Monday, August 1, 2011

Should You Focus On Your Strengths At Work?

A lot of people talk about coming from your strengths and working at a job that capitalizes on your strengths. There are others that speak about remediating your weaknesses. What is right? What is practical? The reality is that neither focus is completely right. Why do I say that? Well, because I work with people in my coaching and consulting practice and I know that this is not the reality of most people’s work situations. Jobs are not usually designed around a person’s strengths. They are usually designed around business needs. Besides, if you polled every working person, most would admit that they all have elements of their jobs that don’t play to their strengths AND they cannot necessarily turn over those aspects to another person. Some aspects of their jobs have required them to stretch beyond their comfort zone and gain skills and strengths that they were unaware they had.
On the flip side if you focus only on what you need to remediate, it can be very self-defeating and counter-productive. The balance is in understanding what is required in your job, what you are good at (strengths), what you are not as good at, what the job and environment requires of you, and what do you need to do to successfully navigate your career.
There are tools to succeed at work – some that you may currently not give the level of import that is necessary to progress up the ladder. While there may be other competencies that might not be as obvious to you that if you understood – you would devote time to. Over the next number of months I will write/blog about the Tools to Succeed.
Join us over the next number of months in this journey as we explore together the Tools to Succeed and take charge of your career applying the right tools. In the meantime, leave a comment, ask a question, and check out our website to sign up for email updates.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Navigating Politically

Some of my clients do not enjoy navigating the political environment in their organizations. However, I am convinced that understanding and navigating the political environment within your organization is just as important as the technical aspects of your job. Why do I say this? I say this because I have observed people who do it well are often promoted, even when they may not be as talented technically. People who know, respect, and navigate the political environment have an advantage.

There are many different elements necessary for achieving success at work. Otherwise you might inadvertently detonate a political landmine. I myself did this once, and from that point forward I made it a point to understand the political environment to the best of my ability.

What are some of the elements of successfully navigating politically? One aspect is to understand the power structures within an organization both the obvious and hidden. For example, an individual can be very powerful without a formal title. I know individuals who are at a lower hierarchical level, but they wield a tremendous amount of power because they have a steady, ongoing audience with an individual(s) in a position of power.

If you have been thinking that office politics are beneath you – I encourage you as I encourage my 1-1 executive coaching clients to think again and begin to see this as an integral part of your job.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Performance Falls Short of Expectations

In previous blogs we have explored performance in the context of not giving the supervisor what they need or have asked for, and we have also discussed how most jobs are not designed to match the person’s strengths. In this blog, I’d like to focus on the supervisor and ways he/she can effectively deal with the internal struggle of a poor performer.

When performance issues surface, it is frustrating – to say the least. If you are a supervisor, you might do a classic “take-back”, or you might hover in hyper-vigilance in an attempt to avoid and/or catch the mistakes. If you are a co-worker who has been impacted – you may have the experience of smoldering frustration.

As a supervisor, a "take-back" is when you take something back that was on the employee’s plate and you move it to yours or to another employee. If you take the task back and give it to a co-worker - this action can cause the smoldering frustration to build to higher levels – depending on the situation. I’ve been guilty of a “take-back” or two myself, so I know just how hard it can be to allow someone to fail, but hovering and taking back are not always good solutions – for obvious reasons.

One way of addressing the situation can be exploring if there is a communication gap. A communication gap can cause things to get off kilter. It can even appear as if there is a performance issue, when it is actually a matter of communication, not performance. For example, I recently met with my team and learned that in setting goals some of my team members are visual and they need/ want a written plan that clearly articulates how they are going to achieve their objectives. For these team members the overarching objectives needed a more clearly defined way to reach them. I don’t need this, so I completely missed the need.

It is also important to recognize that in some ways performance is subjective rather than objective. A match to the supervisor is important. This can potentially be learned by the staff member, but sometimes they need the encouragement and guidance of their supervisor or the assistance of a trained coach.

Just remember if you are a supervisor poor performance is usually felt beyond you, so it is critical for you to successfully lead yourself through this in order to provide the leadership necessary for your team.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to Perform at the “Genius” Level at Work

Albert Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I agree with Einstein that everyone has a type of “genius” capability. However, understanding and deploying those gifts within certain work environments can be challenging at times. In large part, this is due to differing stakeholder expectations, coupled with the fact that jobs are designed around organizational needs – not our strengths. Every environment I have worked in had a set of both spoken and “unspoken” expectations. Unspoken expectations can sink a person if they remain unaware of them.

A number of years ago I worked in an organization which was not a high-feedback culture. A client was struggling with a number of ongoing issues, and we both agreed that a 360 should yield the desired insight. I had conducted many 360’s in the past, and did not really anticipate that this one would be vastly different. However, as the interview process got underway I soon discovered this one was going to be very unique, much more so than any I had ever conducted.

Clear patterns usually emerge in a 360, but in this one there were very wide discrepancies. The discrepancies were so wide that it had a schizophrenic nature to it. There were two clear camps emerging; on one side of the equation this person was beloved and on the other side there was a sense of almost professional disdain. The 360 revealed that even in categories where there should have been a common ground (such as management and leadership), the rating discrepancies were wide. An analysis revealed that the biggest discrepancies were created from the gap in the unmet, unspoken expectation realm. The individual had not done a great job in understanding and meeting the unspoken expectations of all stakeholders. Further complicating matters these individuals were extremely vocal in expressing their discontent, which affected my client’s reputational capital within the organization.

So how can you perform at the genius level at work and avoid some of the pitfalls my client had to overcome? Part of performing at the genius level in today’s organization is requires you to understand not only the spoken expectations, but the unspoken ones. The ability to understand allows for a greater likelihood in meeting them and/or managing the individual when their expectations are unrealistic and/or cannot be met. This goes a long way in preserving work-relationships, and building a reputation of “genius” or high performer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Everyone wants to be a Five

It’s that time of year again - many organizations are in the middle of going through performance evaluations for their staff. As I reflected on the nature of a few recent conversations centered on the performance evaluation process, I was reminded about an assignment that I had many years ago. The assignment was to teach managers how to use the organization’s new performance evaluation system. I did not participate in the creation of the system, but was asked to work with managers, so they could successfully implement it.

Performance evaluation was new to this company and the reasoning for the system implementation was to bring up the level of performance within the organization. This was a bit of a shock for most of the employees (to have their performance quantified and measured), as it was new and counter to the previous organizational culture. As with many change initiatives, there were people who were angry and up in arms, and they were very vocal in their opposition. On one level I had to admit I was at a handicap, because I did not participate in writing it, I just assisted with the implementation. However, I learned a lot during that assignment. I learned that almost everyone wants to be a five.

What do I mean by that? When a performance evaluation is set up on a numerical scale, people want to get the highest number possible – no matter what the words on the paper say. It is human nature. There is a natural bias when people reflect on their performance – most feel they perform at the high end of a scale. For example, in this organization’s performance evaluation system getting a three meant you met expectations – five meant you exceeded them. I learned that setting up a system with a numerical component can automatically build in employee resistance. Who doesn’t want to be the highest number, or in the best category?

Now look at the flip side of this. Although I recognize that performance can fluctuate from year-to-year – even with high performers, the reality is that as a manager and owner of a business I want to surround myself with “fives” (or people who are the highest level). If the people I work with are not at the “five” level well - I want to see signs that they are working toward it. I want the best possible team surrounding me. What does it communicate if you have a staff that consists predominantly of “three’s”? Does that make for a compelling, interesting, and engaging workplace? After all – everyone wants to be a five – metaphorically speaking.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If I said I wanted a peach, would you give me a pear?

It happens all the time in business. I personally have seen it in my consulting practice a lot. It can show up in the form of a supervisor’s frustration with a direct report when an expectation is not met. Sometimes it is because the message from the boss was not clear, but other times – well things just fell apart for some reason. In my practice I have seen both sides of the issue. The boss has a specific outcome and/or expectation in mind and their direct report is working hard, but not necessarily on the things that are important to the boss and the bigger picture. The employee wonders why their boss is not thrilled with their performance and outcomes. It’s because the boss wants a “peach” and the employee is delivering a “pear”. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically, but I think you get my meaning.

The issue stems, in part, from a lack of clarity on priorities, emphasis, attention, and values. Understanding priorities in a time when things change rapidly can be difficult. However, it is not always a lack of clarity of priorities, but a failure of alignment about how much attention to pay to a particular project. For example, I worked with an organization that had an established partnership with another company. The relationship in the partnership was not equal (much like a supervisor supervisee relationship). There were certain deliverables that were important to the satellite partner, but the funding for most of the project came from their partner. The satellite partner continued to pay attention to the things that were important to them – to their peril. It showed up in the form of paying close attention to the things that held meaning to them – rather than fully understanding and giving attention and showing results around the things that the funding partner valued. The satellite partner kept putting their attention and emphasis on the wrong things and eventually the partnership ended.

The supervisor/supervisee relationship is a partnership of sorts, and alignment is important, but not always easy to achieve. Spending all your time on perfection when just good enough is ok will not necessarily win you additional points in the eyes of your boss – even if you are working hard. It can be just as deadly as not paying attention to perfection when it is important to your boss. You might want to ask yourself are you giving your boss a pear when he/she really wants a peach?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Passion for the Job

Recently I heard a commentator on a news show talk about the importance of passion at work. After hearing him, I became engaged in a conversation with my brother who shared his frustrations at work with me. It was obvious in speaking with him that he cares about the success of the company and finds it frustrating that decisions are made which are contrary to what he feels are in the best interest of the firm. He felt that some of the individuals in positions of leadership lack the day-to-day knowledge regarding the on-the-ground issues.

He confided that he wasn’t sure he could continue working there, because he was concerned the company would fail, he did not want to be on a losing team, and the frustration level was high. It was clear he had ideas; things he wanted to share and things he thought would make a difference.

As I contemplated the thought, I reflected over my practice and recalled the most important theme throughout all my years in consulting. While passion with one’s work may be important, the clients I work with reveal that their greatest desire is to contribute – to make a difference. Every person I have met through my consulting practice who voiced dissatisfaction with their work felt that they were not contributing to their fullest potential. Sometimes this brought people to tears with frustration. Passion for the work may be the ultimate level of self-actualization, but contribution is incredibly rewarding and may even lead to experiencing passion with one’s job.