Don’t Let the Big Picture Stop You

Recently, on two separate occasions and for two different reasons, I was asked to thoroughly explain how the tasks different people were being asked to do were connected to a bigger picture or master plan. On many occasions this makes total sense, but I believe in these two situations the people were using this as a way to escape from doing the work.

Sometimes you just have to start the task or project and get work done. Finding new and more creative ways to try and stop yourself from getting work done (like making it seem you’re trying to be strategic) is only hurting your progress.

In certain cases, you have to do one of the following:

  1. Remember that the person asking for the work understands the higher purpose
  2. Recall the discussion about the higher purpose at the beginning of the journey, or key it in to the organization’s mission
  3. Call bulls&^t on yourself and discover if it’s a hiding tactic

Climbing the tree and ensuring you know you’re headed in the right direction is important, but being on the ground and chopping through the woods efficiently and effectively is also important.

Know which role you play on the team and when you just want a break from chopping, that’s when the real magic happens if you can push through.

Developing Great Teams With Small Investments

Recently I was at a meeting where they brought in various teams from around our Company to showcase the work that they were performing.

Unexpectedly, I recognized someone who I hadn’t worked with or seen in 13 years running one of the booths. We immediately hugged hello and fell back into an old level of comfort with each other, laughing while talking about past stories, catching up on what we’re doing currently and what’s happened over the last few years.

After processing that encounter, I found myself wondering why I seemed to have a better and more authentic connection with a person I hadn’t seen in 13 years and only worked with for a shorter time compared to many others I have worked with either longer periods of time or more recently.

Many pieces play into group dynamics and connections, but looking at the traditional factors didn’t seem to uncover the answer. There had to be more. I really wanted to be able to find the answer so I could try and use that to continue to build great relationships with the teams I work on and people I work with.

That’s when I realized the difference between the strong bonds that had been formed more than 13 years ago versus some of the more tenuous bonds today.

When we were working together years ago, there were many more offsite and not-directly-work-related interactions. Our teams and colleagues spent more time doing things out of the office together and we had more support for little things like team lunches and offsite dinners.

Great relationships build great teams and great teams accomplish great things easier.

Since that’s the case, why do budget cuts first target the very things, like off sites and team meals, that can help build great teams?

So, the next time you hear about a startup or some smaller company hosting happy hours or buying everyone lunch realize that it’s not only a nice perk, it’s a strategic investment in accomplishing great things.

The next time someone asks you for budget for what may seem like fun vs. work related activities, realize it will pay off much more in terms of the work.

The Benefits of Serving Others

As I write this I’m sitting on the famous Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil about to go watch the World Cup 2014 match of Spain v. Chile at the fan fest down the street. In a few days I’ll attend the Russia v. Belgium World Cup Match in Maracana Stadium in Rio. My trip here, my hotel on Copacabana beach and all the World Cup games were completely free for me. The only reason I am here is that 22 years ago I decided to join the Community Service Corps in my high school and it has impacted every part of my life ever since.

Doing things for others is what has given me everything I believe is great in my life.

Doing community service is the way I met my wife, is how I paid for my college, taught me almost everything I know about working with people, showed me elements of the world I would have never of seen, taught me countless life and day to day lessons, helped me appreciate what I have, and way too many other things to name.

The lessons I learned helping others through community service are the lessons I use every day at work and at home. It’s even helped me learn how to organize a great party. Here’s a few more things it helped with:

  • The skills I learned building homes for Habitat for Humanity help me fix things around my house, and recognize how lucky I am to even have a house.
  • The tactics it took to teach a group of kindergartners on a Navajo reservation are things I use to keep my kids engaged.
  • The organizing principles of fundraising and organizing I learned organizing Dorney Park trips in high school are what helped me start a non-profit group.
  • Starting a non-profit group has helped me learn what it takes to run a small company, and how to engineer programs that have sustainable impact not reliant on one person or funding source.

Marketing, finance, leadership, quality, human resources, creativity, innovation, sales, and just about every other “business skill” I’ve wanted to develop in life have been presented as an opportunity from the different community service programs I’ve been involved in.

Most importantly, throughout all my experiences I’ve learned to be incredibly grateful for what I have, to care for others, and realize that the world is a lot bigger than what I might see everyday.

Given all this, I wonder why it’s not more popular. Why do more kids sign up for little league vs. girl or boy scouts? Why do more parents prefer their kids to be on the school’s sports team vs. the school’s community service group? Why do professional sports players make more than non-profit CEO’s?

And yes, I didn’t play many sports throughout my school years and do believe there are good qualities to being on those teams, but in comparing it to what I know about sports in terms of developing young people, I would say that community service is much more impactful. Yes, sports teaches many valuable lessons, but usually the opportunity to be involved with organized sports wanes after high school or college years. You can continue serve others forever.

Also, many people get involved with sports in the hopes that they, or their kids, will get some type of scholarship or end up on a professional sports team. Well, there’s only so many members of professional sports teams so your chances are pretty slim. However, there’s no limit to the number of people who could be doing something to change the world, so you have a great chance of being able to do that.

I’m even thankful for how I was introduced to the idea of helping others. My mom volunteered for the Red Cross and would help families get back on their feet. When I was just a little kid, I remember my mom getting calls at night when a home would catch fire or some other reason a family needed help. I distinctly remember her trying to collect clothes (by taking some out of her closet) for some people who just lost all of theirs. I didn’t necessarily ‘do’ anything related to Community Service for a number of years after that, but having that type of role model is what led me to do the things that have built the rest of my life.

How will you be a role model for helping others? Where will it take you, and where will it take the person you influence?

As for now, I’m off to the beach to watch the game–which I happened to win during a contest at work that celebrated people who did caring acts for others. Sure, the material type things that you can get out of doing acts of service are nice – like the random contest win – but the things it’s changed in me are worth a million times more.

Get involved. Go Serve.

The Power of Small Comments

People often ask me how I was able to make the first switch within my Company from one group to another.  I had been in the IT group for about eight years at that point and then switched over into our Consumer Products Marketing group. Up until that time, going from IT to the Marketing group was not common and there might have only been one other person to do it before me, even though many talked about it.

While I’m sure my amazing abilities and born greatness for marketing had everything to do with it (sarcasm), one of the main factors was actually much simpler.

Shortly after starting to be the IT relationship leader for the Marketing group that I would eventually join, I went to an after-work happy hour event with the Marketing team.  While I was there, one of the senior leaders in the Marketing group and I started talking. I mentioned to him that “I had always wanted to try a position in the Marketing group.”

A year later, that same person called me up, reminded me of our conversation at the bar, and asked if I wanted a Marketing role within his team.

Because of that, I always try to remember the power of small comments:

  • never underestimate the power of a random / inconsequential conversation.
  • always seize an out of office conversation opportunity.
  • realize that the comments I make may have power, even if not immediately.
  • understand that people do remember what you say.
  • remember to communicate and tell people things that I want to happen.

So what can you tell someone about today?

Are You Living What You Expect In An Interview?

What questions did you ask the last candidate you tried to hire? What expectations did you have about what they would bring to the table and the types of leadership and results you expected to see? What were the things that made you want to choose the person you actually hired?

Now ask yourself, are you performing at the level that you expect or hope for in your job candidates? Are you expecting something from a new hire that you aren’t even doing yourself?

No, I don’t mean the actual tasks that are being performed by that new person, because it doesn’t mean that you should just take on more tasks. Didn’t you focus on more than just task execution in your interview?

Maybe it’s time to interview yourself.

Business Boot Camps

There are plenty of programs for students  to learn more about career choices and industries in their field (think internships and co-ops).  Why do businesses stop doing that for experienced people?

What if you could build a bootcamp / externship-type program for your business where you bring in talent from other industries to work in your space for a while?  What if you could even do this between the different groups within your company?

Do you think skills you have from working in one industry could be useful in another? There’s an easy way to find out once you find a company with this type of program embedded in the organization.

How else could you benefit from the knowledge someone else has in another field?

Instant Meeting Feedback

Have you ever ran a half day, all day or multi-day meeting and wanted to get better live feedback about how it was going? Would you like to receive real time feedback about your performance, without disrupting whatever was happening?  What are some ways you could receive this type of instant feedback, and make it as simple and non-disruptive as possible?

What if…?

What if you handed everyone a red, yellow and green card at the start of the meeting and asked that at any point in time a participant would put one of the cards on the table to indicate their feelings.  What if everyone vote at every break?  What if it’s an app that people can click their feedback and it gets aggregated to a continuous monitor on your screen?

Incredibly simple ideas, but the start of what could be very powerful and even more elegant ideas to immediately improve your process and outcomes.

The main idea is that you should start to ask for more instant feedback.

 

Failure Awards

Very similar to Beg Forgiveness Cards

How about creating an awards program in your group specifically to highlight failure.

Celebrating success is great, but celebrating failure could just lead to better success.

What else do you need to celebrate in your group to help entice more of that behavior?

 

Beg Forgiveness Cards

Getting your team to believe that failure is an option or that taking prudent risks are OK is sometimes hard.  Most people in a work environment are trained to believe that things need to work out correctly all the time.

If you’re trying to get your team to live into the phrase “beg forgiveness rather than ask permission” maybe you can help accelerate their adoption of this with “Beg Forgiveness Cards.”

Think of little business cards that simply say “I took a risk and it didn’t work out. I am begging for forgiveness.”

Give out 2 or 3 to your team per year as a way to signal that they have a free pass to try something they think is risky, even if it does fail.  Maybe even include a line on the back like “and the thing I learned was ______.”

This shows that even when someone messes something up they can learn from it as well. After some time, you can display the collected cards for everyone to see what was learned and increase the overall risk tolerance of your group.

What other types of cards could people use at your office?  What could this little piece of “permission” unlock in your organization?

 

Accelerate Your Career Growth by Understanding How Promotions Happen

When you start to analyze how and why people get promoted in any large organization you can see that interesting patterns have developed.  The important part in understanding those patterns is making sure that you are using them as you develop your career plans. I imagine every organization is different to some degree, but there must be some universal truths as well.

Can you accelerate your next promotion or opportunity within the same company?

Note: I’m not commenting on the topic of how to do it by moving out and around other companies.

Here are some thought starters on the topic:

  • Which matters more–your skills and track record or the actual role? Look around, are some positions geared towards faster advancement opportunities just because of the role itself and not even the skills or work you might be able to do within that role?  Yes!  Sure, it does even out over time, but if you can get it to work in your advantage earlier it could be a good bet.
  • Do certain groups seem to be have a better track record for advancement?  If no one from the group your in has been promoted within in the last few years, how much harder would it be to work out for you? Go where it’s more normal.
  • Can who you work with help or hurt your advancement?  Not just the team, but what business partners are you working with and do those groups generally aid in your career development in some way?  For instance, supporting or collaborating with other groups that are fast-growing and expanding probably give your position a better chance of advancing vs. collaborating/supporting a group that is historically stagnant or declining.
  • Are the skills you’re learning in that particular role going to help or exponentially accelerate your growth to the next level?  Finding a role that helps is not nearly as transformational as a role that will accelerate exponentially. Of course, the latter type roles could also bring about a bigger risk as well. One good example: my company (this is public info) recently had a mid-level job posting for a person to work directly on a deep and daily basis with one of our new Executive Members that has an amazing track record of success. I’ve never seen a role like that and the things the person would be exposed to and get to interact with, not to mention the networking aspects, would be almost even a level above exponential acceleration.  Seek those types of roles. (For those of you wondering if I follow my own advice – I didn’t even try because of the 60% travel requirement and I was a new father at the time. Sometimes life decisions easily outweigh career decisions.)
  • What can you create to completely change the career growth trajectory curve?  Who says you absolutely have to follow the traditional trajectory through each level of your company’s hierarchy? What can you create or do that is so amazing that it helps you radically jump through the organization?

I’m not saying you should use promotions merely as a way to guide your career planning.  In fact, I’ve taken some interesting steps back or sideways in my career to learn different skills that have proved to be absolutely more valuable in the long run.  What I am saying is that you should understand the different ways advancement happens if you hope to continue growing through your career.