Invested in Your Job or Just Doing It? 7 Acts of Ownership | Embracing Crises

crisis 7836782464_fd003c0198_mSome days our jobs feel mundane. The work has become repetitive, our colleagues predictable, and our roles unchanging. Our don’t-rock-the-boat boss gives us less and less room to be creative or engaged beyond our daily tasks.

When this happens, it’s tempting to just put your nose to the grindstone, follow the job description to the letter, and lower your career expectations.

Deep down, you know this strategy isn’t good for you.

It’s your job, so work it.

Remember how important it was to get your job and the effort it took? Whether your job is one of a kind or one of many, it’s a specific area of the business that’s in your care. The way you perform matters.

If your job weren’t important, the company wouldn’t be willing to pay you for it. While your job description states the duties, you, personally, bring your standards, commitment, and honor to the work.

Recently, some terrible tragedies have been in the news. In the U.S., there was a devastating hurricane and an unfathomable mass shooting of elementary school children and their educators.

No first responder or school teacher has a job description that includes duties to perform when threats to human life fall upon him/her in enormous and unanticipated scale.

Most of us don’t have to face life and death situations in our jobs. But there are situations that we won’t/can’t tolerate–circumstances that call us to action.

It might be:

  • Bullying, bias, or discrimination of coworkers
  • Business decisions based on faulty or incomplete information
  • Product defects, known or suspected
  • Unsafe equipment or procedures
  • A sudden calamity in your work area, a stricken coworker, or destructive weather

When we’re faced with such situations, we discover how invested we are in our jobs based on the actions we take.

7 intervening actions

Owning our jobs in a crisis is not about being a hero or heroine. It’s about responding in ways that align our strengths and capabilities with  needs.

The teacher who steps in front of a gunman to protect her students and the first responder who wades through waist-deep water to save a life follow an inner drive compatible with the calling that drew them to their jobs.

We have a calling too. You may know today how far you would go to intervene in a crisis while others of us may not know until we’re in that crisis moment.

Here are 7 actions to consider. One or more may be what you’d be prepared to do:

  1. Step forward–Take charge; lead others; put fear aside and do what you believe is right
  2. Buy time–Deflect incoming negatives; implement stop-gap measures; negotiate options
  3. Steady the ship–Follow established procedures/protocols; create stability through regimen; reduce panic by reliance on routine
  4. Provide comfort–Keep a cool head; settle others using calm counsel; meet the emotional and physical needs of others; rally optimism
  5. Gather forces–Foster collaboration; collect and share input needed for decision-making; engage others able to help; create community
  6. Test solutions–Pilot test potential remedies; get feedback; fine-tune the fixes; build on successes; capture lessons learned
  7. Communicate relentlessly–Develop and deliver credible messages; keep everyone in the loop; listen and address questions/concerns; reduce the stress of not knowing

I’ve always felt like I owned the responsibilities stated or unstated in my jobs. If I saw a workplace injustice, I spoke up and then tried to do something about it. When people were upset about major workplace changes, I offered perspectives that would help ease the worry.

We all have some kind of help to offer in a crisis.

Embrace the moment

All crises are not created equal. No matter how big or small, when things go wrong, those affected are off-balance, fearful, uncertain, and even confused. That’s probably you too. But you have a chance to embrace the situation in your own way, using your skills and instincts to help fix things.

Please take a moment to think about your job and your investment it. What do you think you’d do in a crisis? I suspect it will be something very good.

Photo from mycos2012 via Flickr

Making the Right Connections? Take a Fresh Look at the Pieces.

Too often we think we’ll find success if we just meet the right people. Sometimes that’s so.

"Hot Dog" limited edition serigraph by John Gaydos

But we can waste a lot of time cozying up to influencers, just to discover that they aren’t interested in doing anything for us.

Our success comes from demonstrating that we know how to connect the dots and get results!

Put the pieces together

We make “right” connections when we come up with ideas that:

  • solve a problem or settle an issue
  • develop a profitable product or service
  • build or improve an essential relationship

They are a function of you, using your insights and initiative, to put the pieces together, in ways that showcase your:

  • Understanding of  business needs
  • Ability to collaborate and/or partner with individuals or groups
  • Problem-solving capabilities and risk-taking tolerances
  • Willingness to take the lead and own outcomes
  • Ability to communicate in ways that attract support and sponsorship

The pieces only fit correctly if you understand what’s needed to make them connect. Think of a jigsaw puzzle and how, if you force pieces together that aren’t a match, you’ll end up with a distorted picture. The same is true at our jobs.

Think of the coworkers where you work who are the go-to people whenever things are out of whack. They’re successful because they take the time to identify the:

  • underlying problem, not just the surface symptoms
  • solution that will get things up and running without causing other problems later
  • strategy for a long-term resolution that minimizes cost and disruption
  • players who need to participate as collaborators and/or partners

Our career value is determined by how willing and effective we are at solving problems by connecting needs and solutions. That recognition can vault our success.

Hot doggin’ it

Last fall, our local, non-profit arts council held its annual fundraiser–an “affordable art for everyone” auction. The executive director in collaboration with one of the board members came up with idea.

They put the pieces together, creating the right connections, collaborations, and partnerships, by:

  • Attracting artists to submit work for a 50-50 sales split, over 200 pieces
  • Securing an “historic” local hot dog eatery as a sponsor and building the event’s theme around it
  • Commissioning a well-known, local painter to create an original piece called “Hot Dog” (which sold for $1,300; needless to say, most other pieces were significantly less!)
  • Attracting a strong bidder turnout and press attention

After the auction, the owners of the hot dog business suggested making a limited edition print of the original painting. Here was a chance to initiate more “right connections.”

Again the executive director and board member put new pieces together by:

  • Securing a fine art printer to create a limited edition serigraph at an affordable price
  • Making arrangements with the artist to partner on the effort
  • Identifying an art business that would mat and frame the piece for an attractive price
  • Engaging other board members and social media followers to promote and/or purchase the print

Making the right connections bonds you with everyone you engage. That’s how you build your own brand, attract followers, and expand your leverage. Each initiative builds on itself in expansive ways.

Finding intersection

Success is not linear. It’s a function of our choices and our ability to know which way to turn when we face an intersection.

The “hot dog” auction and print experience connected a non-profit organization with individual artists trying to make a go of it. It brought about the involvement of a food business, a print maker, and a frame shop along with art fanciers and a gallery owner.

The old image of the path to career success was a ladder. The idea of climbing steps in a row doesn’t work much anymore. It’s all about connecting and arranging opportunities in creative ways to get the job done. Hot dog!

Help Giver or Help Seeker? Let Gratitude Fuel the Ride

I’ve always been at odds with the adage: “Good guys (and gals) always finish last.” It implies that being a team player, going the extra mile, or helping coworkers is a negative career strategy.

Often we’re warned that if we’re too generous with our time and talents at work, we’ll get taken advantage of. Well, maybe, but it’s worth the risk.

Most of us lend a hand because we:

  • Can’t help ourselves; it’s how we’re wired, raised, or compelled
  • Can put our knowledge and skills to good use
  • Care about the person or group in need
  • Enjoy collaborating, teamwork, and a new challenge

Our initial desire to help doesn’t usually consider the downside. We step up because it feels good.

The double-edged sword

Helping goes two ways: we give it one day and need it the next. We may go for long periods without needing help, but we’re pretty sure our time will come.

I’m as guilty as the next for resisting offers of help for reasons like:

  • I don’t want to be a bother
  • My need isn’t that important
  • I think I can take care of it myself (when I really can’t)
  • I’ll wait for something “really big” down the road

So I refrain from asking when I should, even when others are offering help.

At the same time, I’m eager to help someone else. I love nothing more than frantic phone calls from friends and clients who have some new craziness at work to figure out. This gives me a chance to provide help as a gift, my act of gratitude for their confidence and friendship.

Counted on or counted out

To help and be helped bind us. At work we need each other to:

  • Get the work done
  • Avoid being blindsided
  • Build our knowledge and skills
  • Create and innovate

We need coworkers we can count on and they need us too.

The other day I was thinking about the “helpers-in-waiting” in my life. These are the professionals I can call anytime with a question or a problem–special people who know who I am and care sincerely about helping me like my attorney, my accountant, my computer specialist, my personal physician, and my large and small animal veterinarians.

These aren’t people I talk to every day or month or year, but when I need them, I really do and  pronto. They don’t have to drop everything when I call, but most of the time they do. That raises my gratitude level and they know it.

A help-seeker’s gratitude expands when the help giver:

  • Acknowledges the need and responds quickly
  • Does a thorough job done and gives sound advice
  • Is fair and trustworthy
  • Communicates information and answers questions clearly
  • Takes a warm, pleasant approach and even shows a sense of humor

The help-giver’s gratitude comes from the help seeker’s:

In a business environment, no one is obligated to provide selfless help just because someone is paying for services. I know plenty of highly paid individuals who don’t provide help that generates gratitude. In too many cases, their help creates resentment.

Be kind, be helpful

In my view, the good guys and gals finish first. They attract a community of like-minded people who help because they want to, promoting a spirit of gratitude that is contagious.

Each day we need to reach out to others while expressing thanks to those helping us, in even the smallest ways. Recognize helpfulness in an email, a voice mail, a word in passing, a greeting card, an invitation to lunch, a “how are you doing” inquiry, or an offer of support. Gratitude costs nothing and makes a big difference.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and other post posts here. Believe me, I am enormously grateful for your interest, your comments, and your support.

Photo from smiles 7 via Flickr

Leader Alert: Beware the Downside of Being the Big Cheese

One day you’re following direction and the next you’re giving it. Promotions to leadership positions are watershed moments.                    

If we’re not careful about how we wear our new leadership mantles, we’ll find ourselves isolated. 

The chilling effects of deference 

Employees try to figure you out as soon as you become the big cheese. 

New leaders, even when they’re colleagues we’ve known for years, are inevitably suspect. 

Most employees will likely play it safe until they understand how you will conduct yourself and deal with them in your new-found power position.    

The result is deference—submission to your requests and courteous yielding to your direction. 

Here’s how deference reveals itself: Your employees 

  • Wait for you to talk first
  • Ask, “What do you want?” questions
  • Tend to wait and see how you’re leaning before weighing in
  • Routinely check in with you before acting
  • Shut down the informal information pipeline to you
  • Are extra careful about what they say, holding back on input and feedback 

The consequences of deference may be elusive at first, but, in time, you’ll feel their sting when you realize you’re: 

  • Out of the loop with your employees because no one lets you in on the scuttlebutt
  • Unaware of the disruptions your decisions and direction have caused
  • Disconnected from the needs of your own employees
  • No longer considered a member of the team, even though you’re its leader
  • In this alone, that you’re employees have positioned you to hold the bag

Check yourself 

Deference will isolate you. That means you need to understand what you’re doing, consciously or subconsciously, to attract it. Then you need to undo it. 

Remember: You now have position power. Employees understand that you are expected by the business to act in its best interests which can, at times, be in conflict with theirs. 

Great leaders need to earn the trust and confidence of their employees through: 

  • Humility and openness
  • Consistently balanced and fair decision-making
  • Timely actions and ability to minimize obstacles
  • Respectful treatment of employees 

You can’t undo crippling deference until you understand what’s contributing to it. The major factor is fear: Your employees know that you can

  • Make or break their career progress
  • Impact their work assignments
  • Hurt them with your assessment of their performance; impact their salaries
  • Influence their stress levels, self-confidence, and self-esteem
  • Direct them to adopt work processes that are ineffective 

Smart employees are careful about how they treat their leaders because a lot is at stake. 

Break the pattern

Smart leaders recognize the signs of deference and take action. They: 

  • Ask employees for their ideas and concerns at meetings and privately, waiting for their answers, acknowledging and rewarding the value of counterpoint
  • Demonstrate trust by doing what they say they’re going to do
  • Communicate openly and regularly on all topics
  • Roll up their sleeves and engage with employees where they work, inquiring about their issues, needs, and frustrations
  • Involve employees in problem-solving by delegating responsibility and authority
  • Ask for ideas from employees before offering their own 

Slice the cheese 

Leadership is a balancing act. We need to understand that “good” power is about influence not about control or self-aggrandizement. Misuse of leadership power takes on a life of its own and deference can feed it negatively. 

Our job as leaders is to make sure that we keep everyone in the game. It’s essential to lead effectively so others want to follow, but not in silence. We need them to voicing their ideas and feedback without fear.

Every team needs a leader and every leader needs a team. When we give a little slice of influence to each player, we increase our collective chances of winning. 

Photo from The Wu’s Photo Land via Flickr

How Performance Reviews Brand the Reviewer

It’s a draw. All the arguments about performance reviews are correct. The process can be fair or unfair, useful or a sham, legitimate or bogus.

It all comes down to us—the reviewers.  

Do you care? 

For many supervisors, it’s about the paper, not the process. We whine about writing comments, deciding on ratings, and holding those dreaded employee review meetings.

We forget that performance reviews are about feedback. The process is supposed to be a way to help employees do their best.

Samuel A. Culbert, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles raises serious points about performance reviews in his NY Times article, “Why Your Boss Is Wrong About You:”

“In my years studying such reviews, I’ve learned that they are subjective evaluations that measure how ‘comfortable’ a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results. They are an intimidating tool that makes employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations.”

He adds: “Think about it. Performance reviews are held up as objective assessments by the boss, with the assumption that the boss has all the answers.” And, of course, s/he doesn’t.

It takes two….

We often forget that job performance is a partnership. Supervisors and employees need to work together so that right effort generates desired results.

This only happens when the supervisor is clear about what each employee needs to do to achieve stated goals. There needs to be a conversation about this—a face-to-face dialogue so employees understand what they need to do to help the cause.

That means supervisors need to be evaluated on how well their employees perform. Why? Because the supervisor is supposed to provide direction, support, and encouragement so that their employees can succeed.

Culbert proposes “the performance preview” where “both boss and subordinate are held responsible for setting goals and achieving results.” This way, he adds, “…bosses…learn that it’s in their interest to listen to their subordinates….”

Too many supervisors don’t (or can’t) write measurable/observable goals, engage with employees, or collaborate with their teams. That makes the supervisor culpable when employee performance falls short.

Face yourself.

If you asked your employees, what kind of performance reviewer you are, would they say, you:

  • Just go through the motions
  • Are biased
  • Don’t really know what they do
  • Have no basis for evaluating them
  • Are objective and goals-focused
  • Care about their success
  • See your own performance reflected in them

Their answers brand you.

Horror and hurrah stories 

You don’t have to be in the workforce too long to experience the upside and downside of performance review. Here are examples of mine:

Horror: As a high school teacher, my supervisor was expected to observe me in the classroom at least annually. One year he chose a day when I was giving a full-period test. He sat in the back of the room, watched me pass out the test, give instructions, monitor the students, and collect their papers. My rating—Outstanding (My reaction—disgust)

Hurrah: As a corporate manager, I worked for a VP who knew the drill. Annually, he laid out his department goals, requiring each manager to do the same for his/her work group. I met with the VP to discuss and finalize my goals.

At quarterly status reviews, we’d discuss which goals were in good shape and which ones were at risk, framing recovery strategies that made the best use of remaining time and resources.

Each year there were never any surprises during my formal performance review.

(I  was expected to (and did) follow the same process with the employees who reported to me.)

Earn a positive employee rating. 

There’s no hiding the truth from your employees. They decide about the kind of person and supervisor you are by the way you review them, more than the rating itself. A strong team starts with a supervisor who’s part of it. Let that be you.

Photo from Robert Higgins via Flickr

Are Internal Customers Frustrating You? Change Hats

Everyone at work wants something from us. Meeting their expectations takes our time and talent so they get what they want. 

That’s what we’re paid for, right? Maybe yes, and maybe no. 

It’s all in the name of service. 

Lots of us are in service jobs like human resources, IT, finance, legal, marketing, communications, and admin. 

We’re expected to use our specialized expertise to remove clutter and obstacles for department managers and coworkers—our internal customers.

Managers, especially, want us to pull a rabbit out of a hat even though we aren’t magicians. They aren’t happy when the trick fails. 

We can sense when we’re out on a limb with our internal customers every time we find ourselves: 

  • Apologizing for something
  • Being second-guessed
  • Putting up with diva behavior
  • Being unacknowledged or overlooked 

It’s baffling to know that we’re providing requested information and deliverables but things aren’t progressing.  

Time to hit the reset button 

I led a management training group once where each employee was responsible for working with designated department managers on their annual training plans. 

It didn’t take long to figure out that certain internal clients were “playing” them by resisting the planning process or trying to off-load it. The remedy was for each of us to take off our “I’m here to serve” mantle and put on an internal consultant hat. 

The fix was in the pages of Peter Block’s classic book, Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used.  

Block woke us up with his line, “You are consulting any time you are trying to improve or change a situation but have no direct control over the implementation.”  Wow, that was us! 

All service providers (consultants, advisors, guides, subject matter experts) need to build a collaborative relationship with internal customers, so each is equally invested in what needs to get done. 

Block explains that there are two role traps we fall into that must be avoided: 

1. The Expert Role 

Our egos love it when a manager says, “I need to find better software for this process. You’re a software expert, so I’d like you to find me a better product.” 

This request gets us all pumped up until we find the software, show it to him/her, and then hear, “No, that’s not what I told you I needed.” 

2. The Pair of Hands Role 

We love to feel we’re the best one to complete a task when an internal customer says, “I don’t have time to analyze the data for the annual report, so please complete it for me by Friday.” 

We sideline our other work, dig into this assignment, and submit the analysis on time only to hear, “This isn’t the way I wanted the data presented.” 

In both cases, we’ve been had. The internal customer set us up for a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote on our work. In the old days, we would’ve ended up as lunch for lions. 

Get on equal footing

Everything turned around as soon as my group adopted Block’s winning approach

The Collaborative Role 

No matter what his/her rank, everyone we support with a service needs to commit to shared involvement. It’s about partnering. 

Whether it’s finding new software or analyzing data, there are mutual obligations that need to be established up front between us and the internal customer. 

We need to start the conversation this way: 

“Let’s clarify how we’ll work together on the software exploration. Who will do what? What’s our process? How will we arrive at a collaborative decision and measure our success?” 

Block writes that when we adopt a collaborative role, we “don’t solve problems for the manager.” We apply our “special skills to help managers solve problems.” It’s key that “the manager must be actively involved…and, finally, sharing responsibility for success or failure.” (After all, the internal customer owns the situation, right?)

Hold your ground 

Service jobs position us to partner with internal customers throughout our companies. The more collaborations we form, the richer our relationships and the more likely they will lead to other opportunities. Learning to be an effective internal consultant has an enormous upside. How about giving it a try?

No Taste for Team Building? Try A Dish of the Black Eyed Peas!

I always dreaded it—team building training, like the one where you fill out a profile and learn whether you’re a lion or a fox. 

Then you stand around the room with the other “animals” like you and talk about how to work together better. I guess that meant without eating each other for lunch. 

I’ve also been to outdoor courses where everyone collaborates to solve a physical problem, like getting the team to stand together on a wooden box without falling. That was awful for my friend, Joe, a super respectful guy who inadvertently grabbed my breast when I started to fall. He blushed so hard I was afraid he’d pass out. 

Not only did I attend these programs but I also arranged them over the ten years I was the company’s training manager. Sadly, I never saw any sustained team building come about. 

The work builds the team. 

Last week NBC’s Today Show had a “Today Goes Viral” series, designed to drive social media sharing of video clips. The Today Show anchors invited noted YouTube video creators to work their magic with them. 

For the series finale, the Today Show cast and crew came together on their own to film a music video to “I’ve Got a Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas. The video had to be shot in one continuous take, mirroring what had been done by students at the University of Quebec. 

This was a never-done-before undertaking for the Today Show’s150 coworkers. Because the goal was to film it in one uniterrupted take, everybody had to perform their part correctly or they’d have to start over. 

As you will see in the link, staff members wore black t-shirts showing their job titles, had  specific song parts to lip sync, and could “perform” in a way that showcased their personalities.

They were all in it together. As you can see, a lot of great things happened to build their team, allowing each person to make an indelible contribution to something unique. 

Teams thrive when the goal is clear. 

This video experience speaks volumes about team building: 

  • There are no small parts—everyone impacts the end product.
  • Working together generates energy and produces the best result.
  • Self-expression and uniqueness make the outcome richer—so wear that boa, bring your funny hat, ride your unicycle, and turn that backflip.
  • Age excludes no one—the Boomers, Millenials, Gen’s X and Y make it happen together.
  • Trusting in each other to deliver on cue tightens the bond.
  • Celebrating the collective result and recognizing each individual’s contribution create a lasting marker. 

When the music in the video is over, everyone is gathered in Rockefeller Plaza singing a cappella but with a twist. Instead of the Black Eye Peas’ lyric, “Tonight’s gonna be a good night,” the group sang, “Today’s gonna be a good day.” If anything can build a team, that line surely summarizes it.

Take a fresh look 

If your team is flat, resistant, or non-collaborative, try looking at the work rather than the personalities. Most of us do work that can become pretty mundane. But there are things that can bring everyone together. 

Ask yourself, “What excites my staff?” Is it the chance to visit customer sites in small teams? Working together on a new marketing, product, or program idea? Arranging an event to recognize internal customers, a company milestone, or completion of a special project? 

Maybe creating a team commitment to building their collective “business fitness” would be interesting. Coworkers could identify areas they want to grow in, come up with creative ways to get there, and then help each other. Let it become a kind of group employee development commitment,  a “The Biggest Winner” program.  Whatever the strategy, try to build your team around the work that binds people together and enjoy the energy it creates.  Today is gonna be  good day!

What team building experiences have you had? Anything you want to recommend? Thanks.