I have always been achievement-driven. Goal oriented. Task (and multi-task) focused. Growing up as a Boomer, with hard-working parents who started from scratch, I have a strong work ethic, set aggressive job goals for myself and hold myself accountable for high standards of performance. I have followed my passion, doing work I love. Along the way, I’ve also focused on continuous learning, and as a reflective person I’ve experienced plenty of life-lessons. Some were pretty painful. Some of these lessons came about through failure, struggle and loss. And sometimes failure, struggle and loss came about despite or due to my strategy for success, which was all about hard work and achievement. I’m writing to share what I’ve learned about success with you.
Let’s step back for a moment to think about what we know about work. We all know, in our heads, that managing people is about getting work done through others. When we’re on a project team, we’re getting work done with others. When we’re serving customers we’re doing work for them. What may be less apparent is that we are all working through and with and for others every hour, every day, all of the time. This is a universal truth that applies to people regardless of the job held, and for managers, its impact is exponential. It applies to us whether we are individual contributors, leaders, managers, in direct labor or indirect labor roles, regardless of function or level. I “knew” this for years before I really caught on to what it means in relation to success.
What it means is that both achievement and other people need to be our top priorities at work. The secret to success is incorporating this universal truth into our values, work philosophy, mindset, strategy, actions, decisions and behavior– at work. So…what’s the next step? I don’t have all the answers, but I will share my own approach or “strategy”. It may help you to develop your own. For me, it’s a work-in-process that is ever-evolving and never done.
For the first step, I’ll refer to some coaching I received from a colleague who worked in Marketing many years ago: Sit down and identify the people who are in your span of influence. Make a list, use an organization chart, draw a mind-map, a tree diagram or a network diagram — whatever works best for you. I use circles with myself in the center, connected by lines. This data point will change and you’ll need to give it attention on a regular basis. And, it’s a starting point, only.
Your span of influence includes co-workers, peers, clients, your immediate manager, people who report to you — people impacted by your presence, your work, your decisions, and so on.
- Identify the people in each category by name (if there are very many, you can refer to them initially by group names)
- Recognizing that they are all important to you, because they are in your span of influence, think about your impact on them — and highlight those 5-10 individuals you impact most.
- Then highlight the 5-10 people who impact you most.
Back when I received this pearl of wisdom, I didn’t think I needed to focus on relationships. I had always found good friends at work, and had an active social life with people from then-current and prior workplaces. In addition, I was an individual contributor and was viewed as a high performer. The idea of focusing on work relationships as part of a plan seemed uncomfortable and I didn’t see the need. It was years later when tough circumstances brought this Span of Influence conversation to mind and I really got it.
Step two: List your current work goals and priorities – they should align with the company’s business strategy. For my small consulting business, I link my goals to the value proposition or competitive differentiation.
Step three: Plan your time to focus on your priority goals and people. Effective time management skills are critical in order for us to effectively focus time on the people and the goals that impact our success. In particular, this includes making time for the people whose names you highlighted, building and strengthening your work relationships. This may include helping them, listening to them, getting to know them, giving them what they need from you, thanking them, obtaining their input when considering an action or decision that will impact them, having positive interactions with them, and so on. We cannot be reminded too much that good work relationships cannot be taken for granted or assumed. Like any important relationship, they require frequent time and attention.
Step four: Do it. Executing this strategy requires that we not only start each day with a plan, but that we also update that plan as each day progresses to ensure we make any essential adjustments. This is a key aspect of time management, and you may already have your own method. I do this using the M.I.N. question: What’s Most Important (for me to do) Now? My objective each and every day is to meet the needs of and strengthen relationships with the priority people in my span of influence, and to work on my top priority goals. Things often come up that cause me to make trade-offs, and each time that occurs, I ask what’s my M.I.N.? And, I make time-checks so that ensure I spend time effectively on both the people and the goals each day, so that I balance my time effectively. I also use the M.I.N. question to initially plan each day as well as each week so that I have a clear path set for myself. I have found this helps to form genuine, close working relationships with mutual trust, respect and caring — while still providing enough work time to do my best work.
This strategy may sound simple. Maybe not. Keep in mind, over time because of staffing changes, project and goal changes, and other changes, the people highlighted in your span of influence also will change. You’ll need to be agile and flexible. And, if you’re a go-with-the-flow person, or if you’re as much a results/task/goal and achievement-oriented person as I am, it will definitely not be easy. It requires self-discipline to establish new approaches and to leave old thinking behind, but if my experience is any indication, this is a work (and life) strategy that fosters success. I have aggressive goals as a consultant in a new business, and I believe I’m on the right path, the path to the success I’m looking for. Time will tell.
What has worked for you in driving your own success? What lessons have you learned? What is your opinion of my strategy? Please share your experience and knowledge as well.