Your job is not about doing your tasks.

construction vehicles

We all know smart, hard-working people who have been individual contributors for years.  And we also all know smart, hard-working people who have quickly jumped from entry-level to management, seemingly overnight.  So, what is it that sets these fast-trackers apart?  They have figured out one of the fundamentals of career momentum:

Your job is not about doing your tasks.

Your job, no matter what level you’re at, is about helping the organization achieve its goals, realize its vision and fulfill its mission.  The tasks on your job description are only important to the extent to which they enhance organizational performance.  Fast-trackers get this.

Now, one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood is that the opposite of a great truth is also true.  So, yes, your job is about doing your tasks.  The foundation of any career is doing the work and doing it well.  You have to start there.

Then it’s time to explore how your work fits into the bigger picture.  Look for ways to streamline and optimize.  Find synergies between your tasks and the tasks of other team members, work groups or departments.  Share your ideas.

Look up from your task list, shift your thinking from how to why, and prove you have the big-picture vision of a leader.

 

 

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Telling our stories in the digital age.

olympia 2 by glasseyes view

When I was little, I remember my dad pacing the living room floor, dictating, as my mom typed his words on our old electric typewriter.  It was a big, humming machine and the keys made a satisfying chunk sound.  The manuscripts were typed, edited, typed again and then mailed off to magazine editors.  After my dad passed, my mom sent me the 30-year-old copies of Ranger Rick and Owl that held the evidence of their hard work.

Way back in 1994, I started a newsletter about local music in my hometown – The Perimeter: McMinnville’s Premier Music Publication.  I typed the articles on our high-tech word processor, then carefully cut them into columns and pasted them onto graph paper.  I hand-lettered the masthead and had a local print shop make 50 copies.  A few issues in, my family got a PC, outfitted with Microsoft Publisher and a dial-up internet connection, and my production value went up considerably.

Last week, I helped a single mom, with not much work history but lots of life experience, draft her resume.  We emailed back and forth, discussing different ways to describe her skills and tell her story.  We changed fonts, reworked the design, and uploaded to her LinkedIn profile, all with a few clicks of a button.

Kitty Ireland remembers typing her first resume on a rented typewriter at the public library.  Reading her post, I was reminded how hard getting our ideas out into the world used to be. Crafting a good story, one that deftly explains who we are and what we can offer, is still hard work.  But the mechanics of story-telling have definitely gotten easier.

 

(Photo by glasseyes view via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

How to stand-out on a cross-functional team (and leverage that experience to grow your career).

Odd duck by Don Graham

Most of us build our careers as specialists.  We get really good in one area and then we get promoted to managing other people in that area.  But at some point, growing as a manager requires a shift from being a functional specialist to a organizational generalist – from being a subject-matter expert to a leader who can understand how the business functions as a whole.

Early in your career, being assigned to a cross-functional project team can put you on the fast-track to management.  It introduces you to new people, sets you up as the go-to person in your department and increases your visibility within the organization.  It is also a great way to start making the shift from specialist to generalist.

Here’s how to make the most of the experience:

Do good work.  This should be the foundation of all career advice and directly applies here as well.  Make sure you’re contributing to the success of the project.  Meet deadlines.  Do more than required.  You’re representing your functional area and will be the go-to person, so always deliver.

Learn from other team members.  Respect that the other people on your project team are the experts in their own areas.  Defer to their knowledge.  Ask questions.  Dig into what their jobs are really like and how they impact the company.  Use the opportunity to learn their metrics, process flows and problem areas.

Don’t complain (but be sympathetic when others do).  You’re using this project to build your career capital, so you should see extra work as an investment.  But others on your project team may not feel the same way.  Show them that you understand how busy they are.  Commiserate, and then use your new cross-functional knowledge to alleviate their pain points.

Be a meeting rock star.  Knowing how to manage a meeting is key to a successful project outcome.  Be attentive, take notes and ask smart questions.  Most importantly, don’t get bogged down in the details of your specific task.  Understand the higher level problem the team is trying to solve and stay focused on the company-wide impact.

Project confidence but stay humble.  You want to be seen as smart, capable and well-rounded.  But no one likes a know-it-all.  And no matter how good you are at your job, being liked is important.  You’re building relationships that you will draw on as you move up in the organization, so build them wisely.

 

How about you?  Has working on a project team helped you grow as a manager?

 

(Photo by Don Graham via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Let’s get creative.

Paint brushes by Futurilla

I think a lot about creativity – where it comes from, how to use it – because I’ve found that it’s all too easy to get stuck in a mental rut, particularly when it comes to our jobs.

Doing things the same way you’ve always done them isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  But it is limiting.  And kinda boring.

So here are a few prompts to get you thinking creatively about management challenges.  I urge you to spend some time letting your mind play with these ideas.

Change your perspective.  Use your imagination.  See what happens.


Size matters.

What if…your organization doubled its current square footage? (office space, manufacturing floor, whatever)  What do you do with the space?

Now cut your current space in half.  How do you adapt?


Find your superheroes.

What if…one person in your organization has a new product idea that will revolutionize your industry?  But you don’t know who they are.  And they don’t know what they have.

How do you find this person and capitalize on their idea?


“And the Oscar goes to…”

What if…your organization receives a prestigious industry award for excellence and you’re asked to represent your organization at the award ceremony.

Who do you thank in your acceptance speech?  Why?


Observe and report.

What if…you were a consultant (secret agent, space alien) visiting your organization for the first time.  It’s an average workday and you’re free to observe and interact with the staff.

What do you see?  How do you explain your findings to the people who sent you?


 

Need a creative jump start?  I love these books from Keri Smith:

          

 

(Photo by Futurilla via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)

 

Finding meaning… wherever you are.

Seedling by Ray_from_LA

Graduating with a degree in Anthropology, I never pictured myself working in the private sector, and definitely not in manufacturing.

But life happens, and I found myself in the business world.  And for a long time I struggled with finding meaning in my work.

What’s the point, I thought?

Why am I working so hard at something so mundane?  How is this benefiting the world?

What saved me was realizing that my work as a manager made an impact every day.  Maybe I wasn’t going to change the world by making digital projectors or truck parts, but I could change how the people in my charge felt about their work.  I could change how they spent their time, how they engaged with each other, and how successful they were in their careers.

I realized my job was about helping people.

Yes, I had operational goals as well, but the beauty of well-rounded, motivated employees is that they have a practical value: they perform better.  A positive work experience that helps individuals achieve their personal goals benefits the whole organization.

So when you’re looking for meaning, struggling with the “why am I here?” question, try this:

Refocus on your team.

How can you help them grow their skills, or meet their personal or professional goals?  Is there an outside project someone is meaning to pursue?  Perhaps you can help them through networking, planning, or encouragement.

Think about how you can better meet their needs and maybe you’ll meet more of yours in the process.

 

How about you?  Have you struggled with finding meaning in your work?

 

Revised from original post – August 21, 2013

 

(Photo by Ray_from_LA via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

A few thoughts on organizational culture.

Culture

Culture is the way we create solutions to shared problems.

Consider how human groups have evolved over the millennia.  Bands of individuals find themselves repeatedly faced with common problems – how to communicate, how to divide labor, how to show respect for one another.  Each group chooses to solve these problems in its own way.  And these unique combinations of beliefs and behaviors become the defining elements of human cultures.

At the organizational level, we can view culture in a similar way.  Organizational culture evolves as its members find solutions to everyday problems.  How do we interact with one another?  How do we best serve our customers?   How do we prioritize our time?

Your organization has a culture, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

Your people have been asking and answering these kinds of questions since day one, and in doing so, have established what is expected and accepted within your organization.

The big question, then, is how is this culture driving behavior that serves your mission?

Is it making your organization more effective or is it dragging you down?

 

Revised from original post – June 22, 2013

 

Management Quick Tip: Care about doing it right.

No no. Thank you!  by Aaron Stidwell

“Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or doing it better.”  ~ John Updike

I love this quote.  If you’re anything like me, at some point in your career you’ve had a job that didn’t exactly feed your creative soul.  And even in the best of jobs, there are always tasks that feel tiresome and draining.

So what do we do?  Do we struggle against it?  Always looking for a better gig or a quicker shortcut, essentially living in a state of permanent dissatisfaction?

Or do we embrace it?  Shift our focus to the beauty in the details and see the opportunity for presence and mindfulness?

Not to get all new-agey or anything, but I do think there’s something to this idea.

Let me know what you think.

P.S. I haven’t read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance since high school, but thinking about this post has made me want to dig out my old copy.


 

(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)