Great Employees are adept at figuring out when they have a winning idea, and can rally resources to help them turn those concepts into reality. With a Great Employee, the boss has a resource she can depend on to put forward creative ideas, develop innovative proposals and, more importantly, move the really good ones down the road. And while great subordinates sometimes lack the juice to convert ideas into completed initiatives all by themselves, they always lighten the load on the boss to the maximum extent possible.
Getting the job done is more than making a superhuman effort today on the current “emergency,” and then sliding back in to past bad practices when you aren’t recognized, rewarded, or simply feel lazy. Trust in someone’s ability to deliver the right results on time is something that is built up over time. The pattern is what’s important rather than just a singular event, something many employees fail to recognize. And it takes only a single negative experience to counteract many good ones.
Good judgement is the making of smart, perceptive, and insightful decisions and observations. It also involves an appreciation for context, timing, and situational awareness, in addition to basic factual correctness. While only a portion of this is an exact science, pure precision isn’t required. Get things directionally correct, and you’ll be doing better than the majority of subordinates.
Getting along is important in most social situations, and nowhere more so than when trying to collaborate with others to achieve goals as happens in the workplace. Sounds simple, but in execution it can anything but. Human beings are prickly creatures, particularly when their ultimate success is involved. Enmities develop, grudges are carried, and everywhere interpersonal friction chafes – it’s almost like we’re living in a soap opera.
Being an honest and trustworthy employee is not as simple as abruptly blurting out in a crowded meeting that the boss has toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. The honest employee speaks truth to the boss about things that actually matter – starting with anything that might be going wrong in his own area of responsibility. This can be tough, particularly when the boss is of a type where every “problem” must have a name attached to it. But if you aim to be a great employee, you must find a waythrough clever packaging and carefully selected timing.
High output is at least partially about quantity. In general, more is of higher value to a boss than less. And, truth be told, most bosses aren’t that particular about how an employee manages to deliver the quantity – whether through long hours, clever delegation, or taking it home and having their spouse do it. In my experience, a high output employee can get much more done than the average person. Sometimes by a factor of two or three. In a few jobs, by a factor of ten!
Corporate Politics, the blog is back! And with a new series of posts discussing the characteristics of Great Employees (from the perspective of their boss, naturally). This post provides an overview for the subsequent series.
Being anonymous is all about keeping one’s head down. Flying under the radar. Being an invisible cog in a giant machine. Often, an anonymous individual is a specialist of some sort whose work contribution is difficult to assess, and whose work content is a mystery to others.
When I finally figured out that my career was working at cross-purposes to my basic personality, I realized the hints of cognitive dissonance had been there for a long time. All the way back to when I was a kid.
The collective experiences of a corporation, especially those learned painfully through major errors, become informal but ingrained rules that most large organizations easily adopt. And large organizations, because of their size have greater breadth of experience and the consequent making of more mistakes, tend to accumulate such rules-of-thumb faster than their smaller cousins. Eventually, large corporations can become "rule-bound", unable to embrace new ideas because of the way each new innovation resembles some unpleasant experience from their past. When the world begins to change, these rules can become chains, preventing large organizations from responding to new trends.
There are a number of questions you can and should ask yourself (and, in some cases, others) before hitting the send key on that job application. Properly answered, these questions can at least prevent you from walking into a job that is a horrible mismatch.
And while a few probing questions can’t substitute for a true deep dive into what motivates and drives you, it can at least keep you pointed in the right direction.
Every organization has failures. Some are the result of an inaccurate estimate of required resources. Others are caused by incorrect assumptions, a failure to properly predict competitive response, or simply proposing an idea that can’t be physically accomplished. A few fail because external circumstances unpredictably change during the project’s development. Another cause of failure is moving forward with unclear goals or targets. In my experience, the least common failure source is a lack of effort or foolish mistakes – yet most large companies treat every failure as if it was caused by this last category.
True work friendship involves casual time spent together for reasons other than a specific business purpose, and a degree of mutual disclosure that exposes a person to some risk if the friend turned out to be a faker (which is a real risk in corporate relationships). Most “work friendships” are what I’ve sometimes called “friendships of convenience.” Such relationships have almost no depth to them and are usually entered into and terminated based on who you’re around on a regular basis and who might be “useful” in the immediate future.
As a business owner, I tend focus on the basics. Selling, producing, invoicing, collecting, and a little bit of accounting to keep score – these actions are the things that make the business successful. Things like elaborate strategies (and their associated presentations,) multi-year marketing plans, detailed job descriptions and performance reviews, IT recovery plans -- take a back seat to day-to-day blocking and tackling.
There is no doubt my best boss had more freedom to act than the average manager based on his sterling reputation alone. And while he would have still been my greatest supervisor if he hadn’t had this credibility, it definitely enhanced his other skills and abilities.
The most destructive element of office politics – and it happened frequently at this firm -- is that good employees were tossed out of the organization (a few voluntarily, and most involuntarily). Yes, there are droves of potential back-ups out there salivating over available jobs, but in many cases the replacements of political maneuvering losses were not a trade up. And employee churn costs money, by itself.
One of the most helpful things my best boss did was to step in front of those speeding bullets while simultaneously shielding me and his other subordinates from the vagaries of the “blame game.”
Doing this took a high level of commitment to his team. It took a keen insight into where things might be headed. And most of all it took guts.
Of the various corporate efficiency diseases, this one is pervasive. In fact, it is so common that companies design systems to align personal agendas with corporate strategies. These systems include things like: accounting segregation of duties, incentive systems craftily designed to produce specific behaviors, corporate ethics officers and whistleblower policies, and many other, similar things.
Even with all this effort, the systems are still woefully inadequate. Why? They buck human nature and are too cumbersome to respond to changes in priorities among individual employees.
Most of us eventually learn how to keep our tempers in check. We roll our eyes, shake our heads and walk away, have a pet phrase that we repeat over and over to sooth our nerves. Mastery of one’s temper is a part of acting like an adult. And we all know the potential consequences of a lost temper – embarrassment, lost friendships, new and unexpected enemies, and in extreme instances even violence.
We manage tempers like big boys and girls.
Unless we happen to be the boss. Then all bets are off. Many bosses seem to feel that subordinates need, or even want, to see them display their tempers.
Large firms have a lot to lose if they fail to comply with laws and regulations. Reputations are of critical importance to high profile organizations (admittedly, not all large firms fit into this category) and any misdeed, no matter how seemingly innocuous, can become cannon fodder aimed at their good name. They live in fear that their reputation will be damaged by some small act of non-compliance, and this non-compliance will have a large, detrimental impact on the organization at large.