“Success is a journey, not a destination.” — Ben Sweetland
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by John Hanson on Success 2.0 in the new workplace. John is passionate about developing people and helping them succeed. His super skill is translating concepts into real world practice. He’s been creating success with individuals for 16 years at SAFECO Insurance, and 10 years at Microsoft. What I like about John is the fact that he’s full of stories … the good, the bad, and the ugly. He’s been helping Microsoft’s high performance employees make the most of what they’ve got for years, so he knows what works and what doesn’t, as well as how to tune and tailor insights and actions to help people unleash their best in any situation. What I also like is the fact that John gets to see what goes on behind the scenes and he knows how things work. It’s all too easy to walk around with one set of expectations and then get surprised. John helps share how the rules work so you get surprise less and can quickly make sense of what’s going on. If you can see it, you can change it. Without further ado, here’s John on Success 2.0 …
The last few years have brought us a new workplace, with new uncertainties, new risks, and new ways of working. But have you changed? Are you aware that the workplace is more competitive than it has ever been? Do you have that nagging feeling that your job could be on the line? Are the new people coming into your organization younger, willing to work way more hours than you are, and making much less in pay? Have you re-considered how you have learned to exist in the workplace, dropped habits that don’t help you, and moved on to new ways of working? …
Top 10 Lessons for Success in the New Workplace
Here are some things to consider:
- Lesson #1. Email is not work.
- Lesson #2. You are in this on your own. Unless you get help.
- Lesson #3. Comfort is the enemy of success.
- Lesson #4. Know what your business needs.
- Lesson #5. Know the performance management game.
- Lesson #6. Get feedback.
- Lesson #7. Your manager is the master of your destiny.
- Lesson #8. Social Networking sites should be used cautiously.
- Lesson #9. Know yourself.
- Lesson #10. Focus on getting results.
Lesson #1. Email is not work.
No software development team ever shipped an email. No account manager ever sold an email to an enterprise customer. Email is something you sometimes have to do in order to get work done, but it isn’t, by itself, work. I see people focused on email all day, every day. Not just at the office, but at home, at the grocery store, at the Christmas program. And yet I don’t see people in the grocery line writing code, assembling an electronic device, or inventing a new vaccine. Any productivity methodology that focuses exclusively on email is really missing the point. Oh, and by the way, a lot of your younger colleagues think of email as next year’s snail mail. Useful for a limited number of things, but generally an anachronism.
Lesson #2. You are in this on your own. Unless you get help.
You own your future. You own your career. You own the network you build (or don’t build). If you are fortunate enough to have a manager or someone else that focuses on your development, that’s great: take advantage of that help. If you don’t, you must create it for yourself, so that you can get what you need in order to grow and develop. So grow your network. And if you haven’t already, go get a mentor. You know you should, so just go do it. Be specific about what you need, be diligent in your hunt for the right person, and then maximize the time you spend with that person. While you are responsible to yourself, you are not alone, unless you want to be.
Part two here is that despite the fact that the workplace is more competitive, it’s also a greater job requirement that you be more collaborative. This requires the regular maintenance of relationships, behaving with transparency and integrity, and generally working to make the project successful rather than aggrandizing yourself. Yes, sometimes you will get trumped by an old-school type person who pulls the rabbit out of a hat right before review time. But this type of “trick” is getting much more scrutiny than ever before, and it’s harder and harder to do. Go with what works.
Lesson #3. Comfort is the enemy of success.
When you grow comfortable in a role, on a team, or in a job, it feels really good. You are often going to be the acknowledged “go to” person on the team for certain things. This is deadly to your growth. You need to move on, take on something scary, so that you can continue to grow and develop. That means you have to figure out how to let go, how to delegate, how to share, the things you worked so hard to get right. Managers like having people on their staff that are very comfortably competent. They are predictable, they get things done, and they make the manager successful. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, unless you are choosing that situation for yourself. You should always be working on something that makes you a little uncomfortable and stretches you somewhat.
Lesson #4. Know what your business needs.
In the software development business, shipping on time is king. In sales, it’s closing deals and hitting your numbers. In supply chain, it’s “efficiency on time.” Everything you do should be in support of your team’s primary business objective. It’s all about focus. This is why you do skip level meetings…to get more clarity on the business needs of your group, and to better understand the problems that are driving your more senior leadership. Solve those problems, and you become immensely valuable to them.
Lesson #5. Know the performance management game.
Sit down with your manager and ask them for the specific timing and processes of how performance management REALLY works. If you are expecting to do fine work through the year and then get rewarded for it, you are probably naïve. Ask your manager for specific historical examples of work from people in your role who were exceptional. And always keep in mind how people matter when it comes to getting promoted, identified as a high potential, or simply getting above average rewards. Your manager can block you for below average performance. Your manager can also block you accidently because they have no clue what you are doing, or how well you are doing it. Your skip level manager is the one who will likely make the decision on who gets what rewards. But they make that decision only partly on their own observation. Mostly they are relying on the comments of the “aunts and uncles” (your manager’s peers), because they don’t have to say anything nice about you (your manager does, because it makes the performance conversation much easier). When the aunts and uncles speak up for you, it’s because they honestly see you as performing at a higher level, and their personal integrity requires them to speak up about it. So know you know who you need to include in your network, why you need to collaborate across groups, and how it is that some people do well, and others do not.
Lesson #6. Get feedback.
“You are doing great,” isn’t feedback. Those are comfort words. It’s designed to shut you up, so you get back to work. It usually means you are doing ok…no major problems to solve. It can also mean your manager isn’t paying any attention to anything but the bottom line, and has no idea what’s going on. Find that individual on your team that you may not see eye to eye with, who will tell you where you are slipping up, and where you are having a tough time. Now take action on it. If there is a set of interactions that don’t go so well, as your manager for direct feedback on how you might have handled it differently. It is so much better to ask, in these situations, than to have your manager sit you down and have to drive that conversation.
Lesson #7. Your manager is the master of your destiny.
This means two things: first, never stay with a manager who isn’t going to do well by you. Life is too short to waste a year on someone who can’t help you. I have seen people stay in a poor situation way longer than they should, because of other loyalties, only to get hurt in the long run. You are entitled to a manger. You are not entitled to a great manager. If you see your manager straying from the primary business needs…that’s bad. Their survival isn’t guaranteed. If you have a primary values conflict with your manager (e.g. you are totally about the customer, they are totally about innovation), that’s bad. Everything you prioritize as important is going to seem out of whack to them.
Secondly, you need to consistently feed your manager information about your performance that allows them to reward you. This information must be timely, it must be detailed, (in writing is good) and it must demonstrate that you are all about whatever your manager and your business values. Failure to do this will result in your immediate career frustration. Remember that idea in your new employee orientation that you should have regular one on ones, document what was discussed, and send it back to your manager for confirmation and comments? This is hugely valuable.
Lesson #8. Social Networking sites should be used cautiously.
I’m not going to discuss the usual dangers of social networking sites (if someone has to tell you not to leak company secrets in your blog, you will find some way to self-destruct regardless of the advice you are given). I will tell you that many/most managers see sites like Facebook as a total waste of time, and a potential threat to your ability to hit your goals. Being aware of what you do, and how it effects other people’s impression of you is really critical. Don’t throw it away.
Lesson #9. Know yourself.
While admitting every failure or challenge to your manager isn’t the most politic thing to do, you HAVE to admit them to yourself. If you don’t know your strengths, your weaknesses, your passions, your irritations, your hates, you will stumble through your career. Know what you do under stress. Know what makes you lazy. Know everything you need to know so that you can be intentional…so you can make clear headed decisions about what you are going to do.
Lesson #10. Focus on getting results.
I’m a training and development guy, and have been for 26 years. I have seen and been through every productivity training philosophy out there. They all have something helpful in them. Some of them really resonate with a small group of people, and help make those people highly productive.
But none of them, in my experience, help such a broad group of people consistently get results the way J.D.’s Agile Results method does. J.D.’s method is flexible, simple, and gets the job done…you can go in as deeply as you’d like and benefit. But most of all, it is sustainable. None of the other methods that I’ve seen are sustainable. I’m very familiar with one approach that people liked to attend every year, not because they needed the learning it offered, but because it was a day focused on clearing out your inbox.
You have to make your productivity system your own. Mix and match elements and ideas of the different things you see in a way that works for you…but by all means, pay conscious attention to how you get things done, so that you can consistently perform at a high level, and with a minimum amount of stress in your life. This is the new workplace…and it requires you to work differently to be successful.