Don’t Confuse Activity with Accomplishment

Stressful workJesus is coming. Look busy.
- bumper sticker from the 1990s

“I’m too busy.”

This is something we’re all fond of saying isn’t it? Most of the time it’s true.

But sometimes it’s not. We’re all pretty good at confusing activity with accomplishment.

Activity is good. It makes us feel useful, wanted, and productive. It gives others the impression that we’re working at full capacity. It’s a rush that allows us to cross certain things off our list AND, justifies when we don’t get around to crossing something off.

Except that what we often avoid when being busy is tackling that task or project that really means something.

I’m doing that right now. I have two curriculum outlines that I’m really not excited about doing. It’s boring. It’s not sexy. It’s more fun to write a blog post. I can bang it out in about 15 minutes, select a photo from Depositphotos, and launch it. I can then post it on LinkedIn and immediately see who reads it and who likes it. I can queue it up using Aweber so it launches out to you on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday morning. Then I cross the whole thing off my list and call it a morning.

But if I think about it, those boring curriculum outlines represent revenue. Good revenue. It’s what I get paid for and pay is good. I’m putting off the important to do the fun.

Shame on me.

But I know I’m not the only one. I’m sure if you’re reading this now, you’re putting off something important. I’m your excuse. So here’s what we’ll do. When I finish this, I’ll tackle those outlines. Then I can reap the reward in a few months. When you’re done reading this, I want you to get back on track and tackle that task.

Activity is rewarding, but accomplishment has the real value. Let’s all work on doing the most important things so that when today ends, we can celebrate a job well done.

Why You Should Be Proactive

Proactive ReactiveWe live in a reactive society. It means that most people go about their normal routines until something interrupts them.   Then they work feverishly to try and adapt and when they fail, blame everyone and everything around them.

That’s what we call the REACTIVE approach.

There is a better way. It involves anticipating what COULD change and developing a contingency plan for it.

That’s what we call the PROACTIVE approach.

Here’s an example. Since I fly nearly 40 weeks out of the year, I am rarely thrown for a loop when it comes to travel problems such as weather delays, flight cancellations, or overbooked flights. I’ve done it enough to know what to avoid and then of course how to deal with issues. Here are my proactive steps:

  • Fly non-stop when possible.
  • Avoid connections through troublesome airports such as Newark, LaGuardia, JFK, DFW, Atlanta, Chicago, or Charlotte. Too many weather delays here.
  • Take morning flights. In the Spring and Summer, weather tends to cause flights to stack up increasing chances of delays.
  • Carry on luggage only. This way if you have to make a flight change, you’re not held hostage by your checked luggage.

These are my PROACTIVE steps. If I do them, I’ve decreased my chances for travel problems.

However nothing is ever fully predictable or certain so here are my REACTIVE steps:

  • Use a travel app like FlightTrack to notify me if a flight has changed or cancelled.
  • Keep the airline’s phone number programmed into my phone.
  • If a flight cancels, immediately get in line for customer service and dial up the airline. You often can get hold of someone faster but you hedge your bets by already being in line.
  • Know your final destination well enough to gauge whether you should fly to a different airport and drive some.

These PROACTIVE and REACTIVE steps work well for me and I know they will for you.

But how can you apply this to the rest of your life?

Just spend some time each day anticipating.

If you have an important business presentation to make, do the proactive steps:

  • Make sure you have it on your laptop, on a thumb drive, and in the Cloud.
  • Embed any video inside your slides with a copy on your desktop.  Don’t depend on Internet connectivity.
  • Be sure you have every possible set of adapters you will need.
  • Keep a hard copy with notes.
  • Be prepared to give your presentation even if the A/V stuff craps out on you. Nothing makes you look more incompetent than if you can’t proceed without your precious PowerPoint®

Your reactive steps of course would be how you would deal with technology glitches.  Keep in mind that NOBODY will say “oh, he didn’t have his slides working.  How disappointing!”

The same rules apply to anything else that’s important.   Plan and anticipate.

Nothing is absolutely certain so rather than leave things to chance, learn to be proactive. Your ability to adapt will set you apart from your competitors and detractors.

How to Deal with Political Changes Professionally

Pile of handsLast week was an historic week in America. The Supreme Court handed down a number of decisions that affected multiple groups of people. Those decisions also have and will create and build on philosophical and social tensions.

That’s the scholarly way of saying “some folks are happy and some are pissed.”

Knowing that there’s no possible way to make everyone happy, it’s better to think about strategies on how to keep and build rapport. If there’s one thing my kids will remember that I’ve taught them, it’s this:

Believe what you want but you better be able to defend it logically.

I know. I’ve heard them quote me to their friends.

But rather than working this week though on how to defend your position, why not work on building rapport in spite of your position? Here are some suggestions:

If your “side” won last week with the Supreme Court decisions, don’t taunt others. A quick way to draw an unsportsmanlike penalty in a football game is to taunt either a player you’ve knocked to the ground or the entire team if you’ve scored a touchdown. It’s just bad form. Savor your victory professionally.

If your “side” won last week, understand that not everyone feels, thinks, or acts the way you do. Don’t make assumptions that everyone else will celebrate with you.

If your “side” lost last week, don’t be a big baby and start running your mouth about how unfair things are in this country or how this country is “going to hell in a handbasket.” Every generation endures changes to the status quo that might make some unhappy. Get over it.

If your “side” lost last week, accept the new normal and do what you can to succeed in it. Every new societal change brings opportunities that you may not have thought of. Rather than complain, look for how it can benefit you.

For both sides, keep your emotions out of your social media. One reason I dumped Facebook years ago was because of the absolute hate and divisiveness I saw in everyone’s political views. If you want to make new enemies, get “unfriended” en mass, or have recruiters get a clear view of what you really think (not wise by the way) then rant on social media.

For both sides, stay true to your values but work to reach out to others. The challenge of living in a “free” country is that everyone’s freedoms or perceptions of freedoms are different. If you don’t like it, consider moving to a country where theocracy is the law of the land. I’m sure you won’t enjoy that sort of freedom.

Relationships are the glue that holds our business, personal, and professional success together. Your job is to be the leader and reach out to build it. Make it your priority this week.

What Do You Value the Most?

true versus false dilemma concept compass  isolated on white bacWe’ve spent some time talking about adding value at work and those activities that both add and remove value. The final question that needs to be asked is:

What do YOU really value?

What we value, we take care of. We protect. We cherish. When something threatens that, we fight. Sometimes these things are personal. Family and faith fall into that category. But there are others that show up even if you’re not looking for them.

I recently spoke to my Great Uncle. Now 90, he has a wealth of business experience from his long career as an entrepreneur, business owner, and real estate developer. He told me that many years ago, in his masonry shop, his workers brought in the union. While it bothered him because he felt he treated his workers well, he also had a plan. Rather than take the union dues out of each employee’s pay, he let them know they would actually have to write the check. After just a few months, the workers voted to kick the union out. You see, they valued their PAY much more than the idea of an third party advocating for them. What they THOUGHT they valued was not nearly as important as what they ACTUALLY valued.

Knowing what you ACTUALLY value helps you make wiser decisions and better choices. It will be the deciding factor when you can go either way in an important career dilemma. It can be your “true North” if you can’t find your way.

There’s no easy formula for finding what you really value. You’re just going to have to think about it. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • What’s most important to me besides just family and faith?
  • What are some of the reasons I’ve changed my mind before making a major decision?
  • If I have the choice between a much higher salary or staying in my current position, what would make me stay in my current position?
  • What do I want to be remembered for at work?

Don’t leave your decisions to chance. Take some time to identify those important values and work to build on them.

How to Deal with a Pain in the A** at Work

Doctor does injection to patient. Isolated 3D imageRecently we discovered that your work performance needs to be high on the value and low on the pain for you to succeed.   I had way more comments on the pain side so this post will address a very important question:

If I’m on the value side, how should I deal with those who violate the three rules of being a pain in the a** at work?

You’ll see examples below, but I can summarize them in this one statement:

Be assertive, not aggressive.

The Non-Team Player. In dealing with the non-team player at the association I worked with, we did the right thing. We made numerous attempts to bring it the attention of our boss. He was a great guy but was uncomfortable with conflict. Our pleas went unanswered. What we should have done was:

  1. Make one last attempt to influence the boss.
  2. Go over our boss’s head to the Executive Committee, one member of which would have heeded our request.
  3. Confront the individual.

We didn’t do anything and suffered because of it.

If you’re not willing to be assertive and push for resolution, nothing will ever change.

The social loafer. The social loafer probably knows he’s getting away with it and won’t stop until he’s called out. In the case of our lazy group-project guy, it took us being very assertive and embarrassing the individual for the behavior to stop. We calculated what we needed to do and it made the point. Problem solved.

If you’re not willing to be assertive and confront the individual, nothing will ever change.

The annoying. This one takes direct intervention. For individuals with poor personal habits that affect you, the first stage is notifying the boss. If that goes unanswered, HR is your next step. If nothing changes, then YOU’RE on the hook. Confront the individual with assertiveness wrapped up in a blanket of respect.

“Hey John, I’m not sure you’re aware of this, but sometimes you come to work with really bad body odor. I’d appreciate it if you’d address this.”

Uncomfortable and awkward? Absolutely. Unfortunately, you might have to be the one to step up and take care of this. Don’t forget to use “I” statements, even if the group is pushing you. Own it.

Years ago while stationed at Naval Hospital Long Beach, our boss, who was a great guy but sometimes a party animal fell off the balcony of his apartment building and hit his head. It knocked out his sense of smell for a few months. One day at the clinic, the female technicians asked me to have a talk with him about his bad body odor. It wasn’t easy, but my boss thanked me. He told me he had his neighbor come by every few days to make sure he didn’t leave a pack of hamburger meat out as he couldn’t smell anything. Awkward to be sure, but my boss thought more of me after I got the courage up to help him out.

The same rules apply to other annoyances. Be assertive…with respect.

If you’re not willing to be assertive, the annoying behaviors will never change.

So that’s it. Three ways to deal with those pains in the a** at work, and maybe even at home. This week, think about how you can script out your assertiveness interventions. Until you do, nothing’s going to ever change.

How to Be a Pain in the A** at Work

Doctor does injection to patient. Isolated 3D imageWe’ve been looking at the analogy of the balance to demonstrate how to add value at work. Last week we looked at some ways to add value. Your goal is to add value and not do the things that either balance out your value or take away from it.

This week we’ll look at three ways to completely negate any possible value you add. Be sure not to do any of these.

Be a Non-Team Player. Several years ago I worked at a trade association where all of us were part of a really good team. We worked well together and even our president would stay late and stuff binders in preparation for our Annual Conference. Then we added a new member to the team. He carried an ego that dwarfed any I’d ever seen. His pet project, the association magazine took up all his attention and pulled from ours. He was particularly frustrating to our graphics person, insisting he be Photoshopped taller and at better angles in the many photos of himself that graced the magazine. At first it was shocking, then annoying, then infuriating. Mercifully, he eventually moved on but in some ways I felt the damage was done.   I never again felt that same connection to the team.

If you’re not going to be a team player, prepare to face the consequences.

Be a social loafer. If you’ve ever faked it while pulling on a tug-o-war team, you know that you can feel the rope pull through your loosened fingers even though you’re putting in no effort. Years ago while in our graduate program, the cohort I belonged to had a classmate who was the worst one to have on a group project. We would meet on weekends to work on presentations but he was a no-show. Finally, in one of our most difficult group projects, we told him the night of the presentation that he would be standing up to deliver for us. We handed him a huge stack of transparencies (pre-PowerPoint® days) and sat back watching his sweat trying to sort them out. When it was our group’s turn to present, I stood up to deliver for the group but mouthed to him “don’t ever do this to us again.” He was relieved, and was a better team member from that day on.

If you’re going to be a social loafer, prepare to face the consequences.

Commit to being annoying. This comes in many shapes and forms. It’s an individual who is the social butterfly when others need to concentrate. It’s the person who has poor personal habits like bad B.O. or rancid breath. It might be someone who leaves a mess in the lounge, continually microwaves fishy fish, or talks loudly on their personal phone. I worked in a hospital once in the HR department. On our bi-monthly new employee orientation we would have coffee for our new employees. The physicians had a bad habit of walking in to steal our coffee. One of them tried to sneak in and when I caught him, he knocked over the urn of coffee spilling it all over the table and the floor. He looked at me and walked out. I guess his little-girl surgeon hands were too important to be wasted wiping up the mess. In a perfect world the Medical Director would counsel him but such was not the case. In my world, he should have been fired, or at least flogged.

If you’re going to be annoying, prepare to face SOME consequences.

So that’s it. Three ways to tip the balance away from your favor. Ask those around you to tell you if you embody any of these three behaviors and if so, change them. I want you to be successful and I hope you want the same for yourself.

How to Add Value at Work

Well-doneWe just examined the idea that we all have some impact on our balance at work. Equilibrium isn’t ideal as it means we are equal parts valuable and intolerable. The perfect situation is a balance heavy on the value side. It’s not hard to identify what works, it’s just challenging to always do it. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Work like you own the place. Owners treat a company different than employees would. They have a lot more risk. Their decisions have greater impact so they make them carefully, but with profit in mind. Take this mindset and you’re adding value to the balance.
  1. Be a problem-solver, not a problem creator. Problems will always plague organizations. You can be victimized by them or work hard to solve them. Take this mindset and you’re adding value to the balance.
  1. Get along with everyone. Remember that personality can impact talent. Some organizations will tolerate it but yours shouldn’t. Don’t make it easy for them to fire you. Do your best to get along with everyone. Take this mindset and you’re adding value to the balance.

Valuable people get opportunities, better pay, and favorable recognition. Even if you do get stuck on the wrong end of a layoff, your track record will make it easier to get hired for the next position.

Honestly, it’s not that hard to add value. If you work EXTRA hard you add EXTRA value. That’s your ticket to success. I hope you want that for yourself.

 

 

Where Do You Hang in the Balance?

Waage2“He’s a real problem in the workplace,” says the HR Director. “Conflict, bad attitude, and a non-team player.”

“Why is he still working here?” I ask incredulously.

“Well he’s a genius at performing XYZ so we have no choice but to keep him. Can you recommend some training he could go to?”

Believe it or not, this scenario is more common than you think. An individual who is a complete train wreck but is kept because of their perceived value in one or more technical skills. I’ve seen physicians who sexually harass O.R. staff and are kept around because they’re brilliant surgeons. I’ve seen individuals who have hard-to-find skill that need to be fired but are retained because they are a rare talent. The organizations that fall into this trap are too afraid to address the problem and are, in a sense, held hostage by problem-children.

If you run one of those organizations, consider this your warning that you’re heading down a dangerous road. If you’re one of these individuals, rest assured one day you’re going to fall on your sword. But if you want to be someone who adds TOTAL value, then stay tuned.

Think of your performance like one of those old time balance scales. On one side, let’s put all of your positive contributions. These can be your skills, your experience, your work ethic, and your ability to get along with others. On the other side are all the things that might counterbalance. These are your quirks, bad behaviors, personality issues, and hot buttons that affect others. Your job is to keep the first half of the scales HEAVILY tipped toward the good side. If the scales balance evenly, you’re in danger of rapidly losing values. If it’s tipped heavy on the bad side, you’re either in danger of losing your job or you’re so annoying that even if you stay, you’ll forever be ostracized.

In the next few days, I’ll outline behaviors that stack up both sides of the balance. Do one set and avoid the others. I’d like you to have success at work. I hope you do too!

How to Get the Skill and Focus for Your Dream Career

Business Concept. Professional Development Sign.By now, if you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you know we’re working to rebuild your career into a dream career.

Years ago, I taught a monthly career transition class to retiring senior military officers. Most of them were excited about the transition, but others, for whom the military was not just a job, but a lifestyle for more than 20 years, agonized over the transition. As I did my introductory activity, asking each of the 30+ attendees what they wanted to do when they retired, a pattern routinely emerged:

  • I really want to work in the school system as an administrator, but I’ll probably end up in a GS (federal) position.
  • I’m looking for a COO position in corporate America, but I’ll probably end up in a BD (business development i.e. sales position) for a contractor.
  • I’d love to start my own business, but I’ll probably end up as an analyst someplace.

The idea of “ending up” disturbed me. It’s a fate many folks endure and it’s not right. If you want to do more than “end up” then get busy learning the skills and focus for your dream career.

First of course, identify the career. We talked about that already. Click HERE and HERE for a review.

Secondly, obtain the skills. Skills remember are things that can be taught and certify that you know what you’re doing. Here are some places to get skills:

  • Local colleges
  • OJT
  • Books
  • Audio courses
  • Video courses
  • Seminars and workshops
  • YouTube videos and tutorials
  • Shadowing someone
  • Formal networking relationships and Mastermind groups

Finally, obtain the focus. Focus factors are the nuances that ensure you have the right behaviors to be successful. For more information, check out my site that focuses (bad pun I know) on focus factors. How to you build focus?

  • Get a coach
  • Get a mentor
  • Informational interviews
  • Networking relationships

“Ending up” is easy. You’ve probably done it already. If you have, let’s break the cycle and get you to where you need to be. If you haven’t done it, take my advice and don’t! Time flies and you don’t want to get to the point where you don’t have the energy or drive to make it happen.

This week, finish identifying that dream career and start building your skill and focus. I’ve done it already and it’s one the best decisions I’ve made. I want the same for you.

How to Research a Career Path

Career puzzleOver the past week or so, we’ve explored the nuances and challenges of figuring out how to have a successful career. By now you know you can’t just “wing” it and expect to find the right job or career for yourself.

We’ve also learned that figuring out your best career fit means some introspection too. Hopefully you’ve signed up for my report 14 Days to Total Career Fulfillment.

Once you’ve figured out what you are all about and what career or job you’d like to have, you need to do some research. Let the following questions guide you.

  1. Does the career or job I want even exist? If the answer is yes, then move on. If it’s no, then consider the idea that you’ll have to create it either by demonstrating value to an employer and offering to scratch out the particular job you want to have, or by starting this as a business.   Now you can move to question #2.
  2. Is the career or job I want relevant? If you have a passion or an idea for a job or career that’s in demand, good! If not, then reconsider. Way back when I graduated high school, I enrolled in a 6 month course teaching me how to do dental laboratory technology. I had the choice of either focusing on dentures or crown and bridge. Denture technology seemed to be more fun and more akin to my personal passion of building models and dioramas so I chose it. Sadly, denture techs were and are not in demand as much as people are generally taking better care of teeth now.
  3. Does the career or job I want pay what I need to make? Remember that every job has a maximum value. If what you want to do doesn’t tip the salary scale in your favor, you may have to consider that this would be part-time for you or a job when you hit retirement age. No employer or client pays for your passion, they pay for the results they get.

If everything still points to you making this move, then the last thing to do is network and talk to people. Find those who are doing what you want to do, or something close to it and ask them what they like and dislike about it. Listen carefully to both. Something that person dislikes might be exactly what you like. Conversely, something they really enjoy might turn you off to the career.

If staying in your current situation is not an option, consider a radical change. Be sure to follow the steps above so you do it right. Everyone deserves the right to be happy in a vocation. Take some steps this week to make your move.