4 Baby Steps Toward Security


As I read two articles in Sunday’s paper with bleak news for job seekers, I found myself thinking once again about how fortunate I am to be in charge of my own career direction. I made the leap to self-employment a bit ahead of the curve (1997), and even with all its challenges, I never worry about someone else running my business. Or making decisions for me. Or going in to work on a Monday morning to be met with a pink slip. Or living in fear that one might be there next week.

What's your value?

Can you state your value?

Over the years I learned–often the hard way–that I needed to be very clear with statements of my value. My business is intangible and some still mislabel the content “soft skills.” [As though anything about relationships could be anything other than hard!] But value can always be measured, sometimes in the words of clients or sometimes in the visible results.

I learned that a paycheck doesn’t automatically appear every other Friday unless I focus on the Important rather than the Urgent. The discipline needed to put the big rocks in first came in a series of difficult lessons; and I’m not really sure I’m done learning!

I learned that marketing myself and my services never really stops; I can take a break, if I choose, but business follows only when potential clients hear my messages. And the clients are there; it’s just up to me to find them and be consistent in messaging.

I learned that I had a lot to learn and that I had to stay ahead or fall behind.

Navigating changes

Navigating changes

And in any business environment, customers always have choices. So staying ahead rather than “resting on laurels” always kept me intrigued with new approaches and new ideas. So I tried new ways of doing things that I might not have been certain of—learning from thought leaders’ and the success of others.

As I learned these lessons (and I’m not done yet!) I saw results that gave me confidence to move forward and try again, try something a bit different, and build on even small developments. I moved ahead a step at a time over the last dozen years. The small steps add up, and it’s important to just start.

Hungering for security?

Take these same 4 baby steps, especially if you’re in an organization and want to stay, or if you’re going after your next position. Each one will work to your advantage, and you can begin today.

1. What’s your value?

Define it, describe it, get clear on it and start talking about it. Letting others know your value isn’t bragging, it’s educating them about how you contribute. Strategic organizations keep people who contribute. Managers depend upon performers who contribute because they know you can be counted on. Learn how to talk about your value in the language of the listener, so there’s no question that you belong. Action item: take 20 minutes and write 5 statements of your value. If you get stuck, ask your coach or trusted peer. Put at least 2 of them in your conversations this week.

2. Work on Important first.

If you’re searching for a position, it’s easy to kid yourself into thinking that lots of activity is effective, especially if it entails sitting at a desk cranking out paper–just like you’re used to doing in the office. rocksThe Important stuff is usually the hard stuff; in this case, it’s maintaining your network contacts. If you have an office and want to keep it, then prioritize your tasks based upon the organization’s priorities. Save your emails for after 5 o’clock…if they’re that important, you’ll get a call. Action item: re-prioritize your work activities, putting the hardest ones on top. Stay focused on the Important tasks, even if you’re tempted by other people’s urgencies.

3. Be aware of your customer messages: make them count.

Even if you’re not in direct contact with external customers, you have internal ones. Every word you speak, every facial expression and gesture you make, every note you send is plainly marked with one of two messages: ‘I’m glad to be of service;’ or ‘I’m doing this because I’m supposed to.’ Every contact you have is important, so put a smile in your voice and become intent on serving your current, potential, new or returning customers. Action item: Select 3 ‘customers’ today who you can serve: perhaps another job seeker; a co-worker to whom you can offer assistance before s/he asks; or a member at your service club lunch who needs cheering or encouragement.

4. Keep on learning!

Whatever you’re doing, there’s something new to learn. And if you’re not doing what you love, there’s lots new to try! Take responsibility for your own learning, for staying or getting up to speed in your industry, profession or skill sets. Check out community college, continuing education offerings and professional association seminars; and identify mentors who can give you informal opportunities to learn. Define new competencies that can help you take on new and challenging responsibilities, then arrange to master them. Action item: Determine one new area you would like to learn about and find two people who have expertise. Ask at least one of them to be your mentor and get you started.

4 small baby steps!

4 small baby steps!


Your challenge: 4 baby steps

Wherever you are, whatever your work, you will be stronger and more secure in your being by taking these 4 steps and beginning today. Each is a small but significant one toward taking responsibility for your own career direction and stability. Whether you work for a larger organization or a smaller business or you’re looking for your best work fit, your future really is yours to ensure. “Cradle to grave” security begins with these smallest of steps.

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Science says: it’s what’s inside that counts.


How cool would it be if every time we worked we felt a sense of accomplishment, deep satisfaction and excitement about that work? Several intrinsic motivators–three in particular–can make it so. Autonomy: we use our talents, skills, abilities in pure self-direction, supported and coached to be our best. Mastery: we work knowing that we are perfecting what we do. And Purpose: our work, whatever it is, connects us to the reason we’re here–we contribute to something larger than ourselves.

I know lots of people would settle for even one of these. And I know others who have all three. Before work happened in big boxes, those who practiced a craft or a trade most certainly had all three. Not so much today.

While you can do a number of things to engage these drivers for yourself, it’s just as important that anyone who is responsible for business success understand this: these three intrinsic motivators are shown to produce work outcomes that more money and bigger rewards cannot.

You owe it to yourself to watch this video.

Dan Pink’s recent presentation on TED is worth many times the 18 minutes it will take you to watch. He’s very clear when he says “There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” Business doesn’t put much stock in common sense, but I wonder if they might consider science?

Scientists have shown many times over 40 years that business motivators (i.e. rewards and punishments) don’t necessarily create the outcomes we think. Paying ‘x’ to do ‘y’, in other words, doesn’t always get ‘y’ and the ‘x’ may even get in the way of doing ‘y.’ The “carrot & stick” approach to getting the best from workers isn’t very effective, and especially not in today’s service/information economy.

A knowledge economy

A knowledge economy

You see, what scientists have found is that very simple tasks with a very narrow focus requiring mechanical skills may actually get better performance with a bigger reward. However, this is how work was done in the Industrial economy; it’s not how it’s done today.

Today’s work requires innovation, synthesis and collaboration to respond to constantly changing economies and customer needs. This higher cognitive level thinking doesn’t respond to bigger sticks or bigger carrots, but soars with the challenges of intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery and purpose. Science says!

So, how much science does it take to change a business ideology?

Much of America’s corporate world is still mired in the “scientific management” approach, not to be confused with the science of what motivates people to be–and give–their best. This muck holds tight to many managers because it is known and comfortable. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, for businesses to shift to a management model that recognizes and utilizes intrinsic motivators is a huge change: one even bigger than adapting to a global economy.

So what’s realistic?

Change yourself; change one person at a time. Recognize that if each of us changes a little, then the overall transformation will eventually happen from the inside out, for us as individuals as well as for the organizations with which we partner. Here are a few ideas to help you reconnect with your internal motivations:

1. Autonomy: autonomy is about self-direction. Don’t wait to be picked any more. Don’t wait to be told what else your job description holds. Let your manager know where you can make a difference and offer to take on the tasks. In this economy, how can you cut expenses? How can you volunteer or step into a gap in your department? What can you do to solve a customer’s problem without waiting to be asked or given the solution? How can you be a better, more collaborative project member? How can you truly become a partner with your organization to make it better and provide more value to customers?

possibilities

2. Mastery: mastery is about becoming your best. So decide if you need to re-purpose or reinvent yourself. Either way, you’ll need to determine what new or advanced skills or knowledge or attitudes you need to best develop your talents. Whatever it takes, go after it. You are fooling yourself if you think your employer is responsible for your development. Recognize the new rules of employment and make your own security. Pay for your training, classes, and skills upgrades: it’s one investment you can’t afford not to make!

3. Purpose: more than any other desire, my clients want to know their purpose–what they are on earth to do, how they will make the world a better place. This is a purely human desire, and goes to however you define spirituality: belief, connection, energy, religion. So find yours. Start by finding a coach who can guide you through the process (yes, there is one) of becoming clear on your Foundation: who you are and what you’re about. Your purpose is within.

And, why not send the link to the TED video around to your coworkers and your manager? Ask to have a discussion on its content in your next staff meeting or department gathering. Take responsibility to get a conversation going on what would motivate those in your workplace and how you might work together to make that happen.

Labor Day Musings


A macro concept that underpins a lot of my thinking is “work,” most specifically how our definitions of work are drastically changed, yet apparently unrecognized by both the work ‘giver’ and the ‘doer.’

job boxes

job boxes

Employers (the ‘giver’) continue to look at work as segmented pieces or ‘job boxes’ that can be put together into an integrated whole by someone looking down from on high. While organizations continue to define “jobs,” what they really need is flexible project workers who use their brains to readily move from one work area to another.

Employees (the ‘doer’) continue to look at work as jobs defined by a description with a defined beginning and end. While workers continue to say, “It’s not my job,” what they really need is work that they recognize as a contribution and that engages their mind and spirit.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that I see the employer-employee relationship as–at the very least, dysfunctional, and maybe–at the most–irreparably broken. It is, in many (maybe most) organizations, a lose-lose relationship.

Employers continue to consider employees as commodities, and employees continue to see employers as economic lifelines. Employers see employees as interchangeable and as expenses… a ludicrous view in an economy driven by knowledge and service. Employees continue to see employers as their lifeline with only high-risk options for economic security. There is no joy, enjoyment or even much satisfaction in most work and workplaces.

intrinsic value

intrinsic value

What’s ignored by both parties is work’s intrinsic value: the value that drives the engagement and contribution of the worker. Without this, the enterprise “success” suffers–however that success is defined.

In the agrarian economy, work’s intrinsic value is continuity and contribution to the earth: tending to the growing cycles that foster abundance and replenish life stores.

In the trade / craft economy, work’s intrinsic value is using one’s talents and skill, contributing to the bigger needs of the community.

In the industrial economy, work’s intrinsic value is contributing the “piece” that makes the “whole,” and knowing the end result is better for the contribution. [Really? What happens when you can’t see your contribution because the “whole” changes so often?]

contributions

contributions

In the knowledge/service economy, work’s intrinsic value is knowing that one’s contribution makes a difference…through a creative approach, a new product that better cements customer loyalty, or a superior level of service that outshines the competition. In today’s organizations, there’s lots of talk about these things but the approvals and the second guessing and the need for control and the short-term focus on the next quarter’s financials prevent most workers from having any sense of their work’s value.

In today’s world of global competition and global economics, this lack of contribution is destroying the only assets that can compete in these arenas. As Earl Pitts used to say, “Wake up, America!”

Here’s my question for you: what does it take to move Givers and Doers toward a truly realistic expression of “work” in the 21st century? To let up on the antiquated management and control practices that may have worked in the assembly line environment but that truly smother and destroy workers today? To give up on the antiquated because-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way and it’s-our-policy-service mentality that reduces productivity to ruinous levels?

How will you make a difference?

How will you make a difference?

And here’s a personal question for you: What will you do, when you return to work after this holiday, to show the intrinsic value in your work contributions? Just one thing? How will you make a difference?

So how about adding to these Labor Day musings? What will it take to redefine “work” so it works for both employers and employees? Please leave a comment to further this conversation, and maybe by Labor Day 2010, we’ll see a shift that re-energizes “Labor Day!”

Taylorism: alive & well in corporate America


Maybe you remember reading–in one of your Introduction to Organizations texts–about Frederick Taylor and his focus on productivity. And even if you don’t, you may recognize his management theories as alive and well in your workplace today!

Taylor’s life work was productivity studies, his beginnings at Bethlehem Steel. Among his first jobs was designing a more efficient shovel.

Taylor's productivity study

Taylor's productivity study

By measuring pounds per shovelful and total daily pounds shoveled, he determined that a shovel designed to hold 21.5 pounds was exactly right to keep the men working efficiently all day. His redesigned shovel allowed the company to reduce it’s coal shovelers from 500 to 140, an early 20th century version of “doing more with less.”

Taylor went further than just shovel redesign; he also applied the same approach to the people who used the shovels. He called his approach “Scientific Management,” and managers (who found the human side of productivity improvement highly resistant) jumped on Taylor’s approach and roamed factory floors armed with clipboards and stop watches, in the interests of hightened productivity.

So it was Taylor’s work that redefined the role of a manager: it was the manager who became the “brains” in an organization, determining how everything would be done. The results? The more the manager did, the less workers had to do. Workers became like robots; managers made decisions and were in charge. Without having to think, workers’ jobs became brainless and closer supervision was required to make sure that slackers didn’t get away with it! Taylor, intent on machine-like productivity, actually said “I care not a whit for the thinking of the working man.” While his work dates to the early 1900s, Taylor’s Scientific Management is alive and well in organizations today.

Ineffective management tools

Ineffective management tools

Managers love the alpha status and don’t want to give it up.

Even when it doesn’t work, and especially when it does more harm than good…like in the current non-Industrial non-machine economy.

Behavioral and neuroscientists have overwhelmingly shown the ineffectiveness of typical management behaviors. Giving feedback in the same old way is not productive, and providing rewards and punishment is counterintuitive to the way the human mind works. Managers who provide rewards and corrective action are automatically putting workers in a subordinate role. Our minds rebel and see this as control and manipulation. The more responsibility a manager has, the less employees take on. As long as what is considered to be motivation comes from the outside, it will be counter-productive…because we literally have minds of our own.

So managers who do less managing and who increase their expectations and support of workers are the ones who will get the best results. Rather than telling, a manager needs to do more asking. Rather than exerting control, a manager must engage the employee in taking responsibility.

Partnership = Responsibility

Partnership = Responsibility

How? By asking questions and supporting the expectation that the employee is a partner in the business. Not a subordinate to be coddled or pulled along like a rebellious adolescent, but a partner expected to hold up his/her part of the business by achieving objectives that contribute to and align with the organization’s direction.

As a manager, you can diminish the Taylorisms you practice by:

1. providing information consistently and in a number of ways to connect employees with the business of the organization: strategic direction, financial indicators, business lines, what competitors are doing, etc. The more workers understand the business and its direction, the more they can define their own contributions.

2. knowing how they contribute to a greater good enables workers to step up to the intrinsic desire to belong. Querying (rather than telling) workers to set their objectives, their productivity and quality metrics, and their customer service practices enables workers to make an emotional commitment to their work, to their customers, to the business.

3. asking workers to assess themselves and their work: how they are meeting metrics and objectives; how they make mid-course corrections; how they improve their own sub-par performance; how they support team members in achieving goals and customer needs.

4. providing objective sources of feedback, such as business indicators that make it very plain whether employee efforts are moving the business forward or back. If the business is successfully meeting its goals, then employee efforts are recognized through these measures, customer surveys and even peer reviews.

Tapping in to the “brains” in your organization is not difficult, but it is different than “traditional” management practices. Interactive practices that build relationships and responsibilities are the only way to engage the head and heart and hands of workers in an economy that requires all these things for an organization’s success.

Why not shift your management approach and let me know how it goes?