guy. Believe me, there are scenarios where you want smart take-action oriented people: if I’m in a stricken sub well below the ocean’s surface, I want action not debate.

But having said that most of the time in our workplaces teaming, collaboration and debate actually drive better solutions primarily because they drive better questions. Being decisive, take-action and dumb is not a recipe for success.

Fortunately in my career I worked in some of the best companies in the world – Dell, P&G, Apple, The Home Depot and VMware – and found lots of smart people already there. Really smart. And here’s what I learned working with all those smart people in all those different yet challenging environments: if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

Let me share an analogy. I play a lot of golf. I don’t play well but I follow the rules and count every stroke: that’s what real golfers do. But I get better and better bit by bit because I try to play with better golfers. I’m not going to learn how to play better if I’m the best in the foursome.

The workplace is much the same way. Want to learn something? Find out who’s good at that and rub shoulders with them. Need to develop a skill? See who the leaders are and try to spend time with them. Want to become an expert – find experts and immerse yourself. Its a funny thing about work: the way to success is to improve year over year, quarter over quarter, technically, professionally and interpersonally. Yet no one ever explains that the biggest roadblock in our path to self-improvement is our tendency to be impressed by ourselves.

My advice? Get over yourself. 3025720-poster-p-reynal-and-hitchcockthe-little-prince

Are you smart? Of course you are. But you’re not the only one. Hard-working? I’m sure – and so are others. Focused? Yep, that’s how we win. You can see where I’m going – a lot of people share these traits to one degree or another in the workplace. So what differentiates those who keep on progressing and learning in their careers from those who seemingly stumble from one left-handed role to another?

Humility.

Some of the most successful people I know are the ones who ask the most questions, make themselves the most vulnerable, and in short, are not afraid to get over themselves. Self-confidence is powerful and useful: hubris is simply excessive and damaging. Very little of what we do in our respective fields today can be done alone. We need each other’s intellect, experiences and perspective. And people are happy to share. If you let them.

Want to be more successful in the global economy and the local workforce? Get over yourself.

Illustration: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Punt

So it goes.

My friend Mick and I were talking the other day. I’d love to tell you we were enjoying a strong bevvy watching the afternoon unwind but we were both still working.

I’d called him a few days earlier for advice on a project I was looking at: he’s pretty straight forward and usually gives sound input. Finally he was able to get back to me – his work life is apparently as busy as mine – and we caught up on things as I told him what I was working on.

Closing the call I asked him how things were going, etc., the way you do with a friend you’ve known for a long time. “Oh, it’s okay,” he said, clearly sounding like a man who was not feeling okay. “You just gotta get used to living in the land of punt,” he finished.

Punt? Like football? Those little boats that used to remind us of Britain pre-Brexit?

“Punt, you know,” he said. “Everyone’s got an opinion but when somethings gotta get done everyone here punts.”

That’s pretty clear. beefypunter

I’ve been thinking about his remark for several days now questioning if I punt a lot. For my non-US friends “punting” is not good. I wondered if others might describe their work environments like that. A lot of punting, or to put it another way, abstaining from action or responsibility.

Seems like we’re so focused on engagement and collaboration and buy-in we’ve mislaid a key tenet of the modern organization: they exist to get things done. Corporation, non-profit, NGO, it doesn’t matter: all exist to further a purpose. Recently I read an article about “former” market leaders that had gone to decline. Pick any industry (airlines are ripe) and you can name firms that have lost their luster or in many cases ceased to function. Pundits will give you a hundred varying reasons for this. I’ll give you one:

  • They forgot how to get things done

There are many factors in organizational health and volumes of current research available to help define what an effective organization looks like, so please do your research and apply models you believe in. But somewhere along the way- especially if your firm is maturing – ask yourself a simple question: do we punt too much?

Mick’s point really means teams where people endlessly punt after endless pontification are not healthy environments much less productive ones. Imagine a work place where everyone has an opinion but very little ever happens: would this be a place the best and brightest migrate to? Probably not. And talent base aside, if the culture of your corporation is hurry up and wait, let’s think some more, and get just one more opinion, well, you probably won’t get much done.

So as you work to involve everyone in your core mission consider the imperative for productivity. Driving action with thought. And skipping the punt.

Otherwise you may have a lot of free time to enjoy your bevvies.

 

Hungry Birds

Ah, the smell of fresh cut grass in the hot days of summer.

Long time readers know I enjoy summer days more than anything else: having been born in Phoenix I like hot 365 days a year. Call me crazy.

Like every season summer has its rituals. The backyard barbecue (we do not spell it with a “q” in Texas, by God), wading in cool creeks and yes, the smell of fresh cut grass early in the morning before its too hot.

I don’t know if you mow your lawn – probably not. Like changing your own motor oil its become a lost art, but I like to mow my postage-stamp sized lawn myself with my $20 push reel-mower. No need to burn fossil fuels here. A funny thing happens when you mow your lawn: birds congregate knowing you’ve just stirred up the surface. And when that happens, insects and worms are suddenly stimulated to move around. On the newly lowered surface. As in, for breakfast.

Birds flock to the lawn after I make a pass down one length and continue to do so over androbin63 over following me. Yea, verily, these birds will be happy for the next hour or two enjoying the easy pickings as the lawn is now their buffet.

The other day I noticed one bird who wasn’t eating as much as he was guarding. Guarding his turf. This bird was so focused on not letting any other get near his little “patch” he spent all his time keeping his circle clear by attempting to scare other birds away.  As I sat on the stoop with a long tall drink of water I marveled at how much energy this bird expended protecting his territory.

And not eating.

The other birds ate their fill and moved from time to time to the spaces the first bird abandoned to protect new territory and by and by they were satisfied and left. Except the guarding bird now reduced to scavenging for scraps after the first and second courses were long consumed by his foes. My hungry friend was so busy protecting what he had he never got to use it or enjoy it.

Isn’t that bird a bit like you and me sometime? Working so hard at keeping others at bay we forget what we’re really here for? You’ve seen it as I have: insisting on continuing a strategy that doesn’t work, well, because its out strategy. Hoping against hope that a poor performer will turn around because we want them too. Trying to save our way to greatness by slashing costs again and again.

Acting like my friend vainly struggling to defend his territory. Instead of using it. Yet the status quo never is.

Don’t fall into the trap of the hungry bird my friends. Do what you need to do now, make choices, and move on. Trying to protect your territory, brand and influence by warding others off instead of engaging with them will only leave you hungry and behind. Nothing stays static.

Its time to cut the lawn.

 

Eso Depende

Depende.

Years ago I learned to scuba dive in Cozumel. In many ways it was the trip of a lifetime. One of the most memorable elements to me however was the sanguine response of my scuba instructor every time I asked a question. “Depende,” he would respond rarely ever changing his demeanor.

At the time I was annoyed at this consistent and, to me, incomplete answer. But with time many things become clearer.

Over the weekend I had coffee with a friend and I was telling her about something I’d seen at church and how stressed out the family seemed. She smiled and said, “depends.” What? Feels like I’m back on the open water with my instructor bobbing nonchalantly.

What these two people separated by time and place were trying to tell me was this: everything isn’t always as it seems. scuba-myths-shutterstock_208265431

After a career in HR and employee relations suspending judgment until all the facts are in, you would think this would be more natural to me in my personal life. Yet, away from the structure of work I recognize that I still try, as humans do, to neatly categorize life’s experiences to make sense of this thing called life and in so doing often apply reaction instead of reflection.

But interpreting and understanding the meaning of life’s foibles takes time. And depends on your perspective.

Here then a short list of suggestions in developing the art of depende:

  • Stay immersed in the moment. Our tendency to use drive-by, sound-bite clips as a proxy for living leaves us shortchanged. Immerse yourself in work and play to get more of the experience. In other words, don’t be a spectator in your own life
  • Say less. With every passing day there’s a new app, platform, product or venue that encourages us to shout out. Yet concurrently fewer of us actually listen. Develop the skill of real listening and you will be amazed at what you can learn, and how readily people stop shouting and start conversing
  • Ask why. So often in our rush to get things done and move to the next we forget this key word: why? Asking why in a sincere and continuous way helps break past the patter and platitudes to increasingly deeper levels of meaning. Why gives pause and allows reflection – reflection beats reaction
  • Change perspective. My friend and my instructor were asking me to consider and look at things a different way. Rather than face life with a fixed mindset to take life on much like a ship rolling with the swells yet progressing nevertheless. To recognize the meaning of life depends. To catch the wind you’ve got to shift your sail

In work as well as play its important to be open to new (and old) emerging thought as our environment continues to shift, change and evolve. Want to be effective at home as well as the office? Drop rigidity and adopt perspective.

After all, the way we see things depends.

The Value Quotient

Take a deep breath.

An advantage of being an elder presence in the workforce (and I assure you there are many) is that I carry with me a long canon of previous experience and can get past many things if not all with some set of ease if not a sense of déjà vu. Haven’t we seen this before?

Not long ago a colleague sent me an email which had no actual purpose. You know the kind: wrong on facts, wrong on timing and wrong on tone. In fact the issue my peer was complaining about had long been resolved so other than being completely useless it was a handy note I guess.

Do you suffer fools gladly?

In previous days when my hair was both darker and fuller I would not have hesitated to point out the omissions, commissions and indispositions this useless grasp of digital space afforded, but hey, you can’t fix everything. The question becomes is it really worth it: will it add value?

Remember as well when we start to criticize, politicize and minimize our peers’ input (no matter how well-deserved) we ought first to take a look in the mirror and ask, lo, thee in the mirror – have you not ever made a mistake?

I know I have.

Here’s the thing. We live in a connected world. We generate a lot of noise. Some of the noise can be helpful and even useful. I think the art of the game in commerce and life is to try and increase your helpful ratio, or, value quotient.

Let’s say for the moment half of everything you produce in the workplace – emails, reports, power points (are you still doing that?), chats, and even live-action actual talk – is actually useful or beneficial in some way. Now I think 50% is a pretty high number but I’ve mentally already deducted all the idle chatter, socializing and background b.s. many of us employ day to day. So let’s assume half of what you offer has value now.

Rather than worry about the odd input a coworker may share with you, concentrate on increasing your own value quotient. Its not hard to do by the way. ‘Say less and mean more’ is a good start.

Will coworkers offer things that don’t make sense from time to time? Will they miss the mark or in the end just be bloody wrong? Yes, welcome to the world of work where the barrier to entry is lower than you think. The question is do you want to spend your working life correcting others one by one and in doing so possibly poisoning lots of relationships, or do you want to focus on increasing your own value.

I’d go with with the latter.

Please do keep in mind – the less value you offer over the longer period of time the sooner we will see that we need less of you.

Add value.

Focus

Do you like to hike?

Hiking is one of those things (much like golf) that you can do for your entire life, and it keeps you out in the fresh air. If there’s a cool stream near by so much the better. I like it.

Hiking requires a certain perspective and a little thought. Yes, its important to have sunscreen and water and the right hat and all that, but as any trail-goer will tell you, its the shoes that count most. And importantly, the art of walking has to be relearned to a degree.

You see trails are seldom level (or level for long) have lots of undulations, are made up of all kinds of materials including rocks and tree roots (and the occasional snake posing as a tree root as I learnt this past weekend) and have all manner of variations. In short, unlike padding down the hall to visit your cube mate or rolling across the living room to pick up your cell phone, you have to really watch where you’re going. And not just that, but you can’t afford to become myopic – you’ve got to look ahead a little bit for the occasional low-hanging branch or for just the general direction of your chosen path. More than once I’ve had to back track a little as I found I’d worked my way into an untenable position.

It reminds me of the Takeaway interview reviewing the new documentary of legendary tennis pro Serena Williams. At one point filmmaker Ryan White says something like, Serena doesn’t look back, and doesn’t look forward too much: she stays right here right now.

A lot like walking a trail.

Career is much like the hiker’s quest: it requires that same focus on “where are you right now?” Yes, you need a direction, just like Serena’s attempt to win all four majors in the same year. Yes, you need an overall plan. But you also need the right shoes stepping foot after foot as well as the occasional stop to check surroundings and your general direction.

If the hiker never looked at anything but their footwork they’d miss the beauty and backdrop of being immersed in nature. Its important to stop and smell the roses: life happens pretty fast. And yet, a successful hike and a successful career can be wrought out of that same focus Serena uses staying right here, right now.

So get your walking shoes on and a comfy pair of shorts and hit the trail taking your H2O along. Keep focused on where you’re going well-knowing that even if you have to backtrack every once in a while its still a hell of a walk, and its all yours: no one will do it just like  you.

Enjoy it.

Repair Shop

Can you drop it off?

Recently one of my tires (tyres for my UK friends) developed a slow leak. As cars go regular maintenance is the key. As a prototypical American boy of my generation (unlike Millenials) I loved the freedom of four wheels and a set of keys but that freedom can be tempered by poor maintenance, so I watch my vehicles.

Topping off my tire every week or so with my home air compressor (did I mention I like tools?) I noticed the interval shortening between fill-ups: that can only mean I had to get in to a shop sooner rather than later.

Shop one is around the corner.  I stopped on a Monday morning: can you fix this slow leak? Yes. When? Maybe tomorrow; we’re really busy today. I see. What time do you open? 7:30 – we can start you first thing. Cool. I’ll be back.

Of course I went back in the am, but the shop was still relatively full and a different (much less engaging) person said they “might” get to it today but I’d have to leave it. But yesterday you said the same thing! Still the case then isnt it?

Wow! What service!

I went to shop two to find the entrance absolutely filthy. I mean filthy: they apparently never heard of a cleaning service. Now I’m nervous about them touching my car. After a short delay the “manager” asked me what I needed. I explained. He said they couldn’t do anything until after lunch because “his” mechanics didn’t come in until 9.

“But you open at 7,” I said. “Yeah, but the mechanics don’t get here till 9.” I left the shop wondering about this bit of Monty Python logic while marveling how good it was to not show up till 9. Clearly this pig sty is an employer of choice if not a paragon of truthful advertising.

Shop three is much like the inspection station I use in that it stays busy but things keep moving. Also, this place place just does tires. I stop in.

I’ve got a slow leak. Where? Right rear. Back it in here.

You hear that? I told the guy working in front of the shop my problem, he tells me where to park the car. He jacks the car, pulls the tire, puts it in the bath, shows me the nail in the tread and proceeds to fix it. All right in front of me. Then he takes my money.

There is no manager. There is no dropping off. There is no set of silly corporate logos or funny posters about “car care.” There are two guys working away heavily sweating already at 8 in the morning fixing tires, which, coincidentally, is what their sign says they do.

Which shop do you think I’ve Yelped about, told my friends of and will go back to first the next time I need tire help?

Here’s the point: if you’re going to run a business that says you do something you probably want to speak clearly to customers about what you do and when you’ll do it. And it wouldn’t hurt to be nice.

Or, you can always just ask customers to come back tomorrow.

What Matters Most

Be careful.

Not long ago I got into a disagreement with my good friend Katarzyna. Actually it wasn’t really a disagreement: I was just an idiot. At some point I had enough sense to reach out and apologize and, luckily for me, she has enough grace to accept that and forgive me.

So it goes.

In the world of work and professional relationships why is it we are sometimes hardest on those we like most?

Much like with our family and friends we sometimes test the strength of the professional relationships that matter most by pushing too hard. You know the feeling:

  • I’ll call her back later: she’ll understand
  • He knows this is just the way I am!
  • I shouldn’t have to check in with you – you should have my back!

We experience variations on this theme over and over, and yet we continue to press the boundaries. But unlike our friends and most certainly our family our professional colleagues may not have an everlasting well of forgiveness. At times, our peers simply write us off deciding not only who to keep in their lives, but whom to let go.

So as the summer with its languorous sensations kick in, and ultimately the fall holidays before the end-of-year breaks, this might be a good time to reexamine your professional relationships and ask yourself a few key questions.

  • Do the people you value know that? Do you tell them why?
  • Do you give more than receive?
  • Are you open and flexible willing to consider someone else just might be right – and their difference with you is all about helping you – not “being right?”

There are many questions to ask but one thing remains constant. Over the arc of a career you will only meet so many influential and impactful people, and people are the greatest gift in life.

Are you treating them like that?

Two Men

Its a hot June afternoon.

For sun devils like myself it can never be too hot. Yet I have an advantage: as someone who works from home I can step inside whenever its too warm and as I toil away I seldom wear more than shorts and a t-shirt. I can adapt.

Moments ago a moving truck showed up, a long one with single rear axle. 18′ I’d guess. Living in a university town in the heart of a university neighborhood we’re used to this – moving vans, free moving boxes on the curb just after the start of every month and the ubiquitous free furniture doting curbsides randomly.

On this hot day the driver tried to maneuver the big truck down the narrow stretch of 41st Street but the driveway, like so many in this ancient ‘hood, was designed for horse and carriage not motor vehicles. He had to come around the block and with one smooth move and a long bleat of his horn he backed into the other parking lot in one move. I know its a guy thing, but backing up a rig is a right of passage.

I started to think about all the tradespeople I know. Stylists, garages, repair men, movers and so on, doing their work every day in the heat of the summer and the chill of the winter, unsung largely but needed none the less. Its popular now a days to talk about outsourcing or offshoring as if it had just happened, but that’s politics for you. We take the obvious and act like its something new.

Yet the people I see every day, from the guy at the market who is never to busy to give you food ideas, to the postman who smiles even as he tromps through the neighborhood with his pith helmet as the temperature nears 100 are still here. Like the corner store that opens at 6:30. Or 7. Depending on when Ali wakes up. The garage that will always get you in even if they have to say late. The barber shop where a cold beer eases the dullness of waiting for your cut.

The people who day in day out do their thing, largely unsupervised because they’re responsible and adults: no one needs to tell them what to do or how to do it. And we are the better for it. They have not been offshore because they are part of the fabric of our town, and every town needs them.

So as the clock wends past 4 and I debate how much longer I need to work for the day the two men in the moving truck just begin another load, My guess is they’ll be going till 7 or 8 or as long as the light lets them. How good it is to have these people we count on so much doing their job day in and day without celebration. How good it is for my town and yours.

Think global, buy local and raise a toast to the men and women who make our world go around every day.

Soap

Dream big.

Not long ago we were shopping for a few odds and ends. She needed a special soft soap – aroma Nag Champa – made by a small local manufacturer. It wasn’t in the organic section of the big store we were in so we thought we’d pick it up later.

Being the thoughtful guy I am (please remind her) I thought I would pick it up the next morning and save her the trip.

The odyssey begins,

Because I’m headstrong (or foolish) I ultimately visited the six local stores the soap maker’s website said their products were stocked. They weren’t. Knowing they’re kind of a low-key place I also hit up the biggest farmer’s market on the north side. Nada. Bear in mind there were lots of food, services (knife-sharpening any0ne?) and even other soaps, oils and candles there, but none by the maker she likes.

On Monday morning I called the soap people. After a few rings, a muffled voice answered, perhaps just waking up since it was only 11:30 in the morning. He didn’t say the name of the company so, thinking I’d mis-dialed, I asked if it was the place I was trying to reach.

“Yeah,” he said. Under-impressed by his slacker style in this capital of slackerdom I went on to say I couldn’t find his soap at any of the stores listed on his webpage. “Not so and so?” he asked.

Nope. No soap there.

“What about?…” This went on for a few minutes. No. I tried them all. I asked for help. I told people who you were. Nothing. Finally he mentioned one place not listed and I made the long trek to the south side only to find a measly group of their items in dusty packages and bottles but no Nag Champa. My odyssey was officially a fool’s errand.

Now, what has soap got to do with managing? A lot it turns out.

Turns out soap is a lot like any other personal care product: we like what we like. Sometimes its the aroma, the performance, the size, shape, tactile feel, whatever, but we are not most of us given to switching. And in a town where organic animal-test-free craft-made products are really important once you find was you like its hard to switch. I wanted what she wanted because I want her to have what she wants.

Its more than likely the soap makers don’t have any real dreams of expansion or market share or QoverQ growth stories. I get that. They sleep in, say “yeah” when they answer the phone and make soap when they get around to it. They obviously restock their outlets and update their website even less frequently. So I get it. They may be into the soap just as much as they want to be.

As a consumer though I shake my head. You gave me something I like and made it hard to find, so pretty quickly I’ll get over it. Its foolish to keep pining for what we can’t have, and I have better things to do.

The moral of the story for management is this. If you’re going to make soap, french fries or Daimler-Benz, it isn’t good enough to make the best that you can make. To really satisfy customers you’ve got to make it easy for them to get your products. You’ve got to make it easy to do business with you.

Or just learn to sleep in because there won’t be much demand for your soap.