Money for Nothing

Image from Money for Nothing Music Video
Photo from original Money For Nothing video by Dire Straits.

One of my all-time favorite songs is Dire Straits, “Money For Nothing” from their Brothers In Arms album. In case you need a reminder, here’s the full song in the officially uploaded version on YouTube.

According to published interviews, Mark Knopfler wrote the song after overhearing a guy working in an appliance store make comments about videos playing on the display TVs that were tuned to MTV. From that guy’s perspective, being a rock star was easy money. You just stand there, play guitar, prance around the stage, etc.

This song came to mind lately with a series of quotes coming out of the White House. Stick with me. I am not going political on you.

Here are a few of them:

1. “This is more work than in my previous life.”
2. “I thought it would be easier.”
3. “I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go quicker.”
4. “It’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Have we not all at some point looked at what someone else was doing and thought to ourselves how easy that job would be? And have we not had the experience of getting that job or that project and finding out that it was much more difficult than we expected?

I recently told a group of people that what I am doing now is the hardest thing I have ever done. They were shocked. How could being a speaker and entertainer be more difficult than managing major data center networks on a global scale? I’m not complaining. It’s worth it. Every single day. But, it’s incredibly hard work. Sure, being on stage looks easy. And, frankly, once the lights come up, that is the easy part – thanks to countless hours of practice and preparation. Getting there is the hard part.

In the corporate world, I know many people who think that the job gets easier the higher up the company ladder you climb. All they see are the perks. They see people in those jobs who make it look easy. Having been on that ladder myself, I can tell you that while each rung brings a better view, it also comes with a price.

Only you can determine whether the perks are worth the effort. Banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee can be fun and those just might be Hawaiian noises. But, you won’t get money for nothing. It is definitely work. You might as well make it fun.

 

Going Up?

Photo of elevator buttons
Photo copyright ©2017 Tim Gard. Used with permission.

I recently entered an elevator after making a mad dash to catch it before the doors closed. When I got in, one of the people already inside said, “Good thing you caught it. This elevator is really slow.”

As we stood waiting for it to start moving, I was beginning to agree with her. Then we all realized nobody had pressed a button. No wonder it was slow.

Is your career suffering from this same thing? You’re there, in the elevator, briefcase in hand, dressed for work, but it’s not moving.

Did you remember to press the button?

Too obscure? Allow me to be blatantly obvious in the analogy.

Are you wondering why you haven’t received the promotion you are hoping for? Are you wondering why you never seem to get assigned to the fun projects?

Have you tried pushing the button?

If you are hoping for a promotion, does anyone know? Have you had clear conversations with your boss about your desire for upward career mobility? Have you applied for openings in other departments? Have you asked what steps you can take to prepare yourself for the next opportunity?

If you are wondering why you never seem to get assigned to the projects you’d most like, have you given your boss an indication of your real interests? Have you had a conversation with your boss, in a non-whining manner, where you express, “You know, I would have enjoyed working on that project. When another one like that comes along, is there something I should do to be considered for it?”

Read those last two sentences again carefully. Together, they provide your boss with a clear indication of what you desire while assigning responsibility for making it happen squarely on you.

It’s up to you to make your intentions known. It’s up to you to make sure you are qualified for what you seek. It’s up to you to press the button.

 

Difficult People

Picture of Gus - the Office Curmudgeon
Gus – The Office Curmudgeon

Who is your office curmudgeon?

The most frequent questions I get when presenting leadership programs to corporate audiences are about dealing with difficult people. This is one of my favorite topics. Why? Because often your difficult people are the best people to have on the team.

Every team is going to have at least one challenging person. (Note: If you can’t identify the difficult person, it just might be you.)

Here’s my 2 question guide for dealing with difficult people.

Question #1 – Are they worth it?

If you strip away all of the personality quirks and interpersonal challenges, is this person good at their job? Are they otherwise making a solid contribution to the team?

If the answer is “No,” then we’re done here. You know what needs to be done and you don’t need me to tell you what that is. Go do it now.

If the answer is “Yes,” congratulations. Keep reading.

Question #2 – Is the difficulty internal or external to the team?

External – I call this one the rock star. In true rock star fashion, this person is excellent at their instrument. They may or may not be the lead singer. They might be the drummer who is never seen, but the underlying beat and rhythm they lay down is unmistakable. The true rock star is highly respected by the team for their knowledge and skills. Others turn to them for advice and guidance. These are fantastic people to have on your team. In the corporate world they are often called “guru” or “SME” (Subject Matter Expert).

I love rock stars. Gus, one of the characters in my act (pictured above), is patterned heavily after rock stars I’ve had on my teams. My top two methods of handling these rock stars:

a) Work with them to develop better interpersonal skills outside the team. Good luck with this. I hope you have more success with this approach than I ever did. Be patient, persistent and extremely clear in your conversations.

b) Never send them out into the world alone. If you know that interaction with others outside your group is going to be necessary, send someone else along with your SME to act as the buffer and outward interface. I’ve had repeated success with method and it is therefore my favorite. Be clear to both the SME and the person playing buffer what you are doing, why, and their specific roles. Your rock star with rough edges knows the deal. They’ll thank you for providing them a way to do their job.

Internal – I call this one the diva. The diva is also highly skilled in their job. But, they are different from the rock star in that they see the team as a supporting structure for them, personally. They insist on being in the spotlight. They often grab for the more interesting projects, thinking that since they are “the best” on the team, they should have first dibs on new projects coming into the group. They think hoarding their knowledge is a good way to ensure job security.

Outside of the team, most people do not see this behind the scenes drama playing out. All they know is this person is good at their job, asking “Can’t they be the one I work with all the time?”

I struggle with divas. Here’s the best I can suggest:

a) Work with them to adjust their behavior. Be extremely clear about how their behavior is negatively impacting the team and by extension the organization. Encourage them to become a leader within the team. Help them understand what that means – it’s not a title, it’s a behavior. Good luck.

b) Redefine job duties. If you can find a way to redefine roles and responsibilities so that this person’s natural inclination toward the spotlight can be used to benefit the team and/or the organization as a whole, do it. Sometimes this means transferring this highly skilled person to another department. It can be difficult. But, if done right, it can be a fantastic move for all.

Good luck with your difficult people. They are worth it.

 

Do you trust your co-workers this much?

Amazon is building two large data centers in my neighborhood. That means they need power. Lots of power. And redundancy.

Each of the two data centers has a new power substation. The next phase is installing redundant power feeds to these substations.

For the last couple months they have been running new power lines along the large transmission towers that feed the new substations. Have you ever wondered how they do that? I happened to capture a bit of it from my phone in this video:

(If the video isn’t in your view, here’s the direct link: https://youtu.be/08idUIjEkN4)

As I watched these people working, it occurred to me how much trust there must be between the individuals on this crew. The obvious one is the guy (we’re just going to go with “guy” here) hanging in the harness. Clearly he has to have an enormous amount of trust in the helicopter pilot. A friend tells me the line on the other side of this tower are live, at 138,000 Volts. Ouch!

The less obvious trust factor is on the pilot’s part. Let’s face it, if that guy hanging in the harness gets tangled, the pilot is in just as much trouble.

Do you have that level of trust with your co-workers?

While this level of immediate self-destruction might not result if either you or your co-worker fails at their job, there is still a need for trust. There is still a level of dependency. At the most base level, each of you is depending on the organization for which you work to be financially viable so that your paychecks can continue. That relies on the overall success of the organization, which in turn relies on each individual doing their job.

Do you trust your co-workers? Do they trust you? For better or worse, you are in this together.

 

Doing the Hokey Pokey

You put your left hand in, you put your left hand out, you put your left hand in, and you shake it all about…

Do you know the song? I’m sure you do. Sorry if it is now stuck in your head.

What does that have to do with making work fun? Everything.

It is coming up on 4 years since I left the comforts of the corner office to pursue this dream of being a full-time corporate entertainer and speaker. But, it is only a bit over a month since I closed the last door on my former world of being an IT guy.

Soon after leaving the full-time IT executive job, I signed on with an IT services company as a consultant, doing odd projects as they fit my schedule and interest. It was very sporadic. The projects were few and far between. But, it kept me connected to the old world. Why? I guess I was keeping a toe in the waters. You might call it a plan B. You know, if this puppet thing doesn’t work out, I can always go back.

What it did, though, was provide excuses. It allowed me to hold back in pursuing some gigs when I really needed to be aggressive to win them. It allowed me to say to myself, “Oh, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have any gigs next month. You can just go fill in with some IT stuff.”

Then when I would get calls for IT projects, I found myself being annoyed. I didn’t really want to do that work. The joy in that work is no longer there for me. And every time I was out on one of those jobs, I would be thinking about all of the opportunities I was missing by not being able to return that phone call immediately, or polish that new joke I had been working on.

So, I finally pulled the plug, closed the door, moved on. Pick your own metaphor. Whatever you call it, I quit the IT consulting job. There is no more safety net.

Darren LaCroix tells a story of getting started in the speaking business, making reference to an old job he clung to for security. He says a friend told him, “That’s not a safety net. It’s a drag net.” There is so much truth to that statement.  (Side note: Darren produces some of the best speaker training programs available.)

What are you clinging to from your past? What pond are you still dipping a toe into for some sense of security? Where are you simply being stubborn about letting go?

If you really, truly want to achieve your goals, you have to be committed. You have to be all in.

Stop putting only a left hand, or a right foot in your pursuit of your dreams. Get to the end of the song. Put your whole self in and shake it all about.

 

Cherry Blossoms

Photo of Cherry Blossom Festival

It’s Cherry Blossom season. And that got me thinking about one of my old bosses.

For the first half of my career, I  was a software engineer. At one point, the team I was on had grown to where we needed to divide. There were too many of us for a single manager. One of my peers became my manager.

I have always made it a point to learn from the mistakes of others. I learned a lot from this guy. He made many of what I now understand to be classic first-time manager mistakes. (Side note: To all of you who had the misfortune of living through MY mistakes as a first-time manager, please accept my apologies, many years too late.)

One of the biggest mistakes this particular manager made was cherry picking the projects he wanted to work on, and then divvying out what was left to the rest of us.

cherry-pick
verb
1. (transitive) to choose or take the best or most profitable of (a number of things), esp for one's own benefit or gain

Up until this point, we had been equals, with a pretty fair distribution of fun and exciting projects between us. To go from that to picking up the leftovers was not fun at all.

Are you a “working manager?” Do you still do much of the same work as those on your team? Beware of cherry picking your projects.

Instead, seek to nurture your staff. Provide them challenges so they can blossom.

Hiring is Easy

Photo of Easter Egg race
Photo copyright ©2004 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

Have you seen or heard the ads for Zip Recruiter? They are running a major campaign in my area, with a steady stream of plays on both radio and TV.

Their message is clear: Hiring is hard. You have more important things to do. We make it easier and save you time.

I hate these ads. They perpetuate the belief that hiring is hard (it’s not). They reinforce a belief among so many hiring managers that they have more important things to do than spend it hiring (they don’t).

Hiring is not hard. But, it does require time, energy and effort.

Hiring is important. If you have a position on your staff that truly needs to be filled, then there is no more important task than devoting the time to finding the right person for the job. If you don’t find this to be one of your highest priority items, then you are saying by your actions that filling the position is not that important.

One of my former places of employment had a system for hiring that I came to appreciate. It was similar to the airline model of overselling seats on a plane. There would be a limited number of positions that could be filled, but they would allow more than that number of openings to be posted. It created somewhat of a race to fill your posted positions. It forced you as hiring manager to devote time and energy to the process. If you didn’t act quickly, your posted position could be shut out by someone else hiring faster.

While there were people who complained about this, it did enforce a truism: those departments that had real need to fill the posted positions found a way to devote the time and energy to make it happen. Those departments that dragged their feet and managed to continue to do their jobs as-is, demonstrated that they could get by just fine without filling that position.

When my kids were young, we took them to a local park for the annual Easter Egg hunt. It was more of a race than a hunt. Scattered around a field were plastic eggs filled with candy. The kids would line up on the edges of the field with baskets in hand, waiting. When the horn blew, the mad dash was on. Each kid went running onto the field to grab as many eggs as they could. There were only so many eggs to go around.

Some kids got it. They knew they had to run and act quickly. They walked off the field with overflowing baskets. Other kids were a bit slower to catch on. They stood back, watching. They’d eventually head onto the field, stuck with picking up the few eggs left behind, overlooked by those who went first.

Hiring is like this. It is a race. There are only so many candidates out there. It is your job to rush onto the field, cull through the candidates quickly and select those who will be the best fit for your team. If you hold back, if you spend your time watching, or looking up in the sky at the clouds and the birds, you’ll be stuck with only what is left over.

I am sure that Zip Recruiter, Indeed and their competitors do make the job of hiring easier. I am sure they provide a valuable service. But, let’s not allow their message that you have more important things to do become our operating model. Rush the field. Fill your basket.

 

Rut vs Groove

Photo of Grand Canyon
Photo copyright ©2011 David J. Crone. All rights reserved.

I love being in a groove. When I’m in a groove, everything flows smoothly. I know what to expect. I feel confident.

Ruts are similar. When I’m in a rut, things flow smoothly. I know what to expect. But, I feel bored.

What’s the difference? Attitude.

From Dictionary.com:

Rut:
3. a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising

Groove:
3. a fixed routine

Based on these definitions, you might say a groove is a rut without the bad attitude. A rut is a groove we don’t want to be in.

Sometimes what starts as a groove becomes a rut. Sometimes, a rut can transform into a groove.

If the Colorado River could talk, would it say it is more in its glory at the beginning of the Grand Canyon? Or would it be happier flowing through the vast caverns of the high walls it created?

Many times, the difference is a matter of who put us there. Is this something we do the same way every time by choice? Or are we doing this over and over again only because it is expected?

That’s not always the deciding factor. Airline pilots are well known for following a preflight checklist. They go through the same list every time. Yet, I’ve never known a pilot to complain about this being a rut.

Often, the only part we can control is our attitude. Is there something you have to do on a regular basis that has you feeling like you are stuck in a rut? Sometimes all it takes to feel unstuck is to change the environment.

Even a rut can be comfortable. A friend of mine says, “I like to get into a rut and decorate it.”

We all have coping mechanisms. Mine is music. The easiest way for me to get into a groove while doing a repetitive task that has me feeling like I am stuck is to put on some music. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly that will lift my mood.

What simple steps can you take to go from rut to groove?

 

 

Clean Your Plate

Sign: Clean Plate Required For Second Serving
Copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

I can’t remember the last time I was bored. There is never a shortage of projects going on at any given time. As a home owner, family guy and self-employed business owner, there is always something new coming up – from mundane maintenance projects to exciting new business ventures.

How long is your to-do list? We are constantly adding more to it. Sometimes this is by choice. Other times it is like having dinner at your friend’s house with the Italian mother who keeps heaping more onto your plate without asking. You don’t dare refuse.

The problem is, each new project takes away time from completing what is already in the works.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could complete one project before we start in on the next one?

I will admit that sometimes I take on a new project specifically as a way to procrastinate the next step on a current endeavor. This next step is going to be hard. I don’t know how to do it. Or, any other selection from a long list of excuses.

Perhaps you can relate.

Have you ever been to a potluck dinner?  What is your strategy? Mine is to plan on two trips. The first trip is to grab a small sample of as many different things as possible. Then the second trip is to get more of the one or two things I most enjoyed. The trick is that when you go back for that second trip, you have to enter the line with a clean plate – either because you finished what was on it, or because you tossed the undesirable items in the trash.

Lately I have been applying this strategy to my to-do list. Each week I start with a fresh, blank to-do list – a clean plate. As I plan out the week, some items from the week before get added to the new list. But, many items that seemed so important last week don’t. By starting with a blank list each week, it forces me to reconsider which items are the most important.

Clean your plate.

 

 

False Handcuffs

Photo of dog at doorway
Copyright ©2017 David J Crone. All rights reserved.

I recently started a project to rebuild the screened porch on our house, replacing sections of rotted wood. Part of the preparation work involved removing all of the existing screens and the door from the frame.

One of our two dogs realized immediately that the door was no longer there and she could go in and out freely. This same dog also quickly realized that the screens were not there and she could go on or off the porch anywhere she wanted.

The other dog, the one shown in the photo above, was not so quick on the uptake. When he wanted to come in, he continued to stand at the now empty door frame and bark. For 3 full days, I had to go out to the porch and stand next to the empty frame before he would make the leap over the threshold. The first day, I had to mimic the motion of opening the non-existent door. He now goes through this empty doorway without further encouragement. But, he still uses the doorway, not any other open area of the porch.

Which dog are you?

We all have this tendency to varying degrees. We have done something in a certain way for so long, it never occurs to us to try it a different way. Or, we have hit the same resistance so many times that we believe we can’t do it.

What barriers are standing in your way? Are they still there? Are you sure?