Tag: Feedback

I polled my friends last week asking for a topic to blog about to kill some spare time over the holidays, and one of my close colleagues actually had a great idea for a piece on how to differentiate yourself in the workplace (whether you are fresh out of school entering your first job or perhaps heading to a new company or project).

If you think about it, people stand out in the workplace for many reasons.  There are physical attributes that may catch the eye as well as personality traits, work behaviors, collaboration profiles, among others.  At the end of the day, though, it is tremendously important to have self-awareness of these areas of uniqueness among us, as each of them generally pushes our needle in one way or the other among our colleagues: either more in their favor, or further away from them.

So what’s the right way to ensure you differentiate yourself as quickly and effectively as possible, without rocking the boat too much or creating a closet full of skeletons or enemies?  Well, I will be honest with you and say that I have nowhere near all the answers (or at least necessarily the right ones), but I’ll put down a few behaviors that I think may at least drive useful discussion or provide opportunities for self-reflection on the issue.

Good Behaviors for Differentiation in the Workplace:

  • Networking Downward in Addition to Upward: Often times, the people who are shaking hands and rubbing elbows up the food chain are the people who the rest of the workforce resents or considers “brown nosers”.  That is why I like to make the distinction that networking “downward” is equally as important as networking upward.  I have long held that the single most important person to be friends with in any organization is the administrative support staff.  They are really the people who run the business.  They are responsible for scheduling time on the higher-ups’ calendars, often times have shortcuts to navigate tedious or difficult procurement processes, and are generally nicer people to bounce ideas off of because they typically don’t have any sort of personal agenda or thoughts on deep functional matters over which they have zero responsibility or investment.  Building rapport with everyone throughout the organization is paramount to making a name for yourself, and often times lets you have a better attitude when roaming the halls because you always have someone to chat with.
  • Composing Polished Communications (EVERY Time): I thought about rephrasing this to be “…polished, concise communications…” but then realized I would be pointing a loaded gun at my own foot.  Either way (long or short), communications of all types must come across as polished, well-thought-out, and appropriate for the audience in order for the message to be received in the best possible manner.  Emotions like stress, pressure, bitterness, apathy, or even hatred stick out like a sore thumb in communications, as much make-up as you try to apply.  That is why it is really important to always think before you speak (or write) and proofread/polish often.  Whether it’s your spoken word, written notes, emails, or phone conversations, it is entirely too easy to be misunderstood.  So – take the time to eliminate that threat – and be sure to compose polished communications at all times.
  • Participating in Extra-Curriculars: Programs outside of your day-to-day 9 to 5 responsibilities are a great way to add character to the volume of work that would otherwise adorn your internal resume.  Joining charitable causes, assisting with internal initiatives, or scheduling and participating in work (or non-work) functions such as subject matter expert societies will not only increase your own competency, but it will expand your network and reach as well.  Pick something you are otherwise passionate about (e.g. helping children, feeding the homeless, caring for animals) and use it as a springboard to engage the support of your colleges by spearheading an activity for your coworkers.  You will be surprised at what the power of positive actions will do not only for your psyche, but also for your personal brand in the workplace
  • Dressing Properly: As I have mentioned before, dressing the part is critical to ensuring you are well-regarded in the workplace.  Even if you work in a dress casual work environment, taking the extra time to look just a bit better than the rest of the workplace will cause people to look at you and assume you are prepared, polished, and ready to work each and every day.  Doing the little things like dry-cleaning or ironing also help with coming across put together.  I will stress again, though, that it is not beneficial to take it too far.  Wearing a suit in an office place where jeans and button ups are the norm will make you look overdressed and out of place.
  • Selectively Opting in to Fire Drills: I am certain I will revisit the topic of fire drills in the future, but suffice it to say I generally make a habit out of avoiding them at all costs.  I think that they largely are created by people who are unprepared or indifferent towards doing real work, or onset by people who have the propensity to procrastinate (no offense to those people – I have been known to put myself under extraneous pressure by intentionally waiting until a moment’s notice sometimes as well…).  However – there are circumstances where stepping in to help in these situations will make you look like a great team player and give you the opportunity to provide leadership in order to help achieve a required outcome.  Stepping in to help on high profile projects that are critical to your business or functional area is something your colleagues and superiors will remember for a long time to come – especially if you made a significant contribution to arriving at something great.  Just don’t make a habit out of it – people will form a dependency on people like you and ultimately take you for granted.  And that’s the quickest way to ruin work-life-balance: always being the person going the “extra mile”, working the weekends, and maintaining late nights just to help someone who didn’t do an effective job of planning their project in the first place.  We should all agree to stop rewarding poor planning when it becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Just remember that in everything you do in and around the office (or even outside of it), you are adding to your work profile in one way or another.  If you don’t want to be adversely judged for your actions – think about doing something different.  It may not always seem “fair” to be judged for some of the things you think are petty or inconsequential, but I’ve always believed one thing to be true: life’s not fair.  Not trying to be pessimistic – just realistic.  Welcome to Corporate America.  Knowing and playing by the rules is a huge part of your success, and the ability to act appropriately within those confines is something that will leave you prepared for the next level in any endeavor you choose.

Til Next Time,

Michael

After my colleague read my piece yesterday, he pointed me towards this TED Talk from Elon Musk (of PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX fame) who talks late in the video about the value of embracing and demanding negative feedback from friends/colleagues and how it has been fundamental in his innovation.  He is, of course, talking about it more in the creative landscape, but I think the message still resonates.  As an added bonus, this video gives some tremendous insight into his inspiration for Tesla/SpaceX and will let the nerds out there (like me) geek out on some basic science and engineering principles as seen by a visionary. If you’re not interested in the science, you can forward to the 18:30 mark to hear his perspective on gathering feedback.

Til Next Time,

Michael

As we head into the end of the year, it’s a great time to motivate ourselves to reach back out to friends and colleagues to look back on the year and also solicit feedback for use in personal development and reflection over the holidays.  I find this to be a really valuable way to keep yourself properly networked and shepherd actionable feedback from your colleagues and friends, so that you ultimately avoid the tendency many of us have to not show substantive improvement in our capabilities or skills year-over-year.

Good questions to yield healthy dialogue as part of a feedback session:

  • What do you feel my major strengths are with respect to my current position/role?
  • What are two or three key areas you think I could improve personally in order to add more value or drive better results for the team?
  • How would you describe my morale around the office?  My work ethic?
  • In what area (of the business overall or within our functional space) should I spend more time and energy next year in order to grow?
  • In what ways do you feel like we best collaborate?
  • If you could describe me as any type of animal, what type of animal and why?

OK, so the last one was a bit of a joke and kind of “out there”, although I have been known to ask interviewees about themselves likened to an animal (for no other reason than to chuckle – I’m really not psychoanalyzing the answer I swear).  But, as you can see, I generally try to avoid common “Yes/No” answers, and aim to capture feedback that is both positive as well as constructively critical.  That is because it helps me continually develop a healthier internal personnel profile, letting me know who my advocates could be for future opportunities, as well as the areas in which I could stand to use some development or practice.  Selfishly, it also lets me establish a baseline with the reviewer so that I can come back to them over the course of time and do a temperature check on whether I am making progress (e.g. “Hello Jill, I know you had previously mentioned that I could possibly stand to do better grammatical reviews in my summary reports; I wanted to see if you feel as though the last few have been going better?  It is something I have been working on in recent months.”).

As far as whether these should be conducted in-person, over the phone, or through an electronic source (email/Survey Monkey), I typically adjust based upon the personality of the person from whom I am seeking feedback.  You will hear “experts” in strategic communication or feedback processes tell you it has to be in person – but I don’t think that is far to the feedback giver (and, ultimately, will net you a diluted or watered down version of the truth in many cases).  Either way, as long as you are making an effort to capture this sort of feedback with a regular cadence, you will ensure you are setting yourself up for personal or professional success in whatever endeavor next year may bring.

Til Next Time,

Michael

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