Monday, March 25, 2019

Are you disengaged?

There is an old saying that goes something like this....

"It's not bragging, if you can back it up"

There is some truth to this, but the word "bragging" brings up thoughts of arrogance and no one likes to work with a cocky, arrogant, difficult person. No...that's not the type of bragging I'm talking about. If you're read my previous blog posts, you know I'm all about teamwork, collaboration, servitude, customer service, and the human aspect of leadership. We live in a very curious time. Social media allows us to put up a very convincing facade. We can brag about our fancy degrees, certifications, and accomplishments. Post up pictures of ourselves in highly interesting situations. We can make our lives seem so perfect that others envy us, which is exactly what some people want.

Since this blog is titled "Unavailing Logic", lets apply some. Would anyone put something in a resume or on social media that wasn't bragging about their accomplishments or abilities? No one is going to put up, "I'm lazy and don't like to work". While that might be true for them, they aren't going to tell the world. No one knows more about the person looking back at you in the mirror than you. Yet we seem to place so much value on what others think of us. As if we need their validation to confirm the hard work and dedication we've put into our career. Our actions should speak for themselves, yet many, including myself, feed off of the praise of others. A pat on the back, an "atta boy", or any sincere praise from leadership is a huge motivator. Now, I'm not talking about the occasional goofy certificate you get for 5 years of service, or some corporate recognition program that systematically "rewards" as many people in the company as possible to "boost morale". And I'm certainly not talking about being patronized.  No, I'm talking about true, heartfelt, sincere appreciation for you and the work you do, and the person you are. This type of recognition is very rare. Good leaders are in tune with their direct reports and learn what motivates them. They don't take a one size fits all approach to praise and recognition. They give each employee what they want and desire. Like I's very rare when you have a true leader who understands the importance of employee moral, attitude, drive, desire, and accomplishment. An employee seen as a "bare minimum" performer may simply feel unheard, unused, unappreciated, passed over, and unchallenged. Basically, they're bored. Leaders need to make sure their employees are engaged and that not only their monetary needs are met, but their emotional ones as well. Perhaps I'll do a blog post on Emotional Intelligence in leadership, it's really important, but outside the scope of this post.

The above Gallup survey show only 13% of employees are fully engaged in their work. 13 people out of 100 are engaged. That overshadows the old "80/20" rule where 20% do 80% of the work. Apparently it's only 13%.

What About Me?
So what about you? If your boss asks you, "are you engaged?". Of course, you're going to give a resounding "heck yeah!", "I'm a team player", "I get things done", etc, etc, etc. But if you aren't engaged, that's more of the facade mentioned above. And frankly, if you work for a boss that has to ask, look for a new job. He or she is not a very good boss. While a good leader always asks for honest feedback, that's not what I'm talking about here. A good leader should have a PLAN to engage every employee. They should set aside time to talk with each of their direct reports and LISTEN to them. A leaders #1 job is providing their team with what they need to be successful. Any leader who is "too busy", "doesn't have time", "just got caught up in things", heading down a wrong road with their team. What they are really saying to you is, "I care more about my career than I can about yours". Some may see no problem with this, but if you find yourself as one of those disengaged employees, you know how awful it is to work in that state. How it breeds negativity. How complaining, dread, and even avoidance of work creep in, eventually harming your company and possibly your career. And if you are an employer who has leaders who allow employees to be disengaged, it's costing you a LOT of money.

I've spoken with several people who are disengaged employees. These are some of the things they've said to me:

"I just come in and do my time"

"My boss doesn't listen to me, so I just keep my mouth shut and do what they tell me"

"I've taken sick days because I've hated my job so bad I was physically ill"

"I tell everyone new, just sit down, keep your mouth shut, and do what you're told and you'll have a job here forever. If you speak up, they'll run you out"

"They [leadership] don't care about people in this place. Just themselves"

"I just want to do my work and go home and not think about this place until the next day"

 As someone who has spent the last 15 years of my career in a leadership role, studying leadership, and seeing first hand how important the human aspect of business is...these quotes are very frustrating and saddening.

So as an employee, what can you do if you find yourself in this situation? Here's some advice:
  1. Take inventory
    • Do you have a good education? 
    • Have you been successful in other endeavors (service organizations, church leadership positions, etc.)?
    • What are your major accomplishments?
    • Were you happy in other jobs under different leadership?
    • What skills and abilities make you marketable in the open job market?
    • Get your positive mental attitude in order!! We can't control the circumstances, but we can control our attitude and our effort.
  2. Ask for feedback
    • Before you write your bad boss off, try to talk to them.
    • Ask for specific examples of things you can do better
      • If your boss gives you the old "you're going a good job" or "we need ya buddy" pattern answer, there is no reason to continue the discussion. EVERYONE can improve, and a good boss will always want to provide you with valuable feedback and an ACTION PLAN to help you achieve your career goals.
    • It may be better to chat outside the office. Go to lunch, have a cup of coffee before work, a beverage after work. As his direct report, you should be one of your bosses top priorities....even over his or her own boss. 
  3. Have a Plan
    • If you've done #2 and things didn't work out, then you are ready to move forward. 
    • You know your skills and abilities. Your wants and desires.  
    • Dream up your ideal job. What do you WANT to do? How do you want to be treated?
    • People network! I can't emphasize this enough. The human side of business is the most important aspect. Regardless of what you do, you're really a salesman, and your product is YOURSELF. Always be selling!
    • Seek out companies that have a reputation for being the type of place you see yourself. 
      • Don't just apply blindly for jobs!
      • Don't settle. Jumping from the frying pan to the fire does you no good.
      • Try to find contacts who work there. Get to know them. 
      • Let the leadership team know you are seeking them out and want to be part of their success. 
    • Make a talk track about yourself. Always be ready for an "interview".
  4. Learn to Serve
    • Yes...really!
    • If you want to work for a servant leader, someone who has empathy for his team and wants them to succeed, you too must have a servant heart.
    • Servant leaders are servants in their private life too. To find them, you have to meet them where they see you as an equal. Serve along side them. Show them your work ethic. 
    • Being involved in your community and helping others will repay you more than you can imagine. Maybe not in money, but trust me, your cup will be full.
  5. Don't let others define you
    • Get demoted? Passed over for a promotion? Didn't get that internal job you applied for and they guy they hired had half your skill and experience?
    • It's not always your fault. 
    • Know your skills, know your worth
    • Always stay positive (sometimes it's hard, and you will backslide into negativity)
  6. Step it up
    • As silly as it sounds, work harder at that job you're so disengaged in.
    • If you've written off your employer and are planning on leaving the last thing you want to do is make them grateful you left. Show them how good you are. Leave on a high note.
    • Always make sure you are "eligible for rehire" even if you never plan on working there again.
  7. Never burn bridges
    • Most leaders are promoted because they were good workers, but no one ever taught them how to be good leaders. This doesn't make them bad people. 
    • As much as you want to rant on why you're leaving, don't.
      • Even in an "exit interview",  keep your comments brief and generic. 
      • Smile, say thank you, and be polite and professional
      • Stay positive! The old "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything" applies here.
    • Don't poison the well
      • Your former co-workers are still working there. Don't bring them down with negative comments or gleeful celebration about your departure.
    • Don't be the victim
      • You're leaving for a better opportunity, not because the "company treated me bad". No one likes a victim.
As of this writing, unemployment is at a record low. The economy is expanding and employers are looking for great people. Enjoy the free market! Don't stay at a job where you aren't engage. Don't work where you feel unappreciated, unimportant, or under utilized. Don't continue to be a part of the problem plaguing much of the workplace. You're better than that!

Don't be intimidated by all the social media ninjas out there. They aren't as good as they seem. If you've worked hard, earned your skills, and get a thrill out of success, you're just as good as any social media salad someone posts up. Those who do great things don't do so by standing in line with everyone else. Be different. Stand out. Get positive and get moving. Your life is yours and what you make it. Make it great!

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Comfort Zone

I've worked as an IT professional since 1987. I was 15 years old when I received my first paycheck for technology work. My goal was always to continue running the family business my father had started. My brother worked in the company as well. It was what was expected, but not what I wanted. Technology was my passion. I'd had a computer in my bedroom since 1982. I learned to build peripherals from schematics as a 12yo. After I graduated college, I went into the family business to do what was expected of me.

Through a very unfortunate turn of events, my father passed away in 1995 and the company fell on hardship. My brother was running things, and he had a conversation with me that I never thought I'd hear. "We can't afford to pay you bud". I'll never forget those words. The career I'd prepared for since I started to walk and talk, the family business, my Dad's company...was letting me go. How does this happen? Where would I work? What would I do?

I turned to the only thing I knew I'd succeed at. Information Technology. I was fairly advanced given I'd spent 14 years of my life working in IT as both a passionate hobby and professionally. But my resume was ripe with marketing, sales, and insurance industry experience. Who would hire me? Perhaps a failing company headed for bankruptcy. So, I applied at Service Merchandise Corporation for an entry level desktop analyst job. It was my first experience in a large IT enterprise. I was able to perform my prescribed duties, and when I had time, I'd volunteer to work with the more advanced roles in the company. Servers, networks, telephony, satellite communications, automation systems, program logic controllers, etc. I absorbed it all. I never had any fear of jumping into a project and I was rewarded for it. I progressed up the ranks quickly and worked at SMC until they liquidated just after the 9/11 attack.

Now well into my career, with over 30 years of IT experience under my belt across many verticals, I've come to understand that my passion is learning about a problem, simplifying the complex, and delivering a comprehensive solution using technology. It allows me to use my love of people and relationship building, my logical processing ability, and my technology background. I also enjoy being a lifetime learner. Always thirsty for more knowledge. I've identified my abilities and what drives me, but what about that comfort zone thing? How does that work? How does it relate to you and why you're reading this blog? If you're the type of person who hates going to work, only does so to pay the bills, hates Monday's, and you see your work as something you have to do versus something you have the honor and privilege of doing, then you won't get much benefit from the rest of this post. If you stay at your job because the company is stable, the benefits are good, and the pay is okay, then you may not get much else from this post.

If you want to be successful, you need to find a company who is willing to fully utilize your talents and abilities while helping you develop further. But where do you find these companies? There are several sites that list great places to work, but they assume that everyone is looking for the same thing. You need to do some research, people networking, and take an interest in a company. Find an employer who sees you as a valued member of the team. Everyone pulling toward the same goal. Take that leap of faith to move from the mundane to the exceptional. If you worked hard to be one of the best of the best, then set your sights on working for the best.

I turned 47 this year. I've had career goals since I was in my 20's. Over the years my goals have changed from the position I want to reach and how big a house I wanted to have, to the level of excellence I want to provide for my company and customer. Job title is no longer my driver. I want to do great work, in a customer focused environment, where excellence is then norm. Good enough is not good. I want to walk out of the office every day feeling as if I've accomplished something great that day. To do that, you have to leave your comfort zone. You have to push yourself to do things others think are crazy. There are no shortcuts in life. Life begins outside your comfort zone.

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Several years ago I was called to my bosses office and given an ultimatum. Fire one of my direct reports, or be accountable for their action...