Category Archives: Work

Posts relating to experiences or ideas about the workplace.

More than a game

A big week in sports, with three super-major accomplishments: The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, Golden State beat the LeBrons for the NBA title, and my son Jake’s team scored seven runs in the bottom of last inning for a 12-11 tournament win.

Man, do I love sports. The players, the stories, the adrenaline rush — it’s all good. My family’s typically not so into it, but as the Blackhawks clinched Game 6, I realized we were all on the couch cheering them on.

We were looking at jubilant players and raucous fans as I explained the traditions of the Cup and the playoffs in general. It was late and the kids were a little slap-happy, and I found myself frustrated they weren’t treating this moment with the reverence it deserved. This was the presentation of Lord Stanley’s Cup! This is honor and history — not, as Jacob put it, “a big silver wine glass.”

But if you’re ten years old, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a funny-shaped silver mug that bearded men lift over their heads as they skate around, having just played a game.

So when, and why, does that change? Why do sports mean so much to so many people?

Because they end.

Sport seasons are finite. They have a defined amount of time — whether we’re talking a game, a season, a tournament — to achieve a goal. There’s a defined set of rules to succeed. They win or they lose.

As fans, we’re passionate about the build-up and the drama around each phase, and we commit to it. We’re not even on the playing field. We find ourselves not just with favorite teams, but favorite players, rooting for their professional success, supporting them every chance we get. I will never meet Tramon Williams or Aaron Rodgers or Jordy Nelson, but that doesn’t stop me from having replica jerseys in my house. We identify with them.

You know who I don’t display that exuberance for? Me. Or my coworkers. That would be silly, right? I’ll see my coworkers tomorrow and the next day, always. Eventually they or even I may leave for new jobs, but the routine is ultimately the same: Forty- or fifty-some years of professional achievement, because that’s life, and that’s what we expect to happen every day for forever.

As a wise man once sang, forever’s a mighty long time. What if we consciously measured that time differently? What if we worked for a season, not the duration of our lives? What if we could look at a professional scoreboard and knew if we won or lost? Would we gear up for work differently, with better focus on the day-to-day? Could it make us more effective, working harder for shorter sprints? Would we need someone to root against as much as we need to cheer ourselves on? (Most importantly: Would we get jerseys? Of our co-workers?? Could I get a #47 Berrones home jersey?!)

We work as we live our lives, expecting there’s always a tomorrow. Sports teams can’t afford to do that.

And we love them for it.

Motivation: From real work to yard work

I’m not doing yard work.

Last week, I started a seven-week sabbatical that my company graciously offered. As the idea of this company perk bubbled up, the idea was to allow time to recharge and relax, get away from it all and come back to work with a fresh mind.

My first instinct: No thanks. I love pretty much everything about my job. My coworkers, our members, the mission, my responsibilities, the fulfillment I get from working hard, the opportunities to improve… there’s a lot to not just like, but truly love. I don’t want to be away from that for seven days, let alone seven weeks.

But I took it, because, hey, when do you get an offer like this? Lots of benefits: Sleeping in sounds nice. My commute is replaced with a family road trip. Time with family. Time for me.

And, as my wife told me, time to spend on her “honey-do” list. First up: Landscaping the backyard.

Note: The word “landscaping” is as absent from my list of benefits as it is from my résumé. But when she said it was important to her to have decorative rock edging, then it became important to me.

Our conversation quickly turned to how capable I would be to lug a pile of rocks from the front yard to the back. I can, case closed, so let’s do this. We bought 2 cubic yards of rock, which now sits in our driveway.

Only this project is more than rock. In fact, that’s the least of it. We need to dig up the grass we no longer want. Right? At least put down weed block. Uh oh, we didn’t discuss paver blocks to match the rest of the house’s look. Wait, what do we do with the sod we dig up? These thoughts have consumed my sabbatical so far, especially since the opportunity to do the work has been hampered by the rain that has fallen Every. Single. Day.

I recognize these are first world problems. In fact, I’ve come to a first world answer: Let’s pay someone else to do it.

My knee-jerk reaction to that thought was: I’m a failure. I’m giving up on a project that really shouldn’t be all that tough. I’m physically capable of doing this. It’s not rocket science. I could always just take my best swing, then get someone to fix it afterwards.

I stumbled across Dan Pink’s TEDTalk on motivation. One of the many takeaways are three elements he says workers need in order to stay motivated: Autonomy (“the urge to direct our own lives”), mastery (“the desire to get better and better at something that matters”), and purpose (“the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”)

I really dig this (and this fuller version of his talk) because it explains why this landscaping project feels like such a waste of time. The desire for this project didn’t come from within, it’s a one-time project that I’ll never repeat, and maybe a couple dozen people will ever see the result. This is the opposite of motivation. (Well, except the part where it would make my wife happy. But that motivates me to find a solution, not to do the job myself.)

What I find interesting is that the same checklist sums up why I love my job — it’s a slam-dunk to check those three boxes as a doer. What about as a manager? Am I providing my team the opportunity and reinforcement to stoke their passion for the job, giving them the chance to develop in the ways that help them in a way that also helps the company’s mission?

Maybe this sabbatical is going to be good for me after all.

2×4

At work, we have a very friendly, collaborative, team attitude. I love the people I work with, and I believe they love me too. It’s a wonderful arrangement, and encourages us to do even better work — for ourselves as much as for one another.

Which is a good thing, because there’s a lot of work to do! I’ve been in charge of this team for several years now, and I’m constantly amazed and impressed by the work they do. We’re always in hiring mode due to the growth of the company, yet we’ve managed very well. We continue to have ideas to make improvements. Some get implemented, some we don’t have time for, and sadly, some may get ignored.

That last category is inexcusable. This year, we’ve talked about using a figurative 2×4: To make sure you get heard, you sometimes need to deliver your message as bluntly as possible. I can get in heads-down mode, but as a leader, I must always have an eye out for the team. If I’m not proactively recognizing a need, I may need to be on the receiving end of a 2×4.

It’s not like we’re the only ones to use this expression. A recent post from Return Path CEO Matt Blumberg talks about the value of a 2×4 in reviewing employee performance — “a big wakeup call” for employees who need it.

“The hardest (conversations) are with people who think they are doing really well,” he writes, “when in reality they’re failing or in danger of failing.” As a harsh self-critic, my initial instinct was: Am I in danger of failing? Am I leading my team as best I can? I’ve encouraged them to use 2x4s on me, but come to think of it, that hasn’t happened in a while…

The ensuing revelation may have been my biggest 2×4 yet. I am a harsh self-critic, and not always quiet about it. Nobody is harder on me than me… but that doesn’t mean I’m my most effective critic. I might best hear that from the people I work with. So why haven’t they given me those 2x4s?

Ironically, our office culture may be part of the reason. Friendly, nice people can find it a challenge to deliver critical feedback; imagine how much harder it must be when you see the recipient already beating himself up.

It’s a recent revelation, but one I’m hoping changes the way I act — it’ll benefit my team, and it will absolutely be good for me.

Pedal down, grow up

Being a big fan of the Green Bay Packers, I love seeing stories that share a little bit of the behind-the-scenes stories of the players. I was just reminded of one, from 2012, as offensive lineman T.J. Lang had signed a big contract: $21 million to play football — for the Packers — for the next four years.

The article diplomatically explains how Lang — then all of 24 years old — struggled with the responsibilities of adulthood when he broke into the NFL just three years earlier.

“I was 21, living downtown, going out three, four nights a week sometimes,” Lang said…. “But looking back on it, I really didn’t understand why I was doing it. I didn’t think it was a problem back then, but looking back, it’s like I’m lucky to still be here.”

Clearly, he’s matured, as one of his coaches said:

“(Lang has) continued to put the pedal down, saying, `Look, I want to be darn good at this.'”

Maybe like any typical 21-year-old, Lang didn’t fully appreciate 1) the talents he had, and 2) the opportunity he’d been given. But by age 24, he’d become aware. He’s capitalizing on these things and reaping the rewards for it. The article helps me and all Packers fans celebrate a feel-good story.

Perhaps it’s also a moment to be self-reflective: Do I realize the opportunities I have? Or the talents I possess? And even if I do, will I continue to push the pedal down, driving myself to be the best I can be? It’s one thing to celebrate the success of a sports figure on your favorite team; it’s another entirely to dedicate yourself to grow and develop as a person and as a professional.

In 2014, T.J. Lang is coming off a season where Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 15th best guard in the league. There’s room to improve, but there’s reason to believe he’s up to the challenge, and I have a hunch that Lang will earn his second Super Bowl ring.

Meanwhile, 2014 marks the start of my 22nd year as a full-time professional. I want to recognize my talents, to create opportunities, to grow, to mature, and to win my own version of the Super Bowl.

Look, I want to be darn good at this.

The celebration within

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about positive and negative energy, wondering why it’s so easy for us to ignore the good and instead point at the bad or failed.

My job has me paying attention to big brands and their social media efforts, where misfires can become really, really big news. And the industry media *love* the failures. In just the last week, I’ve seen these headlines:

  • 10 Worst Social Media Marketing Fails of 2013
  • The Worst Advertising, Guerrilla Marketing and Social Media Screwups of November (on Twitter, the author billed this as the start of a regular, “weekly” story)
  • The Top 10 Corporate Social Media Disasters
  • Tweeting Bad: The AMA Edition (a semi-regular column featuring brand tweets around an event)

If I’m looking at the glass half-full, stories with these headlines could be useful if they’re sharing lessons: Here’s what you need to do to avoid a similar outcome. A helping hand to say, “Nobody should make the same mistake twice; let these folks have made it first for you.”

But that’s not the intent of these stories at all. It’s more like calling attention to a car crash. Whether a fender-bender or something more serious, it doesn’t matter, they just want you to look at how badly something went.

We see this behavior often: Magazines feature celebrities who look bad in bathing suits. The nightly news tells us everything that went wrong.

Why don’t we celebrate the successes more? Are they that much harder to define? Is it just that there’s less drama in them, so what’s the fun in that?

I came across this quote in John Maeda’s book, “Redesigning Leadership.” It’s not directly related to what I’m talking about, but it’s in the same neighborhood:

Taking an effort needs to be worth it simply for the internal sense of achievement. You must believe what you’re doing is making a positive impact, whether for yourself or others. The celebration comes from within.

Now, even with the best of intentions, that thing may not succeed. But you learn, and you move on to the next thing, even while critics spend their time hating on what you’ve done.

It’s just a shame there’s that negative contingent — whether it stems from jealousy, laziness, or spite — that feels the need to spotlight someone’s failed efforts. Seems it would take just as much energy to lend a helping hand as it would to knock someone down.

Saving my iPhone battery — and my sanity

The day I got my iPhone was a blessing and a curse, all wrapped into one sleek package.

This was January 2010, so I was a little late to the game. But my refurbished 3GS made me a believer almost right off the bat — immediate access to social media, email, and games? Sold.

It also made me an addict.

Always, always on. I got the phone for work, so the many times I got busted using it at inappropriate times, I could simply say I had to check email. But in reality, email is the gateway drug: You check that, then you think maybe Twitter has an update, and of course Facebook is just a tap away . . .

A couple of years of annoying myself and others who wonder why I was always heads down. But that constantly updated number hovering over the email icon was intriguing and enticing and sexy — who’s writing me now? This could be urgent! How could I turn away?

Skip forward to a few weeks ago. Turns out I was also fighting a daily battle against my battery — it was all but used up by the end of the work day due to constant checking, heavy use during commutes, and working in a signal-challenged city.

I would often close my background apps, but that wasn’t much help. (Turns out that may be a myth, anyway.)

But then I found this article on saving battery life. Tip #4 was the eye-opener — to have an always-on email push would certainly be a drain on my battery. And besides, I spend 5/7 of my week at the office, where my laptop already tells me how far behind I’m getting on email. I changed over to manually fetch email.

If I recall correctly, that’s when a light shone down from the heavens.

First of all, it worked, and battery performance is remarkably better. But as importantly, this also means my email icon won’t update to show me how many new emails are waiting. And without that reminder that I’m always needed, I’m not constantly checking it.

Instead, I’m spending time with my family, or reading, or living life. When I know I have a few minutes, I can open the email app, which will update with new email, and I can respond to them on my terms.

Seems a little silly to feel like I’ve won a battle over my phone. But hey, it’s a smart phone. And while there are exceptions, there are many fewer weeknight interruptions when I’m playing with my kids or talking with my wife. Big win.

The change didn’t just make a dramatic impact on my battery life; it made an impact on MY life.

The way I are

I am a cornball.

Chances are, you know this already. Everyone I’ve ever known pretty much knows it. It’s part of my DNA to look for the pun no matter the circumstance. And I long to make people smile, if not laugh.

Which can be annoying at times, especially if you don’t know me. Which is one reason I’d like to know everyone, because the idea of being annoying makes me crazy.

. . .

As a part of my job at SocialMedia.org, I serve as moderator at our BlogWell conferences, afternoon events featuring social media case studies from really sharp people at big brands. I’ll give the welcome speech to an audience of up to 400 people, and I’ll introduce speakers throughout the day.

A good chunk of the audience is made up of SocialMedia.org members, who already know my presentational style through our day-to-day work.

 

 

A larger part of the audience is made up of people seeing me for the first time. Their reaction means a lot: on a personal level, of course, but especially for professional reasons — we’d like them to join our group. This event is intended to convince them to do that. And I’m the sometimes-silly mouthpiece that holds the day together.

Deep down, I believe I’m helping. But sometimes, I can’t help but wonder if I’m the right guy for the job. Does “shades of cornball” fit?

 

 

We just held our 20th of these conferences, and if my style or skills weren’t appropriate, I know my boss would pull me aside and tell me to straighten it out. But would I? Could I? When you’re presenting, I think you need to be you — or at least, I need to be me. I have a hard enough time doing that, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be someone else.

. . .

At one of my radio jobs, a new co-worker immediately established himself as either someone you liked or someone who disgusted you. He could be funny and generous and thoughtful; and he would go out of his way to crash through long-standing boundaries, say and do things that were disrespectful of his colleagues, and sabotage the work that everyone else had put in to create a great atmosphere.

I was in the latter group.

We’d talk, sometimes specifically about what the heck he was doing. He was fully aware of how he was being perceived by Group Two — radio is an ego business, after all — but he wasn’t going to change. As much as it may have seemed like an act, he was just being himself. And if Group Two didn’t like it, well, screw ’em.

I can’t fathom that.

I’m sure life is much easier for him, focusing just on the people he cares about and who care about him.

But what a missed opportunity. So many fun, interesting, helpful people in the world. Keeping them at arm’s length seems the wrong kind of selfish.

I’d much rather learn what they have to offer. See what I can learn from them. Willingly share what I know and see if they respond.

And if I’m sincere and genuine in that, yep, it involves a little bit of cornball. It is who I am. And I really dig when people get that.

 

Rally yourself

Read Steven Pressfield’s short book called “Do the Work” and you’ll feel like you just sat through a football coach’s pep talk — you’ll be revved up and raring to go, NOW. First thing I did was to put the takeaways into my own words. I still refer back to this when I find myself over-thinking or moving slower than I’d like.

Start something.

Anything.

But do it. See it through. Don’t think. Just do it.

Reflect on it afterwards. Just go, no brakes, no reflection, no analyzing.

That can wait until the end.

Don’t let thoughts get in the way.

Don’t let anything get in the way.

Start it. See it through. Notch a win.

Then and only then, see how you can make the win more vibrant, more shiny, more winny.

But for God’s sake, start.