Performing with Purpose

 

When reflecting on my career progression, I recall the early years when I first started working. I relied on delegated orders, would dutifully fulfill them and wait for new assigned tasks. It was an endless cycle of repetitiveness and I often found myself on autopilot. Sometimes I even found myself disengaged when I couldn’t identify the intent of some of my responsibilities. But, being young and not feeling like I was experienced enough to have a voice, I continued performing without ever questioning it…that was a mistake.

As I’ve made my way through my career, obtained a degree and became more involved in understanding business and organizational development, I started to see that never questioning anything has done a disservice to my growth and a disservice to the betterment of the organization I was working at. Asking thought-provoking and well-structured questions won’t make anyone question your competency (as I often feared it would), but it gives you a chance to perform better. At this stage of my career, I make it a point to perform with purpose. And to do this, you have to start with one simple question – Why?

  • Asking questions: Once I started to know why certain tasks relevant, I was able to get a bigger picture. Asking what or how always helped too, but I felt the “why” was the most important thing to know. Questioning this allowed me to gain insight into the overall purpose of each function, what the expected outcome was, etc. Knowing this information not only helps you do your job better, but also sets you up to do MORE.
  • Performing better: knowing key details as to the purpose of your task and what’s the expected outcome can help drive the direction of your performance: It gives you a starting point, a path and a goal that you are aiming to meet or exceed.
  • Continuous innovation: set up time regularly to review the information you gathered from asking questions and critically analyze it. With the fast changes in business, it’s important to constantly reevaluate processes to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Even if you aren’t in a role to implement change, your analysis and suggestions can help leadership see ways to positively impact the business.

No matter what level employee you are or how swamped you are at work, I urge you to take the time to ask questions, find ways to perform better and look for opportunities to innovate. I’d personally rather take the time to do these things and ensure every function I’m performing has a purpose than keep my head down. To help your professional growth and your organization’s growth, its things like this that can help move everything forward.

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Early Career Lesson: The Thing I Wish I Knew

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More often than not, my friends like to joke around saying that I have a tendency to interview everyone I meet (I guess it’s naturally in my blood). I suppose that could be true but it’s mainly because I’m generally intrigued by people. It’s a common occurrence for me to ask probing questions to someone I’ve just met. Where are they from? Why are they here? What do they do for a living? Is it something they love? How did they fall into that? A simple story of someone’s life, no matter how boring it might seem to them, is actually one of the most interesting things I can come across. After one of these conversations over the weekend, I finally had the chance for someone else to turn the tables and ask me some thought-provoking questions. The one that stuck out the most to me was: what do you wish you knew getting into your career?

I met a younger woman this weekend who was just starting out in the full time, professional working world. She was smart, hopeful, ambitious, and driven, which just impressed me. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when she asked me about a life lesson I wish I knew when I was first starting out. I know all those sayings: hindsight is 20-20; the lesson is in the journey; and so on and so forth. Yes, I agree that sometimes you need to stumble and fall in order to learn what you can do better. But if I had a chance to pass on some life lessons to someone that was eager to learn, I definitely wasn’t going to waste that opportunity.

I remember being extremely frustrated early on in my career. Just like the young woman I met, I was hopeful, ambitious, and driven. I wanted to do great things and I wanted to be given the opportunity to contribute something to the company that I worked for. I wanted to leave something behind if I ever felt the need to move on. Those feelings and dreams were soon crushed after a little while of working at my former employers. I waited…and waited…and waited. And finally, I was so disengaged and disheartened by my employers’ lack of opportunity, that I would find myself leaving places to see if I had better luck elsewhere.

After years of this, I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be so dependent on my employer. It wasn’t up to them to offer me projects, education, or promotions. I shouldn’t have believed that they were the only way I could progress in my career or expand my learnings. My lack of growth wasn’t their issue, it was mine. My employer isn’t my only resource for career development and knowledge building. If I truly cared about my progression, it was my job to make that happen.

If the opportunities to partake in conferences, take classes, or network with industry professionals weren’t an option at my company, I needed to make the effort to do that on my own. If there wasn’t a stretch project that I could do that would enhance my career, I needed to pitch it to my employer and make it happen. Sometimes, you need to go outside of your immediate circle (aka organization) to grow and then bring back that value. You need to take initiative to take control of your own future and position yourself within your company. You need to find your worth and not wait for someone to hand it to you. Define yourself.

When I finally realized this, I found that my confidence had skyrocketed. I found a voice, I began to offer opinions, and I felt like they mattered. I’ve learned so much that it makes my head hurt some days. It’s indescribable when my managers now come to me for suggestions or advice. I felt like I did myself a favor.

Some days I wonder what would have happened if I realized I was in control of my development sooner. Would I have progressed further than where I am now? Would I be an industry expert or consultant? I’m not really sure but I am glad that I figured this out early enough to make a decent impact throughout my professional career so far. So, if there was one thing I could teach early careerists (or really anyone), it would be that you need to take initiative to develop your own career. We live in a time where resources are infinite and possibilities to do this are endless. Do yourself a favor and make the effort as soon as possible. You’ll be happy that you did.

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The Importance of Hiring Employees That Ask “Why?”

It seems to me that too many companies are reluctant to hire candidates that have a strong sense of curiosity, especially in terms of why company policies and procedures are the way they are. The reason why companies choose to pass on these candidates is because they feel that they will be too hard to manage. Additionally, most people are defensive when it comes to change. However, sometimes this change is necessary.

In the past, employees only got information from education and what their employers taught them. They rarely questioned if there was a better way because they didn’t have access to information to make them wonder. But now, things are different. Candidates in this job market have the advantage of technology at their fingertips. They can research information on subjects, explore different ways to do things, and network with people around the globe to get different perspectives. With this knowledge, people tend to start questioning an employer’s current practices and offer suggestions for better ways to handle business.

I believe that this is the age of “why” and some people have dubbed the new Gen Y as Gen “why” because of this. The issue is that many employers seem to shy away from this rather than welcome it. They may fear that the worker that asks “why” will cause issue in the workplace and cause chaos because they will influence other workers to start question “the way things are.” Although that is a valid concern, I think that more employers need to embrace that and find a way to channel it in way that can benefit the company.

To gain a competitive advantage, you need to be one step ahead of your competitors. You need to know how the market is shifting, what the consumers are demanding, and how to create a product or service that can be addicting to the public. How can a company be one step ahead and look forward to new opportunities if their whole workforce dutifully follows all policies, procedures, and practices that they were taught? To move ahead you need to have the people that challenge what is. You need to encourage innovation, allow employees to express their ideas and suggestions, and find a way to control the idea enough to make it work for your industry.

Too much regulated structure in education and the workplace will kill creativity, and ultimately your competitive edge. Do not deny the person that questions things. These will potentially be the people that find a way to have three steps ahead of the competition rather than one. Be open to it, encourage it, and listen to those who have the courage to speak up. I often wonder how many companies have kicked themselves for denying a candidate or employee that seemed to go against the grain, only to have that person go on and create their own empire. I think of people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates that got denied jobs and went on to outshine the companies that turned them away.

Companies need to stop telling people that things can’t be done because they’ve never been done before. Stop closing your minds to new ideas. Why not be the company that wows the world once they show them what is possible? Why not go down in history as the company that took that chance? Why?

Find the candidate or employee that asks you why- they will be the one that changes the business world.

Here are some other articles you can read on the subject. Enjoy:

http://www.inc.com/harvey-mackay/the-power-of-why.html

http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/18393/power-of-asking-%27why%27-how-it-makes-employees-think-grow

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/03/change_your_employees_minds_ch.html