The Productive Professional
An article in Wired about near misses in accident research says ‘Studies have shown that the more often someone gets away with risky behavior, the more likely they are to repeat it; there is a sort of invincibility complex”. There’s a ‘I got away with this time, I’ll get away with it next time’ thought in our heads which leads us to continue the risky behavior.
Common sense tells us that if we continue to cross the road against the red light, eventually we may well get hit by a car. Somehow we don’t apply that to our work. In my experience, I’m often ready to be finished and move on, and I don’t hotwash my own actions, even though I know reviews and checklists for the future are helpful.
One way to get round this is to add ‘hotwash’ to your project plan. The project isn’t done until the hotwash is done AND the findings have been added to your checklist for the project the next time. Whether it’s a simple hour long job you do each week or a five year project, making sure that you don’t take unnecessary risks next time is an important part of the project.
In a recent interview with Alan Greenspan, two journalists asked him the question: “Before you were a professional monetary policy person, you were a professional saxophonist. What are the similarities between the two professions?’. Mr Greenspan’s answer was ‘Virtually none’. Which was a pretty clear answer. As my mother used to say ‘ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer’.
This made me think of stupid interview questions I’ve heard. In my previous job, I usually sat in with a hiring manager and sometimes I really couldn’t convince them not to ask a stupid question. Or they asked without warning and, since they were my customer, I couldn’t kick them under the table, no matter how I wanted to.
The worst thing about a stupid question is not really that you get a worthless answer. It’s that you missed the opportunity to ask a worthwhile question and get a worthwhile answer. It’s not just a wasting something you have, it’s wasting something you could have had too. Don’t waste limited time in an interview on stupid questions. Use the Interview Creation Tool!
I’ve kept an article from Bloomberg Businessweek since April last year. It describes the work that a private equity company does in order to maximize the efficiency of a plant it bought before selling it on.
Whilst there is a great deal of emotion around what private equity firms do, that’s not what interested me about this article. The journalist went to the plant and helped in the two week boot camp, where the company applies Kaizen to the operation.
The results are startling. The on-time delivery rate increased from 72% to 96%. The time to build is a quarter of the industry average. Sales are up 19%. How did they do that? Simple things: sort, straighten, sweep, standardize, sustain. Reduction in movement that doesn’t increase value – for example, increasing the height of a keyboard so that the person standing up doesn’t have to bend over to type.
It makes me wonder what else I can do. My printer is at arms length from me, and my filing cabinet too. I have a quick note book and a few pens on my desk. My O3 notebooks are there too. Nothing else. But my phone lies on my desk, and when it’s charging, I can’t see it. Maybe a stand and charger would help. My files are on dropbox, but they’re messy and I take some time to find what I’m looking for. Maybe an hour tidying up and archiving would increase my efficiency. Every think I do could be improved. I’m thinking… are you?
Adam Savage, the co-host of MythBusters describes how he learned to repair his car in an article in Wired magazine. He says: ‘Every repair followed the same progression: (1) I don’t know how, (2) I can’t afford to pay someone else to do it, (3) I have to do it, (4) hey, that wasn’t so hard!’.
It reminded me of the progression we all go through when we’re first delegated something: (1) I don’t know how, (2) I have to do it, (3) hey, that wasn’t so hard! There are some thing we’ll never understand. No matter how I try, I’ll never be good at calculus. But I have learned how to work out percentage change, by practice, practice and more practice.
The sub-heading of the article was: “The more complicated the project, the more potentially awesome the outcome – but first you need the courage to try”. In the early days of this new year, maybe it’s time to take on something new, knowing that at first it’ll be hard, and that with practice, it’ll get easier.
An article in the WSJ discussed the negotiations which are currently going on between dockworkers unions and several east coast and gulf ports. Apparently, an agreement is near, but the effect on retailers who import the goods we see in stores has been dramatic.
Not knowing whether there would be a strike in JANUARY, they rerouted to west coast ports and air in OCTOBER. At first, I couldn’t imagine having to make such a costly decision based on not knowing what would happen in 4 months.
And then I realized, I do it all the time. We don’t know how flight prices will change for Mark to visit Frankfurt, Shanghai and Sydney mid-year, but we’ve already making those decisions. I didn’t know how the fiscal cliff will affect the economy, but that didn’t stop me setting targets for Career Tools for 2013.
Sometimes, you just have to admit there is uncertainty, and make a decision with the knowledge you have now. You could be right, and you could be wrong, but not making a decision at all is almost always more costly than making one.
A profile piece in September’s Fast Company about Maelle Gavet, the CEO of Russia’s largest e-commerce company has an interesting quote. She says “‘People keep saying, ‘We need more prioritization.’ I say, ‘Guys, what you want is less work. And that is not going to happen’”.
It reminded me of all the times I’d heard ‘prioritization’ as the solution to overwork at conferences. (The answer, if you haven’t heard it is delegation. Eventually, there’s no one to delegate to but the floor, and so the least important things don’t get done.)
In a growing, thriving organization, or even in a declining one, there will never be less work. If you’re getting less and less work, take it as a hint to work on your resume. There will always be more work than you have time to do. The trick is to work out how to be more effective and how to do what’s essential. And then to DO THAT first. The rest can wait. Sometimes forever.
In some magazines they have a bit where they show a reader holding up the magazine in unusual places. Outside the Taj Mahal or the White House or another famous building. Up a mountain or scuba diving. You get the idea.
I seem to have a new ability to spot people doing One on Ones in unusual places. Every article I read, One on Ones jump out at me. The latest is in an article about the Blue Man Group. Fortune’s October issue says ‘The associate directors… have weekly contact with Blue Man captains in each city’.
It seems like everyone has a reason not to do One on Ones.. and for every reason they give, someone else has overcome it. So if you’re still not convinced, come to the forums. We’ll find someone with just the problem you’re trying to overcome who is ahead of you in solving that problem, and you can get started with the best practice you’ll ever start.
We’ve said many times on Manager Tools that management is not simple, but it consists of simple actions. It’s not sexy, it’s boring and repetitive.
This was brought home to me by a quote on the letters page in September’s Inc magazine. Bennet Simonton, president of Simonton Associates says “My experience has taught me that if management meets the basic needs of employees to be heard and respected, and to have competence, autonomy, and purpose they will be more capable than anyone thinks possible”.
When I shared the quote with Mark he said ‘in the land of the blind, the one eyed man or woman is king’. Not only is good management not sexy, it is boring and repetitive AND it’s what gives you the edge you want.
The founder of Kayak was interviewed in an article in October’s Fortune, and one part struck me. Talking about recruiting he says: ‘The joke at Kayak is, if we have a business trip out of San Francisco, when the plane lands, my colleagues will say, “How many people did you hire on this flight?”’
It reminded me of Mark, who regularly gets emails from people he met on a plane, gave them his email address and they follow up. How does he do it? This is what I’ve learned from those emails. He really does follow our guidance on greeting people on planes.
He’s interested in people and what they do. He’s enthusiastic about what we do. He’s kind and helpful to the attendants and the people around him. He actually invites interaction.
If you’re finding it hard to build your network, think about the opportunities you have when there are lots of people around. Do you invite interaction, or do you have your ‘don’t talk to me’ face on? Are you really making the effort?
..do it well. Or as Muhammed Ali put it: “Whatever I’d a done, I’d a been the best at it, if I’d a been a trash man I’d a hauled more bins of trash than anyone else!” I was reminded of this by a piece in Fast Company’s October issue talking about Apple and Microsoft.
It said: One former top designer’…discovered at Apple ‘workers carefully loading boxes so the logos all faced the same direction. “I asked why and one guy explained that he loved the look on people’s faces when … he revealed all the boxes perfectly aligned.”’
I find, there’s a pride in a job well done which invigorates you. I know when I cut corners, and I know when I’ve worked hard. When I’m being half-assed, I know it, and I don’t feel good about it. Whatever you’re doing – be it photocopying or creating a 10 year strategy do it well – even if no-one else will ever know. You will.