Posted in Strategy

Ideas on combating ageism in the workplace

The technology field has always been considered a field for the young.  Startups look for the bright eyed youth willing to put in 60-80-or more hours a week with the hopes of a grand success and easy future. Those of us who have been through the industry know that’s the exception rather than the rule and wish the kids would listen. 

When your career spans more years than some of your colleagues have been alive, you learn a thing or two.  You’ve seen the management theories come and go.  You’ve seen the latest, greatest project management methodology be adopted like wildfire and dropped just as quickly. You’ve seen technology ideas form, execute, and fade away, only to come back again touted as something completely new (I’m looking at you, thin client computing.) 

The problem is, with the bias in the industry that technology is for the young, there is a natural prejudice against the wisdom and learnings that come from experience. How can we get others to recognize the value of having been through the wringer a few times and knowing how to be prepared? Think about it this way, if you’ve had a 25 year career, you’ve covered the lifespan of five startups. 

I’ve worked with two companies over the years where the average tenure of the staff is more than 15 years a person. The technology groups have seen things change only to stay the same.  They don’t adopt the latest thing that comes down the pike. They don’t jump on the newest methodology. They’re in it for the long haul and their strategy and their people reflect that.

How can we combat this perception that in technology fields experience has less value than youth? The first step for those of us with years under our belt is to recognize this is not a level playing field and that we can’t play by their rules. If we try to out-hustle, out-work, and out-play them to prove we are just as good we’re wasting the strongest asset we have…our experience.

Don’t challenge just because it’s been done before.  Challenge to see if what caused it to not work has been resolved. Don’t argue just because it hasn’t been tried, draw the comparisons to what has been successful and show the steps that need to happen. Recap completed efforts rather than just running into the next one.  Don’t accept minimum viable product because it’s part of the methodology, accept it if it’s delivering the value you know the customer wants from experience.

Taking the role of a mentor for colleagues (not a know-it-all, that’s a different problem) and helping them learn the questions to ask and the skills they need beyond the ones and zeroes demonstrates that experience I’m talking about. The concepts of DQ (digital intelligence) vs. EQ (emotional intelligence) marry nicely to the concept of wisdom. Anyone with motivation can learn a technology. Learning how to read, understand, and adapt to people and personalities only comes from experience.

There’s no easy solution to the problem of ageism in the workplace.  There’s no hashtag we can get behind that will change how things are. (Though #getoffmylawn works for me.) The best thing we can do is to remember we didn’t get where we are over so many years by being distracted by the newest thing. If you know you’re being discriminated against because of your age there are steps you can take, unfortunately it’s not so obvious that it’s easy to document. Be aware, discliplined, and don’t fall for the myth that years are a weakness.

How do you deal with ageism in your workplace? Have you encountered it before? Are you guilty of it? Tell me about it.

Posted in Strategy

The Cost of Saying No

In the common wisdom of productivity circles there is a mantra the best way to get control of your activities and workload is to start saying no. Sounds easy right?  Just say no and then whatever that item is isn’t on your list. Just say no and you’ve avoided all that work.  Just say no and you take control of your life.  Just say no and unicorns show up with boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts that help you lose weight.  (Ok, maybe not the last one, but you see where I’m going with this.) 

Unfortunately, as is with most things in this world, it’s never that easy.  There are costs for saying no and those costs often prevents it from being said.  But why is saying no such a big deal?  Let’s take a look at three of the most common reasons people have a hard time saying no. 

I don’t want to be the bad guy 

Humans are social creatures by design, regardless what your introverted friends say, and the last thing we want to do is anything that would put our standing in the groups we favor in jeopardy. Saying no is a resistance to the structure and needs of the group and can push you away from the perceived common interest.  It’s this risk of becoming an outsider even if only for a moment that compels many to say yes to work they should rightfully be resisting. 

If I don’t do it, no one else will 

If you’re in a survival situation where unless someone goes and gathers food you’ll all starve when the zombie horde comes then that job is a “must-do”.  There aren’t many real must-do jobs in the world.  Most often the urgency is a created one, not reality based, and it creates a sense of pressure and influence on people to do “what must be done.” Evaluation of these items critically especially with an eye towards the actual impact if they are not done is key in deciding what the cost of saying no will be. 

It makes me look like a team player 

That it might but the question then becomes how do you look to the rest of the team.  If you’re a soccer fan having the goalie playing striker and defense, while possible, is not a good idea.  There are specific skills and talents needed, ones not everyone has.  Just because they’re available doesn’t mean they’re the right person for the job. Be aware of your strengths and your weakness and know when to accept work you can be highly successful at or that helps you grow as an individual.  Also know when to resist work that you have a low chance of success or does not help you continue to grow. 

But I don’t have a choice 

That’s not one of the three but rather an assessment of the cost outright.  You have decided that the perceived cost of saying no is too high for you to suffer for whatever reason. Perhaps it places your career at risk. Perhaps you have seen others suffer negative effects from saying no to work. Perhaps even you are compelled internally to always do what people ask of you to be a “good person.” In all of these cases I stress pragmatism and analysis. The only thing worse than saying no is saying yes and failing miserably when you knew better. 

Saying no always has a cost. How you handle that cost and how it balances against the good will you develop from saying yes to the right work and succeeding can make all the difference in your decision making processes. 

Posted in Techniques

Being more influential at work

We all want to achieve more in our career goals. Whether that comes from striking out on our own or by climbing the corporate ladder, being influential with the people you encounter can help significantly in achieving your goals.

Developing expertise and listening skills can be extremely helpful, but I’ve found connection building can be the make or break action you take in expanding your sphere of influence. Introductions and, even more so, reconnections make it far easier to get your voice heard and name mentioned at the right times.

Have you been successful at expanding your influence at work? If so, tell me how in the comments.

How to Increase Your Influence at Work 

Posted in Uncategorized

What does it take to take charge of your career?

What does it take to take charge of your career?

At some point and time in our lives we all want to take our career by the reins and take control.  For some it may be a perpetual state of mind (good on you), for others it may be out of desperation.  In either case, or somewhere in between, it’s not something you can just wake up one morning and say, “I’m not going to let others dictate my career path any more.” Or is it?

Decide to do Something

In productivity circles one of the biggest foils to progress is procrastination.  The same thing applies when it comes to career action.  You need to make the decision you are going to do whatever it takes to take charge of your career.  No more waiting for that promotion.  No more hoping to get a good review.  No more praying you’ll get recognized for the hard work you’ve been doing.  Nope, it’s time to put up or shut up.  Making the decision to take action can be the hardest, scariest, and easiest thing to walk away from you’ve ever done.  As you start to make progress though you’ll look back and say, “What the hell was I waiting for?”  Saying you want to make a change is not enough though.  To succeed you need something more.

Make a plan

The late Sen. Fred Thompson in the movieHunt for the Red October is quoted as saying, “Russians don’t take a dump without a plan, son,” when referring to Capt. Ramius’ plan to defect from the Russian Navy.  If you take Ramius as executing on an extreme form of a career change (an understatement I know) then having a plan was the absolute requirement of success.  Figure out what you want to do and what is in your way of accomplishing it.  Do you want a promotion?  Do the people who control the promotions know that?  Has your work reflected your ability and capability to not only deliver on your current work but also the requirements of where you want to move?

Lay out the steps you need to accomplish your plan. Determine the players involved in decision making for your actions. Identify how you communicate your interests as well as your capabilities to the decision making powers-that-be.  If you’ve already decided you’re ready to take that step, this is your chance to validate that choice.  This can also be a gut check to discover you may not be ready yet and find out what you need to do to be ready. Every great plan can run into problems, so as you plan you need something in addition.

Have a Backup Plan

I’m sure you’ve heard the “eggs in one basket” chestnut in the past.  Think about your career aspirations as one big ostrich egg in one little basket.  Now, hand that basket to someone else and close your eyes.  Feel a little out of control now?  That sense of anxiety is us allowing our grand career plan to be executed by someone else. For every step in your plan you need to ask yourself, “What can I do if this step doesn’t work/happen?” Devise options for yourself.  Be prepared with contingencies. Don’t let the fragile thread of your determination be cut by one misstep in an overly complex plan.

Whenever someone asks me what their plan should look like I tell them, keep it as simple as possible.  Think about James Bond.  How many times has he escaped the overly complex plans to destroy him by megalomaniac villains in his movies? Simple, clear, concise plans have a much greater likelihood of success than the convoluted strategies that require multiple external factors to fall into alignment. In the planning and strategy world there’s a term called analysis paralysis that can creep in here, where you keep planning but never actually get started.  For any of this to be worthwhile you need to get going.

Don’t Wait

It’s an old quote but one that is undeniably true.  Rarely do good things come to those who sit idly by and wait.  There is a small but significant difference between waiting and being patient.  Only so long can you wait before the moment passes you by.  Remember, it’s not only you that’s watching your actions.  If you keep waiting for something good to happen based on others’ evaluation of your efforts, all you are likely to receive is doubt as to why you don’t have the initiative to go along with your work.

When you lay out your plan make sure you outline points to take action and points to measure the success of those actions.  Additionally you need to follow with actions in case the first actions are unsuccessful or don’t deliver the level of results you want.  Yes, I know this sounds like it’s getting more and more complex as you think about it, and that is true it can be complex but this is your future we’re talking about, now isn’t it? It can be discouraging when you think about all the things you have to do but you can’t let that happen.

Don’t get discouraged

Taking charge of your career is not a once-and-done thing.  You’re not trying for a new job or a promotion.  You’re laying out a path for yourself to follow every day, each step taking you not closer to a specific goal but along a series of experiences helping you grow and achieve both professionally and personally.  There will be setbacks.  There will be challenges. There will be people who, unintentionally or intentionally, derail your plans at times.  What it all comes down to is who do you want to be in charge of your future?  Do you want someone without your best interests at heart to be running the show or do you want to be able to look at that face in the mirror each more and know that’s the guy in charge?