Rock Solid Mediocrity

Photo of the turtle of mediocrity
Mediocre Turtle – copyright ©2016 David J Crone

Last weekend I spoke at the Ohio Linux Fest in Columbus, OH, giving a presentation called, Situational Leadership – Leading when you are not the boss.” During the Q & A session, I was asked for a few ideas on how to take people on your team from Mediocre to Great. While I think my answer at the time was OK. In hindsight, I’d have to say it was mediocre.

Anyone who knows me well, knows my feelings about mediocrity. If you want a refresher, here is a previous post on the topic.

After a bit of thought, I think there’s a better answer I could have given. It starts with two questions:

Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?  [A: Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.]

Q: Is the person capable of doing better? That is, are they currently coasting along doing just enough to get by, or are they already operating at the top of their game?

The first question, while stated in the form of an old classic joke, is critical. Does the person want to change? Do they have any interest at all in doing better, improving their skills, or their level of performance?

The second question is even more critical. It’s also not always an easy one to answer. You, as team leader / captain / manager, can’t necessarily answer it. You may have an opinion (He’s just lazy!), but you might be wrong. It is entirely possible that the person IS capable of doing more / better / faster, if only given the proper motivation and probably additional education. And it’s also possible that they simply don’t care.

But, here’s the deal. Sometimes you have someone on your team who is a rock solid mediocre performer. And guess what? Sometimes that’s just fine.

What? Did you just say it was OK to be mediocre? Yep. I did.

For some people, a job is just that – a job. It is something to which they show up, turn the crank, then leave. And they do it day after day after day.

It is that very rock solid level of dependability that makes them valuable members of the team, just as they are.

Now, personally, I have trouble relating to these people. Because I think work can be so much more. Thus, this blog. But, just because I can’t relate, doesn’t mean I can’t also honor and respect them. And make good use of them.

Not “take advantage” of them. Utilize them.

Many times, we need someone on the team who is willing to do the tedious, day after day, steady tasks. I find this kind of thing boring and can think of little I would want to do less. But, there are people who find great satisfaction in showing up, turning the crank, doing the same repetitive set of tasks day after day after day. It is this very repetitiveness (that I find boring) that brings them joy.

Sometimes that mediocre team member is the bedrock of a high-performing team.

So, if you have a mediocre performer on your team who is clearly capable of doing more AND they have an interest in becoming better, by all means support and encourage them. But, if that mediocre performer happens to be your rock solid, steady on, reliable, day to day task tackler, be grateful they’re on your team and move on.

Do the one thing

To do list

It happens to all of us. OK, it happens to me often, so I have to assume it happens to all of us. Maybe you are unique and you don’t suffer from this problem. Or, maybe you’re just kidding yourself.

It’s there. Right in front of you. That one thing that needs to be done. It’s a simple thing, really. If you just stepped forward and did it, you’d feel better.

It could be anything. It could be picking up the phone to call that person you know you need to call. A simple phone call. How hard can that be? Wait. I need to get my coffee first. And a notebook. Where did I put that notebook? And my special pen. I can’t take notes without my special pen. Oh, this won’t do. The lighting isn’t quite right here. Let’s adjust that.

Next thing you know, it’s well past normal daytime working hours and you tell yourself the person you’re going to call is certainly gone for the day. I’ll call tomorrow.

Or exercise. Yeah. Exercise will make me feel great. First I have to change clothes. Where are my workout sneakers? And those yoga pants. OK, I’m dressed. Oh, I have to move all the stuff off the treadmill. Where am I going to put it all? Not yet. I forgot to get my water bottle. Hydration is important, you know. Where’s my iPod? Let’s download that new playlist. That’ll get me motivated.

See where this is going? Nowhere.

What are you resisting? How many roadblocks are you putting in your own way to make you feel better about not doing that one simple thing?

Be aware of those self-destructive procrastination habits. Do the one thing that needs to be done. And then the next. And the next. Keep it simple.

No special pen will make you feel as wonderful as crossing off that one item on your to-do list, even if you use an old crayon to do it.

 

First things first

Do you remember being a kid in school and answering this question:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When asked that question, most of us immediately think in terms of the job we will do. Fireman, policeman, doctor, lawyer, astronaut, nurse, etc.

FIREMAN DAVID
Photo copyright John R. Crone. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

The question itself is flawed. It causes us to think of the wrong things. It puts way too much emphasis on what we want to get paid for instead of what we want to live for.

A better question would be,

Who do you want to be when you grow up?

What do you want your life to look like? Single? Married? Kids? Lifestyle? Travel? Leisure time?

My perspective:

  1. Define your life goals
  2. Form your career to support that life
  3. When in doubt, go back to step one

With that fresh perspective in mind, take a moment to ponder these questions for yourself:

  • Who do you want to be?
  • What is the life that you want to live?
  • If money were no object, what would you choose to be doing with your life right now?
  • What do you need to do to make that a reality?

Live Long And Prosper

 

3 Tips For A Better Company Holiday Party

It’s time for the annual holiday parties. Is your company hosting one for your employees?

Allow me a moment to play “Captain Obvious” and provide a few tips. None of these are earth shattering, but they are often overlooked

1. Make it count – How often do you get your whole crew together? If you’re like most of my clients, not very often. 1-3 times per year is pretty typical. So, it’s really important to make it count when you do. Splurge a little on your guests and make them feel special.

2. Greet your guests as they arrive – This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how effective this is and how often it is overlooked. Assign 2-4 people the role of official greeter and position them near the doors. A warm smile and a hand shake will do wonders to get your event off to a great start.

3. Get your leaders to mingle – Let’s face it. We’re all human, even the company leaders. That means we tend to be most comfortable hanging out with our friends. Some company leaders are natural minglers. Others, not so much. Encourage your leaders to step outside their normal circle of colleagues and have them make a point of mingling and talking with people they don’t see on a daily basis.

And one more bonus tip …

4. Book your entertainment early – You knew that was coming. My advice? 6 months minimum, especially for events during major holiday seasons, like December and January.

I hope your event this year is your best one ever.

 

Move on

Have you ever felt guilty about leaving a job? Have you ever allowed this guilt to hold you back from moving on, whether to another company or simply another position within the same company?

hand in water

Perhaps you’ll appreciate this advice given to me by an HR manager at a company I was working for at the time:

“Picture a bucket of water. Imagine putting your hand into the bucket of water. Now pull it out. See how quickly the water fills in the space where your hand was? That’s how long you’ll be missed.”

Ouch!

But, he was right. In the instance that prompted the above conversation, I took the new position. Amazingly enough, my former department did not implode. They did not fall apart. Life continued. In fact, my departure created an opening, an opportunity, for someone else to step up and grow. It was good for everyone.

So many times we hold ourselves back from new opportunities out of some misplaced sense of responsibility. Sure, we might be missed – for a while. However, moving on when the time is right provides us with new challenges, new insights, and new avenues of personal growth. And, just as important, it creates opportunities for growth in others as they step in to fill the role we are leaving.

Next time you find yourself hesitating to jump because you are worried about those you’ll be leaving behind, picture that bucket of water. Make the jump.

 

Take the stage with confidence

When you present your ideas to your boss, what is your approach? Are you sheepish, shy, subdued? Or are you bold, confident, maybe even brash?

Having been on both sides of that exchange, I can say that confidence wins every time.

Exude confidence
Exude confidence

If you ever have the opportunity (or burden…) of standing on stage to present, the single most important thing you can do to ensure success is to mount the stage with confidence and a smile. What you display, the audience will assume.

If you appear confident, the audience will presume you know what you are talking about. The opposite is equally true.

The same applies when meeting with your boss and your peers. A smile and a positive posture of confidence will gain you more leverage and leeway in whatever it is you wish to do.  Have a harebrained idea you want to act on? Present it boldly, with confidence and a smile.

As a comedian, I have found that how I take the stage, and how I present each joke, is far more important than the words in the joke. If I deliver it with intention and courage, even a bad joke will have more likelihood of scoring a good laugh. However, if I deliver it with a voice and presence that suggests I’m not so sure of the joke, it will invariably fall flat.

Be bold. Make your case with confidence.

Culture vs Competence

In my most recent blog post, I suggested that making sure there is a good cultural fit between the employer and employee is an important consideration.  And that during the interview process, it is equally important for both the company and the individual applying for a position to ask questions around this topic.

The very next day, Dilbert started a series of comics making fun of the whole concept of hiring based on cultural fit. I won’t violate Scott Adams’ copyrights by pasting his actual comic strip here, but you can click on this link to see one of my favorites in that series. Or do a search on the Dilbert site. My favorite of the series ran on September 29, 2014.

Some people would say, “Well, he told you!”  I would say, we’re both right.

In the comic, a good cultural fit is being held up as an alternative to a competent employee. Understand that competence, to me, is a basic level of qualification. Being competent is your permission to even interview for a given position. This is not an either/or, mutually exclusive decision. Obviously, employers need to find competent candidates.

But, once competence has been established, chances are very good that there will be several candidates still in the running. That is when cultural fit comes into play.

You can have both.

Dating Game

If you’ve ever compared job fairs to speed-dating, that comparison just got more interesting.

speed-dating

eHarmony, the company known for using personality profiling to create the perfect match for those looking for a personal relationship, recently announced they are getting into the job search and recruiting business. And I’m all for it.

Those of you who have paid attention to this blog at all know that I am a huge proponent of finding a good fit between employer and employee. The search and interview process must be a two-way street. The prospective employee should be asking just as many deep, probing questions as the hiring company.

Matching an employee’s personal style to the culture of an organization is a critical component of long term satisfaction and success for both the employee and the company.

I am hopeful for what the eHarmony approach can bring to this field. I am equally excited about other job-matching services paying attention to this and possibly adding more personality and culture-matching algorithms to their search engines.

In the end, we all benefit. Because Work Should Be Fun!

 


 

PS – If you are an employer who can’t wait for the eHarmony product launch, consider the services of someone such as my friend, Michael Spremulli. His company provides pre-employment assessments that will help you match the right person to the right job.

 

Trust and empowerment

Today I take a slight turn and refer you to the blog posting of one of my former bosses. He captures the essence of what made our work at AOL fun – trust and empowerment.

I can cite numerous examples of the absolute trust my boss(es) placed in me and my team, even in the face of major system outages. It wasn’t just during a crisis that this trust was exhibited. It was evident in every day decision making.

This trust and empowerment permeated throughout the operations organization. Individuals knew they were not only trusted, but EXPECTED to make major decisions and take quick action every day. I feel quite fortunate to have worked at this place at the time that I did.

Here is Joe’s blog.

aol-logo-american-online

As you read it, pay attention to the involvement of Joe’s boss and the CEO.

Have you ever experienced work in an environment like this?  How would your current work environment change if this level of deep respect and trust existed?

 

Success metrics

How do you measure success?

Last week I entertained at the Huron County Fair in Norwalk, OH, doing 3 shows each day from Monday through Saturday. It was a lot of fun, especially with the fantastic crowds and super weather.

David at the Huron County Fair - Photo courtesy of the Norwalk Reflector
David at the Huron County Fair – Photo courtesy of the Norwalk Reflector

Sharing the grassy area stage with me was Bobby Maverick, a magician and escape artist. For years, Bobby made his living as a street performer, or Busker. We got to talking about how we measure our success as entertainers. Bobby told me how much he loves performing on a street corner, with the only payment being what shows up in your upturned hat when you’re done. He explained that it doesn’t matter how many laughs you get or how loud the applause, the only thing that matters to a street performer is how much money is in that hat.

Many comedians measure their success by laughs per minute during their set. Jeff Dunham, for example, strives for a sustained 6-7 laughs per minute during his 90-minute shows. Do the math. That’s a lot of laughs. It also explains why people are sore for days after going to one of his shows.

My goal is to entertain the audience. Sure, I want the audience to laugh – a lot. But, I’m not going for the level of sustained laughter that Jeff seeks. My act is specifically designed to generate waves of strong laughter with some pleasant rest periods in between. So, a sustained rate of 5-7 laughs per minute over the entire show is not the right metric for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I am always looking for ways to make the peaks stronger and the valleys narrower. But, much like a band that mixes in some slow songs to give the audience a break between the hard driving numbers, I intentionally mix in some segments that are designed to let the audience catch their breath.

During the fair, I realized two metrics that I can use instead. First is repeat audience attendance. I’ve been doing fairs for years and it has always amazed me that with all of the things going on at these events, people would make the choice to come back and see my show numerous times.

It is flattering. It also makes me work harder to do different shows each time.

Second is how many people pull out their cell phones to capture my act on video. I know many entertainers who get all bent out of shape when people record their shows. I find it amazingly flattering. If someone is enjoying what I am doing so much that they have the desire to record it, I’ll take that compliment every time. The reality is that people rarely try to record the whole thing. Something clicks with them and they pull out their phone to capture some small portion of the act. The more this happens, the more I know I am providing a show that they are enjoying.

The repeat attendee metric only works for extended runs like fairs. The cell phone metric, however, is appropriate for pretty much all of my work, including the audiences I serve the most – company and association events. Now my task is to set some targets for these metrics and figure out ways to actually track them.

What are your metrics? What is the best way to gauge the success of your performance?