[This article is also featured on episode 72 of the Business Wingmen Podcast Show]
Successful performance is everything! Our ability to execute at work is something we as professionals need to strive towards every day, yet many of our colleagues seem to have forgotten this time-tested reality of business. As Rory Vaden, bestselling business author and leadership speaker, accurately shares, “success is not owned, it is rented - and that rent is due everyday.”
Vaden hits on a key piece which would serve all of us well to keep in mind as we come to work - our ability to successfully perform our job is what keeps us gainfully employed. I’ll take it a step further, what got us the job was our credentials, the things we’ve done in the past. What keeps us in the job thereafter is 100% our ability to get things done – the things that matter to the company and our respective performance.
The same is certainly true in the consulting world, frankly I would argue it’s even more focused on performance and execution than a normal 8-5 full-time job is. The world of consulting can be summed up in 3 words: execute, execute, execute! Anything less and you’ve missed the mark.
Consultants, like many of our fully employed brethren, has a tendency to forget the reason they are there, the reason they have a job – it’s to fix, solve and solution other peoples’ problems. Our inability to do this will inevitably lead to a consultant, or consulting firm, finding themselves unemployed or not getting asked back to continue supporting their customers. It’s for these reasons we need to employ the below five ‘best practices’ in our daily work. Your ability to do so will do two things – help keep you focused on what matters (successful execution of your task or job) while separating yourself from the competition and or your colleagues.
Best Practice #1 – Proactive Communication
If you’ve ever had some one say to you, especially someone in management, “can you give me an update on where you’re at with X”, you’ve just failed the first lesson of communication. Professionals who operate at a high level understand the importance of fluid and consistent communication. They know it’s important to communicate proactively, ahead of time. They don’t wait until the last minute to spring an urgent matter on the team or their boss, they don’t procrastinate, and they certainly don’t wait to inform those around them they are going to miss a deadline the day the deadline is due. Proactive communication is all about respecting the process and those around you.
Best Practice #2 – Positive Mindset
The beautiful thing about the way our minds work is we have an incredible amount of power over most of what happens in our heads. In particular, our outlook on things, our attitude, is 100% within our control. If we show up to work with a bad attitude, closed to others ideas, not welcoming feedback and or unwilling to collaborate with others we quickly will build a reputation as a person on the fringes. There’s no quicker way to alienate oneself from a team or your boss than by having a poor attitude. Yes, we all have our bad days – it happens even to the best of us. What’s important is to have your moment and then move on. Focus on what you can control and be open to ideas, different approaches and perspectives. An open and positive mindset is contagious causing your colleagues to feel invigorated working with those of us who can come to the table and leave the sourness at the door. Positive thinking also boosts our health by reducing stress!
Best Practice #3 – Ownership
We don’t need to be in management or the owner of a company to operate in a capacity of owning our work. Those of us who employ ‘ownership’ in our work don’t make excuses for shortcomings, we don’t worry about excuses because we’re busy finding solutions. When we own our work we don’t wait to be told what to do, we seek work proactively and or ways to improve things around us. People who operate with an ownership mentality have a tendency of being able to make decisions quicker while experiencing success more often. If you’ve ever said “that isn’t a part of my job description” you just failed the ownership best practice. People who own their work get promoted more, are typically paid higher wages and increasingly get called back to help with projects. They take responsibility for how they show up and encourage others around them to do the same.
Of all the best practices listed in this article it is my humble opinion the practice of owning ones work and being accountable for it carries with it the biggest positive impact on our jobs.
Best Practice #4 – Accessibility
In the dawn of everyone working from home these days, or remotely, being able to get a hold of someone during normal working hours is critical. Simply put – if your boss has to track you down every time they need to reach you it probably isn’t going to end well for you in that job. Same is true if your company uses communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. These tools are used to improve communication amongst the team, if you aren’t logged into the tool and or are unresponsive, you’re setting yourself up for a quick career death in your job. This doesn’t mean you need to be chained to your desk or phone eagerly awaiting the next hopeful call by a colleague or boss. What it does mean is that you need to be mindful of the various ways in which your company communicates and be attentive to those processes. If people feel like its easy to get in touch with you and or you respond quickly, they will invariably feel you are on top of things and are a reliable person to work with.
For example, our company practices the ‘1/24 rule’ during standard business hours. We expect our teammates to acknowledge a communication with a response within an hour and provide an answer, or what to expect next within 24 hours. We aren’t perfect at this down to the minute (as that would be unrealistic) but I’ll be the first to say this practice makes our teammates highly proficient and therefore their jobs easier.
Best Practice #5 – Systems & Tools
Whether you’re a consultant, an employee or just new to your job, in today’s world there’s no excuse for not learning a company’s procedures, systems and tools. Those of us who choose not to work within these parameters typically find ourselves making careless mistakes, coming up short on our projects and irritating the heck out of our colleagues and management. Why is this? Well, when we don’t use a tool right, or don’t follow a certain SOP accurately it inevitably makes more work for someone else down the road. Trust me when I say every one hates having to fix other people’s inaccuracies, especially when it’s documentation related. If you’re new to a company do everything you can to quickly spool up by learning the tools, systems, workflows and documentation processes. The quicker you learn it the better your work product and output will be. People may just like working with you better as a result.
While there are many things which lead to someone being successful in their line of work, I firmly believe these five best practices are things all professionals can do, regardless of their experience, education level, etc. We have a choice to make every day when we show up to work – be the best at what we do or simply be average. As the job market continues to tighten up those of us who are average will find themselves unemployed far more frequently than those of us who choose to operate at a high frequency. It’s a choice – do you have what it takes?
We’re constantly bombarded with a litany of articles, studies and discussions highlighting the generational differences in the workplace. These discussions often confuse and mislead readers by zeroing in on ‘key characteristics’ which supposedly define a generation while subtly stereotyping it at the same time. One of the topics that comes up often in these discussions is what makes for a good employee. This topic has permeated the business world for decades long before Gen-Z and Millennials entered the workplace over the last 10+ years causing a current day telenovela in the business world.
While the generations entering the workforce, and or exiting for that matter, may have a difference of opinion on what they want out of their careers and what they need in order to be happy in their jobs, there is one common trait which is synonymous with all generations and all employees for that matter. This common trait, or behavior, defines what a good employee is regardless of the stereotypes and or characteristics which accompany the respective generation.
When we take away generational characteristics, race, religion, gender and everything else used to categorize and therefore sort and stack people we’re left looking at people’s actions. Their behaviors. What I’ve found true over the years is behavior is indicative of the true nature of a person, not their words. If we say one thing but then do (act) another, our behaviors become the defining force for who we are, not our words. This is certainly true for employees and their effectiveness as we look at whether an employee is ‘great’ versus ‘average’, or worse.
So, what’s the difference between a great employee and an average one? An employee who excels versus one who mails it in operating at a mediocre level of performance. The difference is a little behavior known as INITIATIVE.
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s not groundbreaking information. I’ve known this for years.”
While we may know this, or have seen it in person, what’s remarkable are the number of people who actually deploy ‘initiative’ in their jobs.
In my 15 years’ of business experience, of which 13 of those years have been in management, and 4 owning a business, I’ve experienced both first and secondhand the difference initiative makes in an employee and leader. When we strip away all the categories and demographics, mentioned above, this behavioral trait is the one that keeps rising to the top distinguishing the great performers from the average, mediocre and under performing employees.
Initiative is everything!
What does initiative look like in a business setting?
When I think of great initiative in the work place the first thing that comes to mind is a situation I witnessed firsthand with an employee of mine several years ago. We had a client who was flying into Orange County to visit with several suppliers, our company being one of them. My employee, Megan, took it upon herself to pick up our client at the airport, coffee in hand, and bring them to our office for the meeting. Talk about service, yet her initiative to provide a great experience for our customer didn’t end there. She also took the client out to lunch in Laguna Beach (our client was from Idaho and had never seen the amazing beaches of Laguna). The client had also forgot to pack a bathroom bag for their travels so Megan took him to Target to pick up a couple items. After all this was done Megan shuttled him back to the airport.
Yes, this was an amazing effort by Megan yet what made it truly remarkable and just as memorable was the fact that she did this all on her own. She didn’t ask for permission; she just took it upon herself to deliver top notch service. Memorable service at that.
I still think about the initiative Megan displayed during this time and marvel at how impressive it was. Needless to say the client sent us an overwhelming email of appreciation thanking Megan for her time and willingness to shepherd him around. He said and I quote “It was the best business trip I’ve been on, I appreciate you [Megan] taking the time to ensure I had a good visit.”
While that story sounds great it’s certainly not the norm.
Rather than focusing next on the lack luster initiative most employees display at the office perhaps its better use of your time and mine to discuss the ways an employee can change their mindset and actions to better align with an initiative based work approach. Consider the following:
Possessing good initiative at work makes or breaks the quality of employee you are and often times how you are viewed in the organization. Are you a blessing to your team and company or are you dead weight? Having good initiative is the one behavior you can 100% control which in turn can directly impact in a positive way your job and career.
Stop making excuses for why you don’t act at work. Next time you see a problem or issue come up at the office which you are directly or close too take a chance and stand up and get involved. People who say ‘YES’ I can do that rather than ‘someone else can do that’ frequently experience better career
As we grow in our profession, we naturally pick up things here and there which aid us in operating as a professional. These little nuances of professional life often times can’t be learned in a class room setting or text book, especially when it comes to behavioral tips like how to handle yourself in certain situations, shaking hands and introducing yourself at a networking event, overcoming challenges, etc.
Over the course of my career one of the best sources for information and perspective have come through mentors. I’ve been blessed to have four (4) mentors throughout my adult life, each of them providing a different perspective and approach that I’ve been able to utilize to craft my own personal style of ‘me’. For what it’s worth, I’m grateful beyond words to these four people for instilling in me valuable lessons about life, family, work and relationships.
Through these relationships I’ve learned a vital lesson that I will carry with me throughout my career, which is:
The only person responsible for your career is YOU.
Each one of my mentors have preached this lesson, using their own approach to reinstate the fact that we [you and I] are ultimately in charge of our own careers. No one else. Not our parents, not our teachers and certainly not our bosses. It’s a universal truth I’ve tested now dozens of times and I still get the same outcome – it’s up to us, not them.
When we develop a mindset of self accountability we learn that it is in fact up to us [you] to drive our careers in the direction we want them to head.
When people aren’t responsible for their own careers it shows up sounding like the following excuses: “my boss didn’t do anything for me”, “that’s not my job responsibility”, “I didn’t know I could do that”, “no one told me that was possible”, “that mistake wasn’t my fault” and on and on.
Casting aside the multitude of excuses we can drum up, once we learn it’s our ultimate responsibility to drive our careers it then becomes easier to ask for help while navigating the many facets of a career. Once we ask for help and start getting it we remain in the drivers seat asking questions, following up and initiating conversation. As a result we take responsibility for the outcomes. What comes from this type of mindset and approach is an increasing attitude and desire to improve, learn and grow.
Key Take Away:
Asking for help and guidance is a big step. It means you want to improve yourself, congrats as you’re already ahead of many people around you. When you ask for help from someone, whether that be a mentor, boss, teacher, friend, it’s up to you to drive that interaction. It is your responsibility to drive the communication, follow up and request for direction. Don’t sit back and wait for that person to do the work. They are there strictly as advisors to give feedback and perspective, you must put in the time and effort.
Spend some time in a quiet place thinking about your own career and how you’ve gotten to where you are. Happy with the present circumstances? If you still have more you want to achieve go get yourself a mentor asap. A good place to start is www.micromentor.org. It’s a free service, one I wholeheartedly endorse.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.