5 Keys to Achieving Workplace Immortality – The Log (5 of 5)

5 Tenets for Doing Business Better

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The Log*

A few years back I watched as two fellow employees disappeared behind the boss’s door. When they came out over an hour later neither of them were happy. One had gone in to demand that the other be fired for his cut-throat methods of climbing over other people. He even threatened that only one of them would be working there the next day. Normally this would be a simple situation of “He said, She said.” which would put the boss in a simple situation wherein he could only promise to keep a closer eye on things and separate the two. However, the accusing employee went in with what amounted to a log. In this log he kept track of every instance and every utterance that came his way from the supposed cause of contention. Now what could the boss do? I later found out from the boss that he pleaded for the whole hour with both parties to get along and promised whatever he could to help the situation. It was not easy but things held together for a time (though both employees left the company not too long after).

The purpose of this example is not to teach a lesson in management. The point is the power of a written record. Even if the accusing employee was wrong (and he was) he came very close to having another employee fired on the spot. That is the power of a written log. But let’s not discuss this powerful tool as a weapon, but as a shield. No matter what size company you are in, no matter how many employees you have (even if you are your only employee!), you will eventually have someone on the other end of the deal (a supplier, a customer, a distributor) or the other end of an assignment (an employee, a co-worker, a worker, a boss) that will put you in a confrontational situation. This confrontation may be a simple mis-communication or it may be an official politically-motivated ‘take down’. Whatever the cause think of the protection you will garner when you resort to your log and point out who asked for what on which date? Whatever the situation, take a note from me and protect yourself from those inevitable run-ins with confrontation – keep a log!

And when it does come in handy, write a note in your log to thank me!

Ever have a similar situation where you wish you had kept a log? Or a situation in which you did?! Let us know.

*keep in mind that a log is a written journal of events and that while email can act as a log of sorts it is far better to keep a log and point to emails to back the log up.

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5 Keys to Achieving Workplace Immortality – The Binder (4 of 5)

5 Tenets for doing Business Better

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At a previous job that I held a few years back I made an odd observation. I found myself returning time and again to a specific colleague’s desk whenever I came across a roadblock in my own work. What was it about their desk that made my return so necessary? It was her red three-ring binder. Her red binder was full of everything that related to her job. It included ‘the who’ for every situation, ‘the what’ for every location, and ‘the how’ for every procedure. She was great and had plenty of other qualities that I needed from time to time. But that binder saved me from wasting several hours of referencing online How-to and Procedural manuals that were likely out of date, pestering other co-workers that might look down on me, and keeping me from looking like I did not know what I was doing. I would often just saunter up to her desk and mention the need to look at her binder and that was all it took.

red binder

The strange thing is, I was not the only one and no one realized what was happening until I brought it up at lunch one day.

“The ‘Red Binder’ saved me two hours today!”

“We need to make a copy of that thing for each of us!”

It was only at that point that I realized how important it is for each employee to try and catch our own version of institutional memory. You do not go to class and listen to a lecture and NOT TAKE NOTES! Why is the workplace any different? While in school, I knew that if I took notes I would do better. Few realize that if you re-write your notes you will do EVEN BETTER! This applies to the workplace just as well.

The next time you learn how to do something, where something is, who is the contact for what, or anything else that you find yourself filing away in your mind….take the time to include it in your own Binder. You will find yourself (and many others!) referring to it time and again. You will find yourself among the workplace heroes.

How well do you think this idea would fit in at your workplace? How many already do this? Let me know your thoughts.

5 Keys to Achieving Workplace Immortality – Care (3 of 5)

5 Tenets for doing Business Better

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It is naive to believe that positive thinking can send your career to the ultimate heights alone. There are many gurus that try to convince you that positive thinking is the only step necessary. They are half right. Positive thinking is the first step. And I think that in this case “positive thinking” is synonymous with caring. I want to talk about caring in two contexts.

business heart

First, caring means quality. It means thought. It means taking a moment to consider what path you will need to achieve the best outcome. Let me give you an example. While I worked as an archaeologist it was my job to lead the crew in the field. There was no one supervising me. I was the last line of defense as far as quality of product went. At the time, we were surveying an open expanse of scrub brush spotted with shifting sand dunes. My crew was tired and ready for their 8 day session to be over with. Suddenly I heard a voice on the radio as one of the technician’s indicated they may have found a possible metate (a large piece of stone used in grinding seeds and other vegetation). The thought came to me to ignore it. After all, what would one piece of groundstone matter? Ultimately my meticulous nature got the better of me. Within no time I had helped to discover over a dozen pieces. We spent the necessary time to record our findings and made our way back to the motel an hour later than normal.

Two months later, a federal agency sent out a field truthing crew to see how accurate our surveys were and they found plenty of groundstone. Failure on my part to include these items in my report would have meant a lot of trouble for our firm. It would have delayed the clients’ development plan. It would have ruined reputations. If you do not care about whatever it is that you are doing, it will lead to bigger problems you do not want to face down the road.

The second context is caring about those around you. You need to operate with everyone’s best interests at heart. You certainly can’t please everyone, nor should you. You aren’t their mother, after all. But you can let your actions be motivated by thoughtful consideration of how your decisions will impact those around you. For example, political infighting at a previous job went into high gear when the office made a move to a new location. I thought seriously about fighting for a new office at the expense of a friend even though I would be leaving in one year. I was very clearly more entitled to it than he was and felt a bit annoyed at being pushed around. Instead, I decided to fight for him to get that office even though it meant that I would be sharing with another co-worker. I knew about some personal considerations that others were not willing to make themselves aware of concerning my friend. And I knew how much it would help him down the road. Fast forward three years and I found myself asking him to be a referral for a potential job opportunity. He responded within the hour and wrote an almost embarrassingly glowing review. I got the job.

When you find yourself faced with a tough decision that is requiring your full concentration then you know it has a higher potential of being a game changer. In that situation, take the time to care……….care about a quality job and care about how your decision will impact those on your team.

If you have had any moments where caring made the difference, let us know about it!

5 Keys to Achieving Workplace Immortality – Kindness (2 of 5)

(This post is a weighty topic – doing business better. As such I am not able to cut it down to ‘blog post’ size. I will be cutting them up into a single post for each of the 5 tenets)

 

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Take any business strategy course and you will find that kindness is the most productive path forward. In The Art of Strategy (Dixit and Nalebuff 2008) the authors discuss the best strategy a player may choose in the Prisoners’ Dilemma. (This is a situation in which both of two participants have an incentive to choose an action that benefits themselves at the expense of the other participant unless both participants choose such an action. If both choose ‘cooperate’ they split a reward. If both choose ‘deceive’ they both lose a reward. If one chooses ‘cooperate’ and the other ‘deceive’ then the deceiver alone wins the reward.)

The first winner of their competition followed a strategy called ‘tit for tat’. The tactic for this strategy was nearly as simple as the strategy itself. It had two steps: choose ‘cooperate’ until the other participant chooses ‘deceive’. After the other participant has chosen ‘deceive’, choose whatever action the other participant chose in the previous round. This was the winning strategy until mistakes were allowed into the game which meant the other participant may have accidentally chosen ‘deceive’. This more closely mirrored the real world. Tit for tat could not function in this scenario. In fact, the outcome for any game became even worse when others began to also practice the tit for tat strategy in this environment. As soon as one person mistakenly chose ‘deceive’ there was no coming out of the ‘deceive-deceive’ spiral.

At this point, the winning strategy became ‘Tit for Tat-Tat’. In this strategy the winner gave one allowance to the participant that chose ‘deceive’. If ‘deceive’ was chosen again then the regular tit for tat tactics were employed. To summarize, in the real world, when we give someone the benefit of the doubt we give them a period to change their behaviour, whether it was purposely chosen or not. Note that this lenient strategy beat out even those strategies that tried to take advantage of the leniency offered.

kindness

It is no different in business or life. A bit of kindness goes a long way in changing the behaviour around us. Many management philosophies today also recognize the long-term benefits of kindness in the workplace (see the recent book ‘Leading with Kindness). I am finding that those attributes that lead to long-term benefits are usually the one that are worth cultivating.

I had a campus job for several years while in college. The job came with two bosses – one was a micro-manager who often lost his temper and the other was kind but stern. Which one do you think I thrived under? Which one do you think I wanted to work harder for?

I have had another boss who changed my view on a number of topics. How? Every time I came back from a project he was there with a smile and encouraging words. I opened up to him and became receptive to his views. This allowed me to truly consider his words. Remember that changing someone’s mind is a difficult thing. When you come to a situation that needs correction, you will quickly find that defensiveness will be the greatest barrier to change. And the primary ingredient to defensiveness is offensiveness. The saying is “You can catch more flies with honey.” You better believe it!

Give it a try in your workplace. Show kindness and see how your credibility, reputation, influence, and effectiveness as a leader changes.

5 Keys to Achieving Workplace Immortality – Honesty (1 of 5)

(This post is a foundational part of doing business better. As such I am not able to cut it down to ‘blog post’ size. Therefore, I will be cutting them up into a single post for each of the 5 tenets)

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Here are 5 tenets I have field tested over the last 15 years. They are at times painful, laborious, and seemingly counterproductive. But they work. And without them you are cheating your employer, fellow employees, and yourself of the better you that you can be.

1. Be Honest

2. Be Kind

3. Care

4. The Binder

5. The Log

1. The absolute bedrock of ALL business is honesty.

transparency

No business can go on for long without practicing honesty. This is especially true in today’s economy where sharing experiences with your business takes place on a daily basis and for all to see on the many social media platforms out there. I can think of one example in which a local business dealing in damage restoration treated their employees like Otterpops – the frozen popsicle treats. They hired an employee and pushed them to their breaking point until the employee quit. This company was treating their employees like they were eating an Otterpop on a hot summer day. They cycled through their employees, continually promising them salary and benefits if they just kept working hard. This company sold to a national competitor and never realized the growth potential they had at their fingertips. Another company I am acquainted with that currently uses this same tactic is finding that their employees are reciprocating the company’s behaviour. Word has gotten out how the operate. Now, the only people in that field that are willing to work there are those that only plan to stay for a little while until something better comes up.

One buzzword honesty brings to mind is transparency. Transparency is important as it give confidence in those wishing to consummate a deal with you that the facts really are as you have presented them. Honesty, though, goes a further than transparency. For example, transparency can lead to the discovery of a mistake and even to the discovery of the fault of the mistake. However, honesty compels the cause of the mistake to come forward and reveal itself. It does not wait to be discovered.

As an employee or an employer, this level of honesty can be painful. Admitting to mistakes may even reach a level of being ‘dangerous’. Additionally, it is tempting to go half way in being honest. How often do we find ourselves choosing our words too carefully in order to lessen the blame  on ourselves. For example, I borrowed the company truck for a personal trip into California. On the way I hit the side mirror on a road sign and shattered the mirror. In explaining this incident to the boss I said “I busted the side mirror on the truck. We should probably get the alignment checked because that truck swerves all over the place.” I had admitted fault but shifted some of the blame on the truck itself.

We need to remember that when we are not completely honest then any short-term gain in getting away with something will eventually be replaced by long-term assessment of our reputation. Conversely, any short-term pain resulting from being 100% straight forward will be offset by the log-term building of a sterling image. In other words, there is an upside to admitting when the fault lies with you – trust. Trust is the end result of following the policy of honesty. And when trust is coupled with capability, you will find that success is not far distant; that others will be willing to place their chances with you.

 

The 50/50 Employee

Over the last month or two I have had the opportunity to contemplate on my time as a direct supervisor of 10 to 12 employees. I came to the conclusion that there is a 50/50 contribution that each employee brings to their work environment.

The first contribution involves possessing the necessary skills for the position. In other words, “Are they competent?”.

The logical framework of the “workplace” consists of an employee performing a task for an employer. This is the short and the long of it – employees perform tasks that bring value to the employer. The task may be anything from producing a product to performing a service. However, we all know that the employee/employer relationship is far more complex. After all, when is the last time that you went to work, performed your role and then left? The employer/employee relationship is vastly more complicated due to the multiple levels of psychology involved in the work environment.

The second contribution is more enigmatic, more of the ‘soft skills’ category. It has everything to do with the employee’s contribution to the sociality of the workplace. On some level they understand the psychology of the workplace and are able to navigate it in a way that helps those in the workplace to contribute more efficiently. I argue that for most positions this skill is EQUALLY important to that of the first.

Let me give you an example:

One of my employees that I supervised had a Ph D. in our field while everyone else held a Bachelor’s degree. In addition, he was heavily involved in ongoing research. And yet, this employee, over the first 48 hour period that our field crew began interacting, alienated each of the six individuals in our group. The problem came to such a head that I could only accomplish our tasks by having this individual directly by my side over the remaining 6 days. In other words, despite being the most knowledgeable person by far in our group, his net contribution was negative.

On the flip side of that coin, on a much later field session I had a technician with very little field training compared to the rest of our crew. Yet by the time the third session began the following month, he was ably performing as the lead technician. This result largely stemmed from his background of working with teams while in the military as well as his native social intelligence.

I recently took a wonderful course in organizational management. To my surprise most of the coursework covered topics revolving around the psychology of the workplace. This course detailed the interactions between employees, between employees and employers from the employee’s perspective, between employers and employees from the employer’s perspective, between an individual employee and the larger group of employees, and on and on and on. In fact, the course focused on the mental aspect of the workplace over the physical and definitely over the topic of technical skills.

Why is this so important to understand? Because the employer is ultimately interested in obtaining the contribution of the employee. Further, to get that contribution the employer must deal with all of the psychological interactions we find in the work place. The employer that understands these psychological interactions will find it easier and cheaper to obtain the employee contribution. Therefore it behooves the employer to understand this work place psychology.

You may find that an employee who is working for you in the ‘hard skills’ sense is actually work against you in the ‘soft skills’ sense. Take the time to review who is working for you and try to pay attention to how they are doing in both of these two categories.

Strategic Secrecy Will Kill Your Venture

I first thought of my second venture eight years ago. This venture was based on a killer idea that answered a need in a unique way. It brewed in my mind for some time and I kept the idea strategically secret for two reasons. First, I knew it could be duplicated by a competitor fairly easily. Second, I wanted to be first to market.

Five years after this idea had been swimming around in my head I joined The Reno Collective. The Collective is a shared work space dealing primarily with techcentric consultants peppered with nonprofits and marketers. It is more than a simple work space that gives you a better place to do your thing than the local coffee house, or worse, your home. It really is a collaborative stew. I found this out when I first joined. Within a month I found myself spilling my guts about my ‘genius’ idea to Michael Henderson (who would go on to be my partner in the venture). Then a very strange thing happened – synergy. You know, the whole “There was a horse pull in…..” thing. We were feeding off of each other. By the end of the discussion we had mapped out a completely new creature that offered far more benefit than my little measly idea could have done all alone.

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What happened?

I reviewed my progress and realized that my strategic secrecy had actually held me back for years. My fear that someone would steal my idea had come at the cost of me not being able to realize any progress on the idea. A truly unacceptable trade off.

Now, I understand that there are sometimes that secrecy is needed. For example, my venture I discuss above is a program that allows employees to donate the cash value of their Pad Time Benefits (sick and vacation time) to the Nonprofit of their choice. It further enfranchises everyone involved by letting the action be shared on all social media platforms thereby linking the donor (employee), the employer, and the nonprofit. I love to talk to everyone about it. But I do not reveal our secret sauce on the actual accounting mechanics.

But just know this…..in far more cases than not, keeping your idea secret is holding back the true potential of that idea. There have been numerous personal examples where I have opened my mouth and evangelized my work only to find that people did not want to steal my idea but to help my idea. People came out of the woodwork to mentor us, coach us, offer assistance, and cheer us on. They gave us connections, introductions, and leads. In the end, you will find that you will gain FAR more by opening your mouth than by keeping it shut.

Give it a try. Spend the next week telling everyone you can about your great idea and see what happens. You may be surprised but I won’t. Your idea will make more progress in that month than any month before. Let me know your thoughts and experiences with this experiment.