I used to work with someone who never asked for help. I’m pretty sure she saw it as a strength. She felt like it was important to give off the impression that she could do it all and never need to ask for help.
I’ve never been that way myself. I’ve never felt life asking for help makes me look weak. For me, its quite the opposite. I feel that asking for help makes me better. If I don’t know the answer to something, asking someone who does expands my world. Asking for help means that I’m constantly learning something new. And, my experience has been that others respect me for it. Rather than seeing me as weak, they see me as curious, engaged, and collaborative.
It is similar when asking for help with tasks. It is easy to feel guilty asking someone to do something you are supposed to do. After all, it is your job to get it done. Asking someone else to do your job can seem like taking advantage. But again, my experience is that others don’t see it that way. They are happy to help.
The thing I think is key to this idea of asking for help is balance. When you ask for help in order to get out of work altogether, you are just pawing off your work. You are a slacker and your coworkers will eventually catch on. Or, if you are constantly asking others to help you solve problems but your motivation is to not learn, grow, or elevate the outcome, then again, you will be seen for what you are – pawing off your work.
So, at one extreme, if you ask too much with an underlying motivation of getting out of work, you will damage your relationships and your reputation.
At the other extreme, if you are like my old coworker and you never ask for help, you are likely to get a reputation as someone who doesn’t meet commitments. This coworker, I’ll call her Mary, spends a significant amount of time apologizing for her lack of meeting expectations.
So, at the other extreme, if you never ask for help, you will damage your relationships and your reputation because your coworkers will come to see you as unreliable. And, you’ll have to added impact of causing yourself an awful lot of stress.
The key to asking for help is to find balance. You need to be comfortable asking for help when you need it, but not so comfortable that you end up asking all the time.
In order to find that balance, the other part of the equation is to give help. The thing about asking for help is that it involves at least 2 people. Anytime you ask for help, someone else is giving help. You’ve created a kind of transaction between the two of you.
In order to achieve balance, you need to be willing to 1) ask for help when you need it and 2) give help when asked.
If you think of asking for help and giving help as a matrix with 4 quadrants, you can understand 4 different personas that Wayne Baker outlines in his book All You Have to Do is Ask: How to Master the Most Important Skill for Success.
If you are a Scale My Skills subscriber, you’ve got the matrix and personas along with other resources in your inbox today. If you’d like to sign up for Scale My Skills, you can do so on our home page.
Overly Generous Giver
If you give help frequently, but ask for help rarely, you are an overly generous giver. Overly generous givers get a self esteem boost from helping others. They revel in the adrenalin boost they get from helping others purely for the sale of being helpful. If you are familiar with Enneagram, these are the Enneagram 2s. The issue is overly generous givers will eventually burn-out. And, they can be seen as unproductive because they spend so much time helping others that they don’t get their own stuff done.
If you ask for help infrequently and you give help infrequently, you are a lone wolf. Lone Wolves are big on self reliance. They see life as a race to the top, which means that their relationships take a hit. And, because success in life and especially in business, is heavily dependent on our relationships with others, they usually fall short in their race to the top.
If you ask for help frequently, and you give help infrequently, you are the Selfish Taker persona. The Selfish Taker rarely pays generosity back. In the short run, they may see their star rising because it looks like they are accomplishing so much. But, in the long run, those that they are taking advantage of figure out that they are just pawning off their work and will eventually stop helping.
If you ask for help frequently and give help frequently you are a Giver-Taker persona. Giver-Takers are very productive. When they ask for help, their motivation is to learn and grow. When they give help, they are creating space for the person who asked for help to also be productive. And because they have a reputation for helping, they generally have a wide circle of contacts who have a high level of respect for them.
This week, I challenge you to assess yourself on the asking for help continuum. Which of the personas are you? How can you move more toward the Giver-Taker persona?
We are introducing a new segment to the podcast called Career Day. In these episodes, I’ll be interviewing someone about their job with the goal of helping you learn:
Even if it isn’t a career you aren’t interested in for yourself, it is always helpful to have a better understanding of the roles that people around you may fill.
Today’s career is Project Management and I’m interviewing Chris Schain, who is an experienced project manager, now in a role where he is managing project managers. Chris brings a prospective that will help you understand what makes a successful project manager, and helps give an understanding of what a potential career path in project management may look like.
If you aren’t in accounting or finance, you may think that you don’t need to understand financial terms. After all, they are the experts, so what can you possibly gain by understanding your company’s financial numbers?
But, the thing is, everyone in your management chain is thinking about margin. And, your job is to make your manager’s life easier, so if you understand financial concepts, you better understand what is driving your management team’s decisions. And, when you understand why your management team is making the decisions they make, you put yourself in a better position to make their life easier.
You don’t have to be an expert – I agree – leave that to the accounting department. But, if you have an understanding of the basic concepts, you will be more successful in your career. You will also be able to make better decisions for yourself because you will be able to anticipate what your management team will do next.
The concept we are going to cover this week is margin. Margin is the amount of money left after you pay for all the cost.
Revenue minus cost equals margin.
In personal terms, we call it savings. Your revenue – your hourly wage or salary – minus your costs – taxes, rent, food, ballet lessons, orthodontist bills, car payment, and that Amazon Prime fee. What remains is your margin, or savings. For companies, it is the same. They take in revenue through sales and they have expenses. What is left over is margin.
And, as you can probably guess, the goal of every management team is to have the highest possible margin. So, as your management team makes decisions part of their decision involves understanding the impact on margin. I don’t mean to give the impression that it is the only factor, or the most important factor. Every business and every leadership team is different, so how your management team makes decisions will be unique. But, they are considering margin, so if you can understand this aspect of your company, you will be better able to understand one of the levers in your management team’s arsenal.
Margin, on the surface is a fairly easy concept to understand, but I’ve found over the course of my career that people really struggle with it. I think it is because there are so many factors that influence it. It is absolutely relative to the specific situation, so you must always understand the larger context of the business in order to understand the impact on margin.
To help paint a picture for you, I’m going to use a familiar example that we can all relate to. We are going to assume the roll of a hamburger fast food restaurant. Now, our restaurant has a standard burger that is made up of a bun, meat patty, lettuce, pickle, tomato & ketchup.
When a customer walks into the restaurant, they can see the price of this burger up on the board. They pay $2.99 for the burger and that $2.99 becomes our revenue.
We have a cost associated with delivering this burger to them. 1st, there is the cost of the ingredients. The bun, the meat patty, the pickle, tomatoes, lettuce, and ketchup. The accounting department tells us that the cost of these ingredients is 75 cents. So, we take in $2.99 in revenue and we spent 75 cents on the ingredients. You might think that the margin is 2.99 minus 75 cents. But, keep in mind that we also paid someone to make the burger. We also paid for the electricity to operate the grill. We paid rent on the building. We paid the manager to oversee the person who made the burger.
So, you have to include all of these costs. For our burger joint, let’s say all of these costs add up to $2.50. So, we sell the burger to our customers for $2.99 – which is our revenue. And it costs us $2.50, which means our profit is 49 cents.
Again, margin is what is left over when you subtract cost from revenue.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the ways margin can be impacted. Let’s say a customer comes in with a coupon for 50 cents off their burger. This means that our revenue is going to go down from $2.99 to $2.49. But, our cost didn’t change. It still costs us $2.50 to produce and deliver the burger. Now, the margin is $2.49 minus $.50, or negative 1 penny. So, when revenue goes down but costs remain the same, margin also goes down.
Think about ways that might happen at your company. What are the scenarios where revenue might decrease without costs changing? What is the equivalent of a 50 cent off coupon for your business?
Let’s look at another example. A customer comes in and orders a burger and asks or extra pickles. They don’t have a coupon, so they are paying $2.99 for the burger. This means that our revenue is $2.99. But, they asked for extra pickles. The cost of adding extra pickles to the burger is 5 cents. Now, the total cost has gone up from $2.50 to $2.55. So, even though our revenue stayed the same, our cost increased. This makes our margin 44 cents. $2.99 revenue minus $2.55 cost is 44 cents. Our margin has decreased from 49 cents to 44 cents.
Think about ways that might happen at your company. What are the scenarios where costs might increase? What is the equivalent of extra pickles for your business?
What if a customer walks in and orders a burger and tells you to hold the pickles? Sine we know it costs 5 cents to add pickles, we know that it saves 5 cents to hold the pickles. So, the cost of the burger goes from $2.50 to $2.45. Margin is now 54 cents. $2.99 in revenue less the reduced cost of $2.45 gives us a bigger margin of $2.54.
Think about ways that might happen at your company. What are the scenarios where costs might decrease? What is the equivalent of holding the pickles for your business?
Understanding the different levers that impact margin for your company helps you understand how healthy the business is. It may also help you understand ways that you can help impact margin by either improving revenue or reducing cost so that margin is increased.
There are a lot of various factors that can influence margin, and if you’d like to explore the topic more, I encourage you to check out our financial acumen curriculum, which is a collection of all of our episodes that explore the topic of company financials.
So, your homework this week is to spend some time thinking about your company’s margin. What are the things, like coupons, that impact revenue? What are the things, like extra pickles that impact the cost? Can you see how your management team is making decisions to move these levers in order to help improve margin for your company?
Customer Experience is everybody’s job, although sometimes it might be hard to see how you can influence it. It may seem like you can’t make an impact if you aren’t in a leadership position, but that isn’t the case. Today, we are going to talk about some ways you can make an impact on customer experience, regardless of your role or title.
First, lets talk about the customer journey. Step into your customer’s shoes and picture what their journey looks like.
So, you see, the customer experience is a journey, not a single event. Some stops along the way are more important than others. But, all of them form an experience for the customer that places your company into some category in their mind.
They might categorize you as fun to do business with. Or difficult to do business with. They may consider you to be easy to do business with. Maybe their experience is that you are organized & professional. Or flexible and scrappy.
The important point to understand is that – whatever their experience – they form it as they walk their journey and encounter each little step along the way.
This journey that I’ve described is really a system. A system is a group of processes that are typically cross -functional & span several different disciplines. Each individual process may have a need to be improved, but that improvement may or may not improve the overall system. If you think about your particular role in a process, in order to understand how your process fits into the overall system, you need to look upstream and downstream.
Upstream, what are the processes that feed into your process? Those processes, although potentially completely outside of your area of control, are part of the same system you are. If you want to improve the process, that is within your are of control, you will do a better job of it if you consider the processes that feed into your process. When you understand your process within the context of the larger system, you have more options open to you. If you’d like to learn more about systems vs. processes, you can listen to episode 11.
So, when it comes to the customer journey, spend some time thinking about the system that they enter into when they start down the path to solve their problem. At some point along their journey, they are going to participate in a process that you are part of. Become curious about how they perceive the process. A customer survey score doesn’t give you the full picture. Four stars tells you that they were generally happy, but now why. They might be generally happy because the prices was so low that the fact that everything else sucked wasn’t that important to them. By becoming curious about their journey, you can start to identify ways to change your process in order to improve their experience. And, when you do it with the bigger context of the system, it is likely to have a greater impact.
Remember that I mentioned that all of the steps along the journey have different levels of important to the customer? When you get curious, you begin to understand which processes have more weight. In customer journey map terminology, these are called ‘moments of truth.’ Getting a moment of truth right has the biggest impact. Improving the customer experience as moments of truth is where you will get the biggest impact. Is your process a moment of truth for your customer?
If we go back to the idea that individual processes make up a larger system and that the system for customer experience is defined as their journey through their doing business with you then you can see that it becomes important for them to have a single experience. As a customer, they don’t care that they are moving from the marketing department to the sales department to the legal department to the delivery department to the support department. They are doing business with Company X – your company – and the distinction between departments is irrelevant. But, many times, we don’t design the customer journey in that way. Because we are organized into departments, we approach our processes from our departmental silo and often forget to blend it into the larger customer experience system.
So, this week, I challenge you to spend some time thinking about your customer’s journey. Where do your processes fit into that journey? What experience does the customer have with your part of their journey? What are the experiences they have before they get to your process? These are the upstream processes that feed into yours. What experience does the customer have with those processes? Is the experience consistent? What about the processes downstream from you? When you’ve done your job, where will the customer go next? What will that experience be, and how consistent is it with the experience they just had with you? What are some ways you can improve the experience? What are some ways you can ensure their experience is consistent?
You know, the customer journey, at its highest level is the same at every single company for every single customer. First, they identify that they have a need to fill. Then they figure out their options and evaluate them. Then they make a decision. They you deliver what you promised. Then you provide some type of ongoing service that hopefully results in them making another purchase in the future. Its that simple when you think about it. But, oh is the reality so much more complicated. An, this is where the real work of customer experience begins.
Every job has a process – whether it is well documented or not, effective or not, enforced or not. And, whether you are the kind of person who likes process or not, you still follow a process. For those of you who get itchy when talking about a process, we might also call it guidelines. You have some set of guidelines you use to get yourself from point A to point B each day.
I have a saying that I say frequently to my team: trust the process.
What I mean when I say it is that, when you question why something is the way it is, you must trust that the process handled it appropriately, and therefore there is a good reason for it.
Trust that there are rules and guidelines in place to help get each process from point A to point B in a manner that results in the best possible solution given the situation.
Trusting the process doesn’t mean that there is no room for improvement. To design a process you can trust, there are a few guidelines you can follow.
Apply the rules at decision points
First, make sure the rules or guidelines that are applied at decision points are at the right decision points. In other words, in any process there are going to be critical decision points and not critical decision points. In order to be effective, rules should only be applied at the critical ones.
Make the rules specific to the audience
Next rules or guidelines need to be tailored to the people who will use them rather than being too general. Many times, rules get designed – or I should say over designed – because the designer wants to cover every possible scenario that could ever occur. This dilutes the importance of the rule and inevitably people start to ignore it or have trouble understanding how to apply it in their situation.
Make sure the rules stand up to scrutiny
Good rules in a process are built on a foundation that stands up to scrutiny. The reason that rules are put in place is because:
So, think about your process and the rules or guidelines that help ensure that you can trust the process. Are the rules at the critical decisions points.? Do they help navigate situations where there isn’t a clear right answer? Are they specific enough to give direction or have they been diluted to try and account for every eventuality?
Building in rules that allow you to trust the process will make everyone involved more efficient.
Meetings, in my opinion get a bad wrap in the corporate world. People seem to hate going to meetins and sometimes go to great lengths to avoid them. I get why people feel that way. Many times, it is because they feel like they aren’t getting anything out of them.
Understand Your Purpose In The Meeting
I’m a big proponent of not attending a meeting that isn’t going to be of any value to you. You should be sure you understand what your role is and what the purpose of attending is. For example, if you are attending just to be informed, then do you understand why being informed about the topic is beneficial to you?
A lot of companies or departments have a regular all hands type meeting where the head of the group covers the performance for the last quarter or talks about strategic initiatives, or other topics that have to do with overall performance. In this type of meeting, your purpose for being there is to be informed. This is your chance to hear about what is going on in the company in areas you may not be involved with daily. These are things that may not directly impact you, but they impact the overall company, which is something you should have an interest in.
Sometimes, your role at a meeting is to serve as a subject matter expert. The topic may be 99% unrelated to you, but in the event someone needs an answer to a question that only you can answer, you are there.
Understand Their Purpose For Being Invited To The Meeting
It is important, if you are the one calling the meeting that you have a good handle on why you are including the people you are including. As you create the meeting invite and add people to it, something is going through your mind about why you’ve included them. You should consider the fact that, if you were on the receiving end of the meeting you’d want to understand how this meeting is a good use of your time. So, you should ensure that the people you invite will understand as well.
Many times, when I schedule a meeting, I also send an email explaining what the meeting is about and what role each of the attendees is going to play. I will draft the email and put together the meeting invite and then send them both at the same time. That way, the recipient gets a meeting invite and an email from me together, which is likely to peak their interest. I think this results in people actually reading the email to find out what the meeting is about. I think this, then, results in their attendance at my meeting having a better understanding rather than just showing up with no expectations.
Be a Moderator
Another thing that you should do if you are hosting a meeting is remember that your role as host means that you need to serve as the moderator of the meeting.
You need to keep it on track. This could mean following an agenda. It could mean serving as a time keeper. It could mean making sure that everyone has a chance to participate.
Since it is your meeting, you are in charge, and you need to be confident about managing the meeting so that you accomplish your objective.
It may be that there are people in the meeting who outrank you, which could make you feel uncomfortable about taking control. This is part of growing in your career. You need to learn how to be comfortable being in charge when your title doesn’t make you the highest ranking person in the room.
You need to find a balance between coming across as rude and asserting yourself in the situation. This is where you can say something like “this is a great discussion, but I want to be cognizant of everyone’s time and be sure we can get to all of the topics on our agenda, so maybe we can schedule a follow up meeting to further explore this topic.”
Another tool I use is to say at the start of the meeting, “we have a lot to cover today and I expect some of these topics might bring out some passionate discussion, so I’m just going to warn you that I will be managing our time very closely in order to ensure we are going to be able to get through all of the topics.”
When you tell people up front, they won’t find it rude if you then follow through.
Another tip that I’d throw out there is if your meeting agenda gets just completely thrown out the window – to acknowledge it and move on. For example, if the discussion carries you away from the agenda but for whatever reason you are going to allow it, you can say, “you know, we’ve completely gotten away from our agenda, but this discussion is important, so I’ll just schedule another time to complete the original agenda.”
It may seem like overkill or micromanaging to say these things out loud, but what it does is ensures that everybody hears the same message. It may be obvious to you because it is your meeting, but you can never assume that it is obvious to everyone else.
Agenda vs Objective
One of the things I’ve noticed about meetings is that we are not always clear about the purpose of the meeting. For those who are attending, what are we expecting? Are they attending to be informed? To be consulted? To make a decision?
Most basic tips for proper meetings will tell you to include an agenda. But, I would argue that it is important to also be very explicit about what the objective of the meeting is. The agenda will give your invitees an understanding of the content of the meeting, the objective will tell them why their attendance is important.
If the purpose of your meeting is to influence, you should consider whether you need to hold pre-meetings with individual stakeholders who you think may be resistant to your idea or may need time to consider your proposal. The meeting before the meeting is a critical influence tool, but it is also a critical tool for making meetings more effective. There is nothing worse than having your meeting derailed by 1 person who is either resistant or reacts in a resistant manner because they need time to process your proposal. So, if you have a proposal, you should consider which meetings are necessary before the formal meeting.
If the purpose of your meeting is to brainstorm ideas, you may consider asking someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in the topic to facilitate the meeting. This will allow you to fully participate in brainstorming and leave the logistics to someone else.
My final tip is related to recurring meetings. If you are the host of a recurring meeting, make sure you check in to see if the original purpose of the meeting is still valid. A lot of meetings get set up to serve a specific purpose but remain long after the purpose is no longer relevant. It has really just become a habit and the meeting could be eliminated all together.
In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey, habit #2 is to begin with the end in mind. On the surface, it sounds like he is talking about setting goals, but what he talks about is more fundamental that that.
Begin with the end in mind means that you must have a clear picture of what you are trying to accomplish in order to get there. That seems pretty straight forward, but it is actually very nuanced. The problem is, a lot of us aren’t self aware enough to really understand what it is we are aiming for. We may have a general picture in our mind and we may think of it every once in a while, but we aren’t consciously designing our outcomes.
Let me give you an example from my life.
I got my degree in accounting and I worked in an accounting job for maybe 5 years of my entire career. I eventually figured out that what I wanted to accomplish had nothing to do with accounting. I was moving forward in my career – just not in the one that was right for me.
That was back in the early days of my career. Once I got onto the right path, my career has been a consistent accomplishment toward the vision I had of my goal. Then, about 4 or 5 years ago, I started to see a new vision. The objective was shifting and the picture has gotten clearer, although I’m still refining it. Starting this podcast is part of it.
Covey talks about all creations being created twice.
The 1st creation is your mental image of it.
The 2nd creation is the physical manifestation of it.
If that 1st creation isn’t made consciously, you aren’t the one driving the objective.
For me, I went into accounting mostly because it was what everyone around me was doing. I knew in college that I didn’t want to be an accountant. I liked business and I was good at a lot of the skills I needed for accounting – so that’s the direction I took. I didn’t know enough about the real business world to define my outcome any other way. So, my 1st vision for my career, although perfectly legitimate on paper, turned out not to be the right vision once I translated it from my mental image into a physical career.
Although I thought I knew what I wanted to accomplish, I was wrong. And, I think this is natural. I don’t feel like I failed because I didn’t stick with accounting. Once I got out into the business world and saw what other jobs were out there that could use my skills, I was able to see a different vision for myself. Once I saw a new vision, I was ready to start moving in that direction.
I think the important lesson is to look up every once in a while and ask yourself if the world you are creating is actually the one you want to be creating.
This is going to require a lot of self awareness.
Self awareness is something we talk about a lot on People Move Organizations because it is so foundational to a successful career.
Self awareness is knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.
The reason it is important that you have self awareness is that you have to have a good handle on yourself in order to be able to set a goal or a vision that will be fulfilling for you. It is so easy to fall into a habit or a pattern where you get up and go to work every day and do what you do.
Whether it brings you joy and fulfillment or not.
If you aren’t absolutely miserable, you aren’t likely to think about your vision. Defining the end state is about knowing yourself well enough to know – well, not just know – to really take positive action toward, to be motivated to act toward an end goal that will bring you fulfillment.
Daniel Goldman summed it up nicely in his book Working with Emotional Intelligence, “Self awareness is a building block of commitment: if you don’t know you own guiding principles, you may not recognize when something is or isn’t a fit.”
As you become self aware, you start to see where something isn’t a fit and you can start to create a new vision for yourself. Again, Habit 2 is: begin with the end in mind.
When was the last time you spent time thinking about your vision for yourself?
Without the vision for where it is you are trying to get to, it is impossible to take the next step – which is making progress toward the goal.
Begin with the end in mind is for processes too
Do you have a problem at work that you are trying to solve? A process that isn’t working well? Before you can fix it, you’ve got to be clear on what end state you are trying to get to.
Just this week, I found myself spinning my wheels on a problem. I feel like the process we use for forecasting our staffing levels isn’t working as well as it could. I was trying to figure out why it isn’t giving me a result I could trust and I found myself with 10 spreadsheets open and 10 partially completed analyses – none of which gave me an answer. I was in analysis paralysis. So, I literally said out loud to myself “what exactly are you trying to accomplish?” I had lost track of the end result and had to remind myself.
Whether you are using Habit 2 for big life changing decisions of for thorn-in-your-side tactical problems at work, make sure you regularly step back from the daily grind and ask yourself what are you trying to accomplish?
Before you can actually accomplish anything, you’ve got to have a vision for what it is you are moving toward.
And, don’t beat yourself up when you vision changes over time. It is natural for your priorities to change and therefore your vision to change as well.
I find the social science of the brain to be a very interesting topics, which means I read a lot of books about it. It is a fairly new science, and scientists admit that there is still a lot to learn, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take what is known and apply it to the way we work.
Work, by its definition, involves other people. So, the more you know about how other people think, the more you can tailor your work in a manner that will be more likely to be positively accepted by the people you work with.
Our social connections are necessary for our survival – not just at work, but in life. If you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the lowest level is the physiological stuff, and then comes safety, and next is social. Without social connections, you can’t move up into the hierarch where you get into esteem and self-actualization.
Default Mode Network
And the science supports this idea. There is a region in our brain called the Default Mode Network. This are of the brain becomes active whenever you think about people and your relationship to them. Science shows that 2 day old babies have this Default Mode Network. They don’t have social networks yet, but their brain is already wired for them.
When everything is going well, there is nothing to worry about. But lets be honest – most of us don’t go for very long without running into some kind of social pain. A fight with a spouse. A misunderstanding with a co-worker. Feeling like someone else is getting credit for something we did. Somehow, we don’t always give this the same amount of weight we give physical pain. But, the science proves otherwise. Your brain doesn’t distinguish between physical pain and social pain.
When you have a stomach ache or a headache, you attribute them to a specific part of your body. But, we know from hundreds (or more) of examples that placebos can treat these physical ailments which means that the stomach ache was really in your brain, not your stomach. So, just because social pain doesn’t have a physical spot on your body that you can point to, doesn’t mean it isn’t as real to your brain.
So, keep this in mind the next time you get into a tussle with someone. For both of you, the pain felt is as real as if you had stubbed your toe. Give yourself the grace and space to deal with the pain. Give the other person the same.
Your Brain Determines Your Tolerance For Pain
Science also shows that there is a genetic reason that some people seem to be able to deal with pain better than others. We all have a mu-opioid receptor that determines how we feel and handle pain. Depending on which receptor you get, you will be more or less sensitive to pain. Its funny because I think humans have known this for a long time even though we’ve just recently gotten the science to prove it.
Have you ever heard someone say “I’ve got a high tolerance for pain?” While someone else may say “I’ve got a low tolerance for pain?”
I’d bet if we tested those two people, we’d find that they have different mu-opioid receptors. I think they key takeaway here is that if someone else has a lower or higher tolerance for pain – which includes social pain – you should remember that it is genetic. No different than the color of their eyes. Rather than spending time judging them, recognize the difference and understand that we are all genetically driven when it comes to tolerating pain.
Theory of the Mind
Another area that brain science has made strides in recently is the development of a concept called Theory of the Mind. Theory of the Mind is this thing that happens when we realize that other people have their own thoughts that drive their behavior. We can understand that what another person believes is driven by their own experiences and beliefs. So, for example, when you are in a small store and you walk up to the counter to pay, you understand in your mind that the store employee will interpret you standing there to mean you are ready to check out so they will stop stalking the shelf and come over to ring you up. Neither of you had to tell the other what you were thinking. Your Theory of Mind allowed you both to draw conclusion s about what each other would conclude.
The interesting thing is that we aren’t born with this ability. Scientists have conducted a study to prove this. Sally and Anne are in a room with a basket and a box. A 3 year old is observing. Sally puts a marble in the basket and walks out of the room. Anne moves the marble to the box, and then Sally returns to the room. Where will Sally look for the marble. You and I would say she will look in the basket since that is where she left it and wouldn’t know that Ann had moved it. That is Theory of Mind at work. You and I can separate what Sally is thinking and how she is likely to behave from what we know to be true. But, when scientists asked the 3 year old, they say she will look in the box. Since they know it is in the box, they can’t separate the action they would take from the action Sally will take based on her experience.
It is fascinating to think about how much of our social interaction each day is driven by Theory of Mind. Start observing when you are using Theory of Mind to recognize when another person’s behavior is being driven by beliefs that differ from your own or that don’t line up with your reality.
And, lastly, closely aligned with this is the idea of mirror neurons. This is some of the newest science and is still really being disputed in the scientific community. But, what current studies are showing is that we all have an area of the brain called the mirror neurons. When you pick p a peanut, this area lights up. The interesting part is tha t if you see someone else lean over and pick up a peanut, the same are of the brain lights up. Scientists think that this is why we might wince when we see someone else stub their toe.
Theory of the Mind allows us to imagine what the other person’s reaction will be and our mirror neurons mimic that reaction. This whole process allows us to better understand the experience – something like empathy – which results in a better social connection between us and the other person.
So, you might be saying – this is great scientific information about the brain, but this is a business skills podcast – what does brain science have to do with business skills?
Well, there is a lot of scientific evidence that our brains work to ensure our social interactions with others. And, of course, a large percentage of our social interactions with others occurs at work. Your success in your career is going to be somewhat dependent on how well you can execute these social interactions. If you are a developer, your career success will be heavily dependent on your ability to code software. If you are a marketer, your success is heavily dependent on your ability to get leads in the door. But, if you are good at those career-specific skills, but not good at getting along with your coworkers or clients, then you ultimately won’t be as successful as you could be. We need to be able to execute our unique job-related skills within the bigger context of social interactions. Business is wholly dependent on social interactions.
So, understanding how our brain works in these social interactions is important. How we use this knowledge at work can help us build deeper relationships with our coworkers. It can help us influence others and understand why a coworker might behave the way they do.
And, anytime you can improve your interactions with others, you will be more successful in your career.
If you want to learn more about these topics, I recommend the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew Lieberman.
If you aren’t clear on you priorities, it will have an impact on almost every other aspect of your life. We commonly refer to work – life balance when we are talking about priorities. But, it isn’t just about what you do at work and what you do in your personal life. Your priorities have an impact to many different aspects of your life. Its all inter-twined.
If you just think about your work, you can think about how productive you are during any given week. Are you as successful as you could be or as you want to be? How can you be more productive or successful in the - air quotes – 40 hours you spend at work each week?
Now, expand beyond work and consider your family life. I will include friends really – you social life, which includes family. How fulfilled are you in your personal life? Are you accomplishing what you want in this area? Do you feel like you are giving it the attention it needs?
Lets expand again. Now, what about your community life? When you think about everything you want to accomplish outside of work and our social circle, do you feel like you have a handle on it? Are you happy with the contribution you are making?
And finally, let me expand one more time. What about you personally? For yourself? What are your goals? Do you have hobbies? Is there a hobby you want to pursue that you haven’t?
It’s a lot to keep track of.
What do you want to accomplish at work, at home, in your community, and for yourself? How on earth do you balance it all?
How do you ensure that each and every week you are taking actions that align with these goals?
How do you balance your personal set of goals with other important people in your life?
You really can’t set your priorities without taking your bosses priorities into consideration. If you are in a relationship, you can’t set your priorities without taking your partner’s priorities into account. It can get overwhelming very quickly. That is exactly why so many people just ignore their priorities and let their life unfold the way it unfolds.
When you let life unfold, it has a tendency to be driven by the urgent things – regardless of how important they are.
North Star List
There is a tool that I use to help me keep track of it all. It helps me keep an eye on my priorities so that I can feel confident that I’m always acting in accordance with my priorities. I call it the North Star List, and although I’ve talked about it a lot on this podcast, today we are going to deep dive into it. My goals is that you leave this week with a North Star List of your own.
The way I describe the North Star List is that it is the job description for your life. Just like a job description outlines what you should be spending your time on at work, your North Star List outlines what you should be spending your time on in life.
As you think about the different areas of your life – work, social circle, community, and yourself, you are going to write out a description of what you want it to be for you. Don’t feel like you have to cover every scenario. Your North Star List is going to change over time because – well – your priorities change over time. Let’s just take work as an example.
When you first start working, you may have a priority to find a good solid job that has good potential for growth. Or maybe that has good potential to learn a specific skill you want to pursue. Then, over time you may decide that what you really want out of work is a certain title or a promotion and climbing the ladder is your top priority. And, if you are like me and you’ve been working for nearly 30 years, your priority ay move from climbing the ladder to just maintaining a paycheck because your priority is shifting from career to retirement.
Obviously, the same is true for your social circle. When you are young, your priority is likely a circle of friends. As you get older and start a family, it is likely your immediate family – your spouse and children. And, as you get older and your kids move out, it is likely going to shift back to friends.
So, as you can see, the priorities in each are of you life are going to shift over time. There will be times when your work/life balance is completely focused on work, and times when it is completely focused on life, and everything in between.
What the North Star List does is it helps you think about your priorities and ensure you are acting in alignment with them at all times.
So, let’s put together your North Star List. When you think about your life, what is your job description?
Start with your work. If you were writing a job description for the role work plays in your life, what would it be? Is it the central responsibility you have? Is it an important part of your job, but not the most important thing? Or is it one of those nice-to-have things that they always put in the last section of a job description? How would you describe the role your work has in your life?
My current North Star List has work listed as “provide for my family through a job that pays enough to provide the lifestyle we desire.” What does that tell you about my priorities? There is nothing in that statement about doing something I love or enjoy. There is nothing in that statement about a certain title or achieving anything other than – honestly – a paycheck. This is because I’m at the stage in my career where I’ve done everything I want to do and my job is no longer a focus for me. Don’t get me wrong – I still have to work and I still want to enjoy what I do, but as far as my priorities go – it doesn’t go beyond the paycheck. Practically speaking, what does it mean? It means that as I make my way through my week and I have to make decisions about my limited time, I let this priority drive those decisions. I don’t put a lot of overtime in because my priority isn’t to climb the ladder. I used to make decisions based on what might be good for my career. Now, I don’t because it is no longer such a priority. It is a subtle difference, but is so helpful in providing direction when I’m faced with decisions.
Ok, so lets turn to your social life. This includes family and friends. The next line in your job description should describe what you want this area of your life to look like. Knowing that you have to balance work with your social life. What is the priority for you when it comes to family and friends?
For example, my North Star List says “support my family by being present as a wife, daughter, sister, and friend.” That means I show up in meaningful ways for those people I love. Since I don’t have kids, there is no need to talk about the kind of parent I want to be. Your focus may be a lot more narrow if you are in a new relationship or have young children.
Next, think about the wider community. What role do you want to play in your community?
It may be that your answer is none. And, that’s ok. Again, over time, our focus changes. If you are young and have a new family and new career, you may not have any time for the wider community. There was a time when I very consciously called out my community involvement was limited to supporting organizations or causes I cared about financially because I could easily write a check, but giving my time was a much bigger challenge.
You can see how having this outlined in my North Star List made decisions easy. When I was asked to volunteer for something – having the North Star List to refer back to made it easy for me to say no because it wasn’t one of my priorities.
My current North Star List says “support my community by using my strengths too benefit organizations that serve missions that I believe in.”
Finally, it is important that you don’t forget about yourself. In your life’s job description, what is your current priority for yourself?
How do you take care of yourself? What is the top priority for yourself?
It may be tempting for you to say something about your work or family. Don’t. You’ve covered those already. It may feel selfish at first, but just do it anyway. If you don’t put yourself on your priority list, I can guarantee you won’t give yourself permission to do whatever it is that is important to you. And, that will lead to burnout.
For me, it is my podcasts. What will it be for you?
I’ll admit up-front that today’s topic is one of my pet peeves, so if I sound a little more preachy than normal, you’ll know why.
Today, we are going to talk about identifying busy work so you can get onto being productive. I guess I’m making the argument that being busy – fake busy – is standing in the way of being productive.
“When it comes to your effectiveness, fake work is often more dangerous than no work at all.” From The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry
I see it every day – people keeping themselves so busy with unimportant tasks that aren’t moving the needle for them. They get to the end of their day and they are exhausted, but they aren’t really making the impact that they want or need to make.
It really frustrates me to no end to see this happening. It is an easy trap to fall into because we, many times, are thinking very short term and feel like we need to do what we need to do just to keep our head above water in our day job.
What I want to do today is give you a framework for thinking about the work you are accomplishing and to help you move away from busy work and toward being more productive. It means working in a mode for most of your day that contributes to your priorities.
It is called the Productivity Mode Optimizer – and yes, that is PMO hidden in the title. Pretty cleaver, huh?
The Productivity Mode Optimizer is a pie chart that gives you a visual of how much of your time is being spent on activities that move the needle forward.
So, picture a pie chart that is divided into 3 slices:
This is the time you spend working on tasks beyond the point you should have. I don’t really mean that they were done too late. I mean that, you are doing the task and it is taking more time than it should because you are reacting to it rather than managing it. You are swimming as hard as you can to keep your head above water but you aren’t moving the needle forward.
When you are working in reactive mode, you are doing busy work that is unnecessary because you haven’t appropriately managed the situation. Reactive mode is diabolical – it keeps you busy so that you don’t think you have the time you need to do anything about it.
Although I think it is obvious, I guess I’d better say it out loud – you want the reactive mode section of your pie chart to be as small as possible.
This is when you are working on tasks before they are needed. This is where you move the needle forward. This is productivity personified. Of course, it isn’t easy to work in productive mode, or else we would all feel like we are very productive.
When you are working in productive mode, you are looking at a long term timeframe.
You are getting to the root cause of issues and addressing them.
You are thinking about how to solve problems rather than just reacting to them.
For me, Productivity Mode means I’m not in meeting or looking at emails. It means I’ve got some dedicated quiet time to work on solving a problem. Sometimes that means I’m standing in front of a whiteboard trying to work through the problem. Sometimes that means I am 10 feet deep into a complicated spreadsheet. And, sometimes it means I’m staring out a winding just thinking.
The hardest part about Proactive Mode is that it can easily get pushed aside by Reactive Mode. So, I want to emphasize that Proactive Mode has to be deliberate. You have to make time to be working in Proactive Mode.
You’ve got to remind yourself that the time spent in Proactive Mode is the productive bit. Feeling busy while in Reactive Mode makes you feel like you are getting stuff done, but it isn’t productive.
Busy is not always productive.
This is the time spent on your long term goals. You’ve got to be deliberate about this mode as well. How much time are you giving to your long term goals? What activities in your week are contributing to the long term goals you have set?
This podcast is built on the foundation of this mode. We set aside 10 minutes per week to add to your core business skills so that you can be more successful in your career. So, if you are a regular listener, you can put this 10 minutes into the Foundation Mode section of your pie chart.
But, what else are you doing? you should aim for this to be about 25% of your chart. It is a stretch goal for sure, but you’ve got to aim high to make a difference.
So, you homework for this week is to look back over the last month at what you’ve done and create your own Productivity Mode Optimizer chart.
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Fill in the pie chart to reflect your current division of time between Reactive Mode, Proactive Mode, and Foundation Mode. Are you happy with the allocation? If not, what can you do to move in the direction you want to move?
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