Careers

never too late

Do you remember when it mattered? When your dreams burned within and it was painful to not accomplish them right then.

Do you remember when your entire life was potential? When you thought you could go anywhere and do anything and you wanted to go everywhere and do everything.

Do you remember when you had ideas? Ideas for businesses you wanted to start or ideas to save the world or ideas of the kind of life you were going to live.

Do you remember when creativity was at the center of your dreams? The books you were going to write, the songs you were going to play, the art you were going to make.

Do you remember when the world was fascinating? So many things to do, people to meet, and places to explore.

Do you remember when you couldn’t wait to get started on your life? When the wonder of who you were going to be and what you were going to do had you anxious and impatient to get going.

Do you remember when you were going to be bold? When the thought of living a life of resignation and quiet desperation was what scared you the most?

Do you remember when you were going to be great? When your career was going to shine and you would be revered for your incredible talent.

Do you remember when work was fun? When you couldn’t wait to get up because every day was exciting and different and you were learning at a ferocious pace.

Do you remember the day all that went away? Do you remember waking up one day and wondering where it had gone? Or had you forgotten all about it?

Do you remember when thriving became surviving? When standing out became hanging on? When hopes and dreams became reality TV? When the life you were going to live became the life that never quite happened?

Bigger question: what are you going to do about it? Your life looks different now, of course. Security, stability, and comfort pushed aside passion, desire, and excitement. You have constraints and responsibilities and obligations you never had back then.

You also have resources you never had. A sense of who you really are, not just who you thought you wanted to be. Wisdom, judgment, and patience to know what needs to be done and see it through. People you can count on as much as they count on you. The foundation and options a steady income provides. A sense of mortality pushing you to get things done today rather than waiting for “someday when.” The toughness that comes from getting through the downturns of life. The awareness you won’t be the next superstar or change the entire world and that’s ok – you just need to be the best you and make a difference where you are.

I don’t know what your dreams were or where they went, but I know it doesn’t matter. Yesterday’s dreams are for yesterday. Today’s dreams are what matters.

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first day jitters

“Will I like it here?”

“Is this going to be a good year?”

“Will I like the person in charge?”

“I wonder what the people sitting around me are like?”

“Where will I put my stuff?”

“Where are the bathrooms?”

“Is lunch any good here?”

“I hope work will be interesting.”

“Did I wear the right clothes? I wonder what others are wearing?”

“How early is too early to show up? How late is too late?”

“How long will it take to get there?”

“I don’t want to be here.”

“Will I make any friends?”

“Should I have styled my hair different? My hair never looks right.”

“Which door am I supposed to go in?”

“Wonder what I should do first when I get there?”

“Is anyone else new here today?”

“Hope I don’t do anything that makes me look stupid.”

“Should I have brought anything else?”

“My stomach hurts.”

“I hope they like me.”

 

First day of school at 8 years old or first day of work at 56, it’s all the same. Insecurities, doubt, and “what if…?” questions loom large.  I wonder what the answers will be.

judging performance

My daughter was a little dismayed and disappointed to discover that I’m not being evaluated by judges when I speak at conferences. It’s funny to think about, but how would she know different? She knows the emphasis and worry I put on doing great presentations and given the popularity of contest shows like America’s Got Talent and Last Comic Standing it’s probably very natural to assume I’d be in front of HR’s versions of Howard Stern or Rosanne. It would certainly change the flavor of conferences if the presenters got immediate, constructive feedback from a panel of judges.

It is fashionable right now to declare the demise of the performance appraisal. The logic seems to be a combination of: 1) we need feedback more than once a year; 2) many managers are terrible at it; 3) people don’t like being evaluated. But, killing off the appraisal because we need more feedback is sort of like ending Christmas because we believe people should be nice to each other more than just during the holiday season. I fail to see how doing less solves the problem of needing more. And, regardless of format or frequency, providing feedback is a core function of the manager’s job so it’s probably time to just go ahead and get good at it. Likewise, when we’re getting paid to do work it’s hardly unreasonable that we’re expected to do it correctly (and maybe even improve) so receiving feedback is just part of being employed.

Can we do performance appraisals (lots) better. Absolutely! Can we completely eliminate them? I’m not yet convinced. Can we completely overhaul the entire format? Probably need to.

My daughter’s confusion got me thinking. What if performance appraisals were done by a panel of judges? Seems to fit in with the American reality TV ethos.  Of course, few jobs could be accurately judged by a group of impartial outsiders and almost no one would want to hear their performance appraisal in front of the entire company. So, as amusing as it is to consider, that’s probably out.

Yet, feedback from several perspectives is useful. So perhaps it’s a manager and two or three peers. Co-workers generally know the true performance far better than the manager, especially if we evaluate interpersonal/team skills. It should be pretty easy for performance management software to randomly assign appraisals to peers and keep the feedback anonymous. Need to do appraisals more than once a year? Great, how’s quarterly, monthly, weekly?

The technology is there. Back in May, Workforce reported that companies such as Facebook and Hewlett-Packard are essentially crowdsourcing performance data on a continual basis. I suppose it’s similar to how companies are continuously gathering customer feedback. (It also allows companies to eliminate HR as a gatekeeper to performance management – I’ll let you decide if that’s good or bad.)

But technology can’t do what we need most. To have direct, human, ongoing discussions with people about what they’re doing well and what they need to do better. The interesting thing about the TV shows with panels of judges is watching how much the surviving performers improve over the course of the show by using the feedback they receive week after week. Beyond all the drama, cut-to-commercial, spectacle, there is solid, honest here’s-what-you-did-well-and-here’s-how-you-can-do-better feedback. We all need that.

heroes and friends

Social media gave me heroes. When I first started playing with social media I was awed by a handful of standout people working hard at sharing knowledge, shaking up the status quo, and kicking at the boundaries of their fields. Their larger than life perspectives arrived in my little corner of the world without fail through blog posts and Twitter updates. I began digging down, finding their influencers, and one hero led to another and another and another.

I discovered the magic of social media and learned the obvious secret. I could contact – contact! – these heroes and they would respond. Their ideas were big, but they weren’t the untouchable rock stars on the 15 foot high stage. They were open, liked sharing ideas back and forth, and responded quickly.

Then, I personally paid to attend a conference over 1,000 miles away for the chance to attend presentations by several of my biggest heroes, learn from them, and meet them in real life. That conference changed my world. After a few embarrassingly starstruck-tweenage-girl-meeting-the-boyband-of-the-week moments I realized these online celebrities of my world were, just people. People reaching out to the world and trying to make a difference in between all the dull-normal moments of life. Yes, they were outstanding at what they did, but they still had jobs to go to, spouses to hand them chore lists, kids to take to the zoo, and minivans in need of replacement. Their weekends looked like my weekends; their workweeks like my own.

Another conference followed, then another, and another. At each one, I arrived meeting another hero or two and left with much learning, fantastic discussions, and more friends.

Conferences took away my heroes and gave me friends. Friends dedicated to personal missions of changing the world of work. Friends who give their time and advice freely and eagerly. Friends I count on to push me, cheer me on, and inspire me to play bigger in this world.

If you go to conferences, when you go to conferences, I encourage you seek out your heroes. Go find them, meet them, talk to them. It’s good to have heroes; it’s better to have friends.

 

should you become a manager, part II

Part 1 was a teensy bit tongue in cheek. I get concerned that we often only see the Hollywood aspect of leadership – power, money, cars, Donald Trump – and miss the daily, grinding realities of it. Being a leader is difficult and comes with a lot of downsides. Leadership also comes with several upsides that don’t get much press. They aren’t flashy and aren’t for everyone, but they are important.

1. As a leader, the culture of your team is up to you. It gets established and reinforced daily just by how you show up, how you interact, and how you make sure work gets done. You can make it a great place to be where people want to do their best.

2. You are crucial to your employees’ growth and development. Sure, they have to actually do the learning, but the tone you set determines how much importance they’ll place on development and what they get out of it. You also have a perspective they don’t have and are in a position to coach and foster their strengths and build on their, um, not-so-strengths. And, how you champion them in the company determines a big part of their career trajectory. Leaders with a reputation for developing great talent tend to stand out.

3. You determine the customer experience. Whether your customers are internal or external, how your team treats those customers will be a direct reflection of two things: 1) the expectations you set, model, and reinforce; and 2) how your employees get treated by you. I’m a firm believer in the adage: the customer experience rarely exceeds the employee experience. It’s easy to tell who has a great manager just by how the customer gets treated.

4. You get to solve bigger and more interesting problems. The TV version of leadership shows your problems getting smaller as you move up in the company. NOT TRUE. Everyone’s pay is ultimately based on the problems they are expected to solve. The bigger and more complicated, uncertain, and ambiguous problems you solve, the more you get paid. And, the more you get paid, the more challenging the problems are. For example, entry-level positions deal with problems that are simple and have pre-determined answers (e.g., scanning a product and giving change to customers) and executives deal with huge problems affecting the entire company where there aren’t obvious answers (e.g., determining the best balance of stability, profitability, and growth over the next five years and the best way to achieve that balance).

5. Leadership is knowing and working with people. Although leaders do deal with technical problems, the leader’s job has people at its core. Business gets done for, through, and by people and people are logical, irrational, funny, bitter, kind, mean, caring, apathetic, generous, selfish, and a whole bunch of other paradoxes operating at the same time. As a leader you are at the center of all that, juggling a thousand things, and trying to make sense of it all. Every day is different and every day brings fresh challenges.

The best part is you don’t need title to do any of this. Leadership is about influence; about bringing out the best in those around you. Some days a title helps, but there is nothing preventing you from setting great examples, treating teammates and customers well, encouraging other people’s development, and becoming known as a problem solver.

Should you be a leader? Yes, every day. Should you accept a job with a leadership title? That one’s up to you.

networking for introverts?

The other day, Tim Mushey of Sell, Lead, Succeed fame raised a question about networking. It was a great question because it made me stop and think and I realized that even though my connections with others are really important to me, I spend almost zero time thinking about “networking” or “my network.”

I should be the world’s worst networker: I’m terrible at small talk, I can’t “work a room” to save my life, and if I’m at a party I’ll spend most of my time in the kitchen talking to one other person about books or bicycles. Life of the party I’m not.

Yet, somewhere along the way, something happened and and I find myself in the middle of a great network of really terrific people. Enough so that my wife insists I should write a book about networking for introverts. I don’t think I have that much to say about it, but I do have a few tips I could share – just observations from my own life. Your mileage may vary.

1. Forget all about “networking”. I’m not a big fan of the word because it makes it sound like a separate activity. Just live your life. You already have a network of people and relationships, now just start thinking how you can broaden and deepen it.

2. Focus on meeting interesting people. This is my biggest piece of advice. Don’t worry about meeting everyone, just seek and find people in your field who are up to interesting things and build the relationship from there. The really, really cool thing is that interesting people by their very nature know lots of other interesting people.

How do you meet them? Ask around. Seriously, just ask, “Who else is doing cool things that you’d suggest I meet?” You’ll get some great answers. The second is social media – it’s an amazing shortcut to fascinating people around the planet. Follow someone you admire in your field on Twitter (or whatever social media you prefer) and start looking at what blogs they read, who they’re connected to, etc. and begin following and connecting with those folks.

3. Think long term. It’s not a race. Let connections and relationships build naturally over time.

4. Social media is a great starting point, but it’s just a starting point. Build relationships in real life. This past year I made a point of reaching out and asking people I only knew through the internet to chat via Skype of phone. I got sidetracked and really need to focus on this again because I’ve been able to meet and learn from some truly phenomenal people.

5. Networking numbers are stupid. I’m baffled by the ads that claim to provide 10,000 Twitter followers for $29.95 (or whatever) because, who cares? Just because someone is following you or you are following them doesn’t mean there is any connection. Oh, you handed out 100 business cards at the last conference. So what? Numbers are irrelevant. It’s better to have a true connection with 20 people than to be largely ignored by thousands.

6. People and relationships matter. You don’t have to care about everyone on the planet (though it’s nice if you do), but it shows pretty quick if you’re not investing time and energy in the people in your life.

7. Realize people are willing to connect with and help you. Several years ago my job was eliminated. With a family to feed and an immediate need for work, I started calling up key members of my professional association and asking if I could meet with them to get their advice on job hunting in the city I was living in – who’s hiring, which companies have a great/terrible reputation, who else should I speak with, etc. No one turned me down. No one hesitated. People I’d never met before went out of their way to meet, talk, and help. On a smaller scale, people I’ve met only through social me have been surprisingly quick to respond to questions.

8. Focus on what you can do to help others. If it’s all about you or your approach is very transactional, you will have a weak, sucky network. If there is actual dialog and it’s clear that you authentically want to help others, you’ll have a strong, robust network.

To sum up, here’s everything I know about networking in two short sentences: Forget “networking”. Find interesting people and build great relationships.

 

what’s stopping you?

What’s Stopping You?

In the late ‘90s, Fox Racing put out a poster and magazine ad of legendary motocrosser Doug Henry removing his jersey after a ride. The centerpiece is an ugly scar running down and around his side, a visible reminder of a nasty crash where his back broke on impact from an 80-foot fall. While still coming back from that injury, another crash broke both wrists (think about that for a second). Yet, he persevered to win a historical championship. Grit, toughness, and determination don’t even begin to describe what it took. The simple caption to the ad and poster was, “What’s stopping you?”

This was a hugely inspiring poster for me. Every sport has its share of similar stories of athletes pushing far beyond what we think the body is capable of and gutting out wins against the odds. And so what? The further along life I get, the more I’m inspired by the amazing spirit and determination of ordinary people. People without multi-million dollar contracts to fight for, people who don’t have the one and only career they are qualified for on the line, people whose grit goes unnoticed by ESPN or CNN.

I love public speaking and joke that, as an introvert, it’s my version of bungee jumping. But I get that I’m kind of weird and most people hate, hate, hate even the idea of being in front of a group. People fear speaking more than death so, as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, most people would rather be the person in the casket at a funeral than the one giving the eulogy. Few want to be the scrutinized center of attention. Fewer still enjoy it and seek it out.

My kids recently tried out for a school play along with 150 other students. They all had to do a short monologue and sing part of a song. One of those trying out was a 7th grade girl who stutters. Her name starts with “S” so she was struggling to introduce herself before she even attempted her monologue. Imagine that. Really put yourself in her shoes. She didn’t have to be there, she chose it. Putting yourself out in front of peers and risking rejection is tough enough when you’re an adult. What she did? Courage. Pure courage.

I know you have some things you want to attempt, some things to be accomplished. Unfulfilled personal and career goals. What’s stopping you?

real world champion

What I do today matters. What I do every day matters more. Our reputations, our relationships, our lives are the sum total reflection of every decision, action, and event.

Observation shows it’s pretty easy to live an OK life. Get to work on time, pay your bills around the due date, say “please” and “thank you”, give other people the respect and courtesy you’d like to receive, don’t commit felonies, etc. Nail the basics and an average life is yours without too much effort. You probably won’t have a fulfilling life but you won’t be too miserable either.

The jump from OK to fantastic appears much more difficult. When we look at those we admire, words like “focus”, “discipline”, “integrity”, “unique”, “dedication”, “enthusiasm”, “responsibility”, “honor”, “vision”, and “purpose” start coming to mind. No one creates excellent results in any aspect of their lives with a mediocre mindset or average actions.

Interestingly, few people declare that what they want most in the world is to be mediocre. Few dream of average. Seldom do children hope to grow up and become dull normal. What if we stopped thinking about just getting through life and started thinking about becoming champions in our lives?

It probably feels weird to even answer. Seriously though, what does “champion” mean in the areas of life most important to you? What would it take to be a champion parent, spouse, or friend? What does being a champion salesperson, manager, HR pro, teacher, etc. look like? How does becoming a champion change how you think about your day?

Moving beyond ordinary requires asking better questions of ourselves. “How can I find a job I like?” is a much different question than “How can I become one of the best in my field?” “How can I argue less with my kids?” is not the same as “How can I build a close and enduring relationship with my kids?” Likewise, “Why am I fat?” produces different answers than “What do I need to do to get fit?”

Being champion requires applying what we already know (and learning all we can as we go along) with consistent, focused effort. It means risking failure – oddly if we give it our all and it doesn’t work out we tend to think of that as more of a failure than if we don’t try at all (LIE!) It means breaking free of the herd and finding our own vision and our own destiny. And that probably doesn’t fit in well with those content with marginal.

Champions design their lives so every aspect supports what they are creating. One of the biggest challenges you will face in being a champion is simply that most of the effort isn’t very sexy or fun. In the movies we see a cool three minute montage with an upbeat song when the hero takes control of their lives and turns thing around. In real life, it requires continual, unceasing effort. It means getting up when you don’t want to get up, taking action when it would be easier not to, having uncomfortable conversations that you’d really rather avoid, and standing out when you’d rather fit in.

So we try in fits and starts, but one effort, one time, one day doesn’t do much for us. Johny Hendricks, one of the very best mixed martial artists summed it up: “If I’m going to be a champion, I’ve got to act like a champion every day.”

Starting today.

what’s the purpose of a business?

A philosophical question for you this morning: what’s the purpose of a business? The business school answer is simply to make as much money as possible for the shareholders. I’m not convinced.

The concept of a “business” is fairly new in terms of human history. For most of our time on this planet we survived with the very simple job title of “hunter/gatherer”. I imagine the division of labor was pretty simple – “you stab stuff, I’ll try to find plants, we’ll get back together tonight and see if we get to eat.” Organizations existed at the tribe level and the mission statement was: “Trying to live for one more day.”

Then, 10,000 years ago (give or take a weekend) agriculture was invented. People could stay in one place and a more stable food supply allowed people specialize in a craft. Occupations arose and business was born. People moved past daily survival and were able to amass a cushion of resources that allowed them to prosper (long-term survival). Then we spent the next 10 millennia taking a very simple concept (survival) and turning it into something really, stupidly complicated (business).

We tend to think of organizations as something sterile and separate from their founders. We forget that the people who started the business, started that specific business for a very particular reason. When we look at the biggest businesses today, chances are very high that their founders started them NOT because they thought it would be the highest return on their money but because they were hoping to make money (survive and prosper) doing something they found interesting. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, Michael Dell, Edison, etc., etc. started in garages and dorm rooms building cool stuff. Or at least stuff they thought was cool. There was sweat, emotion, passion, and wonder as they figured out how to make money doing the things they were fascinated by.

Think of your own career. Why do you do what you do? Chances are you didn’t choose a field based solely on annual salary. You may not even be in a field that you started in or even knew about when you were deciding what to do when you grew up. When you decided on (or stumbled into) a career it was probably based on many things in addition money. Face it, if we were ONLY about the bucks, we’d all be hedge fund managers, drug lords, or working on oil rigs in North Dakota.

If the ONLY purpose of a business was to make money for the owners, no one would be in low margin / low profit businesses. No one would stay in dying industries. The problem is, as the business ages, as the owners retire or sell, we forget that the purpose of the business was originally to make money in a way the owner found interesting. We forget purpose and reason and treat it like a commodity rather than a legacy with a heritage. We lose sight of being interesting and compelling and begin playing the utterly moronic Maximize-Profits-This-Quarter-By-Cutting-Our-Throats game that gets played daily in corporations around the world.

How would that change business – our businesses – if we kept in sight the idea that we’re in hotels or banking or telecommunications or auto manufacturing or farming or whatever because it was once a way to make money (hopefully, good money) that was more interesting and compelling than all the other ways the founder could have made money? If we kept in mind that there was something about this business, this field, this industry that jazzed people?

I’m all for profit. But profit for the sake of profit is a snooze. Profit in pursuit of doing something cool, interesting, challenging, and amazing? That’s where the fun is. That’s where the purpose of a business lies.

What thinks you?