Struggling with a Difficult Choice? The Answer Can Be Fit to a “T”

Making the right work decision can be stressful, even paralyzing. We just don’t want to get it wrong.

“What if I:”

  • End up looking like an idiot or incompetent
  • Lose all the career ground I’ve gained
  • Cost myself or the company money
  • Cause terrible embarrassment or brand damage

Too often we over-focus on the downside of our choices. However,  being overly optimistic about the upside can be a problem too.

“Finally I’ll:”

  • Be the next in line for promotion
  • Get a great bonus or raise
  • Put the company/my work group on the map
  • Have the team I need to lead like a champ

Too much pessimism and too much optimism are the enemy of sound decision-making.

Use your head not your knees!

Knee-jerk decisions can cripple your career. We decide that way when we’re:

  • Overly emotionally about expected outcomes
  • Impatient with the time factors and/or complexity of the choice
  • Confused by things we don’t understand about the options
  • Stressed by the pressures to decide

There’s no getting away from these realities, but you can replace those jerky knees with a calm and disciplined head.

There are lots of different kinds of decisions we have to make around our careers like:

  • Which job offer to accept
  • Who to hire or promote
  • Which policy recommendation to accept
  • What the most important priorities are

Usually, you’ll have a specific window of time when you have to make a decision, so you need a reliable tool to put into practice each time.

The “T” chart to the rescue!

“T” charts (or tables) are simple analytical tools. They rely on you to identify and weigh the right factors in advance of your decision, so you will balance the positives and the negatives.

Let’s say you have two reasonably comparable job offers and decide to use a “T” chart for each job that you’ll review side-by-side to help you make your choice. Here’s how.

  1. On a blank sheet make two large “T” shapes–one for each job you’re looking at.
  2. Across the top of each “T” write Pros and Cons.
  3. To the left of both “T’s” write the criteria that you are looking at for both jobs.

Consider criteria like:

      • Total compensation
      • Characteristics of the work group
      • Leadership and corporate culture
      • Stability of the business
      • Opportunities for growth
      • Authority and autonomy
      • Nature of the work

4. Write the pros and cons for each criteria for each job as you see them on each “T”.

5. Compare both jobs and base your decision rationally the facts you’ve assembled.

You can repeat this process for other kinds of decisions using different criteria in situations like:

Hiring/promotion decisions by considering the candidate’s

      • Skills and knowledge
      • Interpersonal style
      • Leadership qualities
      • Growth potential
      • Experience

Management policy changes:

      • Impact on the bottom line
      • Employee readiness
      • Timing and potential fall out
      • Regulatory/legal implications

The more specific and relevant your criteria, the more likely you will assess your options effectively. The key is not to stack the deck and select criteria that support what you may want to do at an emotional level. You need to keep it real.

Weigh your options.

The cons (the negatives) are often seen as the deal breakers in any analysis. Many of them should be. However, all cons are not created equal.

Once you have looked at your decision-making data, revisit the cons column and see if any negatives can be mitigated. Are there legitimate ways you can make them less of a problem? If, for example, the total compensation for the job you want is less that your other choice, consider whether their job training and opportunities for promotion offer a better chance to advance and make more in the future.

Using a “T” chart to help you make important decisions doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always be right, but it will keep you honest with yourself. It’s just the rationale approach you need for a sound move forward. Choose away!

Photo from paul spud taylor via Flickr

The Art of Making Your Point–Avoid Getting Lost in the Sauce | Smart Communicating

Take a listen. There’s a lot of “noise” out there. Words fly around indiscriminately. We phone, we write, we text, and we post. We’re yak, yak, yakking, almost non-stop.

Communication is a discipline that has potent impacts on our careers. What we say and how we say it is an indicator of our:

  • grasp of business issues and objectives
  • commitments and loyalty to the team
  • ability to see beyond our own self-interest

We may want to think that some things we write or say at work will be taken with a grain of salt, but that would be naive for employees and bosses alike.

What’s the point?

It’s easy to get lost in the onslaught of information, data, and voices that pierce the quiet we need for clear thinking. When we do, we allow ourselves to get distracted from what really matters in our work.

If you want to stand out as a real asset in your career, you’ll get serious about zeroing in on bottom line messages that convert confusion into clarity.

The biggest complaint that leaders have about managers and employees in their organizations is that they don’t have a big picture perspective that drives their performance.

Whether or not you have that perspective shows up in what you communicate and how.

Consider these two scenarios:

1.) As the boss, you regularly communicate to your work group how you continue to track data on group and individual output compared to industry and national norms, assessing how effective the team is in terms of corporate goals and achievement. (Wow, that’s a mouthful!)

The boss gives no clearly stated reason for crunching all these numbers. As a result his/her manager and employees are left to draw conclusions about the boss like s/he:

  • Is a control freak
  • Doesn’t have enough to do
  • Wants the “mystery” around this data to drive employee performance
  • Is using this analysis to avoid leading
  • Has a secret plan for the future

It isn’t unusual for supervisors who are more comfortable with data than people to believe that gathering hard data will give them answers to otherwise “soft” problems. So they allow themselves to get lost in that sauce.

2.) As an employee, you’re asked to explain to your boss or colleagues what took place at a project meeting you attended as the group’s representative. Your explanation is about agenda items, who was there, what certain individuals said, what you said (if anything), and when the next meeting will be.

This kind of summary is essentially a data dump where the details and not the point of the meeting are what’s communicated. The result is perceptions that label you as:

  • Lost in the details and boring
  • Unable or unwilling to identify what mattered
  • Lacking in summarizing skills
  • A weak team representative

If, instead, you are able to separate the wheat from the chaff at that meeting, it is a sign that you do the same when it comes to your work. That’s how you build your communications credibility.

Look past yourself

Too much time spent in the sauce can drown a career. That means, to improve your communications effectiveness, you need to avoid:

  • Getting caught up in the details for detail’s sake
  • Getting lost in the drama of workplace relationships
  • Keeping book on what others have said or done
  • Keeping score on who’s got a leg up on whom

Refocus yourself so you can see how your work makes a difference, no matter how big or small, by:

  • Explaining your work in terms of its impact on the company
  • Offering your ideas as ways to improve things
  • Telling your boss/employees/coworkers about concepts and processes you’ve learned that can help the team
  • Summarizing the input and feedback swirling around and suggest actionable next steps

At work we all need someone who can turn the clutter of words into a clarity of understanding we can act on. So avoid getting lost in the sauce. Instead become the strainer!

Photo from Marken Phreely via Flickr

Leaders: Looking to “Find Your Next” Competitive Edge? | Read Andrea Kates

New ideas intrigue me. So when I was contacted by Andrea Kates to comment on her newly released book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, I was all in. I was taken by how my business fitness metaphor for individual success aligned with Kates’ business genome metaphor for maintaining competitive business advantage. Innovative thinking and questioning, especially during uncertainty, are a must for every leader. 

It’s mistake if you’re thinking: 

  • “I’m not really a ‘business’ leader. I just direct a small work group.”
  • “I’m responsible for internal services, so I don’t have to think about the marketplace.”
  • “In my company, decisions about competitive edge and growth are made by the big execs. I’m not in that loop.” 

Everyone in a leadership role affects the future growth, competitive advantage, and sustainability of his/her company. 

Why? Because every function, no matter how big or small, has an effect on the business’s ability to out-perform and out-innovate the competition. 

If you need to be convinced, Andrea Kate’s book, Find Your Next: Using the Business Genome Approach to Find Your Company’s Next Competitive Edge, provides compelling insights. 

A powerful metaphor 

Scientists reveal the mysteries of our biology through DNA genome mapping. In a similar vein, Kate’s reveals a “genome” map of these six elements of business success. 

  1. Product and service innovation—the invention of offerings that resonate.
  2. Customer impact—a sustainable community of support.
  3. Process design—alignment of the ‘how’ of a business with the evolving ‘what’ that customers need.
  4. Talent and leadership—the culture that will move a business forward.
  5. Secret sauce—the recipe of differentiation and competitive advantage in a new world of unprecedented transparency.
  6. Trendability—the foresight to see the future more quickly and adapt more rapidly to shifts in the landscape. 

With an understanding of these elements in hand, what’s a leader to do? 

The answer is simple: ASK QUESTIONS. Lots of them. Make them challenging, unnerving, disturbing, pointed, wild, and complex. 

Then resist rejecting answers before you really examine, understand, deconstruct, and test them. 

Great leaders learn not to be afraid of innovative thinking, new direction, disruptive change, and paradigm shifts, even though they may be tempted to resist what they don’t immediately understand. 

Find your next … 

Leadership is about defining reality and then laying out a path for success. Every function in every organization is ripe for improvement, change, and innovation in order to keep up with best practices or to forge new ground. It’s the same whether its human resources, financial planning, product design or marketing. 

Kates lays out the struggle every leader faces: 

We are all facing new realities: the mountain of facts is huge, the speed of change is impossible to keep up with, the information that used to keep us ahead of our competition is now instantaneously available, our customers are talking about us to each other more than ever before, business dynamics have turned global, and the expectations for competitive advantage are rising at record speed. 

When it comes to thinking strategically, the model most leaders use is SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Instead, Kates suggests business genomic thinking: 

  1. Sort through the options for your company and assess your hunches.
  2. Match your genome to successful businesses that have already steered themselves in the direction you want to explore.
  3. Hybridize your company by grafting the ideas that work in other companies to your own.
  4. Adapt and thrive by breaking out of old habits and fostering new traditions in your business that will enable you to take advantage of a rapidly-evolving business environment. 

To Kates, the key to competitive edge is looking at how you perform in any aspect of your business compared to businesses much different from yours. Even though apples and oranges are different on the surface, they are both fruit with attributes that are good for you. 

The leader’s coda 

Find Your Next is “based on the idea that the possibilities for what a business leader can do next must come from somewhere other than what they did last,” Kates writes. 

One of the smart moves of business fitness is to implement new ideas. To do that you need to think about what’s really going on in your business, how it addresses the vortex of marketplace change, and then what course of action to take. Kate’s book is filled with approaches, insights, and a wide-range of case studies that will help you find your next.

Stuck? Try Getting Out of Your Own Way! | Overcoming Risk Aversion

Mistakes are a bummer. We don’t like being on the receiving end (like when they don’t’ “hold the onion”) or on the doing end (like when you miss a due date). Some mistakes have greater consequences than others, but we never quite know how great. 

Mistakes lurk, so be heroic.  

Keep working. Get stuff done. Make decisions. Choose options. Make your best guess.

You’ve been given a job to do…so just do it! No one else is.

Business is a machine. It thrives on forward motion created by people doing things that need to be done.

Your life is a business too. So, you need forward motion to find a job, navigate a career, and position your future.

Every time we take action, we leave ourselves open for both mistakes and success. Most of the time, the success odds are in our favor!

Trial and error is a good thing. It’s one way we figure things out! 

So why do we obsess so much about maybe “doing it wrong?” Unless the consequences of a mistake are death or financial ruin, there’s little reason to defer action.

Now, I’m not proposing that we act without thinking, planning, and considering consequences. I am proposing that once we’ve done reasonable thinking, planning and considering, we act. (Haven’t read Seth Godin’s, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? It’s time.) 

When we don’t act, it’s often because we fear:

  • Negative judgments by others (our who and why never explained)  
  • Looking stupid or naïve (the rationale, basis, and likelihood unstated)
  • Disappointing ourselves (the result of a bar we set too high)
  • Becoming trapped (our baseless belief that situations control our future)
  • Personal loss—(the notion that there is some concrete price to pay

These fears will paralyze us if we let them.  

Shackles you choose are still shackles. 

The relentless pursuit of approval and permission coupled with the endless need for more information, discussion, and analysis becomes self-imposed career imprisonment.

Analysis to paralysis is what it’s often called. It happens when you believe you need just one more bit of information, insight, and affirmation before you’re safe enough to act.

Problem: There are unknowns, surprises, and discoveries in every decision.  It’s the “successful people” who come up with winning discoveries and get credit for them, even when it all started from mistakes they made.

The people who end up in the best careers often got there by stumbling through jobs that took them to places they never imagined, both good and bad. They just kept moving along and discovering things while doing quality work.

You can’t become a success when you stand in your own way, waiting for analysis and approval to open doors.

Please, let this be like you. 

Karen was a call center support specialist who knew I needed a call monitoring feedback system fair to our reps. On her own, she found out what other companies did, discussed the law with Legal, and drafted a process for me and my boss to consider, all in short order. A smart, gutsy move for her career.

Herb was a union guy, servicing electric meters. He wanted to move into management but didn’t have the best credentials. He bid on a mobile exhibit job covering a 10,000 square mile area. During the interview, I asked him to write an essay about why he wanted the job. That threw him, but he gave it a go, not knowing where this “no job security” position would take him. In time, he became a respected marketing manager…not bad!

Believe in yourself…because you should! 

Look around. The success you want is within your reach. You just need to be willing to reach for it! The more actions you take, the more ground you gain. Business fitness is about building momentum toward your goals. So pull on your best sneaks and hit the trail!

What fears have held you back along the way? How did you reduce or overcome them? Any advice is a real gift!