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take charge of your career, before someone else does

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The Cultural Artifacts of an Office

The Cultural Artifacts of an Office

The building blocks of an organization’s culture consist of the shared artifacts, beliefs, values, and assumptions (Heskett, 2012, p. 34).  Corporate culture is often considered one of the strongest assets in a firm and may be regarded as the way the company conducts its business (Heskett, 2012, pp. 34-36).  Culture has a measurable impact on performance, and for this reason, leaders seek to build healthy cultures that align with their underlying missions. How an office culture consciously and unconsciously uses artifacts is a fascinating element of the corporate experience.

Today, I challenge you to walk around the office while looking and listening for cultural artifacts.  They are pervasive throughout the environment. From a one-person office to the enterprise level, these elements exist and serve a valuable but underappreciated function.

According to Professor Macrcoulides of California State University at Fullerton and Professor Heck of the University of Hawaii, cultural artifacts may be some of the most observable elements and include such things as the physical structures, logical structures, rules of conduct, policies, imagery, stories, and rituals (Marcoulides & Heck, 1993).  Additionally, they act as reminders of what is important to the organization’s members and frequently have a wealth of internalized meaning.  It is not uncommon for artifacts to be subtle and pervasive throughout the firm’s operating environment.  The reinforcing impact of cultural artifacts cannot be overstated.  By their nature, artifacts are durable and reinforce impressions in the collective’s membership. Finally, many cultural artifacts are encased in legends, stories, and rituals that become ingrained as institutional knowledge. This is a double-edged sword and must be treated with care.

Walk around and look at the painting, pictures, décor, layout, organization, and social practices, while listening to the stories and legends of the company. These stories are shared, part of the lore, and help in the indoctrination of new members to the established group norms. The artifacts are fascinating to watch and listen to when taking a moment to appreciate the meaning and subtleties they convey.

I urge people to ask about these elements when visiting other organizations.

If you are interviewing, spend a few minutes asking about what you see and hear on your way into the interview. People in healthy corporate cultures love to talk about their environment. For other business meetings, it can be an excellent way to break the ice and start a conversation that builds trust. Artifacts of culture are everywhere. Take the time to look, listen, and value their significant messages.

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Work is a Means to an End

Work is a Means to an End

Meaningful work is a preferred method by which the majority of people wish to get many of their goals in life. Well, this is at least my firm belief. The work in-of-itself is not “the goal” or the be-all end-all purpose for our lives; it is a vehicle that moves us down a chosen path. Albeit a simple concept, it took me a while to internalize its meaning and applicability.  Many people get caught up in their careers while losing the connection to themselves. The inner person may become twisted and warped resulting from a lack of internal alignment between personal values, goals, and actions.

Looking back, I understand why my mentors and leaders placed a high value in the idea that work or a career is a method of achievement and not the purpose of life or the central point of our identity. My executive coach accelerated my learning in this area by incessantly challenging me to question my long-held beliefs.  I would seek shelter in the safety of what got me to that point before gently (or not so gently) pulling the rug out by merely questioning me in a way that cut right through the layers of obfuscation I had carefully constructed.  This is what I needed for me to realize the fallacy of my earlier logic that put work ahead of everything else and allowed me the freedom to explore new concepts.

The difference for me arrived when I understood that work and career are a vehicle of life and should be designed to give an opportunity for me to achieve, explore, and expand whom I am as a person while providing a valuable service to my firm and the needed financial support to my family.

I work because I want to work; where I want to work; and I am with the people I want to be around.  Work is not optional for me; I have to work if I want to fund my family’s lifestyle and prepare us for retirement.  Still, I work because I want to work, and I work where I want to work. My career is personally fulfilling, but it is not who I am or what I do with my life.  Work is no longer my identity. It is part of me but not all of me.

As I shifted and understood my real priorities, changes flowed naturally.  I have lower stress, a happier life, and even more professional success. I did not realize how much easier things become when you are aligned in thinking, values, and actions. By putting first things fist, I support the needed alignment for both personal and professional success.

Photo Credit: "Conversation" (CC BY 2.0) by Sharon Mollerus
Dealing with Different Decompression Times

Dealing with Different Decompression Times

I do not often post about other articles I come across online. I prefer to comment on them, and if I like them, I will post them to LinkedIn. However, when something speaks to me, or it is a topic that is under appreciated by the masses, I will take the time to write a short post. I came across one such article today. Ed Batista wrote a piece on Harvard Business Review talking about the conflicts that arise between couples when they get home from work. This is a topic that many people in leadership do not fully appreciate or acknowledge the toll it takes on families and relationships.

We work diligently in our careers and all too often take home the stress we experience during the day. While it is not fair to come home in this mindset, I believe we are human, and it is hard to shake off a rough day in the typical 30-minute commute home. By no means am I excusing the behaviors of people, but I am just as guilty as the next when bringing home a bad day from the office.

Below is my comment on the article. In addition to the recommendations provided by the author, a little early communication between partners can go a long way to disrupting the conflict cycle.

I think this is underappreciated and recognized condition for many people in the professional community. It is incredibly tough to shake off a rough day at the office when we walk through the door to our home.

My wife or I will typically call each other on our way home to give and receive brief rundowns of our respective days. It is also an opportunity for us to understand each other’s current state before walking in the door. This way, we help each other cool down when we get home even if it means just providing some quiet space.

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Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Aligning Professional and Personal Roles to Core Values

Having a strong work-life role as part of our overall identity is healthy and normal for high-performing people.  However, it is easily taken too far.  People may become so emotionally connected to the business that it consumes their identity until “the company” represents a huge part of the individual.  On the other hand, having a weak work-life component of our identity leads to career stagnation, mediocrity, and disengagement.

When we permit our personal identities to be compromised by allowing the corporation to supplant our true selves, we are letting our family, team, and company down.  Our objectiveness and priority system is unbalanced, and that compromises our judgement.  This situation leads to burnout, frustration, and an ever escalating level of damaged relationships.

FYI: This post is not what I intended to write.  However, it is some honest thoughts, and I feel it might be worth sharing.  I hope you find some value in it.

This is avoidable by aligning our priorities and actions with our core values. This requires us to understand what matters the most to us as a person.  Frequently, it is our family. I have learned the importance of regularly looking at my obligations and roles through the lens of my core values. This approach allows for the separation of the corporation from the person. I am not advocating for the separate identities for work-life and home-life.  This would create an entirely different set of problems. I am a complete person that has multiple obligations and roles in life.  When integrated together through core values, I am a unified and authentic person. I would recommend that we look at where our efforts/resources are being directed while asking a couple of questions.

  • Do I understand the needs and expectations of my stakeholders? Even if I am sure, I will ask them again. This understanding must be comprehensive and include both internal and external such as family, friends, colleagues, business and community.
  • Are my actions and resource allocation (time, energy, mind share, and financial among other items) aligned with those needs and expectations?
  • Do I agree with the current alignment between my core values, conduct, the external expectations placed on me, my internal expectations for myself, and my allocation of resources? If not, what beliefs, actions, or assignments need to be modified to gain the required alignment?
  • If I feel my resource’s allocations, actions, and beliefs are aligned with my core values, do the desires of my stakeholder’s need to be modified? If so, what methods may I use to help them in recalibrating their expectations?
  • How often should I recheck my alignment with my stakeholders and core values?

The allocation of resources and assessment of our behavior moves as our life situations change. The aim is to keep the true priorities that are derived from our core values first in our personal and professional lives. When we have an agreement between our core values, behaviors, and stakeholders, we are free to experience higher levels of fulfillment, clearer judgement, and ultimately the success we seek.

Photo Credit: freeimages.com/Tory Byrne
Screwed up at work or ??? A simple plan to help with the recovery process

Screwed up at work or ??? A simple plan to help with the recovery process

We all make mistakes and screw up from time-to-time.  As imperfect humans, we must accept that there will be inevitable errors. Instead of going into a panic mode after-the-fact, some focus should be spent on minimizing the opportunities for errors and developing a generic recovery strategy.

Preparing a generic and adaptable plan in advance allows the focus to be on the resolution and recovery processes instead of the distractions that arise from confusion, dodging blame, or a thinly veiled attempt at a C.Y.A. maneuver.

I tend not to make small or frequent blunders.  I save all the goodwill I generate from being a consistent performer for the bigger mistakes that I make from time-to-time.  Recovering from these errors provides me an opportunity to improve my leadership skills, learn valuable life lessons, and strengthen relationships through a sincere rebuilding effort.

When a serious misstep occurs, I follow a few key guidelines that reduce the damage while maximizing the chances for possible relationship gains.

Take Full Responsibility

  • Admit and Apologize: This takes the gas out of anyone attacking or seeking to play up the failure through a nefarious blame game. Most people consider it unfair to attack someone who has taken full responsibility and given a deep personal apology.
  • We must show authentic levels of remorse without giving excuses for the outcome or our conduct.
  • Accept the consequences of our actions with grace and maturity

Establish Open Lines of Communications

  • Complete an effective postmortem of the situation and your conduct. Bring in stakeholders and the concerned parties for private individual feedback sessions. Once complete, share the results. Open and honest communication is critical. Do not compound the problem by trying to keep things in the dark as it never works out in the end.

Correct the Mistake

  • Some errors cannot be rectified, but many can be made improved. This may take some creative thinking, but search out how best to make it right.  Remember, making it right must be from the perspective of the wronged party.  What is “right and fair” to you, may feel like a further wrong from their perspective.
  • If proper for the circumstance, compensate the affected parties.

Work to Reestablish Trust

  • Seek outside help and perspective from mentors and an executive coach to help deepen your understanding of the impact on others and how to address the personal underlying issues.
  • Create a mitigating plan that lowers the risk of a future occurrence. This even goes when the mistake is personal such a public confrontation. The plan should be shared as well. Keep people informed and close.  It helps greatly with rebuilding trust.
  • Be open to more feedback sessions as people may need to express their feeling multiple times before they are able to accept and forgive.

Even significant mistakes do not have to be the end of the world or a career. Obviously, this excludes things such as criminal conduct and huge moral lapses in judgment.  Most times when people have a lapse in judgment or make a mistake, it is recoverable.  How we choose to address these events and its impact on others is critical to our growth and long-term success.

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Are We on the Same Team or Not?

Are We on the Same Team or Not?

Where do your team boundaries start and stop? Frequently, we see our team as the people that are contained within our hierarchal areas of responsibility. For most managers, this is “their team.” However, everyone is part of divisional structures and an overall organization. This is the wider team environment that we belong to but many people are not as invested in the broader scope of the team. This is an underlying condition that leads corporate cultures down the path of “us versus them.”

Senior leadership tends to think of the larger organization as the team. Upper management and middle-management often see teams through the lens of their respective lines of authority. This is the wrong view when looking at talent management. A few days ago, Harvard Business Review published an article confirming that excellent employees do leave good bosses. I responded about the importance of encouraging people to explore other departments rather than exit to a competing organization. Intellectually this is logical and sound business judgment. However, people are usually not that sensible.

I had a great discussion on this topic the other night with a friend and mentor of mine that is a senior leader in a public firm. He agrees that having employees go across the organization is highly preferred and a sign of good leadership. In practice, he felt that it is rarely executed so cleanly. Many managers see other divisions as competition rather than part of the larger joint team. In his opinion, many leaders see other internal groups in the same ways as they do an external organization when competing for talent. A loss of real talent is to be avoided. This view operates at the expense of the organization as a whole. The myopic position stifles innovation and drains an organization of highly qualified and exceptional talent.

Losing someone to another department is not the same as losing them from the team.

I stress my position, as leaders, we need to prepare and encourage our people to take on challenging assignments in new areas of the business. The firm becomes more innovative and resilient as we build greater cross-functional knowledge in the organization. It is only the incorrect definition of “the team” that leads us down the wrong path. We must encourage our team members to explore new opportunities throughout the organization before they decide to explore the possibilities of continued growth in our competitors.

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Leaving a Good Boss

Leaving a Good Boss

Harvard Business Review recently published an article on employee turnover that challenges conventional wisdom. The article is titled Employees Leave Good Bosses Nearly as Often as Bad Ones by Ravi S. Gajendran and Deepak Somaya. The authors write in a thought-provoking approach that leads me to question how as leaders may we stem the loss of our most talented people.

As I posted on LinkedIn, the leaders whom I have worked for invariably encourage me to take on fresh challenges.  They consistently work with me to help focus my attention inside and across the company for new prospects of growth and development.  In many businesses, there is enough opportunity internally that finding an external position may not be warranted and may arrive from a lack of awareness on behalf of the employee or leader. This was my big take away from the article.  As leaders, we need to show our best people how to move internally to achieve the growth and development opportunities they seek, need and deserve.  I would rather “lose” a star employee to another department inside of the firm instead of to another company.

We spend a significant time developing our people, and we need to help our team look at all opportunities inside of our walls. This includes actively lobbying on their behalf and working to open those new assignments. We cannot let our best people become our future competitors because we fail to help them explore all of their options before they consider an exit.