What defines a "great employee" now? What qualities? What results?
After traveling the world for the past 16 months, listening to top Executive Assistants' stories about their managers and fellow employees I've concluded that we "workers" are a bit lost. We join companies with the best of intentions, feeling empowered and ready to assert ourselves for the benefit of our managers, the company, and yes, to feed our egos a bit with each win we're recognized for. The reality, we find, is that we've joined companies often with under-baked managers who are spending more time mitigating the perceptionthat they have no clue WTF they're doing vs. actually managing. We're surrounded by employees who, like us, joined the company with the same, great intentions only to end up surly, unchallenged and defeated, yet still showing up every day to collect the check. Situations like this can feel like a slow, painful death to an overachiever who is always looking for ways to streamline process, improve communication and, generally, make the company or the product even better. So what does one do when in a situation such as this?
One thing I teach in my classes is accountability. It's important to understand that your individual contribution to a company is based primarily on how you show up each day. Your attitude is a key contributor to your success, even if conditions at the company aren't ideal or as you'd hoped after you signed your offer letter. Sure, there are situations and work environments that simply suck, be they too hierarchical, poorly managed, nepotistic, etc. Those are the situations you extricate yourself from ASAP. However, I continue to wade through endless whining and complaining about companies and managers by employees who have completely exonerated themselves from blame for why they perceive their company is going to shit. Sorry. Not buying it.
As employees I believe we've handed over the reins a bit too willfully. We show up with this "what's in it for me" attitude and quickly become disenfranchised when our grand plans are thwarted, instead of continuing to fight for what we know is right or could help the company succeed. My grandmother used to tell me, "One monkey don't stop the show." And I believed her. I show up every day with the same goal: to make an impact. No rogue employee or bad manager could ever stop me from achieving that objective because it's solely mine. The impact that I choose to make, even in small increments, is purely up to me. Fighting for an initiative or continually re-crafting my message until it's accepted/adopted is part of how I show up as a passionate, experienced employee every day. For instance, when a manager rejects one of my ideas I don't get salty face, fold my arms and immediately stomp to the water cooler to express my disdain for the company with the other crows gathered 'round doing the same. I assess whether or not my message was clear or relevant enough. I ask clarifying questions to understand the "no." I try to understand the opposing view in detail so that I can figure out what the blockers are, specifically, to vet whether they are factual or emotionally-based. And from there I craft a strategy to change their mind. If I still can't get through and my idea still gets rejected, I've already done enough research to ascertain whether or not I'm dealing with someone rational or emotional. If my ideas are too often rejected without facts, then I know I either have to circumvent that particular manager or consider leaving the company if that manager is the CEO.
I've never subscribed to "worker mentality." That's likely because I've been both "worker" and small business owner several times throughout my professional career. What I've learned as a worker has influenced how I ran my businesses. What I've learned as a business owner influences how I show up as a worker. I'm acutely aware that I have an important responsibility as an employee. That is, to show up every day to do my very best work, be hyper prepared and with opinions based in fact not emotion, and contribute my ass off with a great attitude, strong work ethic while reliably meeting or exceeding expectations. Kinda simple, really. It's when we fall victim to worker mentality, believing we don't have the respect we deserve, can't make an impact because we're cockblocked relentlessly, or that our managers are idiots and are somehow out to make our lives completely suck, that we become those crows at the water cooler looking for external validation that should be supplied, in abundance, internally.
Newsflash: business has changed. The rules have changed. Now, more than any time in the history of business, employees have the opportunity to be heard and make an impact. Leadership teams are much more open to opinions, suggestions and ideas than in decades past because they now understand that some of the best ideas come from the most unlikely sources. However, employees still fear that, "Knock knock...do you have a few seconds?" on the CEO's door. They let great ideas get dusty or even die for fear of rejection or ridicule. I've always held that an idea, even if rejected, leaves a subconscious footprint. It plants in the mind of the listener that you were passionate enough to share it and often leads to another idea or discussion based on the idea you shared. This creates positive momentum and could actually score you a seat at the table unexpectedly because you made the effort to leave that subconscious footprint in the first place.
So, how can you become a "great employee" in today's business paradigm?
- SHOW UP! Stop just collecting the check and show up with the intent of making an impact every day. And that impact has to be initiated and managed by you. It can't be dependent on the whims or actions of others. You determine the impact you want to make, big or small, and focus on achieving that objective. If you get blocked, go around. If you get blocked relentlessly and run out of go around options, book an appointment for a fantastic manicure, come back and flash both perfectly manicured middle fingers and go find a situation or team who will appreciate and welcome your contributions. "One monkey don't stop the show."
- CONTRIBUTE or shut the f*ck up. If you don't contribute to conversations or assert your (vetted) opinions when the opportunities present themselves, that's on you. It's no one's fault but yours. And please spare me the whole shyness argument. I'm sorry...it's bullshit. Part of showing up in business is sticking your neck outside the shell from time-to-time without fear of rejection or (perceived) ridicule. Do this enough times and you'll never battle with confidence again. But you've got to build the muscle. Nothing frustrates me more than watching an employee with great ideas willfully choose not to share them in an open forum. Worse, is when they then head to the water cooler to complain to the other crows about the managers in the room who seem to be sounconcerned about their employees' opinions. You know what? Get out. Just go. Seriously. If you can't advocate for yourself and choose not to voice your opinions or contribute to the conversation, then you officially relinquish your right to complain. Period.
- STOP CARING. (I can sense some of your eyes getting really big right there) We care too much about the opinions of others. We seek way too much external validation which often impedes our ability to simply tell the truth or offer an opposing view. I'm Team DGAF. My truth is not dependent on someone else's validation. I take the time to vet my opinions for fact and deliver them with zero emotion. How someone chooses to take in that information is completely up to them and, frankly, I really don't give a shit beyond that. I know that my intentions are pure and my opinions are delivered without (intentional) bias or intent to harm. If they don't like it, cool. Happy to discuss. Doesn't stop the show, however. And certainly won't deter me from expressing my truth. We've got to get back to telling it like it is without fear or caring about others' perceptions of us when we do. Their opinion of me has yet to cut a check to pay my rent, so...
- IT'S ABOUT THE WORK. OMG if I have to say this yet again. We get so caught up in non work-related BS (emotions, cliques, water cooler crow cabals, perceived oppression) that we forget why we're even in the building: TO DO YOUR JOB and contribute to the success of THE COMPANY. Focus on just that and you'll quickly uncover numerous opportunities to make an impact and have a voice. Fall victim to worker mentality and you'll continue just collecting the check, annoying TF out of the passionate ones, and doing yourself and your professional development a grave disservice....quite publicly, I might add.
- STEP UP. Knock on the CEO's door. (Ask the Assistant first or you'll be blacklisted forever). Speak up in meetings instead of meekly observing. Don't suppress your passion to fit in with the crows. F those kids. Do your own research, especially if you don't agree with what's presented. And then present it, without fear. Often what you'll find is that people make mistakes and that extra effort you took could course correct a project and save the company hundreds/thousands/millions of dollars and countless man-hours.
It's time to really do a bit of self-reflection and reclaim our power as employees. That starts with personal accountability and showing up every day with the correct attitude, the right perspective and the confidence and resolve to make an impact. That's what makes people successful in today's business. We already have plenty of examples of those who have simply given up and remain content being competent and collecting the check while low key undermining the company with their endless whining, complaining and lack of initiative. Be the former. Not the latter. Choose well.