Managing Yourself

Are you on track?

In the past several weeks I’ve encountered a number of situations with various clients that left me shaking my head a little. In each instance people who should have been higher performing – people who actually had the skill and had previously demonstrated it – had fallen off the rails and were headed for mediocrity.

And make no mistake, if you’re not moving up in performance, you’re moving down.

What happened?

While every case is different (which is what keeps us from writing the 101 Things You Need to Know About HR) there was in fact a chord or theme that ran through each instance. And while not fatal, this theme can be career-limiting if not attended to. What is it? You need to manage yourself.

The main notes of this chord?

  • Productivity – Familiarity breeds contempt. Showing up at the same office everyday with the same routines can over time cause us to relax just a little too much. We learn office politics, we understand the business and it becomes somewhat easier to make excuses or rationalization about personal productivity over time. Don’t. The reason most (not all) contractors are so productive is that they’re new and focused on proving their worth. You were once like that too. Do not let familiarity cause you to step back, use self-guidance to step up.
  • Socialization – The bane of every workplace public and private. Many of us work long hours, have long commutes and in general limit our social outings. This may lead us to confuse our workmates with our friends: they are not. While you’ll make friends in your career you’ll stay in touch with the majority of your coworkers aren’t there for that; don’t abuse the access to people by bringing in stories and habits of home that are better left there. Its a workplace: be friendly, but not friends. Nothing destroys credibility faster than being seen as a social butterfly and a non-worker.
  • Prioritization – Stay focused. It happens to all of us: priorities multiply, projects grow and deadlines loom. We get  busy. We work longer and longer often ending up doing less and less. Deming was right: focus on the critical few to make a difference ignoring the trivial many. There are a few key things that have to be conquered in your role – technical skill, customer relationships, key account management – figure out what these essential things are and manage them. Focus on them. Deliver on them. Keep your priorities straight and your energy concentrated.
  • Personalization – The last straw. You’ve been at Company X for a while. You know the staff, have access to your boss and one day you realize its all about me. Uh, its not. Everyone can be replaced. Building a second living room in your cube is a sure sign you’ve become too comfy. Coming in at ever more variable hours in ever more questionable attire another indicator you’ve become bigger than the job – ‘this is just me man!’ Uh, no. Work is about collaboration and communication. Those are C words like community. You are not bigger than the community nor immune from its censure. Play your part – do not let your ego tell you you can’t be replaced. You can.

The key to all these points of course is good self-awareness: do you really understand how you are showing up and impacting others? Tomorrow we’ll talk about these factors.

In the meantime, its best to recall that you are in essence just borrowing a job much like a neighbor’s tool: take good care of it while you have it and do your best with it.

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