I’m a student of human nature. I like to listen and watch how people react under various circumstances and I’m always trying to figure out why they act this way in a hope that with that understanding I will be able to have a better interactions in the future. One question that recently popped up in my mind is how much your tenure with a company impacts the way you get things done. And more importantly, are the tenured people who always seems to be able to get things done really so good or do they just know how to work the system?
How do you get things done?
Do you rely more on your skills, or the knowledge of the system? Chances are that you follow the standard trajectory. As a newbie you have no history with the company and no knowledge of the systems and people so you are forced to rely on your skills and past experiences. Even if you have done the same task before there is no guarantee that repeating the past experience will work in your new job. You need to be very open to learning the systems and people in your new gig.
As you are more and more tenured your strategy of getting things done will change. You will be able to rely more on the system and your knowledge of ins and outs of the company, you will have forged relationships with various stakeholders who will be able to help you out with your current task. You will rely less and less on your own skills and will utilize the system. And just to be clear, I’m talking about your managerial or leadership role.
The result? You are getting things done faster and better than the newbie could even if the other guy who just joined may have better skills. So far so good. Unfortunately, there is a flip side. By relying on the system you are giving away the need to sharpen your skills and learn new ways of doing things, you stop changing and growing.
How much effort and creativity do you really put in?
So how much effort do you truly put into your task? As you are tenured it takes less and less effort to get things done. You know the ropes, you know where to push, and who to talk to. You know where the bottle necks are so you go around them, or if not possible, you won’t get frustrated by seeing them again. At some point you will realize that the work you are doing is rather without challenges and all it takes to get things done is to repeat the same formula you used several times before and just give it the time it needs.
If you give up on finding creative ways how to tackle the problem at hand you know that you don’t rely on your skills as much as on your knowledge of the system. Once again, nothing wrong with that. Things will be done as they always were, you and your work will be predictable and the business will prosper. For now. Again, there is a flipside. Nothing new and exciting was ever build by doing things the way they were always done so ultimately the business is not reaching its full potential. And neither are you. If you don’t try new way to solve problems you will not learn anything new, you will never change and no change means no growth. Both for you and for the business.
Are you able to teach others how to get things done?
A great way to recognize what stage you are at is to consider how you teach others. Are you able to mentor and coach your team into truly building new skills? As opposed to just saying things like “well, you need to know who to talk to.” This one seems to be really critical. People who rely more on system than on their own skills may have troubles mentoring others. Or rather than mentoring for “how to become a better person” they mentor for “how to play the system”. This may not be immediately recognized by neither the mentor nor the mentee. And in fact, at first glance there is nothing wrong with either approach.
The first type of mentoring and guiding is focus on enhancing mentee’s skills and ability to get things done regardless of circumstances of the project or company. In this case the focus is on transferable skills like good communication, ability to negotiate win-win situations, ability to get things done regardless of reporting structure, ability to grow people, mentor and coach them or understanding the value of resources.
The other approach is purely focused on how to get things done in your current project or your current company. Because the mentor in this case focuses so much on how to get things now, in this project, under these circumstances the immediate effect might be even better than in the first case.
However, when the circumstances change the person mentored on “how to become better” will be able to adjust since the skills he or she learned are transferable. The person who was taught “how to play the system” will get lost when the system changes. The first person was taught principles. The second person was taught tasks and workarounds. The first person strives in change. The second person panics, blames everyone around, resists, complains, and generally just doesn’t know what to do.
Do you learn something new every day?
So ask yourself. Do you learn something new every day and do you exercise your mind to come up with innovative ideas? If the answer is “no” then you probably rely too much on your knowledge of the system and you are not growing. What is worse, if you are in a leadership position you may not even provide the right type of guidance to your team. And let’s be clear here, it is only your fault. Not the company, not your boss, not the environment, it is you who can decide whether to learn and grow or not. You just need to be creative.
So how to change the status quo and start growing again? Common sense dictates that you need to try something new. Talk to a new person you never talked to before, reach out to another department and offer help, volunteer for mentoring newbies or to take on a task outside of your job responsibilities. Make it a point to introduce small innovations in the way you work. It doesn’t need to be anything dramatic. If things are working generally fine you just want to keep testing the waters, try something new, if it doesn’t work revert back and try something else. By doing these small changes and minor improvements you ensure your own growth, your ability to cope with change, and even find ways how to continuously improve the “way we do things around here”.
How do you get things done? Are you really so good as you think? Or do you just know how the system in your current company works but if you get plugged into a new company, a new system, you will be totally hopeless and unable to adjust?
Originally posted at LinkedIn.