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.

Get What It Means to “Add Value”? Find Your Niche and Showcase It.

If you want to:value added 7656908818_75fecde8da_m

  • get that new job, then explain how you’ll add value
  • move up, then demonstrate how you’ll add value
  • get a better raise, then quantify how you’ve added value
  • keep your job, then showcase how you continue to add value

Sounds easy enough, right? Unless, of course, you don’t know what it means to add value where you work or how. Sadly, that’s a lot of employees.

You are money.                                                                                                

The concept of “value added” was first a business and economics term used in discussions around sale price, production cost, and profit formulas. Eventually it got defined as:

…extra feature(s) of an item of interest (product, service, person etc.) that go beyond the standard expectations and provide something ‘more’ while adding little or nothing to its cost. Value-added features give competitive edges to companies….

That’s where you, the employee, come in–adding value through talents and abilities unique to you. It’s how you demonstrate that what you do contributes to the success and profitability of the company.

Employees are a cost, often a big one, to a company. That means we need to produce work that contributes to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, we often don’t know or have a hard time seeing our connection with the company’s big picture. Our world is often just the task list and performance goals in front of us.

It doesn’t matter how far up or down you are on the company’s organization chart, you have to figure out and demonstrate what you do to add value. If you don’t, someone else may decided that you don’t add enough. The consequences follow.

It’s likely that you already add lots of value and either don’t see it or could add more.

Find your niche.

If you’re saying to yourself:

  • “I don’t do anything special at work. I just do my job.”
  • “I don’t have any unique talents or skills to offer.”

Please stop yourself. It’s time to adopt a new, more positive and generous self-view.

The value you add doesn’t have to  appear in lights. Small contributions can have significant impacts on the company, your work group, and your boss.

Finding your niche means looking at the skills and abilities you take pride in and then maximizing opportunities to brand yourself by them.

Your niche may be something like being known for:

  • Coming up with ways to make routine tasks more efficient
  • Boiling down a complicated issue into its key points
  • Writing meeting minutes that keep decisions in focus
  • Getting people at odds to talk with each other to resolve differences
  • Injecting a light comment or bit of humor to cut tension
  • Meeting deadlines, especially the tight ones
  • Catching errors, written and computational, by being detail-oriented
  • Defusing irate customers and preserving relationships
  • Reading between the lines to uncover the real issues
  • Anticipating the needs of others and preparing to meet them

It’s important to take the time to put together a 3-step value-added action plan:

  1. Write a clear statement that describe your niche (This can be a challenge when what you do comes automatically, so really commit to doing this.)
  2. Identify the real business value that results, creating a clear, strong context
  3. Take advantage of all opportunities to put your value-added behavior to work

On the surface you may not think that what you do has business value, but it does. Think about all the time and money saved each time work is done without interruption, colleagues work together without strain, and customers remain loyal. Consider what it means when work is accurate, quality high, and communication clear.

That’s what makes organizations successful. It’s what helps your career.

Don’t  be shy.

Your value added emerges from your knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors on the job. You want your employer to look at you and feel gratified that you work there. When you add value, employers don’t want to see you go and wish what you do would rub off on others.

Your value needs to be seen routinely to be appreciated. So please don’t be shy about showcasing it.

Photo from memories-in-motion via Flickr

Want to Be Taken Seriously? Make Your Mark with Care.| Personal Branding Realities

The world is watching. You may like that and invite lots of eyes. You may hate it and try to minimize your exposure. Or you may be Marking Your Mark B 5503188585_563f776818_msomewhere in the middle.

Our careers depend on the perceptions of others: bosses, coworkers, and customers. By observing us, they determine whether or not we’re:

  • competent and trustworthy
  • cooperative and approachable
  • committed and reliable

The way we come across impacts whether or not we get:

  •  hired or promoted
  • positive ratings and good raises
  • heard and reinforced
  • chosen for plush assignments

Because your personal brand identity is a priceless asset, you need to manage it with care.

Your brand tattoo

Everything we say and do that others hear and see builds our personal brand. It’s how we manufacture public perceptions.

Social media is the ink that makes your image visible and lasting, creating waves of exposure for endless audiences.

Whether we do it consciously or not, every word and picture that we post online is our effort to present the image we want others to accept. It’s how we turn ourselves into a product that we promote.

If you want to be taken seriously in your career, you need a serious brand image. When your social brand conflicts with your professional one, you may end up with a lot of explaining to do.

Social media is a strategic branding platform. The evolution of your personal brand on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other sites becomes part of your indelible history.

You may end up having to rebrand yourself (which can be a difficult, time-consuming, and possibly unsuccessful task)  when your brand gets tarnished by:

  • those beach and bar Facebook pictures that depict an appetite for partying
  • harsh tweets that disparage political, business, and entertainment figures
  • endless inane and trivial Twitter posts
  • self-absorbed blog ramblings that lack substance

The way you present yourself online (either consciously or unconsciously) represents your brand management strategy–the way you want to be regarded by:

  • friends and family
  • the community and marketplace
  • professional associates and employers

It’s  incumbent on you to take steps to ensure that the image you put out there is one that you are comfortable exposing to everyone.

Remember: Your life is your business. Everything you put “out there” defines you, validates you, and positions you as either someone who adds value or doesn’t.

Keep in mind too that everything you see and read from someone else is their effort to build their own personal brand. Are you buying what they’re selling?

Your brand image is a major contributing factor to getting a job and keeping it.

Serious business

Strategic use of social media gives you a career leg up by helping you  build positive perceptions among those who can help you achieve success.

Posting information, adding thoughtful comments, and blogging enable you to showcase your knowledge, insights, passions, and communication skills.

There is often real, reportable payback like:

  • Visibility that differentiates you from other candidates for a job opening or promotion
  • Credibility validation helpful to consultants, therapists, and advisers
  • Connections with other thought leaders that can lead to professional collaborations
  • Invitations by businesses, other bloggers, and book publicists to partner with them

The key to success in any field is validation for what you know and do–and how you go about it.

If you don’t take yourself seriously and if you don’t exercise care with your personal brand image,  then the likelihood of your finding and sustaining a satisfying career is in jeopardy. It’s all in your hands.

Make your mark

Social media self-discipline and self-control are your friends. When you use them to stay focused on the career that you want and resist trying to one-up or entertain your “friends,” you will give your personal brand identity the boost it needs to sustain you through a fulfilling career. I’m pulling for you!

Photo from imatvi via Flickr

Pulling Your Weight? A Pro Always Knows.

Look around. Who do you and your coworkers depend on at work to always get things done right? Is that you?  Shouldn’t  it be?

It doesn’t matter whether we’re the boss, an individual contributor, or the owner. We each have real work to do that counts.

Sometimes that work involves solving problems using our heads and then mobilizing others to implement it. Other times it’s about rolling up our sleeves and putting muscle into a task that makes us sweat, literally or figuratively.

The way we work, not just our results, brands us.

Tap the pro in you.

Each of us brings our own set of personal work standards to our jobs. Our attitudes about work drive the way we perform, whether or not someone’s watching.

Our work ethic is cultivated throughout our lives and is tested in every new job and by every new boss.

We all know coworkers and supervisors who are:

  • slackers,  doing the minimum to keep their jobs
  • side-steppers, dodging work they don’t like
  • manipulators, taking credit for the work of others

We also know real professionals whose personal performance standards never waiver. There are the:

  • grinders who won’t abandon a job until it is completed to their satisfaction
  • risk-takers who are the first to step forward to tackle a difficult problem
  • innovators who are determined to always find a better way to get the work done

The pros “are” the work they produce. It becomes a reflection of who they are. Achieving to their own standard trumps recognition from anyone else. It’s personal.

Sometimes we get lost  in the drama, vagaries, and gear-shifting typical in offices. We need to cut through the clutter and distractions, so we can get our work done like the pros we are.

Revere the heavy lifting.

The “players” generally just participate in the game while the pros own it.

Every employee and supervisor needs to know what is expected of them. Then they need to commit to meeting or exceeding those expectations.

Recently, I contracted with ProFence to replace 1,270 feet of old four-board fence at my farm. A crew of four men between the ages of 22 and 34 did the job in three days.

This task required:

  • loading and hauling nearly a mile of fence boards and poles
  • transporting and operating heavy equipment
  • removing the old fence and taking it away
  • positioning and setting the poles
  • measuring, leveling, and nailing the  boards
  • hanging 10 gates

Setting poles

Each man was a trained professional in commercial trucking, heavy equipment operation, and/or fence construction. They worked as a team, clearly understanding their individual and often shifting role assignments, as well as standards of quality operation.

Setting boards

They  were:

  • crossed-trained in their jobs and work methods
  • focused on execution and problem solving
  • effective communicators with each other and me, always taking time to answer my questions patiently and with eye contact
  • committed to safety and respect for my property
  • good-humored, even in the scorching heat

The crew worked with its own unique rhythm perfectly aligned to the demands of the work. It was beautiful to watch them work and see the artistry behind the product they were creating.

Every man pulled his own weight, lightening the load for everyone else.

Pulling your weight

It doesn’t matter whether the jobs we have require us to work in the elements or at a desk. Work is work and our willingness to do what we know is our best job comes only from within.

Everyone knows when we aren’t pulling our weight and they often know why. We may   unable or unwilling, frustrated or afraid, resentful or discouraged.

That’s why it’s important to do what it takes to be a pro. Remember, it’s your job. While you have it, you own it, so treat it like a prized possession and give it your all. By fortifying your work ethic and capabilities, your job satisfaction and career will expand.

A job well done!

Thanks to Vern, Lester (the foreman), Josh, Gene, and Keith at ProFence for their fine example of what a pro knows and does.

Taking Vacation? Its Career Value Is In Your Sound Bite

Nothing is more glorious than time off. When we get hired, our burning question after salary is usually about vacation days. 

That said, it’s been written that Americans often don’t take all their vacation time. In some cases it’s because we: 

  • Don’t want to fall behind
  • Worry that things will go wrong in our absence
  • Are reluctant to delegate
  • Lack confidence in our job security
  • Haven’t developed motivating interests outside of work 

Truth is: We need to take time off. Most of us are exhausted. We need downtime to build ourselves up. 

Vacations as differentiators 

Too often we fail to see how vacations enhance our personal brands at work. If we’re smart, we can use time off to build our image while refreshing ourselves. 

There are all kinds of vacations: 

  • Fun family trips that tighten our bonds with people we love
  • Stay-cations to catch up on domestic chores or launch new projects
  • Tours to historical, cultural, and scenic places here and abroad
  • Adventures to explore new places and challenge ourselves
  • Learning experiences—academic immersion programs, reading vacations, and skill building (gourmet cooking, painting, writing)
  • Hobby pursuits like antiquing, music, and sports
  • Volunteering in the community, for specific causes, and for global impact 

What you say about what you do on vacation contributes to the way your boss and colleagues see you. 

Be selective 

Today’s reality is that our boss and coworkers form opinions about us on the fly based on what we say and do and what others say about us. These bits and pieces of perception impact our brand. 

When it comes to vacations, it’s pretty standard that we’ll be asked these questions: 

  • Where are you going on vacation? (Before)
  • How was your vacation? (After) 

Your best answer is a sound bite. That’s what your coworkers want—a nugget that sums up your time off—something they’ll remember and/or pass along to their colleagues as a “did you know.” 

Each vacation highlight you share builds perceptions about what drives you.

Your vacation “reports” are cumulative. The more they are the same, the less interest and value they command. The more diverse they are, the more fascinating you become. 

Here’s the trick: You don’t have to take amazing, over-the-top vacations to create the buzz you want. You just need to do one thing that’s unique each time that sparks interest, even if it only takes a day or an hour. 

  1. I once worked with a VP who diligently took vacation every year with his young family which was a positive, for sure. However, for 14 consecutive years he took them to Disney World. When asked, “Where are you going on vacation?” he’d always answer, “To see Mickey.” He had an “I resist change” brand which his vacation pattern reinforced. Ulitmately, his career flat-lined. 
  2. I was a commercial horse breeder while I was a corporate manager. I used some of my company vacation time to buy or sell young thoroughbreds or broodmares. When asked about my vacations, I would mention the sales auctions and/or tracks I was going to and how I made out. The fact that I was involved in the horse industry added to my brand as a businesswoman willing to put myself out there. 
  3. A former colleague, deeply committed to animal rescue, spends part of her yearly vacation at the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary in Utah as a volunteer. Her career continues to rise as someone with great talent willing to give back. 

Parlay your fun 

Vacations are opportunities to enrich ourselves, so we need to extract from them the experiences that fill us out. That’s the part of vacation that becomes the snippets we share at work. 

Vacations give us experiences that broaden our perspectives, make us happy, and remind us what really matters in life. When it’s your time, please take it. 

Photo from jonycunha via Flickr

Job Title Traps and How They Can Snare You

Do you remember your first job title? In business mine was coordinator—Consumer Education Programs. Oh, that sounded so sweet to me.

Our first jobs are where we get our feet wet and start to showcase our talents. The plan is usually to upgrade our titles for swankier ones that come with higher salaries. 

The traps await 

Companies create titles to define their hierarchy and manage payroll. They write titles they hope we want to wear. 

Unfortunately, titles aren’t always what they seem to be. They can become traps, manipulations, and disguises, like this: 

Playing to your ego—We’re told we have the “potential” for a higher level job. Even though we don’t particularly want either the job or the accountabilities, we opt in, unable to resist the expected  roar of the crowd. (Trap)

Being placated—After we tell our boss (who’s been standing in our way) a hundred times that we’re frustrated about our careers, we’re given a fancy new job title and a new pay grade but our work stays the same. (Manipulation)

Inflating roles—Most often done at high levels, companies will reward loyal but dead-ended employees with fancier titles, like senior and executive VP, or even special assistant to the CEO, but the scope of their work doesn’t change. (Disguise)

Diluting value—Increasing the number of employees with titles like VP, director, and senior manager reduces the significance/importance/influence of the role, often positioning under-qualified people in them. (Trap)

Resetting pay scales—When companies need to put the lid on payroll costs, they often implement a re-titling initiative that eliminates certain titles, replacing them with others rated lower. Your new title might sound important, but it now has a reduced pay range. (Manipulation) 

I’ve been boggled throughout my career by some of my own title experiences. I was: 

  • “Promoted” from consumer programs manager to management training supervisor, and never understood why the supervisor job paid more, but it did
  • Promoted from customer services manager to director-customer services with a huge change in scope but no change in salary
  • “Rehired” based on a reorganization, going from director-customer services to manager-business management services (whatever that meant) but my salary wasn’t affected 

In the end, the question is: “So what?” 

Achievement isn’t a title

Titles should indicate expertise, influence, and alignment. Some titles that do the well and others don’t. 

I am a big of fan Suzanne Lucas, blogger at Evil HR Lady (her tongue-in-cheek handle) and BNET. She recently wrote the spot on post, “Does Your Title Matter? Plus Free Chocolate!” (You’ll have to go there to learn about the chocolate!) 

Suzanne writes: 

“Here is my worst job title ever: Functional Lead, HR Transition.  Do you have any idea what my job responsibilities were?  Of course you don’t, unless you are one of the many people I helped ‘transition’ out of the company over the years…
And that’s the problem with bad titles.  No one that doesn’t know what you do, can figure out what it is that you do.  Now, most of the time, this makes no difference.” 

Titles only becomes traps if we let them. Just because, the company puts us in a title box doesn’t mean we’re trapped in it. 

Titles mean nothing. Results do. If you’re puffing yourself up or dragging yourself down because of your title, snap out of it. 

When someone asks you, “What do you do?” Answer the question with content, not your job title. What your title means in your company is likely not what it means in someone else’s. 

Suzanne sums it up this way:

“It’s not what your title is that really matters, it’s what you do and what your compensation is that you should be fighting for.” 

It’s a lot more important to let people know, both inside and outside your company, that you’re doing valuable work. Get people to brand you by your contribution, not your title. That’s how you’ll get to next rung of the ladder if that’s your aim.

Photo from Alex E. Proimos 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