Eyes On Your Own Paper!

nun-with-rulerTaking the SAT was one of the most taxing events of my teenage life. It’s outcome seemed to be able to determine your entire future in a way that would be insurmountable if you made one wrong move and was more pressure than I wanted to be bear. Add the pressure cooker environment enforced by the test proctor and it became a powder keg of anxiety for me. The idea of messing up was like a guillotine hanging above my head for an excruciating three hours that day but also for weeks before taking the actual test. As the proctor strolled around the room, I remember thinking that this person must only have one job, “alert the CIA at any perceived sign of cheating”. No actual cheating need be proven, but a turned head (perhaps a little neck roll to relax the muscles) or a sigh of exasperation over the last multiple choice question, would be enough to warrant being dragged from the room screaming “I am not a cheater”. So maybe I had an overactive imagination at the time but her repeated circling around the room with a short but low, “Keep your eyes on your own paper”, was a lesson that I took with me.

Fast forward to my years as a cheer mom in the hyper competitive All Star world and I recall this being an important lesson to teach my daughter but one that many parents missed. When my daughter was struggling with a skill that someone had already mastered, I often told her to “keep your eyes on your own paper”.  I wished that I could teach the mommy’s in the crowd—and reminded myself of–the same lesson but it’s much harder for adults to learn.

I’ve even seen the roving eye concept play out in personal relationships.  The woman with a wonderful husband (or vice versa) that can see the forest for the trees because a co-worker is getting flowers everyday!  Don’t be the girl that’s whining…”you never send ME flowers” to a guy that brings you lunch, remembers your birthday and appreciates the awesomeness of your intellect (yes, I’m going all girly and using awesomeness in this one).  The same could be said for the guy that has a hard working wife who supports the household, still gets to PTA, and increases the overall productivity of the home, how could you mention the neighbor who “cooks a homemade meal every night”?

Professionally, staying focused on my own production or circumstance has been a successful method but still isn’t without its challenges. Let’s set the stage: You’re a salesperson in any environment. Your metrics, achievements and (unfortunately) occasional failures are displayed and often discussed among teammates. In a highly sales driven organization your accomplishments are often lauded via email. This can be great and actually keep you on your toes but with this level of visibility comes a lot of contrast and compare scenarios. Knowing what the other salesperson is doing if not checked can become a distraction. I recall an early career experience with a salesperson that was a natural born quota crusher.  My competitive drive helped me watch his behaviors to find tips, tricks of the trade based on his knowledge but I worked to keep the distraction of not feeling adequate based on his success at bay, so that I could find my own. It only took one event for me to realize that a bell ringing moment for a colleague would cause you to lose sight of your accomplishments and become sidetracked. This happens in a new sales environment also. After having the reputation as a “closer”, I gave myself very little praise for the small wins along the way until a more experienced colleague reminded me that baby steps bring reward as well.

While salespeople are often reminded to focus on their own production, especially since they are likely to be verbal about their perception of performance among their team, the concept is rarely discussed in a general work environment–you know customer service, operations, accounting, etc. So let’s think about that. My grandmother referred to this concept as “sweeping around your own backyard”. Basically, taking care of your own business before focusing on others. Ironically, if you spend all of your time taking care of your responsibilities or doing your part, you won’t have much time to focus on others.

“Colleague watching” has become a negative workplace past time as things have become more competitive, individuals feel overworked and under appreciated, or simply, when they are not managing their careers appropriately. Rather than appreciating the hard work of a colleague or complimenting someone, it becomes a routine of dissecting the non-essential items and making things personal. Office gossip largely results from these petty discussions based on feelings and incorrect assumptions, even general dislike for a peer. Instead of “Lucy really deserved that promotion, did you see the results of her last project?”, it becomes, “I don’t know how she got that promotion, she’s always late”. Even if that perception is reality, it’s not exactly relevant to you, and more than likely you have a particular behavior that you wouldn’t want a non-managerial employee putting a spotlight on (assuming that none of us have reached sainthood).

Once it was brought to my attention that a colleague was seeking to find my blog with the hopes that it would cast a negative light with my employers. Without ever having read any of my posts, the assumed personal feelings or perhaps negative attitude of this person led them to believe that I must be saying bad things about the company and this would be the “gotcha” moment. Initially I was offended but I got over it quickly because it helped me finish a draft that I had begun months before. I realized that it was important to point out what is missed when you’re seeking to find fault with others. So, in appreciation of my lovely Grandma who always said “sweep around your own backyard before you sweep around mine”…here goes.

The Benefit of Keeping Your Eyes On Your Own Paper

1. It makes you more aware of areas that YOU need to improve upon. I always like to triple read a post and run it through a grammar checker before publishing, simply because I prefer to find my own errors. Being cognizant of areas of improvement spare me the embarrassment of being called on basic misspellings, usually the result of typing as fast as I think.  Imagine how much better your results would be if you spent time reviewing your work instead of searching for the shortcomings of others (and in turn…)

2. You will develop professionally and find opportunity to develop others. Leaders are people who have generated trust within their organizations. If you are known for being the Negative Nancy in the group, it will be less likely that the development of others will be entrusted to you, especially since it’s proof that you may still need to develop.

3. You will build bridges among your peers. Everyone can be drawn to an encouraging spirit while few enjoy the presence of a naysayer. What’s your network like? You can often identify the perception that others have of you in your moment of greatest need. When I experienced a lay off, years ago, it was easy to reach out to others that would WANT to help me.

4. It’s an attitude enhancer. Looking for the flaws of others is a “bitter making undertaking” (a little Mary Poppins style poetry).

5. You will be happier with your own performance and position. As tough as it may be, the actual outcome is more pleasant when you review your results in light of your previous performance, not others. A win for me may not be a win for you.

6. The merits of your position will be amplified when you’re not comparing yourself to others. Comparing your day-to-day experience with someone in another department, role, etc. won’t help you appreciate the benefits of your daily experience.  I used to hear complaints about the amount of money that salespeople would make in comparison with other areas of the business (operations, accounting), these apples to oranges narratives didn’t make sense and created irrational levels of dissatisfaction.  (for the record, you may not want to be in a position that has no pay when you don’t meet metrics although you have shown up everyday!).

7. Your frame of mind will change. Consistently searching for the negative will crowd your thoughts with exactly that, however, focusing on the positive when you find your mind drifting will be the best measure toward mental fortitude in any situation.

8. How people perceive you will change. It’s easy to say that you don’t care what others think of you but when the perception begins to impact your professional experience it also changes your performance in many cases.

9. Your mistakes will be more accepted (and trust me you will need this benevolence at some point). People will give you the benefit of the doubt when you are known to do the same.

10. You won’t risk uncomfortable personal interchanges at work. Repeating things that you hear puts you in the place of being challenged over unprofessional behavior that can have far-reaching ramifications.

Can you recall a time that you were distracted by the performance or perception of others? How has focusing on your performance enhanced your professional experience?

If You Live Off Love You’ll Starve To Death

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It’s definitely been a long day when I’m quoting the patriarch of Duck Dynasty but I have to tell you the man leaves behind little gems of wisdom that can’t be ignored. In this case he was referencing the danger of marrying a woman who can’t cook so I’ll ignore the old school nature of his conversation and focus on why it caught my attention.

A recent article noted sales as one of the top global careers for 2013. While many would be surprised at this, I’m not. Sales is consistently in the short list of growing career fields for a number of reasons but rarely noted as the career of choice for new professionals and college grads.  Instead, it’s often a career of last resort.   The reputation of being a salesperson combined with the inherent (and perceived) financial risk of selling is a deterrent for many.  Seasoned professionals with all of the skills and talent to transition to sales don’t want to take the risk because they have experienced the stability of a “guaranteed” paycheck while new job seekers often don’t view it as a career and have been trained to concentrate their search on a “stable” position with solid income, or even more interesting, SOMETHING THEY LOVE.

I’m a proponent of following your passions (seriously, I write three blogs on subjects that I enjoy) but you can’t always start out living off love.  If you’re in the small percentage of people with an immediate means to your endgame whether it’s creative, scientific or otherwise, cheers to you!  What about the larger portion of the population that is experiencing the effects of a struggling economy and the resulting stagnant hiring market?  Are you sitting around waiting impatiently as you search for the career of your dreams or are you weighing your options and keeping an open mind?   If you don’t want to starve to death, I’ll tell you how to identify a path to your vision through sales.

In a December Forbes article the top 18  professions were listed (I know, why not make it an even 20?).  Number 7 on the list was Sales Representatives for wholesale, manufacturing, technical and scientific roles.   An interesting note, the subcategories represented 3 of the top 7 categories.  Basically, sales was number 7 but “top jobs” 1, 4 and 6 were all Technical or Scientific positions.  I know there are a lot of facts and figures and the logic of someone with a greater degree of book education than me BUT in my mind that actually moved sales to a reasonable 4 on the list–don’t try to figure out my math, just go with me here or use the number you’d like!

That’s my Forbes argument for why I believe Sales makes sense as a career, but I have a few other reasons why it’s more than just a “respectable” option.  I believe that EVERYONE with the right personality can go into sales and stave off starvation but even more do something you love, here’s why:

1) Sales fits into any field of interest.   One of the most successful headhunters that I had the opportunity to interact with was a science geek first and foremost.  He had a chemistry background and all of the stereotypical traits of a scientist.  His cutting wit allowed him to be more people oriented than the standard “nose in a book” research scientist but he had all of the knowledge necessary to do so.  Most scientists at entry levels don’t make the kind of money that he needed for the lifestyle that he wanted but sales reps can!  Enter the sexy world of BioPharmaceuticals in the late 90’s/early 2000’s and he could talk science all day with candidates and flex his educational muscle with Chief Scientific Officers.  Industry Exclusion: ZERO   Sales: ONE

2)Personality Can Often (safely) Override Experience.  Personality is important when you visit a physician but bedside can’t compensate for education.  You can’t hire a physician based on personality and no technical training but you the necessary character traits can translate into a rock star sales candidate–that might be you.  This absolutely doesn’t mean that intelligence isn’t a requirement, it definitely is, however lack of educational and practical experience aren’t disqualifiers in the sales world.  While great sales managers are proud and unwilling to accept “any old slacker” they usually have the flexibility to see worthy hiring potential without checking off every tick mark for the HR perfect candidate.  Experience: ZERO   Sales: TWO

3)If you have a hobby you can sell.  When you love something enough you can talk about it for hours.  Men, particularly, do a great job of getting together over their hobbies and in turn translating it to business opportunities.  Rather than just making it fun, monetize it, make it employment not just enjoyment.  I realized that I had interest in the stock market during my high school economics courses and dabbled via personal trading sites–you know you love that little baby.  This hobby helped me when I was approached regarding a stint selling Investor Relations tools and products.  I knew enough about the financial market that combined with on the job training made me comfortable targeting CEO and CFO’s of publicly traded companies.  What do you enjoy?  Which companies should you be targeting in that specific world?  Transition Inhibition: Zero  Sales: Three

4) Do you have an extensive verbal repertoire?  My son is a cellist.  He’s got the skill set to play ANYTHING and that’s just what I encourage him to do.  Why should Bach be the only composer you know well when there are modern composers that offer you an opportunity to expand your book of knowledge?  I love to walk in the house and hear him playing Coldplay as much Chopin.  That’s the kind of person that can make a home in sales.  If you answer jeopardy questions, read a variety of books, and have natural curiosity that should translate well into knowing a little about a lot, a key component to becoming a successful salesperson.  You always want to have knowledge about the product you’re selling but your client will be more interested in speaking to you if YOU’RE ACTUALLY INTERESTING!  There is nothing I won’t talk about (within professional reason) and if I’m not experienced on the topic I can work Google search results into my conversation seamlessly.  Master of Trade over Jack of All Trades: Zero   Sales: Four

When it’s all said and done the skill, will and thrill sales environment isn’t for everyone but there are many people who miss out on great opportunities because they haven’t considered the career potential in sales.  Exploring the option could lead to your happy, happy, happy career moments (sorry another Duck Commander reference).

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Please Don’t Stop The Music

Remember Calista Flockhart in all her skeletal glory dancing through the halls of the law firm that made you want to get a law degree?  Ally McBeal wasn’t the first time that I realized I live my life according to a theme song but years later in my professional life it remains a front of mind inspiration.

I love theme songs.  Sound kitschy?  Too bad.  I’m an avid music lover so it only makes sense that I make it a part of my career.  I always have a song for my day.  There are times when I realize that I’ve been listening to the same song all day having subconsciously chosen the mood and the magic for the day.   I was walking through the mall once and I swear Robin Thicke was behind me singing, When I Get You Alone…”because you walk pretty because you talk pretty…”, trust me it’s a confidence booster!

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My passion for music doesn’t allow me to discriminate among genres except to say that old school country wouldn’t be my first choice, however, browse through my collection and you couldn’t identify my race or regional origin, nor should it matter.  If I built a Motivational playlist for my early morning prospecting it would include Rihanna’s “Pour It Up”, Pistol Annie’s “Hell On Heels”, Rev Theory’s “Hell Yeah”, and Jay-Z (and company) “Run This Town”.  I don’t care who’s singing it I’m just looking for a push.  A lot of these songs are great when working out as well.

During my research hour (early morning or late afternoon) I might pump nothing but hardcore rap music or anything off of the Punk Goes Pop albums (check out the Mercy Alive remake of Mercy (Kanye West) below–yeah that happens.

Music is an emotional driver, no doubt about it, so be careful what you ask for.  I stay away from my Grey’s Anatomy playlist during the day because emo music doesn’t offer the energy that I’m looking for but if I were an artist in a studio I might opt for it.

What track gets you amped throughout the day or has a pull on your mood (good, bad or indifferent?)
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What I Heard: “Snappy Email”

People who LOVE to be right also typically look for a fight, they just don’t realize it.

Scenario:  First thing in the morning and I’m listening to someone vent about an email they received.  Apparently the email suggested that something hadn’t been done and the reader was offended.  To her credit, I wasn’t reading the message or its tone, all that I know was that she wasn’t happy.  She proceeded to make sure that she was right about the issue at hand and then clarified with a co-worker by saying “Look at this.  Am I right?  I just want to be sure that I’m right before I send off my snappy email!”

As the conversation continued they planned out the best way to word the biting email, even including a screenshot to validate the receiver’s error.

Conversation:  “You should include a picture just so he can see it”

“Yeah, yeah, I should.  That’s what I’m going to do”.    And send.

Clearly this was a lot of energy expended to prove that she hadn’t been wrong but even more energy expended in doing something wrong.  I’m not perfect.  I’ve been there.  Typing 95 wpm with few errors (that’s how I roll), making sure that my words had the greatest amount of intended sarcasm.  I’ve been guilty of it.  As I’ve moved up the food chain my email exchanges have been more consistently with upper management or clients so those tactics would be career suicide.  I also am in a position of NEEDING other people to get to my endgame and I’ve learned that you get more bees with honey and more stings by swatting (I’ve got to move back to NYC, I’m sounding more and more southern each day).

Here are a few tips before you click the send button for that “snappy email”:

1. Don’t HIT SEND. If ever you’re going to exercise patience, now is the time.  Wait five minutes.  If you’ve heard it before, I assure you it works.

2. You’ve waited five minutes and still FEEL the same.  You need another five minutes.

3.  Now that 10 minutes have passed, use your thesaurus.  Any words that could be viewed as negative (you know the ones) should be reviewed for a less stinging substitution.

4.  Remember you’re not wearing a black robe and you don’t have a gavel.  Replace as many “you” comments with ownership statements.

Instead of “you missed the deadline for the client and the project will be in jeopardy” try “I’m concerned about the state of the project since we are missing critical deadlines”–share the responsiblity and then clarify on what is being missed, they will know exactly what their role in this was.

5.  Reaction is not based on relationship.  The way that you respond to your colleagues should be professional and respectful, regardless of their position.  The CEO is a human being and so is the Purchasing Agent.

6.  Read the email as though it were being sent to you.

7.  Be honest about your emotions.  I heard the person above say that they were tired and this wasn’t a good morning (we were 15 minutes into the day).   If you’re not 100% or woke up on the wrong side of the bed, save the draft and come back to it in the afternoon.

8.  Take off your boxing gloves.  When we are or feel slighted the immediate reaction is to fight, sometimes flight is the better option.

9.  Don’t engage others in your mission.  We all love to share when we’re having a snappy moment and for the most part they will engage for a number of reasons.  If you’re going to speak to someone to get their perspective find the person that you KNOW is typically positive not the one that will champion your snark mission.

10.  Ask yourself if this email is worth your job.  In most companies, nasty retorts aren’t acceptable professional behavior (yes, I know management can be the most guilty party but let’s focus on us).  Would you be comfortable if that email was forwarded to your manager?  If you would that requires another post about professional behavior and I’ll have to catch up with you at another time!

Thanks for reading.  I’m begging forgiveness for a post pending about my reaction to something very similar.  Coming soon!