How Do You Know If You Are Mediocre?

I’ve spent years in environment where we put a big emphasis to hire only the best of the best. Where the goal was to have a team of overachievers. Mottos like “no one was hired to be mediocre” where often quoted. But how do you actually know if someone, or in fact, if you are mediocre? How do you know you are not the over-achiever you believe you are?

Let’s face it. All of us believe that we are better than others. At least in some ways. “I’m definitely better driver than most of the others. I’m much better manager. I’m really good parent. I’m a great listener and always annoyed when I need to constantly talk so others see it.”

Merriam-Webber describes mediocre as “of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance: ordinary, so-so”. This is of course relative to the task you are doing. You can be a great driver and a mediocre cook. Whether you are mediocre at something is a result of your priorities, skills, attitude and effort you put into a given activity.

So how do you recognize that you are mediocre?

Considering how quickly the world around us changes the best way to see whether you are mediocre or not is to look at how you respond to the changes. Do you embrace change and constantly learn to keep up with the world? Or do you just sit back and wait what will happen to you? If the later applies, you are most likely mediocre. You are the one who is left behind by the forward moving world around you.

You don’t give your best

Mediocre people sort of give up on improving and even on giving their best. They just plow through the day doing what needs to be done but without much interest and with no intention of going above and beyond. So if you find yourself doing just what is necessary and not more than you are most likely a mediocre employee.

You don’t mind that you are not giving your best

Doing just the bare minimum and not giving your best is a strong indicator, but what really seals the deal of your mediocrity is when you don’t give your best and you don’t mind. It just doesn’t bother you. For any achiever or over-achiever doing work that is not particularly good really worries him or her.

Over-achievers are different

Any over-achiever strives to be better and better. You don’t necessarily need to be the best at any given task but you always try to do the best you can. What more, you always strive to learn and to improve. You want to do your best job today, but you want to do even a bit better job tomorrow. That is what drives achievers. And that is what turns them into over-achievers.

We are going through phases

Even the over-achievers have their down times. Not everything always goes right and not every day is your best. It is that internal voice that tells you that you didn’t do a good job and makes you dissatisfied, that voice is also telling you that you are over-achiever who had a bad day.

So the million dollar question is: “Is it OK to be mediocre?” And the answer really depends on your worldview, internal drives and what makes you happy. For someone to be mediocre is totally fine and they should never feel bad about it (in fact, by definition, they don’t) or try to change it, because being over-achiever very often also mean setting high bars and constantly chasing being better and better. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a happier life.

 

What is your take on mediocre employees? Are you fine having such people on your team or do you believe there is something wrong with them? And how do you see yourself?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Not My Fault! It’s The Traffic…

You hear it over and over again. In fact, you might be using the tactic yourself without even realizing it. Blaming others or the environment for your inability to get things done, keep your promises and duties.

Let’s blame someone else

Have you ever worked with a colleague who would be constantly showing up ten minutes late for meetings with an excuse like “sorry I’m late, but there was a traffic jam”? As if this would explain everything and make it right. Well, yes, there was a traffic jam, so what? If there is one every day then it is just not relevant. If you would continue that line of reasoning you could come up with: “Sorry I’m late, but there was a traffic jam. Police should make sure there are no traffic jams. In fact, it is police fault that I’m late. Or even better others should be banned from using cars. That way I wouldn’t get stuck and came right on time.” Rather ridiculous, isn’t it? So why are we all saying it?

What are the things under your control?

One of the challenges you have to learn when managing others (and yourself) is the tendency of trying to look good and blame others for our mistakes. If you want to move things forward and want the person in question to grow and build strong sense of ownership you need to make sure this is not happening. Always bring the attention and focus of the person to things that are under his control.

Let’s say you come to your teammate with something you want him to solve and his response is “No problem. We will need IT to prepare the proposal and finance team will have to approve it.” These couple of words are full of red flags. At this point you just need to stop him and say “Yes, I see your point and I know that other people will have to be involved. What are the things that YOU will do? What is it you have under your control?” Even if there is a part that needs to be done by someone else there are always things you have under your control and that is where your focus needs to be.

The best way to increase satisfaction with your life is to learn to distinguish what are the things you can influence. Those you should focus on and constantly improve. This works also the other way around. Learn what in your life is out of your control, what you cannot influence and stop worrying about it. If you cannot change something then it is just a distraction that makes you less productive, unhappy and dissatisfied with your life.

There is no try

As the Grand Jedi Master Yoda, the oldest and most powerful known Jedi Master in the Star Wars universe said “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Once you realize what you do have under control, and decide to do something about it, you need to make yourself believe that you will succeed. And since we shape our reality by the words we use you need to learn to set yourself for success. “I will try better next time,” is your archenemy. “This will never happen again,” gives you much more power to actually change your behavior as it means you have no doubt and are fully committed to succeed.

It’s not the traffic, it’s you…

And to get back to our example from the beginning and look at alternative scenario where you don’t try to blame the universe for being late but you take ownership of your life. Understand the natural consequences of this repeated behavior of tardiness (in the form of others having to wait for you or you not being informed about or part of important decisions). And ultimately ask yourself the obvious question: “What is under my control that I will do so this doesn’t happen again?”

 

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Strategy Is Overrated, Execution Is What Leads To Success

“What we are missing is a solid strategy.” “Let’s bring on board a consultant to provide a viable business strategy.” “I would come up with much better strategy than the current product management.” “You need to think more strategically.” Do these statements sound familiar? There is a lot of focus in the corporate world on “strategy”. Companies, managements, even employees often blame lack of success at a faulty strategy. In truth, it is very rarely the case. Most often than not, it is not about poor strategy, but about poor execution of the strategy and lack of feedback to understand the impact of ever changing environment. Strategy is not a product. You need some people on the team who are able to set direction, who understand the market, who recognize the business opportunity but ultimately as Thomas Edison said “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Strategy is just a beginning and should change as needed

What is a strategy? You can define it as a series of choices you make that would lead to your ultimate goal. In business terms it would be choices on which industry and market to compete and what aspects of business prioritize to win (whatever it means for you) and maximize short/long-term value (again depending on your preferences).

Strategy is here to give you focus and have a common set of criteria that the whole organization aligns around. It is a framework for making day to day decisions by the teams that execute the strategy. But that is where it ends. The moment the organization understands where to go, what are the values and how we prioritize to reach the ultimate goal the real fun starts and it is execution time.

Execution is where all the magic happens

There is a Japanese proverb “Vision without action is a daydream. Action with without vision is a nightmare.” So yes, you do need the vision but the most successful teams and organization in modern knowledge based economy are those who can adapt and who out-execute everyone else. Once you have a basic strategy you need to operationalize it. Set up a basic operations model and execute, change, execute, change again, and so forth.

If you want to be successful you should be flexible while maintaining focus on your strategy. The worst thing you can do is trying to solve operational problems by constantly shifting your strategy. The result will be ever increasing loss of focus and people jumping from one activity to another without being able to prioritize properly. Not just that, but if you are constantly changing the strategy then you are confusing your organization and no one is able to make decisions because there is this missing high-level framework that supports the day to day decision making process. Ultimately, this leads to a situation where you need to make all the decisions yourself because the organization reporting to you is totally confused. And if you need to make all the decisions yourself you are a bottleneck and the organization is stuck. Not only that, you might be so removed from the day to day problems that even you cannot understand the real issues and your decisions may not be based on a reality of what is needed.

Feedback loop is what leads to success

What is next? Things are not working out, so the obvious decision is to “change the strategy”. Guess what, that is not what is needed. Instead you need to commit to a given strategy and focus on improving the execution of that strategy. How to do that? Step by step. By constantly watching what is working and what is not working and making necessary adjustments in the operation.

The key is to have an ability to make small decisions at every level of the organization, make small seemingly unimportant experiments and feed the results back to higher levels and in consolidate form to the strategy team. This way you can have people at each level who can ask themselves “Is there anything I can do to improve the operation? Is there anything I can do to fix this problem?” If the answer is yes, they can make the necessary adjustment in the way they operate, fix the problem and adapt to changes in environment. If the answer is no, then the team needs to communicate it to the higher level. At this level the same questions needs to be asked. Maybe there is an operational way how to fix the problem on more global scale and if not push it again higher up. Ultimately when the problem gets to the top level the answer to these two questions is either yes, there is something we can do company-wide to improve the operations or no, there is nothing we can do within the current strategical framework. Let’s change a strategy.

All this can be done pretty quickly. It just assumes couple of things. Everyone in the organization understands the strategy and what criteria are used when making decisions. Everyone in the organization feels empowered to experiment a bit and try small improvements to execute better. And everyone in the organization understands where to communicate if change needs to happen and is not afraid to do so.

 

Does your team still live in the old strategy versus execution paradigm? Do you have a way to change the direction as required by the market fast enough? Do you believe strategy is what really matters? Share your thoughts.

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Company Culture And The Role Of A Facility Manager

Have you ever thought on how is the company culture being impacted by the facilities you sit in? And when you go about to build a new office what are the things you consider when designing the space? Would you do it yourself, hire external designer, ask the team, or you just don’t care and let the landlord build something that is good as long as it has a company logo all over the place? I have built offices in couple of countries and had teams working in temporary spaces that were very different from the ultimate space where they moved in.

After going through this several times there is one thing very obvious to me: the physical layout of the space has an incredibly huge impact on the culture and atmosphere within the organization. This also means that your “Facility Manager” (being it a real person with full-time job or just a virtual role) has enormous impact on what company and organizational culture you build.

Understanding of business and the desired culture

It may not be obvious but a great facility manager needs to have a good understanding of the business, who the customers are, and how the business model works. What are the critical interaction within the company? Which departments needs to work closely together and how they need to communicate to achieve their goals? How the interaction with customers looks like and what is the desired customer experience? Understanding how the products are build, financed, marketed, sold, and supported is important to understand how the layout of the office should look like, who should sit where, and what infrastructure and technologies needs to be built in to support it.

Knowledge of design and ergonomics

Once it comes to design of individual offices, meeting rooms and work stations another skills set comes to play. Good understanding of design, ergonomics and human behavior will help the facility manager to design a space that is conductive to effective work while having no negative impact on health of the employees. Even if you decide to outsource the design you still need to have your say. And keep in mind it is not that much about corporate design guidelines, for that you can just sent to your designer color codes and vector graphics of company logo. It is much more about designing space that will foster the necessary level of communication and collaboration, and that will send the right message to employees, as well as visitors and promotes the company values.

Partner, vendor, and project management

Good facility manager also knows how to represent the company towards partners, vendors, suppliers and can have a big impact on public relations and how is the company seen by external stakeholders. This means being a good sales person who can enthusiastically talk about the company and its values, who can find the right vendors and suppliers who will fit well with the company culture and are willing to adjust their services to comply with company’s needs.

Good facility manager also needs to have excellent project management skills, understand how to get things done in a collaborative manner, needs to be able to negotiate good deals, and be able to anticipate risks and mitigate them.

Creative thinking and collaboration

Good facility manager doesn’t do all by herself. It of course depends on actual culture you are trying to build but having the ability to involve other employees, make them enthusiastic about helping to build or maintain the facility can greatly improve the impact she can have on the organization. This often means some creative thinking and willingness to try new things and adopt ideas coming from other people. And it is especially important when the facility manager has a global role and needs to build offices across locations and cultures. What works in one country may not have the same impact in another one.

So next time you are hiring your facility manager take it seriously. It is not some obscure, invisible, bureaucratic role, but it is a role that can have an enormous impact on the culture in your organization and business success of your company.

 

How does your company decide on what the office space should look like? Do you have the same space across all locations or is every team doing something different? What is the impact this have on communication, collaboration, and culture of the company?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

How Lack Of Resources Forces Innovation

How do you build a great product? How do you ensure that your users love what you build and are willing to spend money on it and even act as your virtual sales force and spread the word? How do you ensure that you stay one step ahead of competition? The answer is simple: innovation and execution.

And I don’t mean you need to come up with breakthrough technology or something no one has ever thought of before. You just need to make sure you don’t get too comfortable with where you are today. Once you fall into “let’s just continue to do what we do today” trap, chances are that the performance will slowly degrade, motivation of the team evaporate, and before you know it you have a crappy products that not only your customers but also your team doesn’t care about.

Lack of time

Great way to build a culture of innovation and strong execution is to work with limited resources. And that starts with time. To build the sense of urgency you need to set really tough deadlines and explain why it is critical to be so aggressive. You can see this in almost every start up that has limited budget. If you don’t ship first version of the product before the money runs out you will never ship it and will have to start looking for a new job.

When the companies get bigger it is far too easy to ask for more time or more money to get your product off the ground. If you argue well enough your case you may get couple of weeks, months, even quarters of extension. The consequence? You will not try hard enough when it comes to tough choices and prioritization. Because you know that you can have more time, you try to pack the product with features that might be cool but are not necessary. Or you may over engineer the technology so it is “future-proof” (assuming such a thing exists) but takes twice as much long to build and brings zero value to customer.

Having to work within a limited timeframe forces your team to think about faster ways how to get the same job done. It sparks innovation.

Lack of budget

Pouring tons of money on a problem doesn’t necessarily mean that you get it solved. Chances are that eventually with enough money spend and given enough time you will reach the results you want but is it really the most effective way? The best ideas very often come not from well-funded research but rather from a starving student or entrepreneur who is passionate about some topic and because of lack of money comes up with innovative way how to solve the problem. Just look at most of the technology start-ups.

The same goes to big organizations. If you want your team to be innovative and build a new product or service it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a big budget to do so. It just needs a bunch of enthusiastic guys within the organization who go out and build a small prototype of the idea often without any need of financing. Or even things like various team building and social events to get the team together are often much better when being subjected to low budget rule.

Yes, you can spend tens of thousands dollars to lease a fancy hotel, hire a professional rock band for a weekend and the team will have a good time. But at the same time giving them just hundred dollars may spark a level of creativity that will lead for the team not just to enjoy the actual event but all of them participate even in preparation and organization of the event which leads to even higher level of team building.

Lack of manpower

Number of people you throw at the problem is related to amount of money you are willing to spend on it but not completely. This is mostly visible in software development where doubling the size of the team doesn’t automatically leads to doubling the number of features or awesomeness of the product. Fred Brooks in his 1975 book The Mythical Man-Month proposes that at some point adding more people to a problem will not make it solved sooner but in fact will delay the solution. Or as he puts it “Nine women can’t make a baby in one month.”

Small, agile, and laser focused teams often outperform big organizations. The trick here is that you need to have the right set of people on the problem, give them the right tools and freedom to get the job done the way that is most effective. That is why hiring the right people to the company is such a critical process that needs every leader’s attention and why interviewing is such a critical skill to learn.

So if you are leading a product development effort and the product manager comes back to you and asks for more people so he can deliver more features start asking very hard questions and even propose that you are actually thinking about taking some people away from his team. Do whatever you can to force everyone on the team to take a hard look at how things are done today, what features are really important for the customers, what the MVP (minimum viable product) looks like, and what innovative way of work will allow the team to reach the goal without adding more manpower.

 

How do you spark innovation in your company? What tricks do you use to allow your team to be creative? How do you ensure that what you build really brings value to your customers?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

7 Reasons To Pick Up The Phone

We live in a world of electronic communication. We send out hundreds of emails or instant messages a month. But is texting someone “You are fired” really the best way how to handle a particular situation? Maybe the “old school” telephone isn’t dead yet and there are situations when it is better to talk rather than write.

  1. When you expect questions – pinging emails back and forth are the worst way to have a conversation. If you expect questions, then talking is the best approach. You may want to send out an email with your thoughts just to give the other party a chance to prepare but you should also indicate that you are free to talk about it.
  2. When you expect strong feelings – any difficult conversation is better to have face to face or at least over the phone. I know that many people dread having a discussion that is full of emotions and prefer to use the unemotional email to filter out the humanity, but if you want to reach the best outcome possible you need to get out of your comfort zone and talk so you can listen for clues, empathize, and handle any latent emotions that could be an issue later on.
  3. When you expect disagreement – if you expect the other side will have opposite opinion then sending emails to each other will most likely lead to escalation and misunderstandings about the motives. To pick up a phone and talk is the best way how to convey your reasons in such a way that it is acceptable for others. You can make the environment safe to talk about potential issues and counter arguments and reach some mutually acceptable outcome.
  4. When you need action “Now” – obviously sending an email and praying for the other guy to read it this week is not the best strategy when you need to get something done now. You may still send the email with the key points to act as a reminder but first pick up a phone and explain in no uncertain terms the urgency of the matter. Speaking with the other party also acts as a feedback loop that tells you whether your message is understood and action is being taken.
  5. When you give corrective feedback – there are situations when sending some corrective feedback over email is just fine (like pointing out a typo in some documentation). The moment you want to give feedback that has more personal impact you need to pick up a phone and even better doing it face to face if possible. The issue with the phone in this case is that you cannot easily ensure whether the other party is in a position or mood to receive the feedback. What if he/she is in the middle of a meeting? Or just rushing to finish a job with a deadline today? In these situations it might be better to schedule a one-on-one to make sure the other guy has time reserved for you.
  6. When you want to say “No” – this one really depends on situation. Sometime it is just ok to refuse something by email. If that is the case you should be polity and state your reason without over-explaining and over-apologizing. Better is to pick up a phone and have a minute long chat where you politely refuse. It will convey the same message as the email with the added benefit of showing respect for the other side.
  7. When you want to deliver a bad news – any bad news should be delivered in person. Even something like “you are all fired,” should be done on some all-hands meeting with follow-up email. When you want to give a bad news like dismissing someone or even when refusing a candidate after several rounds of interviews you need to talk to them. That way you show the respect and understanding of the pain you are causing to the employee or the candidate. Sending an email to do the job for you is rather cowardly and will leave a bad impression.

What does this mean for you? Always think twice before sending yet another email whether it wouldn’t be better to be brave and just pick up a phone and call.

What other situations do you believe are better handled by phone call or a personal meeting rather than an email?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient

We live in a modern fast moving world. We are trying to manage more and more. We are trying to be as efficient as possible. Efficiency and effectiveness has become a mantra to live by in the business world. You hear these words all the time and they are more or less synonyms (even according to Merriam-Webster), expect that they are not. There is an instance where they mean something very different and that is a communication with other human beings. According to Merriam-Webster:

efficient

producing or capable of producing a desired result <that manual lawn mower is not a very efficient tool for doing a huge yard>

effective

  1. producing or capable of producing a desired result <an effective treatment of the once-dreaded disease>
  2. having the power to persuade <made an effective argument in favor of the proposal>

Let us translate this to the world of communication and see how efficient and effective communication can look like and then consider how you usually communicate.

Efficient communication

One of the most efficient ways to communicate is e-mail. You can write down couple of sentences, punch a send button and in couple of seconds the information spreads to hundreds of people. A bit less efficient but still pretty good is recording a voice message or a video of what you want to communicate and post it on youtube or at least corporate intranet.

Both of these are very common in corporate environment and with both of them you have to ask a very important questions: “Who actually read the email or saw the video? And how did they understand the content?” Hundred percent for efficiency, zero percent for effectiveness. You communicated what you wanted but you have no idea whether you actually communicated anything at all.

Effective communication

If you really want people to hear what you are saying, understand it right and take action you need to take a bit less efficient but more effective approach. What is the mysterious way to get your point across? Just pick up a phone, or get out of your office and walk to their cubicle and talk to them! Talking may not be the most efficient way how to spread information but in the long-run it saves you time in a form of less confusion and less misunderstandings.

Talking will provide you with several benefits you wouldn’t get by the other more efficient means:

  • Feedback (people have a chance to provide you with feedback and potentially improve on your original idea)
  • Clarity (people may ask questions that will make you clarify things even for yourself thus leading to better understanding)
  • Buy-in (people will feel involved and thus will be more willing to act upon the requests you made)

So which one do you chose? It really depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you just want to “spread the word” and you are not particularly interested whether all the parties get the information then you go for the most efficient option. If it is important to you that the information is received, understood and acted upon you want to go for effectiveness over efficiency. Simply put, the way how you communicate is equally important to the content of what you communicate.

Twitter summary: “Forget efficiency when communicating important information. Go for effectiveness.”

Other articles on topic of communication:

One Question You Should Never Ask

The Power And Danger Of Using Humor When Leading People

If I Were 22: Life Is About Communication And Attitude

The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss

Coaching 101: What To Ask?

How do you usually communicate? What form of communication works for you the best?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.