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.

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