Friday, August 9, 2013

Part 3: I choose to Zig

See Part 1 here
See Part 2 here

As for myself, I am back in the 'What if this is your last job?' mindset. Perhaps one might think this is a pessimistic statement, but I think it is the key to why I developed a reputation and resume that were strong enough to elicit high interest in a tight job market. It may be counter-intuitive, but here is my rationale:

We are all taught that as soon as we move into one role, we should pick the next one and begin working towards it. That's how my father coached me, and that's how career coaches the world over develop their clients.

But, if you behave the same way as your competitors, what makes you stand out? Besides performance. We all know great performers that end up collecting unemployment. I was one of those myself, in the past.

Game Theory makes my head hurt. I am sure the game theorists have catchy ways to describe beahvior in a competitive market. But, I prefer a couple simple maxims to describe my behavior. In poker, you are taught to play loose when the other players are tight, and play tight when the other players are loose. That may not mean much to most readers, but to poker players it is the short route to win the most money. So, for the non-poker aficianados, there is this:

Zig when others Zag.

Applying this to the workplace, if everyone around is positioning themselves for the next raise, then you would just be another competitor playing the same game the same way as everyone else. In this situation, everyone behaves rationally, there is a modicum of equilibrium among competitors, and you may as well pick names out of a hat for the next promotion.

So, I Zig. I spend more time making my team successful as individuals than I spend promting myself. By growing them, I increase their capacity and performance, gaining economies of scale and force multipliers. By expressing true interest in them as individuals rather than employees, I gain a shared commitment to the team. By working to develop scalable processes, waste is reduced and eliminated. By taking the time to get to true root causes so corrective actions reduce variability, we make our lives easier and enjoy better work-life balance. These are all investments; by building strong people and strong processes so my last job could become one I could enjoy with equal parts of work-life balance for the next 20 years, I end up generating attractive results.

And by promoting team accomplishments, I end up promoting myself. Figuratively and literally.

So, as long as my competitors continue to focus on the next job, I'll be happy keeping my head in my own house, making it a showplace. If I do that, I am sure the right people will take notice and clamor to join my team. And there are enough other "right people" who will want me to do the same with larger teams. So,  I won't have to be a victim of circumstance, wishing things were better but accepting that "it is what it is".

I choose to Zig.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Part 2: I hate the phrase "It is what it is"

See Part 1 here

Of course, all good things come to an end, and the market conditions I mentioned earlier forced organizational changes that permitted the seeding of related functional departments with these strong key players. I was asked to manage one of these departments based on my performance as a team manager. However, I just could not put my heart into it for some reason. Many times every day I heard the phrase "It is what it is" coming out of my mouth and the mouths of those around me, as though we were all powerless, victims to circumstance.

Regardless of why, I found myself trolling LinkedIn and going back to reading my long-neglected job alerts that kept hitting my inbox. I receive regular inquiries from recruiters, both internal and external, and usually try to provide a contact to them when I can. Now, I was listening for myself. I declined to interview with one company after being contacted by someone I'd met at business meetings with whom I shared strong networking connections due to same-company employment. I even submitted my resume for a few jobs, including one to a company that I discovered later hired a former 2nd-level manager of mine in a VP role.

After a couple weeks of discussions with a number of recruiters, I accepted an invitation to interview out-of-town. At that point I thought I was only 75% ready to leave my job, but during the interview something just clicked and I knew it was time to leave. I can't pinpoint the moment, but I left knowing my days in my current role were numbered.

Whether you believe in God, karma, or a universe filled with coincidence and wonder, the world of competing job offers opened up to me. I made a firm decision in my own mind that I needed to leave. Twenty-four hours later, the company I interviewed with asked for background references, a pretty good sign I would be receiving an offer. The same afternoon, the person with whom I shared a common employment background contacted me again, this time providing a strong salary number designed to get me on a plane to interview (it worked). Finally, while playing phone tag with both companies, my former 2nd-level manager called to discuss an opportunity she though was right for me.

Three hot jobs, all in the same afternoon, all serious and very, very real.

What followed was about 10 days of physical and emotional exhaustion as I went through my process. I knew I wanted it to be fast, because I'd already made the decision to leave my existing job and didn't want to let my performance lag over weeks or months if I began to mentally detach ahead of actually leaving. Plus, I didn't want to be forced to make the 'bird-in-the-hand' decision as someone ran into delays. So, I pushed to get it done quickly. One company ended up running into a delay, but I had two very strong offers to choose from, along with the opportunity to work with great people at either company. As a result, I have a new role with a local company working for my former 2nd-level manager (now my direct manager), 5 minutes from house. The company is considerably smaller and my responsibilities are broader in terms of functional management. I am already feeling excited about the opportunities for the company, and see a lot of potential for team-building and skill development for myself and my team.

Next: Part 3: I choose to Zig

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Part 1: My Favorite Team

So a year ago, which is another way of saying 'In my last post', I wrote What if this is the last job you ever have? Written at a point in time when I was about 6 weeks into managing a hand-picked team that was the strongest top-to-bottom of my career, and I asked myself the question in the title of the post. How should I conduct myself as a manager so that my legacy was one of which I could be proud?

Short answer: I wanted to be known as a developer of great people and great teams. I wanted people fighting to be on my teams.

That goal was achieved. I had the most outstanding experience of my professional career over the past year, but it was also mixed with moments of sadness, frustration, and even anger. There were times I was so exhausted I had to be sent home by my manager. But through industry and market developments, I found that this wasn't my last job.

I started with 6 team members. By November, one left the company to return to school for her degree in supply chain management. A second team member had expressed a greater career interest in becoming a data analyst and I was able to accommodate him by providing him with opportunities to automate a number of functions, freeing the rest of the team to focus on core activities.

Two other team members made the decision to voluntarily leave the company. Our markets and sales were in contraction and there had been a number of layoffs throughout the year and it was known there were more to come. Even in a tight a job market, however, both were able to land better jobs with a more stable company and left on their own terms.

And the final two are key people in the supply chain organization. They have a much stronger and broader set of skills in procurement and planning than they did a year before, and over many of their internal competitors. Both are in strong positions with a good deal of responsibility.

Along the way, this team coalesced and became a family, but the individuals still felt free to explore and expand their horizons into areas where they had an interest. Additionally, my next goal of attracting top-talent that wanted to work with this team was realized as well, as each person was replaced by other strong individuals who bought into the team mentality. I couldn't have been more proud.

Finally, we achieved the results for which we'd been tasked - much-improved alignment between supply and demand, and significant reductions in inventory investments. So much so, that i can safely say it would NOT have been possible without the exceptional teamwork demonstrated on a day-to-day basis by this team.
Be sure to come back in a couple days for Part 2: I hate the phrase "It is what it is"