Posts Tagged ‘Decision Making’

Blank_bookAs I adjust to the reality that I’ll hit the big 6-0 birthday in a mere 20 months, I can’t help but battle inwardly on what the final chapter of my professional career should look like. I bounce between three possible scenarios:

Continue where I am, doing what I’m doing. Make no mistake about it, I love what I do and the people with whom I get to do it at Humana. To know that I’ve owned and driven our enterprise social network (ESN), Buzz, from its launch in 2010 to the continuing success it is today is a source of great professional satisfaction. Now that I have the incredible Brenda Rick Smith on my team to also work with me, we’re making greater strides than ever in the maturity of the ESN and our management of it. I have said many times that I could be “The Buzz Man” the rest of my career and be quite happy about it. A quick glance through the many articles and public recognition of our Buzz work on the About page of this blog will give you an idea of my passion for it.

Since August of 2014, my role has also included consulting with lines of business about the establishment and community management of other online communities – mostly for target audiences outside the company. I still have a lot to learn and do in this area. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be in my own Jive platform skills used in those communities, and there is much to be done in working with business areas to establish and grow these communities. That’s a good, new challenge for me that I willingly assume and look forward to seeing positive results from down the road.

So my love for what I do, the great people I work with, my belief in our company, the great leadership at the top, and how I’m compensated for what I do all make a decision to remain a perfectly reasonable one. It’s the easy choice and may well be what you should bet on if you’re a betting person.

But there are a couple of points of uneasiness that drive me to wonder about other options:

  1. Continuing rumors about my company being sold to a larger healthcare company. Of course, I’m not an insider and I know nothing about the truth of those rumors. I won’t know until the public and everyone else knows. I hope it doesn’t come to pass, but it’s out of my hands. Worry doesn’t change anything, but I’d be a fool to ignore the possibility and be unprepared for a worst-case scenario of a new parent company doing away with my role. Of course, I could potentially have a role in the combined company, but what kind of role, and would relocation and/or a significant cut in compensation be a condition of continued employment?
  2. Ever since I left full-time Christian ministry in 1985 to move to Louisville to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, there has been the question of whether I should return at some point to vocational ministry.

Because of the two uncertainties above, I have to consider two other possible ways to write the final chapter of my professional career which may last for another 10 years or so. (After that may be official “retirement” but not of the sit-around-and-do-nothing variety. There are too many important things to be done as a volunteer at church and elsewhere to retire from service until I stop breathing.)

I could seek out a role at another company focused on online communities. With such work potentially being remote these days, a move might even allow me to work from home the majority of the time as opposed to the one day per week I currently work from home. My dog would love that (not sure about my wife). If this option comes to pass, I wouldn’t mind traveling one or two weeks a month to wherever the home office or clients might be. This would be a very attractive option for me.

To be honest, I’d be open to the radical idea of relocating, although that would be extremely hard to do given our family and church ties. I have to admit that after spending a great week in New York City last week, I came away thinking that I could live there. It might be exciting to do something wild and crazy like that for the final chapter of my career, renting out our house in Louisville and coming back to it after the final chapter ends. Don’t put your money on this option if you’re a betting person, but sometimes longshots win. Working for a local company or one that allows me to work primarily from home seems more likely.

Lastly, I can see myself returning to full-time Christian ministry. Spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching, administration and leadership, along with some practical skills gained through the years would equip me to do the work should the right door open. There is a trade off in working at a secular company where you have the opportunity to impact many who are not believers and working in a church environment where the audience and opportunities are very different. There is something very appealing to having the final chapter of my professional life be the matching bookend to the first chapter which saw me serving in a couple of Missouri churches before moving to Louisville. I assumed that my degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and further study at Southern Seminary would be preparation for a life of church or denominational service, but life veered from that while in Louisville in ways that made good sense and for which I have no regrets.

Ultimately, my purpose on earth is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever (see the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s question #1). That can be done in a host of ways and professions and locations – something I have to remind myself of as I ponder the future. There probably is not only one right answer to this multiple-choice future to be decided. In all my fretting of what to do, God is probably thinking, “Just make a choice and go for it! I’m going to be with you wherever you are.” There is great comfort in that and I am thankful to my dear friend Jay Close for saying those words to me many years ago when I faced a similar decision. Serving God isn’t so much about the “where” as it is about the “how” wherever we may be.

And so we wait. Hopefully, my company won’t keep us waiting too long before we know if there is a “Sold” sign on the front door. Keeping over 50,000 employees in limbo about their future isn’t something leadership should want to do for long because of its impact on morale and productivity. A quick answer regardless of what the answer is will be better than limbo.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my best at my work as always. I’ll put out a few feelers with close contacts to test the waters. It’s probably time to polish up the ol’ resume and LinkedIn profile. I’ll hope that nothing drastic changes, that uncertainty subsides, and that I’m able to carry on doing what I love at a great company with great people. I’ll pray that should a change be necessary I’m not victimized by age discrimination from those who would look at one’s age and make horribly incorrect judgments about my interests and abilities. (“He’s old. He probably doesn’t get or understand or like using social media.” Wrong. Duh.)

It isn’t easy deciding how to write the final chapter of one’s career. It’s a time of reflecting on what you’ve written to date, of deciding how satisfied you are with the accomplishments, about what goals are still valid and which ones need to be set aside. I don’t know how the story will end, but I have confidence it will end well because of the One in whose hands it ultimately rests. If He does His part (which He will) and I do my part (which I’m trying), it’s going to turn out just fine.

Stay tuned.

Job SearchIt is no longer the norm that employees stay with the same company for the bulk of their adult lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure in the U.S. in 2012 was 4.6 years. Over a career spanning 40+ years, that’s a lot of change for the average American. It’s interesting to note that the average for many other countries is considerably longer than in the U.S., according to this chart. I’ll let others debate the possible reasons for that.

The purpose of this post is to consider some of the factors that go into the decision to pursue presumed greener pastures elsewhere. If the average worker changes jobs every 4.6 years, the inner debate about whether to do so occurs almost as frequently as presidential elections. What are the drivers, and how do you decide to stay where you are or to move on to something else?

As I look back to my earlier adult life, career changes were mostly tied to moving up the ladder or pursuing things I was newly prepared to do. My resume from the early years has far too many short-tenure positions listed if I honestly look at it from a hiring manager’s perspective. Anytime I see a resume with a string of two-year positions, it is a giant red flag and there had better be good explanations for me to consider investing time and energy in adding such a person to my team. If you have an internal short-term timer that seems to go off every couple of years causing you to look for another job, then you probably need to explore what’s triggering that timer more than you need to explore more job opportunities. The answer may tell you something important about yourself.

Now that I’m 56, I like the fact that I just celebrated my 10th anniversary with my current company, Humana, and I genuinely hope to celebrate a 20th anniversary with them before retiring. I’m in my third role and department during those ten years, but each has been a definite positive career move within the company that benefited the business as well as me. I don’t categorize such changes the same as the job hopping between employers many experience.

When you think about reasons in the past why you’ve left positions, I suspect some of your reasons are in this list:

  • You needed a higher salary or better benefits.
  • Your family or personal situation changed significantly, necessitating a career change as well.
  • You were bored with your current job.
  • You didn’t get along well with your manager. (Maybe you’ve heard the adage that people come for the job, but they leave because of the management. It isn’t always true, of course, but it certainly happens.)
  • You disagreed with the business practices that you had to follow.
  • You had poor relationships with your coworkers.
  • You didn’t see any opportunity for advancement.
  • You wanted a change in location or environment.
  • You followed a special someone to another city in order to be with him/her, requiring you to be open to other career choices.
  • You completed an educational or experiential milestone which qualified you for something else.

All of the above reasons are understandable. Put several of them together and it’s a near certainty that a change in direction is imminent.

A danger exists, however, in thinking that all or even most of your reasons for dissatisfaction with your current role will vanish when you take that new job elsewhere. They may or may not vanish. How can you be certain? What do you have to base your decision on – a couple of brief interviews, some first impressions and promises not in writing? That’s risky. Except for the known changes of salary, benefits, proposed type of work and location, other eerily familiar frustrations may rear their ugly head and end the honeymoon with the new place sooner than expected.

When I leave a job, I make sure that I am not just trying to get away from something I don’t like, but that there is at least an equal force pulling me toward something I’m excited about doing. I joined my current team because I’m excited to devote my full-time efforts working in social media, not because I was trying to get away from my previous circumstance. That’s important. To bounce around from place to place running away from things would make me feel like an old-style pinball reacting against some push that sends me flying in one direction, only to soon be pushed by some other negative force in a different direction. I don’t want to be a pinball employee. There is value is facing and enduring difficult circumstances, although I’m certainly not suggesting that leaving such situations is always the wrong thing to do or evidence of taking the easy way out. Still, we need to be proactively in control of our career paths and not reactionary, haphazardly bouncing between roles.

For many major decisions in life, I have done the simple, calculating, decision-making action of drawing a vertical line down the middle of a page, listing on one side the benefits of making that choice and listing the negatives in the other column. Occasionally I’ve listed my current job in one column and the potential new role in the other, detailing the advantages of each. It’s amazing what putting such factors in black and white can do to clear up muddled thinking. You may find one list considerably longer than the other. You may find the items on one list of far greater importance than the other side, even though the quantity of items may be fewer. You may find your heart leaning toward one side and your head toward the other. It’s usually best to follow your heart. If you’re facing a tough decision right now, you might include that simple tactic among the steps that help you decide.

In a different context recently, I cautioned some friends who are facing a major decision to be mindful of what questions they ask in the decision-making process because the answers could lead them in radically different directions. For example, if the main question asked is “Which option benefits me the most right now?”, then the answer may be significantly different than the answer to the question “Where am I most needed?” or “What is likely to be most beneficial for my family in the long run?” The questions imply wildly contrasting motivations and result in significantly different answers.

I’m no career counselor. I’m not in talent management. I’m just a guy who has pursued an honest work life in various fields of interest since my first job 40 years ago. I don’t know if I’m at my final employer or not. I hope so, but I’ve learned never to say never in that regard. It’s possible someone could come along tomorrow and make me an offer I can’t refuse. It’s possible that unforeseen changes ahead cause me to choose to seek out something else. Regardless, if the time comes when I’m facing that decision again, I’ll make sure the motivation for the change is more about the excitement and potential of what is ahead than any frustration connected with what I leave behind.

Those are some of my thoughts about deciding when to leave one job for another. Tell me something about the factors that go into your decisions at such times.

Cat Bad DecisionWhat do you do when you realize you’ve made a bad decision?  I hate saying “it depends,” but correcting bad decisions really does depend on the significance of the decision and the reality of the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It isn’t always easy, quick or possible to correct a previous bad choice.

Some decisions are mundane and easy to change.  If I make a wrong turn driving to a destination, I simply find a way to turn around and head in the right direction.  No harm, no foul.  On a more significant level, if I’m in school and realize I’m in the wrong degree program, I switch majors to head down a better path, understanding that there may be consequences such as more time spent in school and more cost because of my decisions.  If I accept a new job offer and then find myself working with colleagues or a company far from what I envisioned, I have to decide whether to try to make the best of it and improve that situation, or start the process of changing jobs once again.  If you’re an employer and realize you’ve hired the wrong person, what kind of sticky situation have you just created for yourself?  Do you follow the adage, “Hire slow, fire fast”?  If I realize I’m in a bad relationship, it’s one thing to change if you’ve only been dating someone for a short while versus being married where working on the relationship is more vital.

A few big-picture thoughts come to mind when I consider how to respond to situations born from bad decisions:

Bad DecisionsIt is best to reverse a bad decision quickly.  Allowing the negative consequences of bad decisions to linger, fester and continue to negatively impact the current situation may seem kindhearted and hopeful where other people are concerned, but it’s probably doomed.  Make the right call given the new understanding and move on.  Swallow any and all pride that may be keeping you from admitting the previous decision was wrong.  It’s OK to change your mind.

Get advice from others before major decisions.  Seek the wisdom of those who have traveled a similar path before.  Don’t rely just on what your best friends say because they may be biased in your favor to an unhelpful degree.  “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” – Proverbs 19:20.  “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” – Proverbs 12:15.  This won’t help you with bad decisions in the past, but it can help you avoid future blunders.

Some situations may not be reversible.  I have for decades appreciated and reminded myself of the saying, “You have control over your actions, but you have no control over the consequences of your actions.”  There is a lot of humbling truth in that.  I can’t control consequences, but I can control subsequent actions on my part.  Perhaps those subsequent actions will result in better consequences.

Learn from your mistakes.  If we’re honest, we can probably think of multiple occasions in our past when we’ve made the same type of mistake repeatedly.  We have friends who make the same kind of bad relationship choices over and over.  Some people follow the same pattern in job hopping from one place to the next for short tenures, always finding a way to blame others for their circumstances.  It is all too easy to allow hope and emotion to cloud better judgment, even though past experience should warn us that we’ve been down this failed path before.  Proverbs 19:20 quoted above presumes that as we listen to advice, accept instruction and follow it, we eventually gain wisdom from that cycle and from our experience that makes future decision making easier and more likely to be wise.

I’ve written a number of posts over the last couple of years related to decision making that you’ll find listed here.  I’ve written about it a lot because it is a process that never ends.  We make decisions daily.  We face the consequences of past decisions daily.  When all goes well and we’re basking in the glow of a good decision, life is good.  But when we come to the harsh realization that we’ve made a bad call – perhaps a very bad call with significant negative consequences – then it’s time to admit it and do something about it.

Does that ring true with any circumstance in your life right now?

Clearly Bad Decisions

Corporate ValuesHow do you make work-related decisions?  Do you fly by the seat of your pants and do what seems expedient at the moment?  Do you go down the easiest path?  the hardest one?  Do you do what you think will get you the most attention, glory and upward mobility in the organization?  Do you have some clear goals, objectives and strategy in mind by which you evaluate the pros and cons of options?

There are many processes and criteria people can use to make decisions at work.  Some are more noble than others.  Some are more effective than others.  I’d like to share with you some thoughts about values-based decision-making that stems from some discussions and communications at my company about our corporate values.

Recently, five simple values were presented by senior leadership to all associates.  To be more accurate, many associates at all levels were involved in the process that resulted in the set of values, but the final communication about them to everyone came, naturally, from top leadership.  I’m very impressed by them, and especially by their clarity and simplicity:

  • Inspire Health
  • Cultivate Uniqueness
  • Rethink Routine
  • Pioneer Simplicity
  • Thrive Together

Nearly all companies of any significant size have a variety of statements they tout from mission statements to purpose statements and value propositions and guiding principles and mottos and blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum.  I never was able to figure out the difference in all of those types of statements.  Too often they sounded like corporate-speak mumbo-jumbo that nobody outside the little cocooned offices that unveiled them really cared about.  So it was with a slight bit of skepticism that I listened to and read communications from our leaders and others about newly defined values.  Was this just the corporate-speak du jour spawned by a change in leadership, or was it more substantive than that?

I’m glad to say I think it’s substantive.  Yes, promotion of the values is being championed by our new CEO, but he believes in them, speaks often and convincingly about them, practices them, and expects others to do so as well, all of which is very encouraging.  The five values are simple, easy to remember and communicate, and something the average employee can buy into, keeping them in mind as we do our work and as we make decisions about what we do and how we do it.

For example, one cause I’m championing right now at work is opening up our internal social network to allow all employees to use the vendor’s excellent mobile apps on their personal mobile devices so that anyone can access the network simply, quickly, and effectively from anywhere, anytime, without losing any functionality they expect from the app.  That isn’t possible currently because of security measures and access processes in place.  Some clunky and inadequate workarounds make the current mobile experience so dreadful that nobody uses them.  Consequently, leaders and others on the go rarely participate due in part to the lack of mobile access.

Looking at the five values above, I have to consider the “pioneer simplicity” value when looking at possible solutions to this matter.  Do the current workarounds pioneer simplicity?  No.  They take complexity and user-unfriendliness to extremes.

What would happen if the stakeholders involved with coming up with a solution sat around a table with each of them buying into the idea of pioneering simplicity?  I am confident we could reach a solution that meets the security needs of the enterprise while maintaining the simplicity, user-friendliness and full functionality demanded by those who use the internal social network.  As we have future calls and meetings about the matter, you can rest assured that I will, if needed, respond to suggestions of complicated solutions with the legitimate question, “How does that mesh with the corporate value of pioneering simplicity?”

And that is where the beauty of having clear, simple corporate values can come into play for the average employee.  If I challenge a complex solution, it isn’t because I’m being a grumpy old man or I have some personal vendetta against others involved.  It is because I believe in the value of pioneering simplicity, and I think living and making decisions accordingly is in the best interests of the company, its employees, and ultimately its customers and stockholders.

As individuals, we have deeply-held personal values that are inseparable from decisions we make in our personal lives.  Such values are what guide us day by day in decisions big and small.  So why should we not also have a few simple, important values undergirding our business decisions?  I think we should.  I’m willing to adopt and promote the five values above as appropriate for my company.  Your organization’s values will likely be different and in accordance with its unique purpose.

Do you know your organization’s values?  Do you agree with them?  Do you consider them when making decisions?

Annoying CoworkersLast week I wrote a post about what I appreciate most in coworkers.  Thanks to all who made it one of my most read posts for the year to date.  This post addresses the flip side of the issue by discussing those things that really get under my skin about coworkers.  Of course, I’m writing a summary post from 40 years or working and am not airing a bunch of dirty laundry regarding my current team – a team I am incredibly impressed with and glad to be part of.

Here are the things that most annoy me in no particular order of importance:

1. Negativity.  As someone who prefers optimism over pessimism, I find it draining and depressing to be around Negative Nellies all the time.  Whether this is in the form of constantly complaining about one’s work environment, other people, personal matters at home, management, work to be done, one’s health, opinions concerning project plans, or a host of other possibilities, please don’t pollute the office and the daily experience of those around you by bringing more negativity than positivity to the office.  If you’re that miserable at work, then find something else somewhere else.  If you’re like this wherever you work, then the problem is you – not others or the work environment.

2. Excessive absenteeism.  I realize people take vacations, get sick and have family emergencies that take them away from work from time to time.  Heck, I’m writing this in the middle of such a few days myself helping to take care of my wife after an accident Sunday and in anticipation of her having surgery tomorrow.  But I have worked with some people who have more weeks per year with days away than weeks with all five days in the office.  With these folks, there always seems to be some crisis du jour that causes them to come in late, leave early, take another day off, etc.  It leaves me wondering just how many days a year these people take off and how that all reconciles with limits the company places on paid time off.  Is anyone holding them accountable?

3. Not delivering results.  I don’t care how many lofty plans you think up or what good intentions you announced at the last staff meeting.  I want to see work completed and done so in a timely manner.  I could line my cube wall with the empty promises of what others said they would do and never got around to finishing.  I’d rather line the walls with lists of amazing things accomplished by the team.

4. Managers who don’t hold people accountable.  This relates to the previous one, but focuses on the manager rather than the coworker.  I have been on teams where  managers inconceivably let slide month after month and year after year the lack of deliverables from some people on the team while others consistently churn out work at an incredible pace.  Is it because the manager doesn’t see it?  Does he not care?  Is he clueless about how to hold people accountable for performance results?  Doesn’t he realize what this disparity in apparent expectations does to the morale and potential performance of the rest of the team, not to mention the toll it takes on interpersonal dynamics?  It may be easy to convince oneself that letting people self-manage and requiring team members to hold each other accountable is the emotionally mature way to go, but doing so sure smells a lot like abdicating one’s management responsibilities when individual performance issues never get addressed.

5. Backstabbing.  I prefer to trust people until they give me a reason not to.  One way to quickly and permanently lose that trust is to stab me (or others I trust) in the back.  If you think doing so makes you look good, you’re wrong.  If you’re doing it to climb up the corporate ladder via the bleeding backs of others, then you will ultimately fail.  If you have something to say about the work I do, how I do it, or about any quality or capability I bring to the table, then do so to my face.  If you would hesitate to say it to me, then that ought to be a clue that you shouldn’t say it to others either.  Word gets around sooner or later, and a pattern of backstabbing others will get you a reputation that does you far more harm than good.  Build others up; don’t tear them down.

6. Jumping to conclusions.  I have to chuckle at times at the swift speed at which we go from very limited information to unfounded and inaccurate conclusions.  Learn to ask more questions and find out more facts about a situation before you take off on some rant or devise some unnecessary solution for a misdiagnosed problem.  I see this on our company’s internal social network all the time when someone will have one little piece of info or limited experience and then take off on some speculative discussion path rather than take the time to first inquire and understand the whole picture.

7. Failing to involve others in decision making.  It is the style of some “leaders” to think they need to make decisions in a vacuum or only with the involvement of very few people impacted, and then announce that major decision to others impacted by it.  That is a mistake.  With today’s ease of communication in organizations via internal social media, and especially if all impacted are easily gathered together for discussion prior to decisions, we are far better off tapping the collective wisdom of the entire stakeholder community before decisions are made.  This results in a far greater likelihood that the best decisions will be made and that broad buy-in from the ranks will be there from the start.  Leaders who get this right will find an appreciative workforce who provides valuable feedback, feels like they are partners in the enterprise, and who are strong advocates of final decisions made.  Leaders who continue to make major decisions behind locked doors, making some big announcement after everything is set in stone, only foster distrust about what will be handed down next.

8. Policy and process guardians with no common sense.  People who want to respond to every bad thing that ever happens with another policy or unbending process written in stone need to lighten up.  You can’t have an agile, creative, innovative, effective workplace that responds to today’s business needs and climate realities if every attempt to get work done is stifled or significantly delayed by people enforcing extremely conservative policies and complex processes that may be even prohibit the very actions they are presumably established to guide.  The business does not exist to enforce its policies and processes.  The policies and processes exist to help the business accomplish its objectives, and when they impede that progress, they need to be called out and changed by those empowered to do so.  That seems like common sense to me, but as I’ve heard others say, “If common sense was common, more people would have it.”

9. Making it hard for others to reach you.  This comes in a few different forms.  For example, when I read an email, I expect a signature block to contain basic contact info, even if you are from within my own company, but especially if you are from another company.  Unless you’re sitting within earshot of me, include your phone and any other relevant contact info in your signature block.  I don’t want to waste time having to look you up in the company directory or in previous emails or notes every time we need to talk.  If the company provides an instant messaging platform, then set up your PC to log in to it automatically every day for those quick exchanges that don’t warrant an email or phone call.  If you’re out of the office for a time, update your voice mail and email to note that so I don’t think you’re just ignoring me and so I can direct my questions to others while you are away.  If your area is responsible for some process that others must go through, then make clear on your website or somewhere who to actually contact if there is a need to talk to a real, live person instead of some generic email address.  Go out of your way to make it easy for others to reach you.

10.  Passing the buck.  How many times have you been sent from one person or department to another when trying to track down information or assistance with some matter?  I understand that not everyone is responsible for everything, especially in a large company.  Certain business areas own certain processes and aspects of the business and need to take pride in that ownership, making the areas for which they have responsibility run as smoothly as possible.  That means owning up to failures without pointing fingers to others who may have influenced failure in some way.  The kind of person who most impresses me in this regard is the one who will take ownership and initiative in finding answers, information and solutions even though it most certainly is not their actual job responsibility to do so.  That kind of customer and problem-solving focus is greatly appreciated by anyone who has ever experienced the exasperation of a string of people unwilling to take responsibility or to help.

So there you have the ten things that most annoy me about coworkers – a list compiled from reflecting on many years of work across many teams and under many different managers.

What about you?  What annoys you the most about coworkers?