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.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Three Strategies for Managing Change and Transition Successfully

Got Change?
Have you ever encountered a situation where you were faced with organizational changes that left you uncertain about how to manage and navigate through the transition? Problems can arise sometime when you reach out to people within your organization, because it can descend into a gripe session, which really isn’t helpful. If you seek guidance and advice from your personal network, there may be a limited or lack of understanding about the complexity of your particular situation. The reality is that if you don’t navigate the transition well there can be unintended, negative consequences. Further complicating matters it can feel and/or appear as if there can be winners and losers during times of change and transition. Let’s face it no one wants to be on the losing side of the equation.

Drivers and Accelerators of Change
In my consulting practice almost all of the organizations I work with are undergoing some type of change driven by either internal and/or external factors - sometimes a combination of both. Some of the external drivers that can trigger the change process include industry innovations; market changes, such as competitive forces; economic; technological; social and political forces. Some of the internal drivers that can trigger the change process include leadership and management changes, which can result in mission, vision, strategy, and the need for tactical shifts; organizational growth or decline; expansion into new markets and adding new product lines; and the need to streamline processes and procedures.

There are drivers that “accelerate” the rate at which change occurs, such as globalization, technological advances, a CEO change, and, of course, the most recent economic downturn where many companies had to respond quickly in order to survive. Although it is possible to envision a time when globalization will not be an accelerator for change, but for now globalization continues to accelerate the rate at which organizations must respond and adapt.

Whatever the driver for change, we must learn how to adapt quickly – even when we don’t feel ready or equipped.

How to Successfully Manage Change and Transition
Organizational changes can be lonely and challenging to navigate, but there are strategies you can employ that can make the process a lot easier. What do I mean by that?

Tip #1 Manage Your Stress Levels
Ok – admit it change is stressful. Sometimes it is a good stress, but sometimes it tips over into distress! Depending on all that is going on in your life, this may be the stressor that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. Therefore, it is critical to learn ways to manage stress, because stress can create havoc on your body. It increases the body’s production of cortisol, which can result in weight gain. Too much stress can actually inhibit intellectual functioning. I could go on and on, but the most important thing is to manage your stress levels, so that it does not negatively affect your health.

For me Bikram yoga is an amazing outlet, but it is a big commitment. I am not big into meditation, because I really cannot sit still that long, but any form of yoga allows me time to focus on the mind, body connection. Whatever your choice find something that works for you, something that you can/will commit to.

Tip #2 Observe and Stay Grounded and Connected
First let me say that if you don’t manage your stress level, it will be very hard to observe, stay grounded and get connected. In part, because when you are overwhelmed with stress and fear it is difficult to stay grounded. So while feeling fear during times of transition and change is normal – don’t let it rule you and your decisions. This will help you to stay grounded so that you can actually observe and stay connected to how the changes might affect you. It will also allow you to ask the right questions from the right people. If you are not grounded during times of change, you can be thrown about by the winds of change and feel completely out of control. I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay grounded during times of change, because it will allow you to see where you are/are not aligned with changes and more importantly what you need to do in order to take care of yourself during the change as well as what skills you might need to learn in order to be a major player as the change unfolds.

Tip #3 Build Capacity
As I mentioned in tip #2, when you are grounded you will see trends that you might not see and you will begin to understand how the change applies to you and what skills you will need to build in order to be a successful player as the changes unfold. Without understanding how the change applies to you and what capacity you must build – you could get left in the dust wondering what the heck just happened as the transition rolls on.

There is more
There are more strategies, but these are the top three plus this is the beginning for you to ponder as you navigate the winds of change. We will be posting a white paper on change soon on our website, which will include additional strategies, so check it out if you would like to read more on this topic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Can Companies Do?

My Consulting Practice

Many experts talk about the need to put people into roles where their strengths are utilized. However, in my consulting practice I rarely work with organizations that have the luxury of designing jobs solely around people and their strengths. Most jobs are created based on an executive’s assessment of business needs along with some type of justification, especially if the position is new. If the position is well established, there may have been no true re-assessment of the role in years, and the role may/may not accurately reflect current business needs. What can an employer do?

I just don’t see a singular focus on a ‘strengths-based approach’ as a realistic model given day-to-day business reality and an ever-changing business environment. When scanning my entire practice, I don’t think I have ever met an individual who had a job that only played to their strengths. I have seen individuals who present the business case to change their role. However, even when the job has been explicitly created there are generally still elements that do not fully play to their strengths, and/or that require them to stretch and grow into the role. My sense is that both aspects (business needs and individual strengths) are really important components, and maybe they are equally important when looking at this issue and what an employer can do.

Making the distinction

I have observed individuals who appear to be miscast in their role, but not all of them are considered a performance problem in the “eyes” of the organization. What makes the difference? It might be helpful to look at a few real examples.

There are examples that come immediately to mind of two individuals who were both considered to be either miscast and/or a bad hire due to various performance-related issues. The situations, however, are starkly different and well worth exploring – especially from an organization’s perspective. Neither of the individuals were, by both my and their estimations, a great match for the organizational culture, but that is where the similarities ended.

Confusion around expectations

There was a great deal of confusion around one of their roles. There were varying and unclear expectations from the different stakeholders, yet there was no cohesiveness that bound the various constituents’ expectations together into a well articulated role. The boss who directly worked with this person on a day-to-day basis was not displeased with their performance, but this person was widely viewed as a poor performer and there was some level of negative history following this person. Further complicating the matter, the person never really got the feedback necessary in order to course correct, they had an unknown blindside.

The company did not have a way of defining the role in a way that linked all the stakeholder’s expectations into a well articulated role, allowing the person to develop the skills necessary in order to raise their performance. The person, while not a great match for the culture could have been a much more productive employee if the company had benchmarked their role and created a clear roadmap for successful performance with a strong development plan in place. Even a strong feedback loop would be more helpful than allowing the person to languish in a professional purgatory of sorts.

Not a good match

The other individual was also not a good match for the culture, nor were they a match for the job they held. When I first met them, I was struck by the level of unhappiness they experienced in their role. After some reflection and investigation, it turned out that this person was not only in the wrong culture and the wrong job, but also in the wrong industry. No amount of development, job clarification, and performance management would ever make a difference. This person was holding on for dear life to the security they thought their steady paycheck brought them. They desperately needed to move on. Thankfully for them and their company, they eventually did - thereby allowing space for someone better suited for the role to step in, and allowing the mismatched individual to step into the possibility of a better matched job/profession.

Summing it up

In an economic contraction, many companies may feel as though their staffing needs are met and new responsibilities can be handled by their existing employees. However, there may be individuals in the company who are miscast in their current role or the roles they might be asked to fill. This takes a toll on productivity, it negatively affects peers and co-workers, and in a worst-case scenario it can sometimes impede the progress of the company.

Many companies take an approach of categorizing employees as A, B, or C players, which may be helpful. However, it might not really get at what it takes to succeed in a particular job. When a company benchmarks the job by defining how the job should be - the role then begins to take on a different shape – one closer to reality and the organization’s true business needs. In addition, it creates a strong foundation for hiring when the economy resumes its inevitable expansion. This process, performed properly, is an unbiased way in which to measure existing staff against the benchmark, understand their strengths, and produce a roadmap of strong development plans. What if the benchmarking process shows that a person is no longer a match for the position based on changing business needs? This process allows the company to assess how to best redeploy the employee in a more suitable position based on a balance of individual strengths and corporate needs. In short, benchmarking both defines what is required to excel in a job and ensures that an employee has a job in which they can excel.

Photo Credit: Flickr Jeff Sandquist

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Getting out of the Funk!

How did I ever get out of the funk you might ask? Well, I happened on a flier, which announced a weekend workshop for adults in career transition. At the time, it was a stretch for me. I decided to go and invest in myself, which in my mind is one of the most important things we can do – invest in ourselves. I went for the weekend and took a series of assessments, which revealed information about my mission, competencies, and style. That weekend gave me a tremendous amount of clarity. Along with the assessments, there were two other important components of the weekend, the pace and the space in which we worked. At the time they seemed minor, but now I realize both were major.

Living stress filled lives

I don’t know about you, but I live a fairly hectic life with a lot of “things” and responsibilities demanding my attention. The pace of change coupled with the need to quickly respond and adapt to new demands is often a source of stress. There is often precious little time to truly replenish and renew. I have found that without adequate time to replenish and renew it is much easier to descend into a negative space, creating an environment ripe for base-level emotions to take over. I know that I never make the best decisions from a negative and/or base-level emotional state. I also know that when I observe clients and friends do the same, the results are less than positive.

Ask yourself a few questions: Do you get regular exercise and a full night’s sleep? Do you eat foods that support the demands placed on your body? Most of us don’t and we pay the price, because our emotional and mental states from which we make daily decisions are in a compromised condition. Now compound that by holding a job and/or being in a corporate environment that depletes your energy. All combined makes for a potent cocktail of negativity, therefore, making it necessary for us to invest in things that support a positive state of mind and well-being.

Time for personal exploration

The design for the weekend was supportive. The space and surrounding were inviting. The pace was perfect – not too slow – not too fast. The fact that I spent an entire weekend delving into what I wanted – well, it was something that until that time I had never done. I had the time to think about it without pressure, with adequate time to contemplate the gifts I had to offer (and my strengths). There was time to reflect about where I had been in the past with my career, where I was at that time, and to explore opportunities of where I might go in the future. Being in a setting that was supportive and surroundings that were aesthetically pleasing made the experience all the more helpful. It helped to clear away the cobweb of negativity that had engulfed me.

Wow that was fast

Shortly after that weekend, an amazing thing happened. My boss approached asking if I would be interested in redeployment within the organization. I could not believe it, because the position presented was exactly what had been revealed through the assessments I had taken. I realized that by investing in myself that weekend, I was in a better position to “recognize” the opportunity when it presented itself. Had I not gone that weekend I think I would have been too blinded to see the job presented as an opportunity, because I had way too many negative associations.

I also believed that gaining clarity allowed space to set an intention about finding a position better suited to my strengths, mission, values, and work style. Although my employer had not spent the money for the weekend, in fact, they didn’t even know about it, there was an experience as if some type of silent transmission had been made. It was a bit eerie, to be honest. Thankfully my employer recognized that redeployment was a good option all the way around, and I went on to be a much more productive employee and provided greater value to the organization when I was rightly deployed!

The importance of coming from a place of power
Every situation is different and maybe yours will not be resolved in the same way as mine. You may even feel a bit skeptical that your situation can be resolved. However, if you are in a less than ideal job it is important to realize that you are not trapped even when you might feel that you are. Looking back I now realize that I was not truly trapped, but initially unable to reach a higher level of thinking required to make a change. The fact that I “felt” that way only served to further reinforce the situation.

Feeling trapped is a “fear based” concept, and more importantly it only serves to create a negative mental decision-making environment. It was not until I could gain distance from fear, doubt, and uncertainty that I could see the situation from a truth-based perspective. Who ever said the truth will set you free knew what they were talking about! Rising above the appearance of the situation to look at it from a truth perspective, which was that I was wrongly deployed, created a mental environment where I could come from a place of strength rather than weakness.

What do you need?

If you are in a less than ideal work situation, a key component is to not wait until you are in a depleted, fearful, and negative state of mind to make decisions about your future (and now). Ask you self a few questions: What do you need to do to support yourself now? What is your mental, emotional, and physical state? Are you taking care of your mental and physical health? Where are things disconnecting for you on your job? Are you well matched for the corporate culture of your organization, your boss, your peers, and the key responsibilities? Are you provided with development and growth opportunities that will benefit your career? Is there a future for you where you are now? What are your strengths, mission, values, and work style and more importantly do they match your current job situation?

Is work a spiritual idea?
Do you think work is a spiritual idea? For me, truthfully I think it can be, because I know that when I am engaged in activities where I feel that I am giving from all the best I have to offer, I feel renewed, replenished and restored. In addition, and maybe more importantly I feel in alignment with living my purpose. Now I feel nourished by my work and that for me that is an amazingly rewarding experience and on some level that feels very spiritual to me.

So, if the idea resonates with you that work can be a spiritual experience, what do you need in order to create that for yourself?

What role can employers play?

Since I have a personal belief that there is a shared responsibility (at the individual and the employer level), a big question is how can organizations evolve into seeing the need to rightly deploy staff as important component to the employment “contract”? We have at least scratched the surface on taking self-responsibility for your career.

Tune in next week to hear about things employers can do…….

Photo Credit: Flickr Rhett Maxwell

Monday, April 19, 2010

Is Work a Spiritual Experience?

Under-utilized, wrongly deployed
Have you ever had a job you hated – one that just thinking about made you feel as if your life’s energy was drained? A job where you absolutely dreaded the thought of having to go to work? Once in my life - I did. On Sundays I would dread the inevitable Monday. While at work when I would go to the bathroom, the thought of going back to my desk sent me into a funk. It was a horrible feeling and at times, overwhelming. And to further complicate matters I felt trapped (whether real or imagined). Almost every day at work I felt heaviness right down to my core, coupled with an overwhelming sense of sadness. I felt under utilized or at the very least wrongly utilized. I was engaged with activities that drained, rather than replenished me. This was a new experience for me, because I had always loved work and found all other jobs both interesting and fun.

More importantly, I had always experienced a sense of satisfaction coupled with a feeling of contribution from previous jobs – no matter what position I held. If a day was long it did not matter, because the day usually flew by. However, on this job each day felt like an eternity – no matter what task I engaged in. It was a “soul killing” experience. This made me wonder - is work or can work be a spiritual experience?

What does spiritual work mean?
Maybe it’s important to make the distinction here that I am not using the word spiritual in a religious context, but rather as a conceptual meaning. For example, spiritual as in a experiencing a deep fulfillment and satisfaction from work – expressing and experiencing a balance of giving and receiving that transcends a “work for hire” feeling/attitude. I’m not the only person, who has a deep desire to know that my work contributes positively to the world in some way. Almost everyone I have met professionally has a deep desire to make a difference in the world through the work they do.

So what prompts an interest in this now, when my own personal experience is long past? Many people I speak with now are unhappy with their job and/or their organization – almost an unprecedented number, which on one hand is alarming. However, what is more alarming is that many of the people I speak with are immobilized and are making the decision to stay put rather than explore other options because of the current economic climate. Furthermore, many of them are paying a high cost for their decision to the extent that it is affecting their happiness, health, and overall quality of life. Some of them look like the walking dead.

High cost to employer and employee
There is a transactional cost when there is such a profound sense of dissatisfaction with one’s job because we spend so much time at work and most of us place a high value on positive contribution. So what is the transactional cost in holding a job, where you don’t feel a sense of happiness, fulfillment, and contribution? What is the transactional cost when you feel under-utilized and/or wrongly deployed? The reality is that there is a transactional cost on both ends – for the employee and the employer. Employers do not always have the luxury of building positions and tasks solely around people’s strengths. That being said there are things companies can do (but that is for another blog). For now I’d like to explore the personal cost and potential options for an individual, because if work is a spiritual idea/experience then it is important to feed and nourish your soul.

Although this is not meant to be a full-blown blog of all the things that you can do, but an avenue to explore options as well as to share what I did when I faced the same situation. Hopefully this will prompt ideas for you, if you find yourself in the same and/or a similar circumstance.

Personal Imact
As I mentioned previously some of the people I know have had their health and well-being negatively affected and experience high levels of stress while in jobs where there is a mismatch. It’s important to say that there are multiple levels of fit, and some dimensions are more impactful than others. When discussing work many people have shared with me their need to be employed with work that “feeds their soul”, but find themselves in “soul killing” jobs. For me, holding a “soul-killing” job spilled into my personal life – creating tension and overall dissatisfaction not to mention an overwhelming feeling of physical exhaustion and stress. For my employer, well, they probably did not get the best I had to offer, and it is hard to believe it did not affect my productivity.

Next Week: How I got out of this funk!


Photo Credit: Kreepz @ Flickr