The Rough Guide to Being Successful at Work by Rough Guider - HTML preview
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The rough guide to
being successful at
work (real advice for
by Rough Guider
I dedicate this book to all the managers and staff that I have had the pleasure of working with over the last (nearly) 25 years. I have sincere gratitude for the knowledge you have passed to me downwards and upwards (and sideways) and for the experiences I have gained from working with you. This has taught me almost everything I know about the workplace!
The rough guide to being successful at work
(real advice for real people)
Making a good impression
Actively managing your career
Building joy into your work
How to write
Random tips (and some fun)
For a while now I have been wondering why I can’t locate a book that sets out in a clear no nonsense manner how to be successful at work. I’m talking about practical steps that are easily digestible and simple to put into practice in the workplace. So, what with having gained over 20 years of management experience across six companies, all within different industries, I thought it was time that someone (me!) put this right.
All the things I write about are from first-hand experience and have worked ever so well for me. You won’t find any name dropping, famous or contemporary theoretical models, complicated flow-charts or difficult to understand diagrams. You will find simple words, simple vocabulary, simple paragraphs and simple chapters including ideas and advice that are very easy to implement in your day to day lives at work.
So my promise to you is to include advice and ideas that:
• are easy to follow
• are easy to try out
• actually work in practice (they are all tried and tested)
• can be remembered easily
By the way I love bullet points. This is something that will become apparent very quickly as you glide through this book.
Making a good impression and working
happily ever after
OK, so let’s start at the beginning. It’s your first day at work and you want to make a good impression. That’s done by impressing those around you, but who do you really need to do to impress on that first day in the office and forever after?
• Your boss?
• Your boss’s boss?
• Your staff?
• Your peers?
• The CEO?
• The receptionist?
The answer is of course all of them, BUT the ones you need to concentrate on first are your boss (this chapter) and your staff (see ‘Managing Staff’). If they undermine you, you’re out of there whether you like it or not.
So how do you impress your boss? Well I could go down the theoretical route of analyzing personality traits, determining where their personalities lie on the well-known scales and charts, but I did say that I wasn’t going to do that.
So here is the REAL practical advice:
• Like them and be liked. By this I don’t mean all that brown nose stuff or that you should try to become their friend (although becoming your boss’s friend can help a career) but try really hard to understand them, work out what they like and what they dislike. “So what” I hear you say (email or text), let’s see the practical stuff that you’re talking about. Well, here it is:
o Find out what makes them laugh – write down what things they react positively to. Was it an outright joke, an interesting anecdote or do they really prefer you to jump straight in there and ignore the niceties? Sounds corny I know, but if you make them laugh they’ll think you’re a good guy. By the way, if you tell a joke or anecdote or other humorist comment and they respond badly, move on and don’t dwell on it, and certainly don’t repeat it. It could be a culture issue, language issue or simply a lack of GSOH on their behalf. But, whatever you do, don’t see it as your fault or problem and don’t lose any sleep over it, but do try a different approach next time. Finding out what makes them laugh doesn’t need to be done over night. If you are a cautious person you can monitor their approach to humor over a few weeks before making your move.
o Find out their pet dislikes. In fact ask them outright.
o Do they dislike projects or tasks being delivered late, or do they dislike poor communication skills (which, in reality, may mean a lack of communication)? If your boss has to chase you up on something, it probably means you should have updated them already! So find out how often they chase up on tasks and make sure you get in there first.
o Do they hate negativity? No-one likes the person around the table that is negative and unconstructive. How do you know if someone is a negative force? Simple. If after a conversation with someone you feel energized, they are a positive force. If after a conversation with someone you feel tired and drawn, they are a negative force. If you ask me, don’t let anyone get you down, and more importantly, don’t be the person that gets everyone else down.
o Do they hate bad grammar? See the ‘How to write’ chapter to avoid these pitfalls.
• Ask intelligent questions. This is a tough one, as sometimes you may be in a meeting where you don’t know very much about the topic under discussion. My advice is to follow the rules below to maximize your input and chances of being recognized as an effective contributor:
o Be confident. If you have an idea, express it. It’s rare that a group laughs or dismisses an idea outright, even if it isn’t really that good. Your ideas will get better and better over time as will your confidence. It’s a never ending cycle of improvement.
o Chat beforehand. If it’s an important meeting try to speak to one or two people either inside or outside the meeting group, in advance, to help gain ideas. I don’t mean steal their ideas by passing them off as your own, but if you agree with them, bring them into the conversation in a structured way.
o Research. It sounds boring I know, but when you research the topic beforehand, it’s amazing what good and highly relevant questions come to mind.
o Ask the obvious. It’s amazing how many times you have an “obvious”
question in mind that you don’t ask it. Eventually somebody else gets the plaudits for asking that question and you leave the meeting wondering why you did not have the confidence to ask it.
o Remember you core skills. If you’re the finance guy then it is fine for you to ask the pressing finance question. If you’re the sales guy it’s fine to ask the sales question. Playing to your strengths is a good idea. It allows you to join the conversation and add value. [Note: if the topic has absolutely nothing to do with your area of work, revisit the points above.]
• Help your boss be successful. Sure, I hear you say. I’ll come up with ideas for improving their department and they will take the credit. Well, if that’s what your boss is like are you working for the right person or indeed company? Look, if your boss’s life is made easier and they look more impressive because of your help, 9
times out of 10 (I didn’t have the confidence to say ninety-nine times out of a 7
hundred) your boss will reward you. This may be through verbal recognition, juicy project work (if that’s relevant) or letting others know how well you are performing through informal channels and the formal appraisal process. So how can you help your boss look good?
o Tell them what they are doing wrong (tactfully!) and make sure that you have some recommendations for them. No-one likes negativity remember!
o Find out what their goals are and make sure that your goals tie in to some of theirs. If it is unclear to you how your goals fit in with theirs, speak to your boss about this and listen carefully to their guidance.
o Come up with ideas for them on how to improve the performance of their department. If you have time, offer to help them improve things, but be careful not to upset others in the department if the matters you identify lie outside your immediate area of responsibility. I don’t mean tread on egg-shells but make sure that tact remains the order of the day.
o Say good things about them to other senior management leaders, if such praise is honest. Indeed there must be something good about them? Are they good at communicating, listening, recognizing valuable contributions, developing career paths and/or being flexible over your working conditions?
Undoubtedly there is something good about them that you can share. As a result, others will see you as a positive force within the department. If I was a betting man I would put money on your boss hearing about this through their network and mentally logging that you’re a good person to have in their team.
o Let them know when things are not getting done (again, avoid negativity).
They may have an important project or area of work that is not progressing as it should. If you have clear and substantiated facts to support this, then alert your boss. Avoid rumors and hearsay as this comes across as immature and may be considered as your attempt to discredit other people within their department. At the end of the day your boss will thank you for your transparency and tactfulness in bringing this issue to their attention.
o Tell them when they have done well. If they have run a department-wide or group-wide meeting or perhaps smaller meeting for 2-3 people (if you work in a small team) don’t feel shy about telling them how good they were. We’re not talking brown-nose stuff here but rather constructive comments about the time they have spent on something that has improved the quality of the department. “Hey boss, it was really great that you took the time to speak to the team about the company’s strategy for the current year. They really enjoyed the visibility.” Your boss will certainly remember your support and will value it.
Is it too late to change? One thing to remember is that it is never too late to change. I remember a situation where a member of staff had lost their manager (a careless thing to do) and was eagerly awaiting the arrival of their new one. The previous boss did not treat them in an adult fashion and did not view them as a mature and professional individual. Their concern was that the new manager would immediately assume the same. My advice was to see this as an opportunity and not 8
a threat to their career. I asked the individual in question to draw up a profile of how they would like to be viewed by the incoming boss. This ended up being a simple exercise and the staff member (also a manager, albeit at a more junior level) put together a pretty cool document. Once I saw the document I realized that they had a very clear view of how they would like to be perceived. The key was for them not to simply act like that person but be the person on the document, from Day 1
(first impressions last and all that). So, I sat down with the person in question and we came up with a plan on how to act, portray and in fact truly be that person, from here on in. Given that the new manager had no pre-conceived ideas (I certainly wasn’t going to give them any) it was not that difficult to continue work with this new persona, gravitas and maturity. Their boss had left and a new one had joined (remember that they hadn’t been promoted into their manager’s role) but the impression their new boss had of them was entirely different and far more favorable.
2 years later, the ‘new’ boss moved on and the individual was promoted into their role, which would not have happened had they not taken the steps to grow, mature and effectively show themselves to be a more polished and complete person (from a work point of view). Remember, if you inherit a new boss (under any circumstances) it is your opportunity to reinvent yourself for the better. Don’t miss that opportunity or doubt how significant a timely review of self can make to your career trajectory.
• Toeing the party line. Generally speaking, people admire those that defend the principles and support the objectives of their boss and department respectively. You may disagree with your boss behind closed doors but it is important that you tow the party line in the public arena. Slating your boss is not a wise idea and is likely to be destructive to your relationship with them.
You see, by writing ‘managing staff’ I’m already sending you down the wrong track. So between you and me I’d rather call this chapter ‘getting the most out of your staff but in a way that also means that they get the most out of their job’. OK, ‘managing staff’ it is.
The thing is, I can’t believe how many of my friends and relatives tell me that they have a serious issue with their manager. Don’t get me wrong, loads of people say that they are truly happy (yes, I admit that there are undoubtedly better managers out there than me), but too many still seem to go home very unhappy with the way they are “used and abused”
by their boss. So this chapter is for those who want to improve the way they work with their staff.
So how should you manage staff? It’s bullet point time:
• Treat them with respect. They’re not children, they have pride and they have feelings. So speak to them as you’d like to be treated. If your boss does not treat you well don’t let this affect the relationships you have built up with your team. It’s not fair to pass ‘bad culture’ down the line. If your boss shouts at you that’s an issue for you and your boss to resolve but don’t let that affect your relationship with your staff (peers and so on). In particular:
o Don’t patronize
o Ask for input from staff at meetings
o Be clear to them when they don’t meet your expectations (seriously, they’ll respect you for it)
o Recognize good performance (see below)
• Give them time. Everyone has their own values in life and one of those important to many is to spend time with loved ones. Well, lo and behold, it is the same at work. Make sure that your staff know that they can knock on your door to discuss something important to them and, even more importantly, they have the confidence that you will take their issue seriously.
• Don’t fob them off. Staff have feelings too. When they bring an issue to your attention make sure that you agree on how you will help, logging down any action points for yourself, and come back to them with your feedback in a timely manner.
If they ask for your help and you offer to help, make sure that you actually help and it is visible to them. Otherwise you’ll be worse off than if you hadn’t offered to help in the first place.
• Listen. Ok, all good management books highlight the importance of listening. But this is a different kind of listening. Why don’t you ask one of your key staff out for a coffee at break or lunch (or simply go to a meeting room or your office) and ask them to speak about their life at work; frustrations, likes, dislikes and so on. Agree not to interrupt them for (say) 10 minutes. And, whatever you do, don’t interrupt 10
them. They will feel totally refreshed after the 10 minutes and you will feel really good too. (Weirdly) you’ll also feel so much closer to them and that new bond will probably survive for a few months without much further effort. So just think how strong it would be if you repeated that exercise on a regular basis – perhaps 2-3
times a year. After they have finished, you should comment and of course offer advice and guidance when this is required. Don’t forget to follow up on the things you have agreed to look into.
• Listen. In case you skipped the paragraph above. Listening is so very important and, by the way, this isn’t the time to skim read.
• Set clear objectives and goals. I know that this sounds so obvious, and it looks like it has been taken directly out of a standard textbook, but if they don’t have clear objectives and goals (or whatever you want to call them) you can’t fairly judge their performance. How do you set these? A concise bullet point summary is shown below:
o Set targets (it’s the same thing) that are achievable o Set targets that are challenging (but the bullet point above still holds) o Set targets that, if achieved, make them look good o Set targets that, if achieved, should certainly make you look good o Let them know how their goals fit into the overall goals of the department and business. Where do they fit into the overall picture?
If they achieve their targets they should know without doubt that you’re happy with them. This leads me on nicely to the next point.
• Recognize their contributions. Staff wish to be recognized in different ways so get to know them. How you recognize your staff is very important and you should consider the following factors:
o Frequency of recognition. Don’t overdo it or you will come across as insincere, but do make sure that you regularly thank your staff when it is merited by their performance.
o Formalness of recognition. Recognition varies from a ‘pat on the back’ to a verbal thank you, to a formal email, perhaps copying of forwarding the communication to your boss as well. Whichever route you take, and it’s good to mix these up, keep it honest, regular and clear.
Profile sessions. One other thing that I have found very useful is to run what I call ‘profile sessions’ with staff on a one to one basis. I have the weekly meetings where I run through all the tasks that should be complete, the project stage gates that should be passed, and so on, but I also run monthly (sometimes every other month) meetings where we talk about nothing other than their brand within the company. What do I mean by this (also see ‘Your brand’)?
• How are they perceived by others within the company and how can we improve that perception? Perhaps better writing or presentation skills.
• How strong is their network within the company (see ‘Networking’)? Let’s come up with actual names of people within the company that they should pro-actively contact and build relationships with.
• What projects or tasks are they working on that have gone well and could be recognized publicly? This is a double-whammy. If I email the senior management team about how well one of my members of staff have performed on (say) a project, they will not only email that member of staff to congratulate them, which means that the member of staff is happy with me, but they will also email me to say what a great job I am doing in managing that member of staff. A win-win situation, and it is so easy.
• Agree what communications they could send out to raise their profile. Rather than you sending around a communication about the office re-fit, perhaps your number two could do this (come on, don’t be a control freak).
• Review and agree whether their current profile within the company is enhancing their career. Correct that course if needed. In other words, if the things they are doing are not helping develop a good persona at work, stop and think of some new ones.
Now that you have the general idea, feel free to add to my bullet point list!
The hard conversation. As a manager it is part and parcel of your job to speak to staff to not only reward and recognize them for good work but to speak to them when they are not performing to the levels expected of them. Sometimes we can be tempted to shirk our responsibilities (particularly if we are time pressured) avoiding that hard conversation which often starts with the phrase “Can I see you for a minute?” However, top performance (or at least the most significantly improved performance) often materializes subsequent to such discussions. Their respect for you as a manager should actually go up rather than down as long as you have been constructive, realistic, fair, transparent and tactful. Let’s take these in turn:
• Constructive – provide them with a clear picture of what needs to improve along with a workable plan on how to do so.
• Realistic – make sure that they can achieve the goals set for improved performance.
• Be fair, taking into account any mitigating factors. It is not surprising that (say) a bereavement can dramatically affect short term performance.
• Be transparent – have a two-way dialogue in which you should be clear that you are disappointed. Remind them of their strengths and why you believe in them. Ask them if there is more you should be doing to help them.
• Above all, be tactful. Stay patient with them but make it clear that you expect to see some significant improvement now that you have put a framework in place to assist them.
• Speak to your Human Resources department to make sure that you follow company protocol (don’t slip up on any disciplinary processes if they are relevant).
My first two weeks as a manager. This is one of the best things I have ever done at work. I became the new manager of an office of 180 staff. Now, to be fair, I had 6
reportees who all had about 30 staff each, so I only really had to manage 6 staff.
I had been told that this was a well run office where staff were satisfactorily motivated.
There was an attrition issue (staff leaving the company) but apparently that was due to the fact that their jobs were inherently mundane. There was nothing that could be done about that, or so I was told.
So, on my first day I decided to do something a bit different. I decided to stop, look and listen. I looked around the office and saw a drab, unmotivated work environment and staff that had drawn and tired faces. I realized that it was time for some investment so I had a schedule drawn up to allow me to meet 10% of the staff each day for the next 10 working days. I asked them to meet me on a one to one basis (at agreed times that worked for them) and to bring along with them a list of their current frustrations plus their proposals on how to eliminate those frustrations. The former without the latter would have made my life far too difficult and they wouldn’t have felt an integral part of the process.
Anyway, after collating their comments, eliminating duplication and separating out purely negative comments from those that added real value, I came up with a 10 point plan. Each of those ‘points’ was followed by the suggestions and recommendations that had been forthcoming. I had also added my own for good order. To be fair, they had come up with 95% of the content and I made it clear to them that this was the case. I’m half tempted to list out the 127 suggestions they came up with, but they were largely specific to those teams in that office, so it would only really be a filler.
However, their comments ranged from “we need a new drinks machine on the 1st floor as the current one is broken” to “we should introduce a new role of deputy supervisor for each team so that when the supervisor is away there is a second in command”. That also helped solve part of the career progression issue as 6 staff (you do the maths) could be promoted almost instantaneously, subject to budget approval of course.
I communicated this plan (with deliverables and deadlines) to the senior management team and received approval for what was not such a significant financial investment (many things were quick fixes). The action points were delivered on time and within budget. The sun shone on all of us that day (both on my staff and on me). It’s amazing what a little bit of listening can do. This was without doubt the single best investment of my time across my working career. In fact, it was the start of a great career with that company.
I ran that department for about 3 years before being promoted to another larger more significant role (based on the fact that I now had a reputation for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the departments within the company). Those talented guys made me look good and I can never thank them enough for it. Lots of them did well out of our relationship too with a series of promotions, pay reviews and internal moves to, arguably, more exciting parts of the business. It’s a 2-way process remember!
The annual offsite (“Awayday”). These can be very effective in bringing the team together, building bonds, training and educating them, and allowing them to hone their presentation skills, writing skills, negotiation skills and the like. As long as you take the day seriously, ask the team in advance what they would like to achieve and ensure that the day is varied, fun and interactive, it should be a roaring success. Sound easy? Well it is! In fact, half the work can be completed by outside speakers (ask the CEO if they can spend 15
minutes with your team or the global head of your function or the head of finance, sales or marketing for your business unit).
If your team is small, think about combining it with some other teams. At one work place we combined Finance, Facilities Management and IT. It astonishes me how many shared issues different functions want to discuss and resolve. My favorite exercise for this combined group was to ask them to break into teams (each team had a few staff from each function) and put together a plan for our company to move premises (something we were thinking of doing). They had to put 3 sections in their plan. One for Finance, one for IT and one for (wait for it) Facilities Management. I gave them some information on a couple of sheets of paper so that they could establish the company requirements and available budget and they put together some pretty impressive plans. Later on, they presented the plans -
so presentation skills were finely honed as well. It was a cracking day.
There are two sides to every story - part 1 (for Part 2 see ‘Chairing (running) meetings’). It is really important to educate staff that others within the business, particularly those in other departments, have different personalities, different goals, objects and priorities along with different day-to-day pressures. For example, someone in the finance department may feel frustrated that a salesperson delivers their expense claim form one day late. They are also irritated by the fact that the salesperson’s boss will not take steps to reprimand them. When you look at the situation from the salesperson’s lens things can be very different. They wonder why the finance person is being so hard on them when they are the top performer in their department (smashing through their quarterly sales goals), when they are always courteous and polite to the guys in Finance, and when they have been on the road for 2 weeks in back-to-back sales meetings so have not had time to complete the travel and entertaining expenses claim form. Would the Finance person rather they put in the claim on time but missed out on a high value sale (perhaps yes?). The thing to remember here is that different factors drive the day-to-day actions of individuals throughout the organization. If your staff can get their heads around this, it can take away a whole load of internal stress. It doesn’t necessarily make things easier for them from a process point of view (although perhaps when they understand the issues they may look to change the process in order to ‘buy in’ the Sales department) but it will ensure that they can manage their frustrations by understanding the issue from the culprit’s point of view.
Don’t’ forget to listen to new ideas. You are the chief of your team, department or business, which means you should know that most great ideas (although not all) come from the front-line. Ignore your staff at your peril. One analogy that remains firmly rooted in my mind is the situation where a Captain in the army is fighting off the enemy one by one using his sword. As they run towards him he is just about able to fight them off. However, at the same time, one of his men is tapping him on the shoulder trying to get his attention.
“Get off me” he keeps saying, “Can’t you see that I’m really tied up at the moment”. The Private groans and tries to grab his superior’s attention a few minutes later, but to no avail.
The Captain worked really hard that day and, along with his men, just about managed to keep the enemy at bay. At the end of the day the Captain turned around to the Private and asked “So what was so important that you kept trying to interrupt me when you could see that I had my hands full?” The Private turned round to his Captain and showed him a box that had arrived that day. On the outside of the package was written the words ‘Sub-machine gun’. If only the Captain had taken the time to listen to his team he would have performed far more effectively for the army that day.
Crossing the divide. Some advice I received very early on in my managerial career related to the ‘us and them’ syndrome. Once I had made the jump from the front line to a management position my boss called me in and explained that I was now part of the 14
management team and shouldn’t fraternize with the troops. Now, to be clear, he was not suggesting anything other than a new approach to managing my relationships with staff.
My boss stated that I should treat staff with respect, dignity, fairness and so on (he was explicit that this was extremely important) but I should become slightly more remote or aloof so that I didn’t get in a tangle with my priorities or create conflicts of interest. If I was to spend a couple of evenings a week down the pub with my staff and perhaps include myself in conversations that were in conflict with the views that were expressed by the management team I would lose their respect when it came to dealing with disciplinary situations, annual appraisals, pay reviews and so on. The ‘take-away’ is to jump across the divide and become a strong, supportive and effective manager and recognize that to be one you may need to create some ‘distance’ between you and your staff.
Be the boss you want your boss to be. We’re all pretty good at identifying the areas where our bosses could improve in terms of their management style and capabilities. Does that mean we are ourselves perfect managers? I’d like to say yes, but when I write down all the characteristics I expect my boss to possess, and all the skills I am sure he should have acquired, I’m left with quite a formidable list. When I use this list to assess my own performance and qualities (perhaps rate each out of 10) I don’t score anywhere near maximum points. Hmm, I’ve still got a lot to learn and am now aware of the improvements I need to make. Why not try this for yourself. It is a great way of prioritizing some of your management capability objectives for the following year.
There is much debate on the differences between ‘leading’ and ‘managing’ or on how one progresses from a manager to a leader. From my point of view great managers are also greater leaders. They may not set the strategy for the firm but they certainly lead their staff making them into more polished, experienced and developed staff.
Therefore, this chapter highlights a number of leadership qualities that all managers should aspire to. Hopefully you will find that you have many of these qualities already.
• Practise what you preach. As a manager (or leader) you should ensure that conduct yourself in the same manner as you would expect your staff to do so. If you want the team to arrive on time in the mornings, not to take extended lunch hours and show respect for one another, you should do the same. If you don’t follow the values and principles that you set out for your team, they won’t take them seriously and almost certainly won’t adhere to them and incorporate them into their daily working lives. In other words, be a great role model.
• Integrity. A good leader will possess a high level of integrity and will be a trusted advisor to their teams and peers. Ensure that this quality is apparent in your ways of working.
• Gain and retain trust. Be honest with your staff, gain and then retain their trust.
Don’t bluff. Don’t lie. If you break the trust of your staff you will lose their respect.
This may not manifest itself in day to day conversations and catch-ups but the relationships you have will be weakened and your ability to lead the team when times are tough will be that much harder. Why should they work late that night or give up a weekend for you if they don’t trust that you have their best intentions at heart?
• Trust them. You will benefit as a leader if you can clearly demonstrate that you trust your staff. When you set a task or project trust them to complete it correctly and on time. Give them the space to grow as individuals by allowing them to
‘mature’ in the workplace.
• Communicate effectively. When communication lines break down or where directions given are unclear or incoherent staff will lose both trust and respect for you. Don’t let all the good work of developing relationships go to waste by sitting in your ivory tower and assuming all is well on the front-line. The best communicators are often the best leaders and in many cases they progress high up the career ladder. Use this skill regularly and check in with staff that the frequency of communications along with the clarity and content within them is right to meet their needs as a team within the business.
• Show interest in front-line work. Great leaders ensure that they take time out of their hectic daily schedules to experience and learn about (in some detail) the pressures, issues and concerns of their teams. By shadowing a team member for a few hours or by reviewing with them one or two of the processes that they see as most ineffective you will very quickly begin to understand some of the issues facing them. By the virtue of the fact that you have a ‘helicopter view’ of their area, and how their role and the function interrelates to other areas of the business, you are 16
more than likely able to propose some solutions to their problems. At the very least you should be able to demonstrate understanding and empathy. So get out there, spend some time with your team and show an interest in their everyday working lives. They are sure to respond well. [Caution: if you are going to review some of their tasks and processes communicate clearly the reason for doing so. Without an upfront briefing staff may misinterpret your actions as being a review of their personal effectiveness and capabilities or they may even think that whole or part of their role is at risk of redundancy.]
• Use your emotional intelligence. Different people need to be led in different ways and the same person needs to be led different ways at different times. If you can determine how to effectively lead your staff, taking into account the personalities of the individuals you are leading, the mood of the office, and the current business environment, you will perform to a much higher level than someone who treats everyone the same way all of the time.
Building joy into your work
I love my job. I can’t wait to get up in the morning, get on the train and sit at my desk all day adding value and consciously acknowledging (and being acknowledged for) the terrific contribution I make to the business. My job is really my hobby which I love with a passion and I’m so fortunate to be paid for what I enjoy doing.
Does this sound like your job? No? Well it doesn’t sound like mine either. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my role. I do, very much. It’s just that 99% of us are not in jobs that are all about fun, adventure or about using some amazing inherent talent that we possess and get to exercise every day.
This is why I am a great believer in thinking through the aspects of my role that I really enjoy and focus at least some attention on how I can introduce things I like doing.
Examples of what you may (or may not) enjoy are as follows:
• Developing your team and seeing them prosper and progress through the organization (with all the acknowledgments that come your way)
• Specifically, running your own bespoke short training sessions and encouraging your team members to get actively involved, enjoying the thankful and supportive feedback they provided
• Building great relationships both within and outside your organization (see
• Applying the skills you learn to support voluntary work you perform outside business hours. Perhaps you provide management support, finance training or support, mentoring or something else from your talent base.
• Improving productivity within your team and also assisting other teams with your process re-engineering experience
• Managing large scale assignments making use of your project management and diplomatic skills.
• Learning more about the marketplace. Perhaps understanding more about the cultures across different geographical regions.
• Traveling and seeing the sites, beyond airport lounges and hotel lobbies. If you organize things correctly can you perhaps see more of the world at no cost to the company?
• Would you enjoy playing with the 5-a-side team at lunchtimes or perhaps taking your team for a coffee more often?
• Would you enjoy introducing more out of work activities for the team?
My advice to you, particularly if you are not happy in your current role but have no intention of moving on to another role or career, is to build as many of these (the ones that you like) into your role. Some will lend themselves much more easily than others but I challenge you not to find at least 2 to 3 things that can help lighten up your day.
When one of your team members moves to another organization and thanks you for being such an amazing mentor (perhaps saying you’re the best manager they have ever had) what would that mean to you? If perhaps a charity writes to you to thank you for all the skills you have brought to their business and how it has benefited those in need, how valuable would that make you feel?
So, if this is relevant to you, please take the time to look at your current work situation and ensure that you look after yourself for a change. You should of course discuss this with your manager to see whether they can also help to introduce additional enjoyment to your work-life.
Actively managing your career
What often comes as a surprise to many people is that in many situations you have great scope to manage your career. Waiting year after year for your boss to give you that promotion (that never comes) with the saving grace being your freedom to curse them in private and (in some cases, and unadvisedly) in public, is not a great place to be. So if you feel that your career is not being managed well by others (or even if it is) there is a lot that you can do to better your cause. These are:
• Take credit for the things you have done. Don’t show off. Simply be clear and transparent about your accomplishments and communicate them.
• Have a clear plan of where you want to be career-wise in (say) 5 years.
Note down the steps, perhaps in 6 month tranches, that you must take to get there and monitor that your career is tracking as required.
• Do your core job well. Remember that if you do your core job well it is a great launch-pad for career advancement. However, if the basics are not done well you will be continually pegged back and at some point the phrase ‘don’t run before you can walk’ will be uttered and you will feel demoralized.
• Challenging your pay or status. This is a really tough one and hence I’m reluctant to provide advice as each situation is different as is every boss. However, I believe that a good rule is not to challenge your pay or status multiple times. I think that it is appropriate to question your level of compensation and/or your status if it is clear to you that you are punching well above your weight and that compared to your peers you are not being treated fairly. A good manager will try to pre-empt such conversations to ensure that you are fairly rewarded throughout your career but that is not always possible as the purse strings are often outside their control. If you make a play for (say) an increased base salary make sure that you are confident in the value you bring the business. If your boss says “no” you are left in an awkward situation. Your boss knows that you may now be upset (and may rightly or wrongly perceive that you are now less motivated than before the request was made) which could affect your position going forward. However, if it is clear that you add value and that you are not being properly compensated for what you do a conversation may be worthwhile. Make the conversation friendly, be tactful and make sure you don’t lose the respect of your manager. If you are fortunate enough to receive a pay rise or promotion remember that your boss may have gone out on a limb to get this for you so thank them as appropriate. The thing to remember is that you can’t and shouldn’t play this game too often. Your boss may not thank you for repeating this exercise each year. However, my advice is to tread carefully, show respect and assess the situation carefully. Perhaps lobby some trustworthy confidants. Always remember that if your boss doesn’t think you merit a pay increase or change in status or already believes that you are paid more than market rates, this could be the beginning of the end for you in that business.
• Don’t over expose yourself. One piece of advice I received many moons ago, which has proven to be of such value, is the notion that you shouldn’t take on too many things at one time. In other words it is far better to be remembered for doing one thing really well than to be remembered for doing five things really badly. The tip here is not to become overly ambitious and take too many projects or tasks on if 20
there is a reasonable chance that you will sink under all the workload. This doesn’t of course mean that you shouldn’t put yourself forward for juicy project work or tasks of specific interest to you, but rather to make wise choices and go for those that you either enjoy (if that is more important to you) and/or those that help demonstrate the value you add to the business. Take on too many and you could fail at all of them, including the ones that you would otherwise succeed at hands down.
• Delegation. I was debating whether to place this topic under ‘Managing Staff’ or
‘Actively managing your career’ as it fits equally well under both categories. To be clear:
o By delegating work to your team they will learn new tasks and procedures and grow faster as individuals from a career development point of view. I have witnessed time and again managers trying to take on the full work-load of their teams (often individuals who have been appointed as managers for the first time in their career). After all, they may have done the work themselves beforehand and can certainly perform it faster and more efficiently than their staff. Of course the issue here is that by not delegating you are limiting the chances of your team reaching their full potential.
Perhaps you are worried about losing your job, which leads me on to the next point.
o By delegating to your team, training them up on the necessary tasks and ensuring that they develop the required skills, you are not only doing what’s right for them (so you have a clear conscience) but you are also investing for the future. It shouldn’t be that long, if they are right for the role and you are training them effectively, for them to be as good as you were, or at least on a clear trajectory to get to that state. As their level of competence and speed, increases you acquire more time to dedicate your efforts to higher level tasks.
As a result you can go to your boss and ask for more interesting work to perform. Not only should your boss recognize that you have done a good job with staff development, they should also be able to pass on to you some of their work, which should free up their time. Everyone’s a winner! Going back a few years from now, a senior colleague of mine summarized this approach with the phrase “You should always try to delegate yourself out of a job”.
That is, once you land a new role, train up your team to take on your workload so that you can move onto the next level, to some extent underwriting your chances of promotion.
• Consider the Politics game (see later).
• Relative performance considerations. Have you ever wondered why a glittering career within an organization suddenly falters without your effort, output or achievements going off track? Well, this can sometimes happen when you least expect it and it often appears to fall outside your control. Like with a 100 meter sprint or some exams, how good you are may not be as important as how good the competition is. In the workplace you may have been destined for a particular role, but then someone arrives who has more experience, more gravitas and better political skills ‘forcing’ themselves into prime candidate position. To counter this, work hard at all the elements in this book. By becoming stronger at all these ‘rough guide’ skills I am confident that the person who gains the competitive advantage will be you.
• Managing egos. There is a fine balance between speaking your mind and damaging your career by upsetting one of the power bases within the company.
Being open, honest and frank may be your natural approach and arguably lends itself far better to certain functions (Finance, Facilities Management, Operations and IT).
However, whether you are within these departments or not it is very important to understand how to approach someone in a position of power and bring up what could be a sensitive or controversial issue. It’s not hard to raise an issue with someone senior, expecting them to see your frankness as a positive skill, but if they don’t take kindly to your ‘interference’ they may react in an adverse manner, either straight away or over the fullness of time. One example I know about, is of a peer (in a senior position) whose ideas were effectively railroaded in a meeting by their boss.
Perhaps they hadn’t briefed their boss appropriately beforehand or truly had ideas that didn’t merit further discussion. Whatever the realities, the individual in question went to see their boss later and stated that they didn’t appreciate being ‘bullied’ and that their confidence had been knocked as a result. Their boss duly apologized but then went on to add that the individual lacked gravitas for bringing the matter up and that they should try to find some course to go on that would improve both their maturity and credibility. That individual didn’t last much longer at the company.
They had effectively been told that they didn’t have what it took to rise through the ranks of the organization. So tread carefully, think through any sensitive or contentious issues before raising them. Make sure that your actions don’t backfire on you. Like yourself you boss has an ego and won’t want to be reprimanded.
• Build a strong brand for yourself (see later)
• Be treated as you want to be treated. There is a phrase that ‘behavior breeds behavior’. If you are petulant, moody, immature and unsupportive of your boss don’t expect them to treat you with a high level of respect and treat you as someone with credibility and gravitas. You should act in the manner that you wish to be treated. If you exude confidence (not arrogance of course), maturity and fair judgment, your boss is likely to view you as a person that possesses such qualities.
So, before you complain about the way your boss treats you, have an honest and diligent review of self and establish whether there is anything you can do to rectify the situation on a stand-alone basis. You may be surprised about how much you can sway their opinion by changing your persona.
How to write
This is the easiest thing to get right but the most common thing to get wrong. I see so many emails, letters and memos that have simple but yet distracting errors in them. Yes, this is one of my pet dislikes and I regularly remind my staff to do that one important thing
- read through your communication before you communicate it.
It’s not that any of us are that unintelligent that we would deliberately write glaring errors such as ‘we have did very well on the project’. It’s just that we originally wrote ‘we have done very well on the project’ and then meant to change it (for some reason) to ‘we did very well on the project’. But guess what, one of our team came into the office, we were distracted and couldn’t be bothered to read through the email from the beginning again. So we send it out. And so the risk is that our team, our boss and the senior management team all form the impression that we don’t know how to write simple communications. Yes, REMEMBER TO READ THROUGH YOUR WORK BEFORE YOU SEND IT OUT. I remember one of my teachers telling me this when I got an ‘E’ for an essay assignment (he didn’t give any
‘Fs’) as I had clearly failed to read through my work. Perhaps I was fortunate that this event happened so early on in my life. But hey, if this is an issue for you, it’s the simplest one to correct. Whoopee!
So now that we all read through our work before distributing it let’s move on to the all important bullet point list:
• Read through your work (couldn’t resist it!)
• Write in paragraphs
• Spell-check your work. Oh, and by the way, spell-checking your work doesn’t mean that it has now been 100% auto-corrected. Wow, the amount of times I see things like ‘what have we leant form this’ rather than ‘what have we learnt from this’. The guy ran it through spell-check but didn’t read through before sending. [ By the way, this book has been proof-read by the publisher along with most of my friends and family so if you find any typos or grammatical errors please write to them directly. If I remember I’ll include their names and addresses in the reference section].
• Get someone else to read it. If it’s that important send it to a colleague, work pal or even to your boss (marked draft) so that they can use fresh eyes to pick up on the errors that your brain no longer has the capacity to identify.
• Know your audience. Is it the end of the story once you have developed your effective writing style? Well, no. It is important to remember that the style and content of your communication will change depending upon the audience. One example I came across was as follows: “You are one day late in submitting your expense claim and as such you have breached company policy. Please note that if the claim is not submitted within the next 3 working days or a valid reason provided for why that is not possible it will not be processed for re-imbursement”. OK, this is a pretty strict email and the wording may be effective in making people jump and following protocol. However, in this particular case the email had been sent directly to the CEO of the company who had been on business travel for 3 weeks. Rightly or wrongly (you decide) the CEO did not take kindly to such an instruction and within 23
one hour the standard communication had been reviewed and updated. That is not to say that one rule should apply for more junior staff and one for more senior staff (that’s simply unfair) but when you communicate with an individual think about their level of seniority and question yourself on whether the wording you use will generate the desired reaction from the recipient. So when writing a communication please think about the following:
o How senior is the person (or people) receiving the communication?
o Is the tone of the email reasonable? Is it perhaps too harsh or indeed soft?
o What is the likely reaction from the communication? Will it perhaps kick-off some type of ‘email war’?
o If there are deadlines set are they reasonable? It may not be wise to corner senior members of staff or show them up in a bad light. Some of your senior colleagues can certainly influence your career and reputation.
o How would you react to the email? If your reaction is likely to be adverse then so is theirs.
o Is the title clear, concise and ‘eye-catching’? If it is truly important that all staff read the email (rather than them sending it direct to their email ‘bins’) then make sure the title includes ‘Important’ or ‘PLEASE READ’ or
‘***ACTION REQUIRED***’ or whatever is necessary but reasonable to grab their attention.
• Send the email to yourself for review first (if it is an email). Do you know, it is amazing how often I spot spelling, grammar and other errors in one of my communications by sending it to myself to read first. As my brain becomes tired since I have drafted and amended an email multiple times, I send it to myself and then take a short break before reading it again, normally grabbing a coffee. I then typically spot all the things I should have detected earlier as my word blindness has disappeared. Try it and see whether it works for you.
• Imagine you are your own boss. Another trick of the trade is to imagine that you are your boss and read the email from their perspective. If you are the ultimate boss of your company thanks for buying this book, but I feel that you should be reading one about strategy that incorporates impressive diagrams and flow-charts along with incompressible buzzwords and complicated diction. Seriously, if you look at your communication from your boss’s point of view there’s a great chance that you’ll spot all the things that they would.
• Is the written word the most appropriate format? Remember that it is sometimes better to pick up the phone or speak face-to-face. The written word is not always the best route to take, irrespective of how well the communication is put together.
• Jargon. Where possible written communications should avoid jargon. This helps to ensure that the message is not only clear and concise but can be easily digested by the recipient.
This is a biggy! So many people present poorly. It’s not that they can’t be good presenters. It’s just that they have never been taught how to present, or even worse, no-one can be bothered to tell them that they need to improve.
So you know, it doesn’t really matter whether there are 4 of you in a meeting or you are presenting to five hundred people (I’ve done both). The same rules apply. These are:
• Have fun. If you go up there to have fun this will rub off on the audience and, to be frank, they will thank you for it. Even if you are nervous put on a big friendly smile and feel good about yourself. Everyone has to listen to you for a change and you have their full and undivided attention.
• Rehearse. Even the best speakers rehearse multiple times. I’m talking in front of a mirror or in front of your friends, family (unless confidential!) or a work colleague.
Not quietly in your mind but aloud. Be vocal.
• Slides. If you use slides or other visuals please ensure that: o They are not crowded. People gasp when the slides are crowded with words, figures, diagrams etc. Keep content down to a minimum.
o They match to what you are saying. Don’t have a slide that shows a diagram of how to put a wheel on a car while talking about the exhaust pipe. This is something I often witness. So please don’t talk about something that isn’t on the slide to avoid confusing the audience.
o They are fun (if possible and appropriate). Avoid immature jokey slides but do include visuals that will grab the audience’s attention and will wake them up.
• Make them laugh. If you have the confidence, make the audience laugh. We’re not talking about being a stand-up comedian but some amusing anecdote (short) or some dry wit can come across well. If in doubt, then leave this out. You’ll get the feeling after a few presentations whether you can pull this off. But if you can make it fun the audience is far more likely to remember your conversation. Do you want a real life example? Yes? Well, I once worked for a company that was expanding very rapidly in the following markets: Tobacco, Drugs (not that sort), Beverages and Health. I wanted to portray to the audience that we were doing well in these so called ‘recession-proof’ sectors (that is companies that do well even when we don’t have much money to spend during a recession). So I stated that ‘the results indicate that our customers are down-hearted and hence drinking themselves to death, smoking themselves to death and taking drugs (yes I used artistic license here) and then ending up in hospital’. Ok, I was joking, but two years later a colleague came up to me and reminded me of the joke and said that their part of the business had invested in those markets and become the fastest growing part of the company. I just stated a fact in an amusing way. My colleague had used that fact to improve the business. But the great thing is that my presentation had been remembered by someone two years later. I slept well that night.