Posts Tagged ‘Work Ethic’

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?

Good WorkerLast month I wrote a couple of posts about The Best Behaviors I’ve Shown As An Employee and The Worst Mistakes I’ve Made As An Employee.  They were very well received with the post on worst mistakes being the most viewed post on this blog in the two years the blog has existed.  Having examined myself first in those posts, I now turn my attention to what I appreciate most and what annoys me the most in coworkers.  I’ll split the topics into two posts.  Having worked at a number of places over 40 years, do not make any assumptions about particular places, teams or individuals referenced.  I would never name names in a negative comment.

Since many working adults spend more waking hours with coworkers than with their families weekly, how we get along with others at work is important.  When relationships are good and healthy, when work is fun and fulfilling, life is good.  Most of us, though, have experienced those jobs or coworkers from time to time where interpersonal conflict and other issues cause stress and dissatisfaction.  This post focuses on the characteristics and behaviors that I most appreciate in coworkers.  My next post will deal with the flip side.

Here they are, not in any particular order of importance:

1. Strong work ethic.  I don’t necessarily expect everyone to willingly and consistently put in the 50-55 hours per week I typically give, but I do expect people to work hard and to go above and beyond when needed.  It turns me off if someone is so tied to a clock that they don’t consider putting in more than the minimum required.  I love working with people who are driven to give their best and to put in the time necessary to put out quality work.

2. Sense of humor.  It’s amazing how much quicker a day goes by when it is sprinkled with laughter and good-natured fun along the way.  The presence of humor makes me want to be with the sources of that humor.

3. Creativity.  I don’t claim to be very creative, but I appreciate others who can look at issues and tasks in new ways, present solutions I would never think of, and turn something otherwise mundane and bland into something that meets a need in an appealing, attractive, and unique way.  There are almost always better ways to accomplish things, and being surrounded by creative minds increases the likelihood of coming up with remarkable solutions to business needs.

4. Willingness to help.  When coworkers notice that a colleague is sinking under a heavy workload and needs help, it is encouraging to see them offer to share the load even if they already have a full plate themselves.  Sometimes we all need a helping hand, and having colleagues you can turn to in a pinch or who initiate offering help is a godsend.

5. Emotional maturity.  It is not helpful in an office when people wear their emotions on their sleeves and don’t know how to stay professional.  I like working with others who can address matters calmly, reasonably, and with a common purpose of solving problems, moving forward, and getting things done.  It is nice when people can receive constructive criticism and suggestions willingly.  It’s helpful when others do not take things too personally when the intent of the conversation is to do what is in the best interests of the company and the work to be done.

6. Integrity.  I like working with people who do what they say they they will do.  I respect people who are honest in all situations.  I expect that of myself and of others.  Without it, I just can’t trust you, and that will negatively impact our ability to work together.

7. Initiative.  It is invigorating to work on a team where individuals constantly think of new things that can be done as well as new and better ways to do what has been done in the past.  When colleagues act on those inclinations, you have a scenario where the workers are fully engaged and enthusiastic about what they bring to the table, and the company ultimately benefits.  It’s a win-win for the worker and the business.

8. Willingness to bend or break the rules.  This one may get me in trouble.  While it is important to live within corporate policies, it is also important to put faith in trusted, proven individuals and give them some leeway to act on their knowledge, experience, and instincts, even if some rules get bent in the process.  Most of us don’t have to think too long and hard to come up with frustrating examples of corporate practices and policies that have been allowed to morph into some giant, life-sucking, time-consuming albatross around the necks of people who simply want to get their jobs done in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  The rebel in me loves people willing to break rules in order to do a better job at something, asking forgiveness rather than permission.

9. Managers who give me a job to do and turn me loose to do it.  I have been blessed with more managers than not who have trusted me to get my work done without them breathing down my neck and trying to micromanage everything I do.  If I need help, I’ll ask for it.  Otherwise, they can know that all is well.  Check in with me every week or two to hold me accountable, but otherwise give me space and I’ll do you proud.  Those who understand that and give me that freedom get my best work.  Those who do not are now former managers.

10. Friendship.  I don’t have to be best friends with anyone at work, but I do like thinking of several as genuine friends – people with whom I would be glad to hang out outside of work from time to time.  That requires common interests, liking each other, and someone taking the initiative to get together outside of work occasionally.  There is much to be gained from simply going out for a meal together or joining in some fun activity just for the heck of it.

So there you have my top ten characteristics or behaviors I most appreciate in coworkers.  Some of my roles and teams have aligned better with those expectations than others.  I am incredibly fortunate to be on a stellar team now that lives up to all of these.

What about you?  What do you appreciate most in a coworker?

Transitioning to Retirement

Posted: March 26, 2013 in Change
Tags: , ,

China TripI don’t expect to retire for another 10-12 years.  I love what I do at work, those with whom I get to do it, and the company at which my 10th anniversary is coming in August.  I hope to remain here until I retire,  leaving behind an organization that is better in some ways than I found it.  I have every reason to believe that will happen.

At the same time, I find myself thinking from time to time about how and when that final transition will be made from long-time corporate employee to former employee.  I wonder if there will be life circumstances currently unforeseen that cause me to change my plans and leave earlier than anticipated.   Will health issues (mine or another’s) lead me to re-prioritize and change direction?  Will some unexpected, unsought opportunity come knocking at my door that tugs at my heart strong enough to lure me away?  Will my passions and interests shift in ways I can’t foresee, causing me to choose some new, final career unrelated to what I do now?  I don’t know.

Still, as I ponder making a transition at whatever point in time it seems best, here are some considerations that will cumulatively influence that decision.

1. I want to make a positive difference in the work I do.  There is great satisfaction in that my roles for several years have been one-of-a-kind in the company.  I have had the joy of serving as the community manager for our internal social network since its beginning nearly three years ago, nursing it along as it has grown into a 25,000+ member community that is still growing every week.  It is incredibly satisfying to be in a position where I feel that I have the opportunity to influence over time the culture and how communication happens in this 51-year-old company.

Therefore, it would be a challenge to leave this type of position for one with a less noticeable impact.  Of course, there are other possibilities of how one might still make a positive difference, so we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.  The necessity, though, is that I must know that I’m making a real difference in my work, or it will be time to move on.

2. I want to be wise enough to step aside when others around me are better suited to lead in ways I cannot.  I’ve seen too many employees in different organizations kept around out of courtesy, shuffled from one role to the next with minimal expectations because others are too kind or too scared to let them go.  That may keep a paycheck coming in, but it doesn’t satisfy the soul or really do what is in the best interests of the organization.

One of the things I love about working with my current team is that they are all younger than me, from half my age to the nearest still being 16 years younger than me.  I’m the only Boomer on the team with one Gen Xer and four Millennials.  I love that!  I love the energy, the creativity, and the fact that being around them helps keep me young at heart. As our team grows, though, I can’t help but imagine that there will be a time when I think it’s in the company’s best interests to turn the keys over to the younger men and women and let them drive to destinations I would not have considered or known how to navigate.  Plenty of wisdom and an absence of pride are needed to make such a call at the right time.

3. Even though I will eventually retire from corporate full-time employment, I have a hard time seeing myself going from consistently working 50+ hours per week to sitting on my front porch with a newspaper, yelling at the neighborhood kids to “Get off my lawn!”  In short, that just isn’t going to happen.  Whether through volunteering, writing, teaching, ministry or just being an active Granddaddy, it doesn’t seem to be in my blood to live life without a long to-do list and goals to achieve.  Just because I reach some culturally traditional retirement age does not give me an excuse to stop being productive.  There is always work to be done, and I intend to do so somewhere, somehow as long as I am physically able to do so.  It won’t be enough, then, to retire from a role.  I will also have to know what endeavor is drawing me toward it for the next chapter.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture of my life by decades, these thoughts of retirement would not have been on my mind a decade ago.  While I’m not yet ready to consider retirement, I can at least see the doorway in the distance and I’m beginning to wonder what it might be like on the other side.

Meanwhile, there is still much to be done here.

American IdolMy wife and I have enjoyed watching American Idol for years.  I missed the first season, but have been a big fan since then.  Now that we’re into the phase where America votes weekly on who remains, I thought it might be nice to reflect on some of the many lessons that can come from watching this show.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. People aren’t always as talented as they think they are.  The early episodes of every season are proof of this.  Some are just painful to hear.  William Hung, anyone?

2. Talent can be found in unexpected places.  I’m not talking geography here since people travel all over the country to these auditions.  I’m referring to the fact that a booming voice might come out of a soft-spoken, unkempt, homeless person nobody would ever suspect as a good singer.  File this one under “can’t judge a book by its cover.”

3. You need social skills in addition to talent.  The contestant who has a great voice but who can’t get along with others, also fails to connect with the voting public, and eventually loses.  It’s not just about you and your talent; it’s about living in the context of a community and relationships, and that’s a whole different ballgame.

4. Only the strong survive.  I feel for the singers who get matched up in group week with people they can’t relate to or with people who don’t want to do their fair share.  That week requires everyone to work hard – all night if needed, and those who slack off tend not to progress to the next round.

5. Never assume you’re safe.  How many singers through the years have been surprisingly eliminated early in the voting, most likely because people didn’t bother to vote for them since they considered them safe?  Assume nothing.

6. Your vote counts.  Or, more accurately this season, your 50 votes count.  If you don’t vote, don’t gripe about the results.  Do your duty and vote if you care about an outcome.

7. Not everyone who judges you is worthy of doing so.  While the four judges this year had sole authority to determine the top twenty, they may or may not have made the right calls.  They may not be representative of what America wants.  They may have hidden agendas and criteria we never hear about that impacts their decisions.  Do I personally really care about anything Nicki Minaj ever thinks or says?  No.  But she’s paid the big bucks to sit there looking dumb and sounding dumber, so whether she is worthy or not isn’t the point now.  Contestants will still be impacted by her comments for good or bad.

8. Give it your all.  When singers play it safe and just blend in with other so-so performances, that doesn’t cut it.  You need to give it your heart and soul and know that you left it all on the stage.  The final results may be in others’ hands, but you can at least know you did your best.  There is great satisfaction in that.

9. Always keep learning and improving.  Whatever your current skill level, there is room for improvement, so do what it takes to learn and grow and reach your goals.

10. Make friends along the way.  Nobody wants to be around others whom they fear would willingly stab them in the back to get ahead.  Don’t be such a person.  Be the one who takes the time to notice and befriend others as you go.  Praise the members of the band.

11. Climbing a ladder isn’t a lifestyle.  There is more to life than just trying to get somewhere else in the future.  It’s about experiencing the present, too.  You climb ladders for a short while so you can do something else at the end of that ladder.  Know when to step off the ladder and do other things.

12. It’s OK not to get the most votes.  If there are 10,000 people trying out and only one can win, does that mean 9,999 are losers?  No!  It just means that the system is set up to give a greater reward to one person.  Many contestants go on to very successful careers without winning the competition.  You get to define success in your life.  Don’t let others do that for you.

13. Fame and fortune comes at a cost.  Some have the personal character, wisdom and right people nearby to handle fame and fortune.  Some give in to its temptations and flame out early.  If you think you’ll be the one making all the calls about what happens with your life at the level of stardom these singers seek, you’re wrong.  There are trade-offs your dreams didn’t envision.

14. Enjoy the ride.  We know that some things can’t last forever.  That’s OK.  Be thankful that it happened as long as it did.

15. Give back.  You didn’t get where you are completely by yourself.  Parents, friends, teachers, even bitter enemies all worked to help shape you into the person you are, as did your own dogged determination.  Others are invested in you with their lives.  Give back to them.

I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious lessons that my fellow American Idol fans can think of.  What are they?  Tell me in a comment.

p.s. – If you haven’t figured it out by now, the lessons above don’t apply just to a singing competition.

I believe in the value of sharing mistakes I’ve made in the hope that others may benefit from my experience and avoid making those same mistakes.  To that end, I thought it might be good to reflect on poor choices I’ve made in various roles across multiple companies and post about them here.  The list below isn’t an exhaustive list of everything I can imagine others might do that is detrimental to their career or work relationships.  It is merely a description of some things I wish I had not done along the way.

Failing to speak up.  I despise conflict, so I too often avoid the hard conversations that may be confrontational.  I want to get along with people.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I want to keep the peace and just do my best work in a calm environment without any drama.  As one who has always tested on the introvert side of personality inventories and who is never going to be the life of the party, being quiet comes more naturally than speaking up, but that isn’t always helpful.

The down side of this otherwise admirable quality is that issues which need to be addressed may not be dealt with in a timely manner.  Problems persist and the potential negative consequences include less than optimal team performance and dynamics, poorer business decisions due to lack of input, not to mention the inner turmoil that comes from remaining silent when something is bugging me.  It took me a while to realize that the actual negative consequences of failing to speak up are worse than the imagined consequences of speaking up.  That is, the difficulty of hard conversations is rarely (if ever) as bad as you imagine it might be, especially if you approach such conversations with genuineness and kindness.

Seeing some coworkers as enemies.  It’s no secret that in an organization of any size there will be some strained relationships.  Different personalities, values and agendas practically guarantee that people will occasionally be at odds with one another.  What must not happen, though, is reaching a point where you always think negatively of certain coworkers and, consequently, treat them in a manner that perpetuates the negative relationship.  I may not like the way some people act.  I may believe rightly that they would throw me under the bus in a heartbeat if they had the chance and if they thought it would somehow make them look good or help them climb the ladder or advance their personal agenda.  But I am first and foremost an employee of my company who is hired to help the business accomplish its objectives, and that sometimes means working cooperatively with others in order to advance the cause of the business, even when every fiber of my being would just like to tell the other person where to go.  Be the bigger person and focus on the business goals and objectives, not the interpersonal difficulties.

Leaving too soon.  I’m coming up on my tenth anniversary this year at my company, so this isn’t a current issue with me, but if I take a close look at my resume going back 30+ years of full-time work, I can see some times where I took the easy way out to go to a different company or organization rather than stay and overcome a difficult situation.  Maybe those were the right decisions, maybe not.  I’m sure I had no problem justifying them at the time, and once I had mentally checked out of the roles, it was just a matter of time before I officially left.  However, when I look over someone’s resume today when looking to fill a role and I see a lot of short-term gigs of two years or less, it raises a huge red flag and makes me wonder what kind of staying power the person has.  I want to be someone who loves what he does (as I do) and who cares enough to change a “flight” instinct to one of confronting issues and overcoming them.  I suppose this mistake is related to the first one above in that it can be a way to avoid conflict.

Responding in anger.  It is never a good idea to fire off an email when you’re angry.  It is rarely the wise choice to spout off with what you want to come back with in a heated meeting, phone call, or face-to-face encounter.  In situations where you have the opportunity to hit the pause button before responding, do so.  I recently had this happen when I received some unwelcome news via email at work that made me a very unhappy camper.  My every instinct was to fire off a sharp reply to some people much higher in the org chart than I am or ever expect to be.  Fortunately, I just vented my frustration with my understanding teammates sitting nearby and announced that I was taking a walk.  On that walk I stopped by the desks of some people I hadn’t seen in a while to catch up with them and to have some friendly conversation which put me in a very different mood.  By the time I was back at my desk, I was able to respond to the email in a rational, professional manner.

Another practice I have used countless times to avoid responding in anger and to avoid rash decisions of many types is to sleep on a matter overnight.  It is amazing how different some things appear in the light of day compared to how they looked at the end of a long day or evening when you were tired and not at your best.  It may seem silly, but a general rule of thumb I have lived by for decades is that I don’t make major, life-changing decisions when it’s dark outside (whether anger is involved or not).  The world won’t end and most substantive opportunities won’t pass you by if you sleep on some decisions overnight.

So there you have four big mistakes I know I’ve made more than once in my career and with which I still occasionally struggle.  Surely people I have worked with could easily think of additional mistakes I’ve made.

If you’re willing, I’d love to hear in your comments about some of the lessons you’ve learned the hard way in your career.

Coming soon in a post will be the flip side of this topic – some of the things I’ve done in various roles that proved to be good choices and very helpful for my employers and for me.  I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m rotten to the core.

Til then…