Tag Archives: Goals

Tracking Your Progress

Every year at performance review time do you sit and stare blankly at the cube wall while you try to remember what you have done in the preceding months that is noteworthy?  How about your resume or LinkedIn profile, when was the last time that you updated either one with your latest achievements?

tracking

“The past actually happened.  History is what someone took the time to write down.”

~A. Whitney Brown

 

I know, I know, it’s just that one more detail that would be the straw that broke the camel’s back if you found a means to document these things at the time, or shortly after the time.  Ok, but you are only hurting yourself by not making the time.  If it isn’t up to you to remember and document, then who?

 

Trust me, it is easier shortly afterward than months or even years afterward.  Details only get murkier with time, but even just a quick couple of sentences into a notebook or on a sticky note sketching out the scenario will be well worth it at review time or when it is time to really polish up your work history.

 

The idea of something going into our permanent record was threatening back in school because it was associated with some misstep or peccadillo.  Wipe that association from your mind and get a mantra that your permanent record is the progression of all of your work achievements; therefore worthy of regular maintenance.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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My CANDLE Concept and the Candle Problem

There is a psychology test developed by Karl Duncker in the 1940s called the Candle Problem where a test subject is at a table with a box of tacks, a candle and a book of matches and told to fix the candle to the wall so that wax won’t drip on the table.  The solution is to take the tacks out of the box and affix the candle to the box and the box to the wall using the tacks.  This solution requires creative thinking because literal thinking will not allow for an alternative use for the box holding the tacks.

 

When the test is conducted with all the same items, but the box and tacks are laid out separately, the correct solution is deduced more quickly by most test subjects because the preconceived use for the box is not established.

 

candlesYes, you say but what does this have to do with my work day?  Plenty if you work with any level of complexity because problem solving in a complex environment requires the worker to engage in conceptualization.  The best solution is not always readily apparent with the information at hand.

 

Ok, that provides an overview of the second half of today’s title, so let’s backtrack to the first half: CANDLE, which is an acronym that I developed, standing for:

  • Communication
  • Active Listening
  • Negotiation
  • Decision Making
  • Lead the way
  • Education

 

The business model where I spent my corporate time was a complex one and newer people were at a bit of a disadvantage because the learning curve was pretty steep and the consequences for making a bad decision could be harsh.  So I developed my acronym to help the people on my team to focus.  These were their main skills, or tools in their mental tool box.  If you can name the tool that you need, then you have started to put some familiar context to a potentially unfamiliar situation.

 

Context and identification of familiar parts get your brain headed in the right direction for a solution.  Who knew candles were still so useful?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Being Productive Means…

Productive is one of those firmly squishy words that we like to use as adults.  We like to be efficient, even lazy folks want their tasks to be over (efficient) as quickly as possible so that they can get back to the good stuff.

 

So you’d probably like to know what I mean by ‘firmly squishy’, right? These two words don’t tend to go together, being rather polar opposites.  But we use lots of firmly squishy words in life – like go-to person, on the same page – notice that these are also buzz words.  If the two people or the group using these words doesn’t make the effort to confirm base definition, there can be serious problems once the real work is started.

 

Back to productivity, we want to feel and be seen as productive people.  In our personal life, we are only held accountable to our own definition of productivity for the most part – although children are held to their parent’s definition (is this definition the same when the parent applies it to their own activity as to the child’s?) and folks who are in a stable relationship are held to the standard or definition that their significant other uses.  In our work life, we had better make certain that we understand the organization’s definition of productivity as well as our boss’, and our co-worker’s definitions.

Building in earlier centuries meant rudimentary tools and many strong backs.  Yet buildings were beautiful and sturdy.

Building in earlier centuries meant rudimentary tools and many strong backs. Yet buildings were beautiful and sturdy.

 

Now you see where this firmly squishy thing comes in.  Most likely the definitions have nuanced differences as you move from yours to those of the folks in your sphere.  And these definitions can have significant effect on results of your effort to be seen as productive.  What’s a person to do?

 

Well, make certain that you clarify the definition with the folks that matter most to your current task or effort of course.  In advance.  And make notes for yourself because once you get into the task itself, this will slip to some dark space in your memory banks.  Start with your own definition of what productivity means to you so that your counterpart understands what you mean.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Fear of Embarrassment, the Veil that Obscures Your View

veilI am not going to tell you that I am not subject to embarrassment, mainly because it isn’t true.  But I’m not particularly subject to fear – at least of this sort.  I have a long history of doing things that could be considered to be embarrassing, either intentionally or by accident.  It doesn’t really matter why I did them, it matters that while I turned 15 shades of red at the time, I’m still here and kicking.  I haven’t been banished from the human race.

 

I also won’t tell you that I seek out embarrassment intentionally (alright a couple of times – especially if it would embarrass my children).  I just won’t hold back from doing something because it might end up being awkward.

 

The thing that I have found is that I can make decisions on my actions more clearly once I removed the fear of embarrassment from the equation.  Of course I am having trouble thinking of a current example to share so I’ll tell this story instead.

 

Graduation gowns have wide, graceful sleeves which are not a style that most people commonly wear.  High heels and stairs aren’t a good mix (Jennifer Lawrence handled her trip up the Oscar stairs with aplomb, in my opinion), so it is wise to use the stair railing.  Except when you have to back back up the stairs to unhook your wide sleeve in front of all of your classmates and their families.

 

I tell this story regularly, because it is funny and humanizes me, but not a single one of my high school classmates seems to remember the tale.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Reasoning & Value: Our Work Life Experience

Having nebulous plans to use the results in a blog post and also intending to get better SEO (search engine optimization) for my own name (we are all self-marketers these days), I started a discussion in several of my LinkedIn groups a few weeks ago. (I really like it when one thing can accomplish multiple goals, don’t you?)  The discussion was on a topic that I have written about previously and have mulled over periodically during my corporate experiences –feeling valued at work.

value

Here was how I worded it (the same in all 4 instances):

The title was Feeling Valued and the content was as follows –

  • When was the last time that you felt valued at work? (How long ago was that?)
  • What were you doing?
  • Who helped you to feel valued and how did they show it?

 

[A word about starting LI discussions: if you haven’t done so, try it since it can be enlightening.  Start small and by attaching someone else’s content while putting in your own title and two-cents, otherwise LI will not give you enough weight to promote your discussion if you use original content.  Start in one or two of your groups with a smaller overall number of members.]

 

Two of my discussions, in active but long-shot groups, died without getting started.  Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  One got small traction for a couple of days – a win for me because this was my first discussion to get any notice in this group.  And one went on for a couple of weeks and received decent attention – this was in a group dedicated to customer service, so not surprising that an emotion based discussion received good play.

 

Less than half of the respondents in any group actually answered my questions, which is pretty standard.  The respondents were in different age groups – baby boomers, millennials; just about equally male and female; almost evenly management and worker bee levels.  No one disagreed that feeling valued had a place in work discussions.

 

All responses were polite and professional, but despite placement on company hierarchy the discontent was pretty much universal.  And back up experiences that I have in face to face opportunities, plus information presented in other sources.

 

My tagline on this blog, Reasonable Expectations, comes out of discussions that I had over the course of a working relationship with a great idea person.  Reason is a word, an approach to life that seems to have fallen out of favor but should be resurrected.  You might be of the opinion that it doesn’t belong in the same sentence with value, as I have connected them in the title.  I disagree – while juxtaposed, I think that these things should mesh more frequently in our plans.

 

A fellow that I know who holds integrity as a dear commodity, has a phrase he uses – spinning orbits – which he describes as activities which have no bearing on the current project.  Spinning orbits prevent us from providing value through the actual task at hand, even if the spinning orbit is about a worthy topic – a topic which reasonably requires attention in and of itself, but should not distract from your current effort.

 

Do you ever ask yourself, ‘how can I reasonably craft my work experience so that my need to provide value and feel valuable corresponds to the role that I currently play’?  Or despite the current job atmosphere, ‘since I have not felt valued for some time, what should I reasonably consider as alternatives to increase the opportunity for this important sensation in my work life’?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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You’ve Got Skills

I went to the library on the advice of a new contact looking for a book called Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus, and drat it all my library doesn’t have it.  But I did get a different useful book from Peggy, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.  (I love to support my library, and also get a chance to try out books before I decide whether I should buy them.)

 

We all know the importance of our thinking skills as knowledge workers, but it is good to actively think about the state of these skills, how current they are and how best to cultivate them to keep them relevant.  This is a nice quick read, and broken up so you can dip in over the course of your library’s borrowing period.

think

“While hard skills refer to the technical ability and the factual knowledge needed to do the job, soft skills allow you to more effectively use your technical abilities and knowledge.  Soft skills encompass personal, social, communication, and self-management behaviors.  They cover a wide spectrum of abilities and traits: being self-aware, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, critical thinking, attitude, initiative, empathy, confidence, integrity, self-control, organizational awareness, likability, influence, risk taking, problem solving, leadership, time management, and then some.”

 

In other words, technical skill and knowledge being equal between two or more people, the levels of soft skills between the people are what set them apart in a spectrum.

 

Taking that even a bit further, it behooves each and every one of us to keep these skills polished up at all times, on our own time and with our own money if necessary because this is an investment in self that will pay off.  (Investing in you starts with you – and often these days, ends with you.  Believing that you can’t increase your skill set because your employer is unwilling or unable to foot the bill is self-limiting.)

 

Plus, just like checking this book out from the library, the investment can begin just with your time.

 

Peggy is on my list of smart women I would love to meet, and Brag is on the list that I carry around with me for that off chance of time to wander a book store.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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My Journey through the Working World

DSC03311By starting at the age of eleven, I had a 30 year work history by my early forties.  I took a 3 day seminar for supervisors from AMA (American Management Association) a few years back and the facilitator started by asking each of us to share the number of years we have been working, starting with our first job as a teen.  I had my first babysitting job at the age of eleven so when it was my turn I said that I had 30 years of work experience, which took the fellow back a bit.  (I’ve always looked young for my age, a baby face, which I hated for years and bless every day now.)  There were plenty of folks there who were older than me, but none could claim such an early start to their work journey.

I have read studies now that early work history is predictive of later work success and I see a glimmer of truth there, but also have a dollop of skepticism that this is entirely predictive.  Despite my early start, I have plenty of stretches in my life when I cannot point to any work for pay activity – life transitions that included moving & getting resettled, stay at home mom stints, and my recent transition from the corporate world to becoming a free agent consultant.  Yet I am self-supporting and capable of any number of things.

We modern workers seem to be rather restrictive in the way that we think of work, particularly in regard to work as a progression, these days.  I have not ascribed to work in that view – I have babysat, housesat, done retail, foodservice, office/corporate work.  I have worked alone, on teams, led teams.  I have experienced success and failure.  I have left places voluntarily and involuntarily.  And I have learned a great deal with each type of exposure, with each new opportunity.

I wouldn’t trade my patchwork work journey for anything.  It has informed and strengthened my overall resilience in life.  It has heightened my understanding (and enjoyment) of process.  And it has allowed me great latitude for creative thinking leaps.  I am in good company from a historical perspective – John Muir, Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Alva Edison all come to mind.

Who knows where my work journey will ultimately lead?  In the eyes of many my journey to date has not met the definition of success, with eyes on an ultimate goal.  Can these same folks claim to have gained deep enrichment from their work experience?

UPDATE: This post was written in response to http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/daily-prompt-journey/

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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The Data Paradox (Or Why Professionals Benefit from a Successful LinkedIn, While Using the Freemium Option)

Few of us are fond of being boiled down to just a set of statistics and yet our interest in something is often sparked by the statistics that are offered (read Charles Seife’s Proofiness) by a company, in an article, etc.  Business is driven by data – what data to collect, how to collect it, how to best utilize it and on and on.  We humans are fascinated by quantification, but skeptical of being lumped into the underlying statistics.

LinkedIn

Marketing companies that design successful rewards cards or programs have found a way into our data paradox sweet spot – offer something that we want or need, don’t sell the resulting data directly tied to our personal info and we will be more likely to sign up and give the company access to our volume of purchase data.  Don’t make our direct benefit clear, or make your data needs too obvious and death to your marketing effort.

 

Being someone who is fascinated by process, I often like to pull back the covers to see if I can figure out how something is a sustainable business – look at how Facebook is making various money grabs now that they have gone public.  (I used to wonder how they could afford all the employees and sweet digs…)  Unlike many, I don’t resent a company’s ability to make money from their interactions with me, as long as my benefit is equal or greater than the one I perceive they are receiving.  Someday I might be able to reverse that dynamic and gain some business advantage of my own from the relationship.

 

I think that it is this perceived benefit that is at the bottom of the social media opinion that many people hold.  It is their skepticism of the benefit they will receive versus their sketchy understanding of the value of their appearance on social media.  In my opinion, there is plenty of benefit to professionals to put moderate effort into creating and maintaining a profile on the LinkedIn site.  But the reactions of folks I talk to range from strong agreement to vitriolic dislike of the pull of social media in general and LinkedIn particularly.

 

These people in the strong dislike category usually object based on their skepticism of putting their personal information online.  When I have the opportunity to delve further with them I like to find out if they have other social media presence, if they hold a credit card or any participate in any rewards programs, do online banking.  More often than not they do many of these other things, but have not associated these activities with the data mining that occurs in these arenas as well.  Hmmm.

 

I was first introduced to LinkedIn in 2009 by a co-worker.  I wasn’t on any social media site at that point and I am not an early adopter of anything.  So I thought about it and she mentioned it a couple more times and then sent an invitation through LinkedIn to join.  A forum for professionals, interesting – so I created a basic profile and mostly left it to its own devises and accepted invitations to connect from folks.

 

It has only been in the last few months that I have become a proponent of the site and the benefits.  In my opinion, LinkedIn offers solid benefits in exchange for data mining my business information for their own purposes.  Where do you stand?

 

Related Data Filled Article:

LinkedIn Connection-Obsession on http://knogimmicks.com

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Orienteering, Office Politics & Blind Trust

Some of us plan, others meander, and still others outright stumble along through our work life.  Depending on the stage of life we find ourselves, or the task we are engaged in, we may do some combination of these three things.  I decided that I just had to see if I could connect the dots between this story, 8 Drivers Blindly Followed GPS into Disaster and my blog theme.  Particularly since I just posted something about trust.

 

Certainly we can’t be expected to be expert at everything required to be successful in this complex modern life, so we must rely upon others to guide us at times.  The basic assumption should still be that we must stay clued in to whether the aid we have chosen is providing useful assistance; we must keep our own common sense engaged.

 

No device has yet been marketed that will provide step by step guidance through a work day in the office.  (I’m sure someone out there is working to create one.)  Therefore we must rely upon orienteering, dead-reckoning, the kindness of others – whatever local signposts seem to offer the best clues in negotiating our tasks, our co-workers, bosses, clients, etc.  Pick the wrong one and follow it too far past when common sense starts humming, then screaming warning and we end up in some lake or bog – or up a cherry tree.

 

orienteeringOrienteering relies upon a compass, a map and your own abilities to interpret all the signs.  What does the map translate into in your office – hopefully thoughtfully and clearly written protocols on best practices for your tasks?  (Check the date of the last update, or the creation date – well written but obsolete maps make for interesting gift wrap but not much more.  No date, well…)  And the compass would be the direction that you are given by the person passing out your tasks.  Then it is all yours to put it together and make something useful and sensible.

 

Everyone can get stuck pondering the validity of staying the course or bailing.  Think about these hapless folks the next time you find yourself wondering whether to question the prevailing direction or to follow it.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Call to Action

Whether we are natural list makers or not, the length of our to-dos requires some type of tracking or we are lost.  The have-tos are simply relentless.  But let’s flip the coin to the other side – when we need something from others or want others to do something in response to us.  Do they clearly know it?

 

Some people are very good at getting others to do things and the rest of us muddle through it.  Can you recall a time or two when you were pretty sure that someone was asking you for something but they were so vague you either had to ask or pretended that you didn’t catch their real meaning?  They didn’t come right out with their call to action perhaps counting on our good graces to step in and offer.

action

When my kids were in their early teens they would say things like, I need this list of supplies for a project and I would take it from there and ask questions like when is it due, how many, what color and the like.  When they got into their mid-teens I would respond with ‘that’s nice’ and wait.  (Of course I explained the first time that I was turning more of the responsibility over to them to actually ask me to get the stuff.)  There were a couple of times when they didn’t get what they needed, but they figured out that they had to turn the statement into a question and be the responsible party to get the action completed.

 

We think that adults don’t need that same process explanation, but sometimes they do.  Send me an email and tell me a nice story, thanks.  Oh, you wanted me to do something, I didn’t see that spelled out.  There wasn’t a call to action on my part.  You were passing on the thing, but I read that you were telling me about it.  Because you didn’t say, ‘I would like for you to do xyz, please’.

 

Sometimes I truly didn’t catch the intent, and sometimes I used the vagueness to avoid stepping in.

 

Spend time on your hook – why should I help you, what’s in it for me – but don’t forget to set the hook before you end the contact, by spelling out your call to action.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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