Be Replaceable

January 31, 2010

What?

I thought the idea was to become so important and integral in your position that you are relied on?  I thought the idea was to be the fountain of knowledge?  Become the ‘Go-To’ person?  I thought I had to be irreplaceable?

But…

If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.

So –

Do become all those things mentioned above.  Definately.  You’ll show your talent, your skills and your importance to the organisation.  Here’s the thing though.  Don’t retain that knowledge.  Pass it on.  This can be tricky to older people within your team, but I’ve dealt with that in a previous post.  So in addition to being the subject matter expert (SME?), you’ll also show you have the ability to teach and communicate to your team.

Generally, it’s also important to realise that if you learnt it, it’s possible for others to learn it.  It may take longer, it may cost more etc etc but it can be done.  This blog entry shows the difference between some tangible work knowledge that you may think you’re unique in knowing and the intangible.

Have the knowledge.  But pass it on.  Then learn something new.  Keep on advancing.

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The decision you make at the end of your university/college studies will ultimately decide your entire future.

Let’s go even earlier, the end of high school?  The end of earlier schooling?

When written like this to me, it does sounds pretty silly.  But why do I think this?  I suppose all along it’s always been about delaying what ‘you’ll be when you grow up’.  Choosing my subjects in high school, choosing my subjects at uni, choosing my internship, choosing my rotations within my graduate program.  All along it seems as though I’ve been putting it off.

Is it a generational thing?  Talking to a lot of my friends and colleagues who are about my age, they think the same things.  We don’t know what we want.  But we do know that we want it soon.  And we definately know what we don’t want.

I lot of information I read says follow you passion, do what you like, make your dreams.  I think this is a load of rubbish…if…you don’t know what these actually are.  There is only so far a list can take you.

I suppose all this is to do with an inability to make some long term plans.  This scares me and my generation.  We are the adaptable, changing and fluctuating generation.  Long term doesn’t figure into the equation.  I don’t know if this is a bad thing or not.

So I might have a go at drawing up some medium term goals.  Perhaps this is my short term fix to a long term problem.

Is snail mail all that bad?  Surely with a name like that there can’t be any real advantages to it anymore?

If I had my way, it would be gone.  Obviously it can’t be completely; packages aren’t sent electronically (yet?).  But do we need hard copies anymore?  I understand that legally the answer is yes.  But laws can get changed.  Let’s put our faith in technology and wipe out letters.

Woah!  Did I really say that?

Yes.

Let’s look at the advantages of mail over it’s usual rival, electronic mail.

  • Speed – Hmmmm none.  Email wins.
  • Cost – Email again.
  • Availability – More and more towards email.
  • What – Well hold your horses, here is one where the mail wins.
  • Security – Well I think it’s easier to open someone else’s letter box than open their email.

The length of this post speaks volumes about what I think about postal mail.  But do you think any different?

By the very nature of a team, people will have individual roles but are (well should be) working towards a common goal.  The individual roles will be interdependent, that is each person relies on the rest.

So do you trust your team?

Do you really?  Can you work through your day without checking on them, safe in your belief that what you need them to get done will and it will allow you to get your own stuff done?  (Sorry about the long sentence.)  I guess I’m pretty lucky, because the majority of the time I do trust my team.  But I have had the chance during my chair hopping days to work around some people that obviously don’t trust each other.

Now I’m not talking about personality traits.  I’m referring to professional trust.  And I suppose I’ve been able to learn a couple of things.

  • Trust is built up over a long period of time, but can be knocked down in a matter of minutes.
  • Trust is two ways.  If you need to trust someone, let them trust you.

I did say a couple, so I’ll leave it at that.  So I suppose your mission, and mine too, will be to try and generate a bit more trust with your colleagues this week.  We may actually be surprised by the results.

Right vs Wrong vs Different

October 24, 2009

I was chatting with a good mate of mine the other day.  Some sort of harmless argument came up.  Now this mate is the kind of person that doesn’t really budge.

Me – “You don’t really like hearing different do you?”

Mr X – “Not at all.  I can totally admit when I’m wrong.”

Me – “But it’s not always right or wrong.  Sometimes there is different.”

So I hope you get my point.  In a lot of situations, people may be so focused on holding onto their argument/belief/train of though etc that they’ll only let go if they hear/see/find evidence to the contrary.  But is it possible for two or more ways of doing things to coexist?  Is there more than one way to skin a cat? (Putting aside the point why you would actually want to do this.)

Generally, (because there are always exceptions) ‘Yes’.

So why is this important for a young professional?

  • Opportunities to challenge the current situtation or to develop your own method.
  • When learning, be open to new methods.
  • When teaching, be open to new methods.

Recognise that in some circumstances, there is room, there is flexibility and there can be diversity.  Use it to your advantage.

Once Is Enough Thank You

October 13, 2009

I get frustrated when I have to be told things twice.  If it’s a complicated thing maybe I’ll let myself off.  But generally I really get disappointed in myself if I have to be shown the same thing multiple times.

But as a young professional, especially during the early times of a new position, you’ll spend more time learning than reviewing.  This leads to what I call (but probably has a more technical name) as learning fatigue.  There is definately a limit to what you can take on board.  There are two ways to address this problem.  One is from the perspective of the learner, the other from that of the teacher.

The Teacher

  • No one is going to get it all right, the first time, ever.
  • There is more than one way to do something.
  • Know what is important to teach and what is important to learn.

The Learner

  • Actively pay attention – ask questions, take notes
  • Try something yourself before asking again – the same question asked differently can help
  • Know that you can’t know it all at first.  Patience!

I’m not talking about knowing how to tie knots or make a raft (though I’m sure somehow these skills could come in handy to the young professional).  No, I’m talking about that old motto “Be Prepared“.

I wanted to follow up on a great comment by Lance on a post of mine.  He refers to a few techniques he’s developed to deal with both time poor and less guiding managers.

  1. Regular meetings with preparation.
  2. Multiple solutions to any problems.

Which leads me to the reason behind the title and a story from personal experience.  A long lasting problem that no one was aware of surfaced at work.  I was tasked with finding and implementing the solution.  The ultimate results though weren’t going to be immediately visible by myself.  Sure enough, a couple of days later I get a phone call.

“Um, Anthony, we’re not to sure about the results.  Can you explain these numbers?”

So I’m pulled into a meeting a fair few floors above my own.  But I had unknowingly followed the above advice.  I had two solutions to the problem.  So in the meeting I was able to accurately explain what had gone wrong and what corrective steps were required.  It worked out so well that the senior manager commented later on that he was impressed with how I had handled the meeting.

I suppose it went alright; I never heard of the issue again.

Teaching those older than you

September 20, 2009

By definition a young professional is probably not going to be as old as our colleagues.  Der. So there will be times in the workplace when we know something these other guys (or gals) don’t.  They’ll need to get taught.  And here the difficulties can arise.

I can find it difficult to teach something to someone who has been doing the basics of my job for years.  10 plus sometimes.  Wow…10 years ago I was running around high school playing barefoot soccer at lunch.

Here is an example.  The other day at work we got a group email inbox set up.  I know, not mind blowing technology but a simple step we’d been missing.  Everyone in the workplace knows how to use email.  I work at an investment bank, so we live on email and spreadsheets.  Anyway, I had to run through the basics of how to use it and the strengths of it.  Then a couple of days later I ask

“So <insert manager name here>, you haven’t been filing away your emails I see.”

“Oh yeh, how do I access it again?”

So obviously I need to work on my teaching skills a little.  But it leads me to my important point.

How to teach without patronising.

  1. Use simple terminology but not dumbed down.  Unneccesary a.c.r.o.n.y.m.s and explaining how to turn on the PC aren’t required.
  2. Use analogies.  My favourite is for explaining hotmail to my mum –  “It’s like a Post Office Box which you can access from any computer in the world.”
  3. Understand that they won’t get it completely the first time.  Who does?

So go to it.  Teach away readers.

Pressure to Bend the Rules

September 16, 2009

I seem to have a trend in my blogs of involving some cliched quote.  Well here you go; “Rules are made to be broken.”  Well in the highly strung, overly cautious world we now inhabit, I think this is rubbish.

As a young professional, if you’re working for people that are predominately results driven, they will have little interest in the processes and procedures underlying the deliverable.  But I think you should.  I think that even though there may be time pressures, cost pressures or other variables, to bend or break the rules ultimately only leads to more trouble.

Ok, there are always exemptions.  Always situations where a bend is ok.  But we all know what happens if you bend the rules once.  They’ll expect it next time…because they know you can do it.  This has come back to bite me a couple of times.

What do I do?

  • Don’t do it if you can avoid it.  To help this, have the process communicated before hand.
  • Make it abundantly clear that it’s a one off.
  • Escalate to a more senior person.

I suppose ultimately, if you’re not comfortable with doing something, hopefully you shouldn’t be made to do it.  Because in the end, if you’ve done the action, it’s going to come back and bite you.

Fantastic article in my local online (does that even make sense?) paper.  Google as a religion.  The basic premise is based around a website called the Church of Google.  Knowledge is power.

It got me thinking about knowledge sharing within your workspace.  What are some of the ways that we share our information with those around us?

  1. Tell them
  2. Write it down
  3. Show people
  4. Other things

But knowledge sharing is obviously two ways.  There is no reason in putting things down or no one else is going to pick it up.  And is there a reluctance these days to seek out information this old fashioned way?

When was the last time that you actually read a manual?  I mean the book kind that comes with something?  Our generation would probably ask someone, then google it before going to a manual.  So can a work place have a google like concept too?  Well I’m sure they can and I’m sure someone at google has thought of this and has already put a price tag on it.

I suppose the general point is that people want a one-stop source of information.  But this information depository, or golden source relies on two things.  One, it needs input.  Two, it needs users.  As a young professional, we can become heavily involved in both of these sides.