Strategic Planning. Training. Market Positioning.

I try to alternate my posts with a mix of industry news and general advice. This post falls in the general advice category. One of the interesting challenges of an up and down economy is that it creates a significant amount of stress. While some stress is good, long-term stress can drive non-productive behaviors such as avoidance of risk and political gamesmanship. Now that the economy appears to be finally gaining traction, it is a good time to evaluate whether or not ingrained non-productive behaviors are present in your organization.

Here are few tips for banishing non-productive behaviors:

  • Focus on results vs. activity. In a recession there is a tendency to focus on short-term goals which are often activity-based. For instance, number of cold calls, number of sales calls or number of RFQs are all activity-based. But who adds more value, the salesperson who is closing two accounts per year or the one making 60 unproductive sales calls a year? Try to create measurement systems that evaluate short-term progress toward results.
  • Stay positive. There is more competition and decision teams are taking longer to commit. It is very easy to fall into the trap of talking about all the issues that keep you from doing your job, and in politically-charged organizations people who want to discredit you will actually encourage that venting behavior in the hopes that you will be viewed by management as a whiner instead of a doer. So, avoid water cooler discussions about how tough things still are and focus on what you do well. If you have to discuss a challenging situation with your boss, discuss it in terms of steps you are taking to eliminate the challenge vs. why it kept you from getting the job done.
  • Be productively indispensible. I minored in sociology in my undergraduate degree and one of the classes I took looked at administrative behavior in positions considered powerless. The bottom line was that when people felt powerless, they found ways to create power and a pecking order by virtue of their control of office resources. This is why in some departments only one person seems to know how to get critical tasks done. It may also be why the project you are quoting doesn’t have documents that reflect all the ECOs that have been done on that customer’s product. The bottom line is don’t sabotage your team’s productivity by withholding information or resources. Also, build the relationships you need to get the job done.
  • Recognize that differences in approaches aren’t necessarily wrong, they are just different. Diversity is productive if it broadens the breadth of good ideas. It becomes counterproductive when it polarizes people. Generational differences are one example of potential conflict in ideas. Find common ground in diverse perspectives, instead of polarizing into a kids against the old schoolers debate.
  • Minimize office politics. All organizations are political to some extent, but managers who are leaders can set a more productive tone. Avoid closed door meetings whenever possible. If one employee complains about another, invite the other employee in for a three-way discussion about the behavior that needs to change. If someone is not performing, paper his or her file and terminate if no behavior change is made. Don’t tell the office you plan to do it and suggest they make that person’s life miserable so they will quit to save you the liability of a wrongful termination suit. Set an example in your work commitment and others will follow.
  • Take a hard look at yourself. People are creatures of habit who create their own comfort zones. If you haven’t evaluated the processes you use to do your job in a couple of years, chances are that you aren’t as productive as you could be. Have software upgrades given you better ways to do things? Have you seen more efficient processes elsewhere or read a book that gave you new ideas? Are you fully utilizing the tools you already have? Is there finally budget to buy better tools? This is a good time to look in the mirror and do some self-improvement.

Finally, find a way to have fun. Stress kills. Life is a cycle of ups and downs. People change jobs 7 or more times in their career now and this may be a job change time for you. Instead of worrying about what may happen, focus on getting your job done to the best of your ability. If you get fired, you’ll have a good track record when looking for work. But, more often that behavior will help you   differentiate yourself in a positive way that adds to your job security.

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