Posts tagged ‘moving to the next level’
One of the big highs of being a manager is the belief that there are people to do our bidding. Variously called as reportees, subordinates (eee I hate this term), team members… they work for managers. But wait a minute – do they really?
Go back to a day in your work… what do you do? Do you write the code? Do you do those presentations? Do you do those reports?
Overwhelming answer is no! with some exceptions (are you a manager who hasn’t made the transition fully – if say maybe or no!, then it is a different issue! ) We review their work, we set their goals, pass on instructions, provide them information… net net we don’t do the real work; they do. We facilitate, we provide, we review… and they do the real work!
How much of our success is really ours? How much of it is a result of the toil and hardwork our teams put in! It is a bit of both.. no one person can claim credit. A bad manager can insure failure and a below par team will insure failure but the truth is a great team, irrespective of manager, can produce great results!
What if we turned this on its head and looked at our jobs as really working for our teams. Our job day in and day out is to set them up for success. We think of what to do to enable their work…provide them the required resources, create the right atmosphere, set the framework and set them free! Meetings are set around their schedules not yours, information is rushed to them hot, not held back! Reviews are constructive and not fault finding missions. We worry if team members are stretched – like a prized horse owner would worry about his horses!
Imagine…. We will start looking at things differently, the pyramid will turn forever with the pointed face down… and the employee on top!
This is just a thought! Triggered off by a Seth Godin blog I read some months ago… but keeps haunting me!
It is contrarian, it is changing status quo, it is uncomfortable… it is letting go of power. The served become the servers! The leader leads by following!
Are you ready? I don’t know but I am going to try!
As always leave your comments , ideas… and Imagine how work would be for all of us if we did this
Who reports to who? Huh?
My last blog ‘Oh Damn! I wish I can kill you’ drew very personal responses from many of you. Almost everyone who posted a comment, or walked up to speak to me, had one thing in common – they had all experienced it first hand!
It’s unlikely that the memory of a low rating will ever fade away. It’s like a trophy that we continue to carry with us through our professional careers, refusing to forget the pain that it brought with it. The smarter few, use such experiences as a constant reminder of what they conquered.
This triggered of a thought process and reminded me of another interesting phenomenon. Allow me to narrate the story of Ms Shining Star (SS)
A hard and eager worker, Ms Shining Star (SS) was a congenial employee who got along well with, both, the customer and the team. With time, her span of control, breadth of work and the workload tripled and she couldn’t say no.
Steadily, as the pressure increased, SS started to feel the stress. She was so busy she didn’t have time to think about what she was doing, go for learning, or even take a break. Over a period of 14-16 months, she reached her level of incompetence, not because she didn’t know her job, but because she just could not juggle all the demands and didn’t spend enough time learning to manage new reality. And her Manager didn’t bother to scale her either, or prepare her for the new reality!
Eventually, deadlines were missed, deliverables were below expectations and it came to no one as a surprise that Ms Shining Star received a ‘does not meets expectation’ rating.
She was devastated, and in shock. When she got a hold of her wits, she asked her Leader….how can this be happening? And pat came the reply – X,Y and Z were not delivered on time, you’re not a team player and do not take feedback well. You’re not open to more responsibilities and I have no place for someone like this in my team.
At some point or the other, all of us go through from being a Shining Star to a ‘does not meets expectations’. We’ve even seen colleagues and friends who have been through something similar.
This happens particularly in our industry where many of us grow so rapidly that our aspirations are fulfilled, but our capabilities are left way behind! I will actually say SS is lucky she got caught out – if she is smart she will use this as a pit stop, recalibrate current ability versus required capability and set off on the journey again.
SS is in, what we call, a conscious incompetence zone – she can move to conscious competence if she works hard at it and takes on newer roles to slowly, graduate into conscious incompetence, skill up again and the cycle continues. Such people are the ones who seem to be on a continuous success path.
The challenge is when we stay in the unconscious incompetence zone. We don’t know why we are failing; we are frustrated because we were successful in the same system, in the past. Such people look at the company and the Leader as the aggressor, and are ever to ready to change supervisors and companies but in the long run will hit a concrete ceiling!
As individuals we should watch for this trap as aspirations are great, but an equal amount of ability is required to see us through. It’s easy to find whether you’re in the unconscious incompetence zone, if one or more of the following statements apply to you:
1. You have been successful in the past and suddenly seem to have hit a bad patch
2. You are finding it difficult move up to the next level and you don’t seem to understand why?
3. You are frustrated because you think you have the capability but your manager/HR/company is not giving it to you
Sometimes, given the nature of our industry, we may never realize this until it is too late. We change managers, jobs, companies and even get paid more each time but each move getting us closer to the concrete ceiling.
We all have to watch for this trap! The challenge is that most often we don’t even know we’re there. I have been through this many times, sometimes disastrously like the situation I presented in the “oh! Damn, I wish I can kill you” blog. Many a times I was saved because I did not get a job when I went through this phase (thank god for it) and that left me with no choice but to make it work.
But all of us (including me) are not going to be lucky all the time and we have to consciously watch out. Some rules that I have evolved for myself are – never look for a role change internally or a job externally when things are not going well. Ask myself the question …Why? When I get answers that are along the line of ‘oh! My manager doesn’t like me, my team is not good, the company is not good’.. I think again. How does my ability aspiration curve look? Is it converging or diverging?
I don’t want to realize what some professionals are painfully realizing now too late in life! What about you? I know it seems faraway but let me warn you – before you know you will be there!
Before we sign off let us as always take a quick look as at the leader perspective.
Please pause before we throw more to a shining star.. we may just be setting them for failure. I know they get it quick, deliver even quicker but they too have their limitation. Scale them up slowly, too much too so is a sure-fire recipe for burnout. Next time you want to promote somebody quickly because they have been great at what they do – think about it – are they ready, will you burn them out? Finally have you equipped them with skills and competencies! When was the last time your shining star went for a training, have you connected them with one of your peers as a mentor!
There is a saying “the road to hell is paved with noble intentions”… you may be inadvertently paving the way for somebody
As always leave your comments, send your private notes, challenge me… we will learn together from each other. Don’t let me hit my concrete ceiling.
Credit: Mamta Malhotra helped me build this post in a big way… thank you MM
I know ! I know ! Weird title for a blog! And I am sure you are wondering whether I have lost it.. again. I have all the reasons to lose it – got to the airport really early, only to find that the flight is delayed. On enquiring why they didn’t text message.. the answer “sorry sir, we only inform if the flight is delayed by 30 mts”! Guess what? The flight is delayed by 25 minutes.. talk about cute answers!. Now let me move on to more esoteric subjects like horses and jockeys
Picture this, a bright summer morning, the horses line up, the crowd is cheering, some fool stands up blocking your view.. the race is flagged off, the horses bolt out.. with that, many hearts lose their mooring and get to the mouth, there is wild cheering, sighs.. smiles, the race draws to an end.. there are winners, runners up.. and the script plays out like any race!
Let us take a step back as this is not about the race – this is about the key players in the race which has many a parallel to our ‘rat race’(ok ok work environment!) that will drive home some important points and help us manage our professional lives more effectively! Since we are in the season of sequels – you can look at this as a sequel to ‘ Busy – Activity Trap’ blog . The horses are our Individual Contributors (HR speak for the ones who earn the money – software engineers, call centre associates, DBAs, tech support officers et al), the jockey is our Frontline Supervisor(project lead, unit manager, asst manager et al), the coach is our Manager (ops managers, delivery manager) and the owner is our version of Delivery Heads, Vertical Heads..
Now what happens if the jockey decides to run the race instead of the horse, or the coach decides to ride the horse or the owner tries to coach! Right.. it sounds ludicrous.. and will result in disastrous outcomes! The horse runs the race focussing only on beating its rivals – head down, eyes locked on the finish line. The jockey, right there, in the centre of action, closely directing the horse, egging it on, stroking and striking, watching out for the other horses, pacing it to insure it completes the race, understanding the strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncracies and accordingly driving it to high performance. The trainers are on the sidelines biting their nails, frowning, crying themselves hoarse cheering, shouting ideas but realising most of their work is before or after the race – choosing the right horse, selecting the right jockey, insuring training schedules, picking the right feed.. and last but not the least the owner- poor chap – all he can do is pour in the money, pick the right races, insure the right infrastructure, pay out the salaries, do the public relations.
Now, can you see the parallels of how many of us really see our jobs that way? The sad fact, based on many years of talking to people, coaching, doing 1-0-1s, is that many of us fail to make the transition from horse to jockey to trainer to owner . We continue to operate at the levels we are comfortable with, where there is a direct correlation to our effort and immediate results, which is at an individual contributor level and sometimes as a jockey! But rarely rising above that level. Go back to the line I described what a jockey does – how many of us really do that in our roles as people managers or even see our roles as that?
A sure fire way to find out where you are, is to look at your calendar. What keeps you busy? Classify these tasks as roles of horse, jockey trainer and owner.. match that with your role! You will see it for yourself. Let me clarify, it does not mean that in the rat race (sorry work environment) work is so compartmentalized – the reality is that we each run the race, sometimes jockey, train and own.. but where do we spend most of our time? Should be where we are paid to deliver..
A different perspective to this analogy , as I subconsciously play the role of the Trainer, is that of empathy. do I truly understand the perspective of the horse? The surge of energy needed to start, the sweat and grime of running the full length, constant prods by the jockey’s whip and the sense of failure on coming second. Do I the trainer feel the same way standing in the air-conditioned stands?
While most of us have grown through the ranks, we have forgotten the trial and tribulations of working the grave-yard shift or taking 120 calls a day. Stay in touch with that struggle that made you who you are today, and you will open your eyes to the hot-buttons that drive your workforce.
Good luck – to me writing this blog has been a journey of self discovery, I hope it is for you to.
Here is to running each race to the best performance not just excelling in our individual roles but collaboratively as the best in class team of Horses, Jockeys, Trainers and Owners. As we race on , lets take a moment to relish the experiences gathered and bring the relevance even to our next role
What images just came to mind? Fast cars, sharp women (well, woman anyway), and dangerous men. In 60 seconds, you had the complete picture of what that movie was about and whether you wanted to see it or not. Why only 60 seconds? Because 60 seconds is all the producer had to capture your attention and convince you to pay $8 for a ticket.
Here is another data point… attention spans of adults can be as short as 8 seconds and in those cases where a person is TRULY interested in the topic and is listening of their own free will, it goes all the way upto 20 minutes. 20 MINUTES. Now, ask yourself, what is the default meeting time we use… 30 minutes (thank you Microsoft).
Why am I droning on about this? Because…of late I have become acutely aware of the amount of time I spend in calls and meetings. And when I come home and my son asks me what I did during the day, I can’t remember. In our multitasking world where we get 200 emails, 45 calls, and about 20 requests for meetings a day, when do we really switch off and switch on? How do we distinguish one meeting from another? So if I my mind is wandering off during someone’s meeting or call (and apparently I have a ‘tell’ for when I have wandered..Suraksha says she knows it), then what is preventing others’ minds to wander when they are in mine? Chances are…not much.
This brings me to my point. I realized that if I needed to keep peoples’ attention, I needed a 60 second trailer for the things I needed to communicate. I needed to ESCAPE from the drone and get to the results. And this is my ESCAPE:
1. Establish attention -30 – 60 seconds is all you have. A sure fire way to get attention is get on the path of relevance – what is important to the listener not YOU. For e.g. If you are seeking approval for something simple like travel. Don’t say I want approval instead say – our account is in red, I have initiated a go to green plan… part of this is to travel to Timbuktu.. please help
2. Simple – avoid jargon, abbreviations and technical words.. for e.g. use “difficult” instead of “challenge”, instead of “failure mode evaluation analysis”, try “we could fail”!
3. Crisp – Not necessarily quick to the point but get straight to the point. Qualifying a statement is good, but there’s no need to recite the encyclopedia. Not to mention, if the person you are addressing asks you to qualify your statement, you know you’ve got their attention! Mission accomplished right there.
4. Action – focus on what you want to achieve not on what you want to say or how you are treated
5. Presence- watch, listen and adapt your approach.. 70% of how we communicate is our non-verbal cues. You can tell whether people are listening or not based on the body language they are exhibiting. So be on the lookout for stifled yawns, quick glances at the watch.
6. Exit – close quickly with decisions. Never leave it inconclusive, summarize for benefit of all and never forget to thank I know, by now you are wishing that I had applied these principles to this blog, but hey… there is something to be said for showmanship.
And as I close this 60 second trailer, I need to run the “credits” reel.
This is one of the blogs you never know who should take credit for Mamta, Suraksha, Shalu and many others helped me put this together! And of course all those folks who talk to me every day – thank you Special thanks to Suraksha, for showing me my “tells” so I can erase all traces of my boredom
And of course, for those of you stuck on why this is a sequel, I had referenced to in, how to influence others in my “Excuse for results” blog. The quick way to that is to get and KEEP people’s attention! Next influencing skill – networking – coming shortly to your nearest blog