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Better Mondays - Chapter Twelve
Get Caught Doing the Right Thing
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Better Mondays - Chapter Twelve: Get Caught Doing the Right Thing
A large part of influencing your superiors is having them acknowledge you as someone who “does the right thing.” But before we talk about the specific activities that can accelerate career advancement, there’s an important pre-requisite that must be in place to ensure you get the maximum benefit from your effort.
You must make sure your boss knows what you’re doing.
Assuming your supervisor will automatically notice your daily achievements is taking a huge risk. The boss is busy. And she can’t constantly monitor your activities. Catching employees doing something right is an old management concept, but the necessary time investment makes it nearly impossible to implement consistently. This means it’s up to you to bring your daily victories to the boss’s attention.
What qualifies as a “victory?” Sometimes it results from concentrating your attention and actions on a specific problem. Other times it comes from a spontaneous reaction to a challenging situation. But with some creative interpretation, either situation can be explained as a series of logical, well-executed, response-based choices that reflect your skill, talent, and experience.
And that brings us back to the problem: When you’re busy demonstrating all that clever expertise, where’s your boss? There’s a good chance she’s out of the office, or in a meeting, or on the phone.
So how do you make sure she learns about your most recent success?
You’re going to keep a record of your achievements, both great and small. Dedicate a notebook for this specific use, documenting who was involved, when and where it took place, and what happened. Include relevant details and use a consistent format. Keeping these records uniform and coherent will add credibility when presenting this information during an evaluation. This also helps to frame your “success diary” as an objective and professional record of your performance, instead of a grandstanding attempt to toot your own horn (more about this below).
As we review the five steps of creating an effective diary format, keep in mind the specifics of your achievement record will depend on your job responsibilities and daily activities, so don’t hesitate to change something to fit your personal circumstances.
1. Start with a brief description of the problem, miscommunication, or situation that needed to be resolved. If there were two sides to the event, describe both.
2. Describe the options that were available and what you believed would be the expected result from each one.
3. Explain why you took the action you did, and the final result you achieved. Include any downstream effect on subordinates, customers, or others affected by the outcome.
4. In hindsight, confirm that you would or would not make the same decision now. Explain why, and if you believe your actions should have been different, include a brief description of what you learned and how you plan to implement it in the future.
5. Include any feedback obtained from co-workers, customers, vendors, or others who were involved in the situation.
When is the best time to present your accomplishments to your supervisor? There’s no better time for a little self-promotion than during your annual or semi-annual review. Never leave this formal review process to chance. It’s one of the most important meetings you can have with your supervisor, and you should use this time to proactively substantiate your value to the company (translation: to keep your job) and to show your supervisor you’ve made significant progress in increasing your productivity.
How do you make your presentation without appearing pretentious or self-important? First, don’t march into your boss’s office, open your notebook, and start bragging about yourself. Explain that your notebook is a collection of “learning experiences.” And you’ve been documenting situations and circumstances in which you exercised your current level of training and expertise with the intention of obtaining supervisory feedback to determine if your actions could have been improved.
See the difference? You’ve just characterized your notebook as a personal training and evaluation tool, creating the opportunity for your boss to comment on your work, and to make suggestions on how to improve your productivity in the future.
What about situations that are not “notebook worthy?” Your notebook is reserved for examples that demonstrate your knowledge, expertise, and communication skills—instances when you demonstrated your value to the company. Avoid diluting the impact of these events by jotting down every little action you take on behalf of others. Yes, these “small contributions” can be time-consuming and often go unrecognized due to the on-going activities of a busy day, but they don’t belong in your notebook.
So how do you make sure the boss is aware of your recurring efforts to contribute to a more positive working environment? If you spent time on an internal situation, write a short note to the other employee(s), thanking them for their input and contribution. Make sure the content is positive and offers praise for their efforts. If your role was strictly assistive, let them know you’re available for any follow-up questions or concerns. Copy your boss on all correspondence. Use the same process to acknowledge the efforts of a team leader, division supervisor, or other management head to acknowledge a contribution that directly affected your team, section, division, or customers. And always copy your boss when sending positive comments to a customer. (Note: Never put anything negative about a customer in writing, even if your comments are supposedly for internal use only.)
The second part of “doing the right thing” is to concentrate on the things that count. Some activities will count in your favor more than others, even though some of these actions will not necessarily be customer-centered or profit-driven. Very few large companies are truly focused on their customers as their first and only priority. (You may want to read that again.) Yes, management will typically claim they are, and will often put up a convincing argument with customer feedback programs, loyalty discounts, enhanced customer service, extended guarantees and return periods, technical service hotlines, and so on. But when these programs become too costly, or it’s shown that profits can be increased by eliminating them, the priority typically shifts.
(The question of which comes first—customer satisfaction or profit—is analogous to the proverbial riddle about the chicken or the egg. Maximizing profit to the detriment of customer service is just as dangerous as over-serving the customer to the point that the resulting—and necessary—price increase becomes uncompetitive. Finding a reasonable balance between profit and service requires implementing less costly ways of providing productive levels of customer service while maintaining—or ideally, increasing—market share and consumer loyalty. In this case, “productive” means a measurable increase in business as a direct result of customer service. For example, if the termination of all customer service programs results in zero change to the company’s business, you could conclude that the company’s service program was ineffective, outdated, or unnecessary. It wasn’t helping to generate more business, which is a strong indication that the program needs an overhaul and/or an upgrade—which could increase the business level.)
As a general rule, all company activities—including customer service—must eventually contribute to growing the profit of the organization. From the standpoint of maintaining the company’s operations and continued growth, profit always sits in judgment over all other company functions.
I mention this because many employees believe the success of their career is primarily dependent on how well they serve their customers, either directly or through company programs designed to increase customer satisfaction. However, regardless of the latest company rhetoric about building and enhancing customer relationships, you should realize your personal success is ultimately determined internally—by management—and not by the company’s customers, who incidentally, support the financial health of the company by buying its products and services.
Need proof? I’ve seen dozens of salespeople, customer service reps, and transaction coordinators build a devoted and appreciative following of customers, then lose their jobs during take-overs and reorganizations simply because they were not management’s favored candidate. Always remember, corporate success is an inside job.
Activities That Raise Your Perceived Value in the Eyes of Management
Going “above and beyond” your assigned responsibilities is one of the best ways to boost your perceived value to management. And the good news is that you can do it without working an extra ten hours a week or giving up your Saturday golf game. Here are three examples of activities that typically raise management’s opinion of your value in both the short and long term.
Participate in company training classes, seminars, and correspondence courses. Companies expect their employees to take advantage of training options on an on-going basis, not only for the learning experience but also as an indication of their commitment to their job. In effect, the company is offering an opportunity to increase your skills and knowledge. Responding with hesitancy or even co-operative neutrality is not what they want to see. They want an employee who responds with an eager desire to be a part of the company’s future. From management’s perspective, your enthusiastic participation is often more important than what you learn.
If the training is lengthy (for example, a two-day seminar), read the material ahead of time to be able to discuss it intelligently in class. Think of questions to ask and examples to use. This is not the time to avoid being the “teacher’s pet.” You’re there to impress, and your behavior will be evaluated and reported to management.
Always take notes and jot down ideas on how to incorporate the training into your job responsibilities. Is the subject something you could modify or adapt (without copyright infringement) and present to your subordinates or customers? Being able to teach others in a formal setting is a valuable asset, and volunteering to do customer training will definitely get you noticed.
Don’t skimp on the paperwork. We all hate paperwork. Unfortunately, corporations run on paper. Cut one open, and it bleeds charts, graphs, and spreadsheets. Leave the wound open for an hour, and the ground will be covered in memos, employee evaluations, policy directives, market share analysis, cost-benefit comparisons, customer surveys, and . . . the list goes on and on.
Is all that paper really necessary? It depends on whom you ask.
Marketing will emphasize the importance of their pie-charts. It’s the only way to demonstrate an intangible asset, they’ll say. (For example, the value of branding can be broken down into its components of customer loyalty, name and logo recognition, and peer-influence).
Salespeople want a clearly defined compensation plan, and they want it in writing (to avoid “misunderstandings” on payday).
The engineering department worships their technical drawings, descriptions, and testing data. (Ironically, they rebel at the sight of correspondence requiring them to rationalize expenditures, cost-overruns, and missed product deadlines.)
The real loser in the paperwork nightmare? The administrative assistant. They must process, collate, file, duplicate, and distribute all that paper.
For those of you trying to remind me of the advent of the “paperless office,” I’ll concede that the advantages of digital storage and retrieval have made a drastic reduction in the amount of physical paper that used to cover everyone’s desk. But there are still plenty of companies that maintain a physical paper backup of strategic and irreplaceable documents. While some of these are intrinsically important, such as deeds, patents, and legal settlements, their paper storage may also contain more routine correspondence, such as employee exit interviews, customer contracts, and vendor agreements.
Here’s a common policy when it comes to retaining physical paperwork: “If it carries an ink signature, it goes in the filing cabinet.”
What does this mean to you? In larger, multi-divisional companies, the amount of paper you generate is often an indication of your productivity (or the lack of it). The key is to make your paperwork add to your presence in a positive way. Countless managers owe their career advancements to the fact that they dazzled the boss with paperwork. It may seem like a repetitive, simple-minded waste of time, but in the eyes of management, a continuous stream of detailed and well-composed paper demonstrates your enhanced communication skills—an indication of your ability to clearly translate your ideas and thoughts to others. That alone will take you a long way down the corporate road to career success.
View your personally-generated correspondence as not only written confirmation of your activities but also a validation of the importance of your work. It’s a way to bring management into your loop—the one that eventually leads to a promotion.
Take every opportunity to use your public speaking skills. Let’s start with a true story. The first time I was asked to speak in a business setting, I was caught unaware and unprepared—in front of an audience of about fifty people.
My boss had just introduced me as the new account rep for a large distributor chain. After reciting a brief synopsis of my background, he invited me to the front of the room to “say a few words.”
As I rose slowly from my chair, I felt the blood leave my brain. I wondered which would be less damaging to my career . . . passing out on the way to the podium, or standing behind it with my face frozen, unable to speak, my hands shaking like twin jack-hammers.
What happened? In the fifteen seconds it took to walk to the front of the room, I put together a quick speech based on the fact that I was new, would need to learn more about the distributor’s business operation and customer base, and I would ask the fifty people in the room to have patience with me. In return, I would promise to help solve their challenges with competitive pricing, technical presentations to their customers, and to always be available for joint sales calls, which would add credibility to their representation of our products.
My “speech” lasted less than two minutes. It was a little awkward, contained an un-necessary pause or two, but I got through it. I didn’t pass out, throw up, or wet my pants. And when I returned to my seat, I had the most unexpected reaction.
I enjoyed it!
The following week, my boss asked me if I wanted to teach a series of training classes for two dozen new hires from a large distributor account. Before my forced introduction to public speaking, I would have made one excuse after another, hoping I could talk my way out of it. Instead, I accepted immediately.
I realize my experience may not be typical. But the point is, I was scared—at first. Then I took the first step and my brain kicked in, saving my ass. Here’s the good news . . . You don’t have to face your first public speaking experience unprepared. Preparation is the key, because it will happen. At the least likely time and place, your boss will turn to you and say, “Take over for me while I make a phone call. Just keep them occupied until I get back.”
If that thought makes you break out in a cold sweat, don’t worry. There are plenty of excellent professional speakers who experience the same level of apprehension every time they stand in front of an audience. Even after giving hundreds or even thousands of presentations, they still experience a case of butterflies before walking on stage. Hearing their name spoken during the introduction, they feel their pulse quicken, their stomach tighten—just like they did the very first time they made a presentation. But now, they not only expect that heightened level of anxiety; they welcome it. They depend on that surge of nervous energy to raise their level of performance and give their presentation a real shot in the caboose.
Still not sure about how public speaking could impact your career? Answering a request to make a simple comment or two will get you remembered as someone who rose to the occasion, didn’t hesitate, and had the courage to take the lead. Conversely, turning down a speaking request will also leave an impression—as someone who had nothing to say when others were willing to give you their time and attention. You let them down, and you left them disappointed.
Never discount an opportunity to speak as unimportant. You can’t anticipate who might be in the audience. Impressing a stranger with your presentation can lead to conversation, networking, and even new career opportunities. And as I’ve shared with my own example, it’s a powerful way to gain recognition from your current employer.
If you want to know more about how to control your nerves and make a spontaneous speech or presentation, I suggest picking up a copy of Speak Up! A Step-by-Step Method to Conquer Your Fears and Give an Amazing Speech by yours truly. It’s available on Amazon.
Progressive techniques for always being seen doing the right thing.
The suggestions in this final section of the chapter are based on activating a “professional mindset.” And while that may sound like clichéd rhetoric from a motivational poster, these specific activities, fortified with adjustments to your attitude, can help you create the impression of a focused professional, regardless of the day’s activities.
1. Be generous with your knowledge and skill. If a co-worker asks for help, and you can accommodate their request without jeopardizing a deadline or high priority task, spend fifteen minutes with them. Longer periods of time should be scheduled and approved by your manager. As a general rule, you should make a point of offering help to a subordinate or team member who needs it. Determine their weaknesses and either help them to complete the work, or if within your responsibility, reassign the task to someone more experienced who can provide step-by-step instruction. Why go to all the extra effort? If a co-worker or subordinate’s performance is sub-standard, your manager probably knows it, and your efforts to help them will not go unnoticed.
2. Make decisions within a timeframe that makes you appear discerning, informed, and effective. Use the data you have at hand. Based on the circumstances and situation, determine if waiting is likely to produce new information that will make a difference in your decision. Most important, estimate how long you can wait before NOT deciding will put you at a disadvantage. Finally, ask yourself if you are making a calculated decision or taking a gamble—one is defensible, the other is not.
3. Stay in emotional control, especially when the news is negative. Keeping a steady hand on the wheel is the mark of a leader, and as I’ve said before, someone is always watching.
4. Maintain the balance of power in both directions. Allow your manager to exercise her prerogative, influence, and authority. Accept her decision as final and support it. Never express a negative opinion about her or her ideas to anyone while she is employed by the same company. Conversely, never show weakness, indifference, or negativity in front of your subordinates. Treat them with respect and let them know you expect the same.
5. Accept criticism without becoming defensive. If a superior is stupid enough to criticize you in front of your team, never cower or grovel. Say something like, “I appreciate your thoughts, and I’ll use them to prevent the problem from re-occurring in the future.”
6. Maintain your flexibility. Your ideas for change or improvement may be practical, well-considered options, but no one will believe in them as strongly as you do. You are one voice among many, and even when you know your plan is superior to others under consideration—including the one ultimately chosen—you must adopt and support the company’s final decisions as if they were your own. Your endorsement of company policies and methods will go a long way in motivating others to validate your opinion about future projects. You never want to be suspected of direct or indirect sabotage because you were opposed to a new company program or policy.
7. Don’t allow low-priority tasks to reduce your professional mindset. A lot of your day-to-day actions will not always be about bringing in the new mega-account or solving a major problem that results in immediate praise and recognition. There’s going to be a lot of time spent on routine functions. This can be anything from helping the office manager inventory the copy paper, resolving billing errors, or placating the habitually demanding customer by feeding him a Grand Slam at Denny’s.
During these “maintenance” days, when you’re consumed with seemingly low priority tasks, there’s always the risk of reduced focus—of coasting through the process. You don’t deliver at one hundred percent because there’s no need. You can get the job done with your brain working at a slow idle. In fact, you can take care of everything while listening to your favorite music in one ear and perusing over vacation options on your laptop—or so you think.
“Coasting” through the workday is similar to an actor who walks on stage and looks out across an auditorium that’s only ten percent occupied. Why should he bother to give the same level of presentation he gave last week when the house was packed?
Because it’s who he is.
He doesn’t compromise his performance just because there are fewer people to appreciate it. The people who did show up still expect to see his very best. If the actor slacks off or allows the lower level of audience energy to affect his delivery, he knows it will show. Just like he knows that even though the audience is small, if they’re impressed, they’ll tell others.
Adopting a professional attitude is part of being recognized as a leader—someone who is responsible, dedicated, and promotable—the very attributes you want to convey to those who can do the most for your career.
Thanks for reading,
Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.