Book Review: Challenge the Ordinary

ChallengetheordinaryIn my post, Upright and Breathing Are Not Key Qualities, I shared two reasons why some employers hold on and keep less than stellar performers on their payroll.

Reading ‘Why Evolutionary Companies Abandon Conventional Mindsets, Challenge the Ordinary, Question Long-Held Assumptions and Kill their Sacred Cows’ confirmed another suspicion I had as to why some employers let them stay.  It’s easier to settle than create the environment where exceptional thrives.

Being the kind of company exceptional people want to work at and then want to stay at, demands a commitment to exceptional and a whole lot of hard work.

There is a wealth of information and wisdom in Linda’s book. I have tabs stuck on numerous pages and lots of highlighted information. Here are notes from just four of those tabs:

1.  The Competitive Advantage quadrant outlines four ways companies operate.  Some companies have a clear vision of future but no clear plan on how to get there. Others rest on the laurels of previous or even current success. Because they are successful now, they continue to operate exactly as they have always done and therefore, quickly fall behind.  Some companies look for instant gratification. They have short-term goals which are successfully implemented, but those goals are without long-term focus. Companies in the competitive advantage quadrant have a proven track record of success, but unlike those resting in their laurels, they ask the question “Is this still working  Can this be done better, differently, more exceptionally?”  Companies in this quadrant also have clear direction and take the time time develop strong execution plans.

2.  A change-oriented, learning culture is needed to achieve exceptional.  This really ties back to willingness to ask “Is this still working? Can this be done better, differently, more exceptionally?”  Providing training and coaching support is critical and exceptional leaders ensure their teams get that support, but a learning culture goes beyond that.  A learning culture also includes the assumption that positive change, improvement, happens when there is a pro-active approach to problem-solving.  It means an understanding of and willingness to take on the inherent risk of trying a new approach and perhaps failing. It is through trial and error that better solutions are found.

3.  Setting, sticking to and living  high standards.  Exceptional companies expect so much more than good or great companies. They set their standards high and they don’t let them slide. Mediocre or ‘good-enough’ is not accepted.   The leaders of exceptional companies understand that they must be the living, breathing example of what they expect from the people on their team.  They do not demand or expect more from others than they themselves are willing to give.

4.  A one-size-fits-all approach to coaching doesn’t work.  Some of you will know how much I dislike the one-size-fits-all approach to anything, so I couldn’t help but love this statement.  Coaching, rewards, recognition .. they all need to be done with the individual in mind.  What works for one individual won’t work for another.  Too many companies have approaching coaching, training, rewards and recognition with a one-size-fits-all approach and then abandon them because they don’t work.

These are is only four quick take-aways from Linda Henman’s book. If I kept writing, and I could, you would all need to go and get another cup or two of coffee.  In short, if you want to be the kind of exceptional company that draws star performers to you and then keep them with you, create an environment where stars flourish and shine.  Stars ditch companies that tolerate mediocrity and companies filled with mediocrity don’t attract stars.

Now go, work hard and shine!

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review Linda Henman’s book, Challenge the Ordinary.)

They Don’t Teach Corporate in College

I remember my very first supervisory job.  I was in my early twenty’s, had worked hard, proven myself and was given the opportunity to be a shift supervisor. I was not a particularly good supervisor and could have really used the advice provided in Chapter 9 (You’re the Boss Now) of Alexandra Levit’s book, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College.

This book, written with the twenty-something, new to the business world person in mind, is full of information on how to successfully navigate the corporate world.  Alexandra provides practical tactics and strategies on how to land a first job, create and implement a career plan, manage disappointment when a job does not meet initial expectations and if necessary, exit gracefully and move on to the next opportunity.

What makes this book particularly effective are Alexandra’s real life examples, as well as the stories shared by readers of previous editions.  Those stories bring the content to life and provide proof that mistakes are nothing more than opportunities to learn, to adapt and to get it right the next time.

From a supervisory / management perspective, reading this book provides insight into some of the challenges or assumptions twenty-somethings may bring to the workplace.  It’s easy to forget what it was like when we started our career journey.  They Don’t Teach Corporate in College is an excellent reminder and has the added benefit of enlightening us on how expectations have changed since we started our own career journey.

If you’re looking for information to make your transition to the business world less overwhelming and confusing, or if you manage twenty-somethings and want to understand them better, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, this book is for you.

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review Alexandra Levit’s book, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College.)

The Importance of Habits

In The CEO Code, the author, David Rohlander dedicates an entire chapter to the topic of habits.  The importance of positive, productive habits is not a sexy or glamorous topic.  Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Habits make or break careers.  Negative habits get in the way of success.  Positive habits help you achieve personal and professional goals.

Regardless of the title a person holds or if their desk is in a cubicle or a corner office, it is important to look at the habits held and practiced and then work on replacing the bad habits with good habits.

For example, CEO’s, sales managers, receptionists, accountants all benefit when poor time management habits are eliminated.  Many of us get stuck in the rut of completing a task a certain way and with a small tweak, could reduce the amount of time spent or perhaps even provide someone else the opportunity to take on the challenge.

Make it a habit, a ritual, a must to acknowledge the people you work with, instead of rushing to your desk to start on a busy day.  This creates opportunities for dialogue and improved relationships.

Instead of jumping headfirst into your day, make it a habit to start each day with reflection.  Spend some time focusing on your personal and professional goals, your successes and your challenges.  This mental mind shift from “must get done” to a long-term, big picture perspective helps prioritize during the rest of the day.

Do you want to become a better communicator?  Identify your poor habits and replacing them with better habits.  Instead of automatically jumping in with suggestions or solutions to problems, make it a habit to ask questions and provide opportunities for others to develop solutions.

The CEO Code is filled with practical advice and tips on how to be a better leader.  One sure way to achieve personal or professional success, is to develop strong, positive habits.

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review David Rohlander’s book, The CEO Code.)

Success from a Millennial’s Perspective

Google “managing millennials” and you’ll find a long, long list of articles and resources all addressing the question “How do organizations adapt to the unique perspectives and qualities millennials bring to the workforce?”

I was recently given the opportunity to read a book written from a millennial’s perspective on how to be successful in today’s constantly changing corporate work.  The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World, written by Aaron McDaniel, touches on basic truths that apply to all generations.  Perhaps the scariest part is Aaron’s statement that these concepts are not being taught in college.  Hopefully that is not true across the board.

I must admit I was really hoping to learn something completely new, completely different, but I didn’t. And that’s not a bad thing.  In the end, the road to success hasn’t changed a whole lot.   Success is not a right; success is not a given.  Success depends on a willingness to:

  1. Work hard
  2. Take risks
  3. Learn from others
  4. Learn from mistakes
  5. Create a career path
  6. Be flexible
  7. Challenge yourself

Aaron speaks to millennials from a millennial’s perspective.  Remember how your child believed his teacher or scout leader, instead of you, even though the message was the same?  A millennial hearing the message from one of their own, someone who has enjoyed significant success, may be more willing to listen.

Aaron also provides specific examples of how behaviours that are new in today’s corporate world apply to old truths. For example, the importance of acting professionally is not new.  Aaron reminds young workers that their behaviour, even when on break or outside of work, impacts other’s perceptions of them.  Posts and updates on Facebook, twitter, blogs and other social media channels are open and accessible for all to see and posting  unprofessional “party ‘til you drop images” on a public forum may very well impact the next promotion, the next job opportunity or the successful close rate with customers.

For me, the two most important lessons from this book are:

  1. Take control of your career.  Create a career plan.  Identify where you want to go and what you need to do in order to get there.  Nobody is waiting to give you what you want.  Go out and get it.
  2. Learn how to successfully leverage mentorship.  Identify potential mentors and ask them to be a mentor.  Recognize and value their time, their knowledge and their experience.  And when someone asks you to be a mentor, do it.  Giving back and helping others succeed is good for them and for you.

The Young Professionals Guide to the Working World is an excellent resource for millennials looking for ideas and suggestions on how to be successful in today’s corporate world. The truths Aaron outlines have stood the test of time. They work and he is a living, breathing, millennial example of that.

(Thank you to Career Press for the opportunity to read and review Aaron McDaniel’s book, The Young Professionals Guide to the Working World.)

We Need more Freds (and Jasons)

Awhile ago, I introduced you to Jason, a Service Star I know.   In a comment on that blog, a reader referenced the book “The Fred Factor” by Mark Sanborn. Well, I finally got around to reading it this weekend and if you haven’t read it yet, take the time.  (Thanks Paul!).  It’s a quick read and a great reminder of the importance of service.

For those of you that haven’t read it, the author and speaker introduced us to his letter carrier Fred and the exceptional service he provides.  The passion and commitment to service that Fred provides is an inspiration to us all. (Hmm … considering that my service star, Jason works for Canada Post, perhaps the phrase “going postal” should be viewed in a positive light?!)

There are many nuggets of wisdom in the book. Here are four of my take-aways.

1. Nobody can prevent you from choosing to be exceptional.  It’s easy to blame our lack of motivation or sincere desire to provide the best service possible on others.  Perhaps you’ve heard or said the following:

  • My boss doesn’t like me.   He’s got his favourites and I’m not one of them.
  • The company doesn’t care, so why should I?
  • Customers are rude; they treat me like their servant.
  • I’m just working here while I put myself through school. Then I’m getting a real job.

In those situations, do you choose to perform to bare minimum or extremely well? Do you choose to make someone else’s day just a little bit better, or not?  Do you choose to care about the individual, instead of what they can do for you?

Some circumstances may make exceptional more difficult to achieve, or on the other side, may make it that much easier for you to be the exceptional one, but either way, nobody can take away your choice to be exceptional except you.

2. Everyone makes a difference.  Not only does everyone make a difference, people want to believe they make a difference.  Every person in your company is a part of the company’s success or failure.   There are too many people who use the words “I’m just” when describing what they do.  There are too many people who feel that because they are not a supervisor, a manager, or the “big boss” they are less important.

Housekeeping, front desk, bussers, cooks, servers, supervisors and general managers are all important.  When is the last time you thanked and acknowledged someone for their very important contribution to your customer’s experience?  Tell somebody today.

3. Create personal value.  Creating value is not about spending more money; it’s about focusing on the small, personal touches that create relationships.  The “wow” of a big screen TV lasts only a very short time and probably won’t bring a lot of referrals your way.  The “wow” created by a sincere “I’m glad you choose to stay with us” will last longer. Imagine the value created if every one of your team members smiled every time they saw a customer and greeted that customer with a good morning or good afternoon and wished them a good day.

It’s also important to create personal value with your internal customers.  Get to know your team members personally. When I was starting out in the hotel industry, I had a general manager who knew the names of every person on his team.  Every day, he walked the hotel. He asked the housekeepers how they and their families were doing and he listened to their answers.  He stopped at the front desk, the restaurant and regularly visited the banquet department and kitchen to find out how their day was going and to share a laugh.

4. If you want a team of Freds, it starts with you.  You can’t force someone to be a Fred.  Instead be the example. Be enthusiastic, be committed, be passionate and be exceptional and invite the people you lead and work with to come along for the ride.

In a nutshell … being a service provider may  not be glamorous, but it is noble.  Service providers with a passion for what they do and who they serve have an opportunity to make people feel valued, cared for and important. Their smile, their commitment to exceptional and their genuine interest in the well-being of others create feelings of goodwill more valuable and lasting than any big screen TV or other amenity money can buy.