Is Amazing Performance Really Amazing? What to Do About Meaningless Words.

Have you noticed how amazing everyone is these day? If not, just listen.

Somehow we’ve become surrounded by all these amazing people who do amazing work with amazing colleagues in amazing places during these amazing times.

Someone may be saying that you’re amazing too.

By definition, to be amazing means one needs to affect others with great wonder, to astonish. That means creating great surprise or marvel (yes, marvel).

That’s a tall order like a Starbuck’s Frappuccino Grande with whipped cream. Amazing or simply as ordered?

Reality or hyperbole?

What we do and how we do it characterizes our performance. Our bosses and coworkers form opinions and express them, sometimes to each other, to you, or on your performance appraisal.

The words they use might be fact-based or baseless assumptions. Sometimes people just say anything to fill in conversational space–no words of value extended.

We’re all prone to exaggerate at times, especially when we’re enthusiastic about something.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for emphasis or effect. You might use it when you:

  • Announce a new hire: “She’s the answer to all our fears about the new app.
  • Give performance feedback: “You carried the whole group on your shoulders this year.
  • Announce a promotion: “Jack out-maneuvers any crisis.”

Hyperbole only has effect when it has context. Saying, “We hired Mary who is amazing and promoted Jack who is also amazing and have you to thank for your amazing performance,” leaves us with no real information about them.

Word power

We need the right words to communicate what we mean because without them we end up adrift. At work we need clear words so we:

  • know what to do and how to do it
  • understand if we’re doing things correctly or not
  • remain motivated to keep growing

Words comes from outside and within, defining us and our world. Words have real, undeniable power.

Sometimes, though, we get ourselves in situations where we:

  • don’t know what to say
  • are caught off guard
  • forgot what we planned to say
  • don’t care about the issue or person

Of late, when people are caught short, they just say: “He or she or it was amazing.” (If you don’t believe me just listen to a talk show, the news, ads, an interview, your friends, or yourself. Consider counting the “amazings” in your day.)

Answers like “amazing” (or “This is crazy or nuts or awesome.”) are equally part of the workplace.

An amazing recovery

Empty words create malnourished communication. In a marketplace where you need to standout to be discovered, you need to speak and write using words that mean something.

When everything is said to be amazing, suddenly nothing is or can be. When everyone is amazing, nothing differentiates one from the other.

To believe that we are continually amazing becomes delusional. Praise words and laudatory phrases are wonderful. They become an issue when the words don’t come with context.

If I’m amazing at work, then in what ways do I astonish:

  • Do I get more accomplished in a day than my coworkers?
  • Do I produce fewer errors?
  • Have I achieved a standard of customer satisfaction performance that exceeds goals?
  • Do I work more calmly under stress than most?

No one performs at the top of their game all the time. So when you’re not creating wonder, you have skills and behaviors to work on. That’s how you grow and continue to raise the bar.

Amazing is rarefied air, breathed briefly under special conditions, so you must keep reaching.

Let’s fix this.

Words are power tools. Communication is enriched by those who use words to convey what they mean, not to fill space with empty sounds.

If you want to distinguish yourself, commit to using language that delivers insights, ideas, perspectives, viewpoints, and feedback clearly. I’ve stricken “amazing” from my vocabulary for now. I don’t want to sound like the echo of our times. Like you, I want to sound like myself.

Out of Work? Hire Yourself.

You think you can’t. I say you can. Don’t over-think it, make it too big, or get in your own way. Just try it. 

Plug the gap. 

Being out of work, creates a glaring gap on your resume. Your work history has come to a (hopefully temporary) dead end. 

This makes job seekers lose sleep at night and I don’t blame them. 

So the question is: “What can you do about it?” 

I say, “Plenty, if you have something of value to offer.” 

Everyone has some level knowledge and skills needed by someone else. You may know how to: 

  • Organize: information, schedules, office space, projects, or events
  • Troubleshoot: software, IT tools, work processes
  • Consult/coach: on performance, problem solving, change, life skills, regulation
  • Create: specialty items, written materials, social media tools, art
  • Present: training, speeches, proposals, videos 

There are clients/customers who need your know-how. It doesn’t matter whether you charge them for your services or not. Each time you serve someone, you are functioning as an entrepreneur. 

It’s time to reveal this work on your resume. 

Hire yourself. 

Self-employment is employment. Working for yourself is about providing services to others. 

When you do that formally, you are functioning as an entrepreneur. 

Working for yourself shows the hiring manager that you: 

  • Take your capabilities and their value seriously
  • Can attract and successfully serve clients/customers
  • Are a self-starter, committed to building your career
  • Have the courage to put yourself out there
  • Are motivated and energetic about taking on new challenges 

“Being” your own business showcases what you’ve been doing since you’ve been out of work. It maintains your employment continuity, so you’re always working up to the present

Your resume will need to name your business and include the outcomes you’ve achieved for your clients—problems solved, installations completed, savings achieved, or negative impacts avoided. That’s what you include in your bullets. 

You may decide to keep your “business” active while you’re working or only between jobs. Either way you’ll want to address that on the resume or in your cover letter. 

Getting started 

Becoming a business entity isn’t complicated, for these purposes. Just: 

  • Create a business name as a sole proprietorship. To keep things simple, consider using all or part of your own name.
  • Get business cards.
  • Write a simple statement about what service(s) you’re offering, so you can tell people when they ask.
  • Decide on a fee-for-service when you need/want to charge
  • Get the word out (social media makes this easy, networking too)
  • Consider a blog that can double as a simple website where you write about what you do and post about what you know (This adds credibility for clients/customers and a credential for a future hiring manager to consider.) 

Find a few clients/customers (non-profits are often a good source) where you can work on a pro bono (free) basis, in exchange for a testimonial that you can use if they’re satisfied. This is also how you’ll get those outcome statements for resume bullets. 

Ask for referrals and see where your efforts take you. Remember, you’re not trying to turn this into an all-consuming business, (although it could grow into something significant). You’re still in the job search. So balance your time. Pick your spots. 

I once worked with a client who’d been out of work for over two years. He was looking for an executive position in sales but couldn’t get a look. So, he set up solo sales training consultancy with himself as the president. He had no paying clients, but that didn’t matter. He suddenly was at the table with the people he needed to meet with. 

Surprise yourself. 

Your career is in your hands. Being out of work is an empty feeling. It can drag you down. Staying in the game is important for your psyche and your resume.   

You don’t need a job to do valued work. You just need an outlet. That you can create for yourself by staying business fit. 

Photo from David Vincent Johnson via Flickr

 

 

 

Want to Get Ahead? Take 5. Learn to Be Quiet.

Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? When we want an opportunity or a raise, we need to ask for it. If we’re being mistreated, we need to speak out. When we see wrong being done, we need call attention to it. 

So how can being quiet help us get ahead? Crack this case and reap the benefits! 

Size up the situation 

The workplace is a din of noise. Everyone’s tuned into to multiple channels at the same time: 

  • Engaging in live conversation
  • Texting and taking cell phone calls
  • Checking email on mobile devices 

We believe that staying “in the know” is essential to success, so we’ve become gourmands of information in a buffet without limits.

When everyone around you is gobbling up and spitting out the details, tidbits, and finds, you’ve now given yourself a career edge. 

Ideas and innovation move careers. S/he, who can put the pieces together to solve problems and create something unique, earns the reward. 

Quiet is your ally. 

You don’t miss things when your mind is quiet, you discover them. 

Quiet is a lot of things, particularly the absence of noise, turmoil, agitation, and trouble. What we need for our careers is internal quiet. 

When everyone else keeps their thinking fragmented, swatting at bits and pieces of disjointed communication, you need to use quiet to intensify your focus.  Zone into your internal strategist and set out to make your mark. 

Putting quiet to work 

Quiet is a powerful tool when you use it effectively, so: 

  1. Listen and ask—We learn from what we hear, so it’s up to us to be quiet and listen to what others have to say. That’s where the insights are. The better you listen and the more you ask, the more you learn. When we’re quiet, others will talk.
  2. Listen to yourself—We spend an amazing amount of time talking to ourselves instead of staying quiet within. It’s better to listen to our inner voice than to think over it. When we quiet our minds, give our subconscious a chance to reveal its insights, it will deliver powerful aha moments. Skeptical? Just try it.
  3. Remove distractions—Learn to be alone with yourself. Distractions get in the way of your internal listening. If you’re scoffing at this, think of the last time you sat alone with no one around and nothing to distract you. If you can’t remember that’s a message to you. If you do remember and the experience was uncomfortable, you need to figure out why.
  4. Stop forcing thoughts—Self-imposed pressure to come up with new ideas and solutions often becomes internal noise that blocks the quiet you need. If you have to come up with an idea, pronto, do something unrelated to your job: go work out, read a novel, take a walk, or take a shower where many good ideas are revealed!
  5. Pick up on vibes—Vibes pierce the quiet. It’s what happens in the spaces between the noise. We get vibes about people, risk, and opportunity. Even when we’re in the thick of things, a quiet mind gathers up those vibes and triggers our next move. When we’re distracted, we miss those vibes or misread them, so it’s in our best interest to stay tuned in. 

Quiet practice 

We’ve been conditioned to run a fast pace. We’ve come to believe that the faster we run the more success we’ll have. Just look at the movers and shakers where you work. Some may have “arrived” by running over people, but most had their wits about them and showcased their focused, clear-headed, and centered way of getting the job done. 

So we need to practice internal quiet. Career success is, in large measure, about differentiating ourselves from others, by standing out through the way we achieve essential outcomes. Not only does learning to harness quiet help you to get ahead, it also helps you the manage stress. Now shush…. 

Photo from jumpinjimmyjava – iKIVA via Flickr

If You Can’t Execute, Job Knowledge Gets You Nowhere.

Knowing is easier than doing. It remains internal until we make it external by showcasing it, putting it into practice, and owning it. 

There are lots of reasons why we don’t immediately put new knowledge and untested skills into practice like: 

  • Not knowing how or when
  • Being afraid to goof up or look stupid
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Laziness or lack of commitment
  • Unwillingness to own the outcome 

Our careers go nowhere unless we deliver results, outcomes, and achievements where we work. Not doing matters, big time! 

Right action v. wrong 

Sadly, there are plenty of employees who side-step action when they can. I’m sure you know coworkers and/or managers who: 

  • Argue that there’s not enough data to make a decision—ever
  • Let problems fester and never intervene
  • Won’t act without approvals from higher-ups
  • Can’t/won’t put skills training into practice
  • Avoid connecting the dots 

The fallout from all this inaction is often, counter-intuitively, dead-end action. Everyone suddenly gets very busy. There are lots of meetings, emails, phone calls, texts, and scurrying about, all hours of the day and night. 

Most of this action is about pushing information around from one person to another, keeping everyone in a loop that likely takes them all nowhere. 

We are branded by the results we produce. It’s what differentiates us when we are candidates for a promotion or for a job with another company. Each career move is driven by what we’ve done so far with what we know.  That means we need to do plenty of the right stuff. 

Knowledge first 

Knowledge is the essential starting point. If it weren’t, then schooling wouldn’t be central to getting hired.

What we learn from trainers, coaches, book authors, bloggers (like me), and talking heads is mostly concepts and methods. The actionable part of what they teach is in their wheelhouse, not ours. 

It’s no easy trick to take new knowledge or skills and, by ourselves, figure out how to use them effectively. We’re usually flying blind. 

So our choices are to: 

  • Take a shot anyway, hoping we won’t make matters worse, or
  •  Crawl back into our cubicle, risking nothing 

Unless there is a compelling reason for us to stick our necks out, we’ll too often choose option two. 

Supported action second 

I’ve been through this as a manager and with clients as a coach/consultant. You can read all the books about how to monetize a blog, attend conferences about becoming a break-through leader, and participate in multiple training programs on effective supervision, but until you execute the concepts and practices, you haven’t created any new outcomes. Your brand remains as it was. 

It’s a rare person who can transfer knowledge into action on their own. It takes a lot of insight into the: 

  • way we work and lead
  • dynamics of our work situation
  • complexities of processes
  • cross-functional implications of decisions
  • work group’s tolerance for change 

We need trusted people who know how to operationalize the knowledge we’ve added to our toolkits to help us. 

The best thing you can do for your career is to seek help from a respected advisor who has a stake in your success. That may be your boss, a mentor, or even an outside coach (someone who has been in your shoes). 

Execute your plan. 

Plans keep you focused on action. Hold yourself accountable for getting results from the knowledge and skills you’re building: 

  • Write down the results that you will achieve for the balance of the year
  • List  the steps you’ll take
  • Name the support person you’ll turn to for advice 

The ultimate measure of your business fitness is your ability to make things happen for your company and yourself. Turn knowing into doing and reap the rewards. 

Photo from thievingjoker via Flickr

Baby-sitting Your Job or Owning It? A Career Differentiator

Jobs are precious these days. Most careers are made up of jobs we’ve loved and others that felt like a long trek across the desert with an empty canteen. 

It’s tempting to grouse when we see our jobs as: 

  • Boring and repetitive
  • Uncreative and confining
  • Unchallenging and limiting 

If we’re not complaining that the work isn’t exciting enough, we’re dissing on the boss who isn’t doing something about it. 

It’s our work. 

It would be wonderful to have a boss with the time, energy, and ability to tailor our jobs to fit what we most want to do. Truth is, no one’s doing that for our bosses either. 

Businesses run on the processes and tasks required to make their products and deliver services. They need us to produce results that create the revenue and profit needed to keep it going and us employed. 

This may not be a very sexy scenario but it’s the way it is. 

We are essential to the success of the business and the business is essential to ours. We’re in this together. 

Baby-sitter or owner? 

Baby-sitting for someone else’s kids is a big responsibility, but it’s not the same as being the parent. A baby-sitter spends a specific amount of time with the children, performs basic care duties, gets paid, and goes home. 

When we approach our jobs as just a string of tasks completed over a set period for which we get paid and then go home, we are a bit like a baby-sitter. Our perceived commitment to the lifetime success of the business would appear minimal at best.

 We differentiate ourselves at work in ways that get us noticed when it’s evident that we truly own our work, whether glamorous or mundane, out front or behind the scenes, challenging or simple.   

So, I’ll repeat: “It’s your job, so own it.” 

When you work your job with zeal like it’s your own business, you demonstrate its value, bring attention to it challenges, showcase your capabilities, win the regard of colleagues, and set a positive example. It gets you noticed. 

Your job—your business 

If you haven’t looked at your job from an entrepreneur’s perspective before, here are several business aspects that you own: 

Products and services: Your output (i.e., data, ideas, reports, transactions) is what you’re selling to your boss, coworkers, and perhaps customers. So the quality of your work product is a measure of your contribution to your main customer—your employer. The better is it, the more value you’re adding.

Customer relationships: Your internal customers (boss, coworkers, peers, other departments) make or break your ability to succeed. They either applaud your work or criticize it, contributing to either a positive or negative brand. You need positive relationships that become your loyal support foundation.

Marketing: Your work reflects on the company and you. Everything you do needs to reinforce the standards, quality, integrity, and principles that underpin the business and your personal brand. A good reputation is currency for your future growth.

Fiscal Responsibility: You have an impact on the company’s bottom line by the way you use resources, apply your time productively, adhere to rules, and protect company property. You don’t need to be spending budgeted dollars directly to affect the bottom line.

Administration: Every business has back office work (reports, filing, records, accounting) that ensures its efficiency and effectiveness. In your job you need to be known as someone who meets deadlines, is accurate, and careful about your paperwork. 

Freeing yourself 

When we own our jobs, we end up freeing ourselves from the idea that we are somehow under the thumb of the company. We recognize that the work we do is in our control, a reflection of our ability to get results though our own energies. 

When we own our jobs, the leadership sees a difference in us, in our ability to understand the business, and our part in it. It showcases our skills and abilities in unique ways. That can be the perfect formula for your next move—up! 

Photo from twodolla via Flickr

Your Generation’s Workplace Brand—Fair or Foul? |Taking Issue

Isn’t it actually stereotyping? A kind of “when you were born” profiling? I’m talking about those labels—Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (aka the Millenials, Generation Next, Net Generation, Echo Boomers).

These labels, initially designating our birth era, have become cultural brands, creating either positive or negative perceptions, depending on who’s watching, especially at work. We even use them to categorize ourselves. 

Stories can spawn truth or myth. 

On her morning talk show this week, NBC’s Hoda Kotb and guest co-host, Willie Geist, an MSNBC TV commentator, swapped stories about interns they’d hired. 

Hoda needed to locate a J. Smith in NJ for a segment, so she said to her intern, “I’ll start calling this half of the names in the phone book and you can take the other half.” 

The intern replied, “Oh, I don’t make cold calls.” 

Geist’s story was similar. When given a weekend assignment, his intern informed him, “I don’t work Saturdays.” 

Both Kotb and Geist called these reactions signs of “narcissism,” reflective of that generation nineteen-year-olds. Fair or foul? 

I suspect that you know plenty of entry level professionals who would have walked through fire for KotB and Geist. But stories like these feed the brands of whole generations. 

The perils of painting with a broad brush 

Why do we find it unacceptable to attach sweeping labels to the styles of our coworkers by ethnicity or race but find it acceptable to use the era in which we’re born? 

We’ve become pidgeon-holed: 

  • Baby Boomer—a person born during the Post-World War II baby boom
  • Generation X—a person born after the Western post-World War II baby boom, from the 1960s to the early 1980s  
  • Generation Y (Millenials, et al)—a person born after the Gen Xers, from about the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.   

(Some people refer to Millenials as their own generational group.) 

These labels have been allowed to represent our work ethic and the ways we interact. For some reason, as managers and employees, we’ve become comfortable categorizing each other and ourselves using these labels. 

Here’s what several career-minded professionals posted on a site I follow: 

  • “Generation X and Baby Boomer managers complain about poor performance.
  • Generation Y whines about a lack of responsibility and/or high demands in the workplace.
  • Millenials pick up important cues because they are native technology users; Boomers sometimes miss those cues because they’re not.” 

People write statements like these and everyone nods. But are they true about everyone in these groups? About you? They sure aren’t true about me. 

Why aren’t we angry about this? 

I’ve been frustrated by these labels for a long time. There’s a danger in them when they’re perceived as truths.

Every time we refer to ourselves as a Boomer, a Gen Xer, or a Millenial, we agree to be defined in the context of others we don’t even know. We accept the stories that went with them, rather than creating stories that showcase ourselves  and what we have to offer.

When we accept those labels, we foster division. Each person, not generation, brings something important to the party. It’s our job to figure out what that is and grow from it. 

Please stay out of the boxes!

Success is about YOU. There’s no value thinking in labels. Instead, find people where you work you who are considered the best contributors, the standout leaders, and the examples to follow. 

Find mentors with varied experiences and knowledge. Don’t just hang around with your own clan. Bridge every generation and engage all the talent you can. Defy the labels. Be your own person. Then see how your career takes off!

Try this: List the people in your company who have distinguished themselves. Find a way to talk to them about something related to your work in the next 30 days. See what happens. You’ll be amazed.