There are certain immutable truths I’ve learned about working with others. I also believe that everyone knows them, few people practice that which they know and none of these concepts reflect untapped genius on my part. It amazes me when I am consulting and/or speaking with people frustrated by their colleagues, supervisors, etc, that I am met with enthusiastic agreement and surprise. Not to shoot myself in the foot, but people shouldn’t be paying for this information – they know it already. Please don’t misunderstand, I appreciate and enjoy every professional opportunity I’m provided – truly I do. Sometimes though I wonder what the workplace would look like if we assumed our responsibilities with the common sense already in our possession.
1. Everyone is in the middle of the hourglass. Everyone feels that no matter which way the hourglass is turned, they’re getting sand on their head. And they are. Everyone has to answer to someone and/or entity above and below them. It may be unpleasant, but no one really ever moves from that spot – regardless of how high up the food chain you get.
2. Email can be great. It can also be enervating, a massive time drain and a manipulative medium to hide behind. How many times are emails sent to avoid a discussion, to cover one’s butt (which tangentially is a very funny visual to me) or to lob a problem onto someone else’s court? The back and forth exchange becomes comical after awhile, and worse still nothing gets done. We employed the ‘M’ rule at the firm – if emails involved more than two exchanges, the writers had to speak with each other to ensure shared clarity and come to closure. I told you this was simple. At the risk of sounding like a typical boomer, there really is something to be said for the human voice. Inflection is a wonderful complement to understanding another, emoticons be damned.
3. What if the word “manager” was removed from every position title where supervision of people was a requirement? Processes are managed, time is managed or mismanaged; people aren’t. Perhaps we could substitute the word “developer” in its stead. If each supervisor saw himself/herself as responsible for the professional development, enhancement and growth of those with whom they work, I am confident companies would see tangible ROI in recruitment and retention. The highly valued companies with the most outstanding employees, provide continuous learning opportunities, mentorships, cross-training – and their supervisors, managers, directors and c-level officers are held accountable for the effectiveness of these programs in their objectives and compensation.
4. If you’re too busy to take care of your people, you need to re-think what you’re doing. It really isn’t complex. It’s your first priority.
5. I joined a newly minted HR Manager at her first firm wide HR meeting. The introduction to the meeting involved each manager admitting what they most disliked about their job. Her response? “The people”. What made this event even more cringe-worthy was her passionate reiteration of this view. The laughter in the room was uncomfortable. I think I hid somewhere under the conference table.
This one is easy – if you don’t like working with people, you should consider a career where you have no responsibility for their professional well-being. That may be a bit cut and dried – and yeah, it probably is, but this is after all a blog. In short, you can’t fake it – I’m sure you’ve seen as many people try it as I have.
6. If risk mitigation is important to you, try fostering trust (see #5). Typically people who feel invested in their workplace, who feel pride of ownership in their work and loyalty to those around them don’t engage in unethical and/or illegal behavior. I recognize that systems get hacked, funds are embezzled, time is inflated and my intent is not to minimize the precautions that organizations must take to self-protect. Nonetheless, skipping these first steps on the preventive ladder increases the likelihood of serious slips (to maintain the analogy).
7. Laugh – take work seriously and take yourself lightly. Enjoy what you do and remember what it is you want to be remembered for. I forgot this shortly after I retired from the firm. After more than twenty one years it was stunning to realize how easily I was replaced. For a few weeks I struggled to adjust to the absence of emails, phone calls, etc. I had a pretty nice pity party for myself with no guests. Honestly? I had to get over myself. I’m still in touch with many people; I’m no longer in touch with some I thought I would be close to forever.
At the end of the day, I have been incredibly lucky – I had a ball, had an amazing boss who is still an amazing friend, had some lousy bosses who taught me which of my buttons could be pressed and how to protect them, worked in an environment that embraced my chronic irreverence and still trusted me to mentor hundreds of people. All of that said, I don’t want to be remembered for what I did at the office. I want to be remembered for being a great mom, wife, sister, friend. I hope the people at the firm remember my exhortations that the greatest professional success is realized when it stops being about you and starts being about everyone else. I hope they remember to smile – God knows a work day is l-o-n-g, might as well enjoy it as much as you can.