New Beginnings

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but it’s also been a hectic couple of months. But, it’s been an amazing couple of months. I finally achieved one of my life goals (and a secret goal of starting this blog), and took my dream job with the Walt Disney Company. And now, I can finally share the details of how I got to this point.

It all started, appropriate to the timing of this post, as a New Years Resolution in 2011. It took a lot of internal struggle just to get to the point where I could make this resolution. I had always wanted to work at Disney. It was my dream company, with a product I’d be excited to work on and values I’d identify with; but there were parts of me that were scared to try. I didn’t want to leave my hometown where all my family and friends were. I was quite comfortable at [my former job] and I didn’t want to “leave the devil I know for the devil I don’t know.” I could go on and on, because there will always be reasons not to pursue your dreams. But in the beginning of 2011, with my MBA behind me and my friends succeeding at achieving their life goals, I got inspired. I decided that this was going to be the year I set my mind to achieving my dream.

My New Year’s resolution was not necessarily “get a job at Disney in 2011,” although that’s what I hoped would end up happening (SPOILER ALERT: it did!). My New Year’s Resolution was to do one thing every single day that would get me closer to my job at Disney. This took on a variety of meanings from applying for jobs (I applied for a grand total of 32), to researching different aspects of the company, making new contacts at or affiliated with Disney, writing blog posts, or honing my technical skills. I wrote this as a task in my day planner for every single day of the year, and if you know me well you know that I absolutely live to check off tasks in my day planner! As an aside, this helped me with 2 of my other resolutions to learn Italian via Rosetta Stone and work out 6 days a week. I highly recommend a day planner to anyone who doesn’t have one. That overdue, unchecked task really taunts you.

Anyway, back to the journey. There were some setbacks. I felt pretty confident when I finally submitted my first resume, after days of tweaking and sending to friends and family for advice, only to immediately receive a rejection email within 6 hours of submission. The same followed for the next 3 resumes I submitted. It got better from there, but only in terms how long it took for my rejection letter to come. The long lead times between submission and rejection provided me with some glimmer of hope that maybe this whole ordeal wasn’t totally pointless. It wasn’t until mid-July  that I was invited to my first phone screening interview, which led to a phone interview with the manager, an in-person interview, and, finally, a job offer.

That period from applying to offer took about four months, and during that period I never stopped my daily Disney task to make sure that if it didn’t work out I wasn’t falling behind. I even looked into moving to Orlando toward the end of the year without a job to better network and be more available for interviews. If I hadn’t secured the job when layoffs at [former company] were announced, I am about 95% sure I would have offered to be separated.

Finally, let me close with just one really simple thought about this whole experience: having your dream job 100% rocks, and I highly recommend it to anyone. This is such an obvious statement that it doesn’t even seem worth stating, but if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have taken me 4 years to work up the courage to realize that this was what I really wanted, so maybe it isn’t that obvious. It’s been a lot of change, but it’s exactly what I worked for and wanted, and I’m excited to build a career here.

I’m thinking really hard about New Year’s Resolutions for 2012, so expect to see a post on that in the near future (Hint: More blogging will likely be a theme for 2012). It worked out last year, so why give up a good thing? I think of it as my Personal Annual Review, but I’m only accountable to myself. It’s motivating to have goals and checkpoints for yourself to do the things you really want to do.

Happy New Year, make 2012 your best yet!

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Zero Sum Games

Sorry again for another lack of updates. I’ve been keeping myself busy with vacation, some busy work days, and my sister moving to college. I have found some time to join some discussions on LinkedIn, and one of the topics I keep finding threads leading to is teamwork – How can I make my team more cohesive? How should I measure my team? etc. While the discussions are in the context of technology projects,  all walks of professional life make mistakes when trying to answer this question.

Compromise, collaboration, and cooperation have become the new “dirty c-words.” Look at our political system. As many drift further toward extremes in the political spectrum, we begin to create scenarios where one must lose for the other to win. In today’s game of mud-slinging, it’s the individual with the least dirt (note, I did not say the cleanest – there are not many who are clean) who wins, and the other who loses. And ultimately, anyone who is not in complete alignment with the winning extreme, loses. In the context of the discussions we had on LinkedIn, where both teams were measured on the defect count, the developer had to lose for QA to win (high number of defects identified) and QA had to lose for development to win (low number of defects identified) – and people wonder why they don’t seem to trust and collaborate with one another? They are actively incentivized (sorry for the made up buzzword) not to.

In economic theory, (and incentives are certainly economics) a zero sum game is defined as a situation where one participant’s gain can only be balanced by an equivalent loss from the other participant. Rankings, at-odds metrics, and performance appraisal curves (possibly even performance appraisals in general – but that thought needs its own post) all encourage another “c” word that should be dirtier than it is – competition.

Competition is healthy, to an extent. But today’s business world is increasingly complex – it requires cross-functional collaboration and high efficiency to be successful. If your metrics encourage competition, you may find that your senior staff members hoard the knowledge that makes them more efficient than the newbies, keeping the learning curve high and efficiency low. Even something as innocuous and seemingly harmless as individual performance measurements based solely on individual contributions can discourage sharing. It may not be defined in my project role, but I may have information that could help avoid a potential pitfall if I share it with the team. I’m not necessarily purposely hoarding the information. But if I’m not measured on the overall success of the project, just my individual contribution to it, I likely won’t involve myself in meetings or conversation around this topic since I’m not accountable – we’re all busy, after all (I say “I” and “my” universally in this context). But if I know that, regardless of the success of my individual project workstream, I will not be counted as “successful” unless the project is successful, I’m more likely to lend my expertise to areas outside of my defined role and be a true team member.

One of the participants in our LinkedIn discussion exemplified this in a unique example of a teambuilding exercise. Imagine you are at a bowling alley with your colleagues, all split into several teams. Your first instinct is to absolutely crush as many other teams as possible. But the rules for this game have changed – no one gets a reward at the end unless all of the teams successfully finish at or above a certain milestone. Now, if you’re a bowling expert, your instinct is not to crush other teams, it’s to share tips on how to release the ball, where to aim, etc. because you’ll be rewarded for their success. Ultimately, your focus will be on the success of the entire team, not your team.

I’m not suggesting that team measurement is the silver bullet to team success, or even team cohesiveness. It is simply one variable in the equation, among trust, respect, understanding, and a genuine interest in the project. But team measurement has broad applications. Even in a Sales environment where individual measurements have reigned king for several years, there are benefits to be reaped here. Salespeople sharing their successful pitch, customer knowledge, efficiency tips, etc. are unlikely if I know that sharing these tips and making another salesperson more successful means that I will be viewed as comparatively less successful.

People Don’t Buy What You Do, They Buy Why You Do It

A timely video of Simon Sinek in a TED Talk from 2009 relating to the idea of believing in what you do and how it impacts others. I love TED Talks, and I watch a few each week, but a friend sent this one over to me after reading my posts about personal values and mission statements.

The only thing in this video I don’t like is the ending. He makes a distinction between “leaders” and “those who lead,” but I think his definition relates more to titles than it does the capacity to lead. At some point trying to distinguish “managers” vs. “leaders” vs. “those who lead” vs. “people who lead people” or other definitions just becomes a word game. The point is taken, though, that leadership is not synonymous with power.

WordPress won’t let me embed the video, but check it out on the TED site. And if you have never been here before, browse around for topics that interest you. This is a great resource to give your brain some exercise.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

Have a great (and safe!) 4th of July weekend! I’m off to the Outer Banks for the weekend.

The Mission Statement

Since my post about personal values and guiding principles, I’ve been wrestling with my personal mission statement. Like a good little MBA graduate, I wanted it to have the classic elements of a good mission statement (Thanks, Dr. Parente), like my purpose, my “key stakeholders,” and “my business.” It also needed to reflect my values and my guiding principles so there is line of sight from my mission statement to the core of what makes me tick. So, after laying the groundwork for the values I ran through some exercises to put the foundation of a mission statement together. I dug through my MBA toolbox and started a stakeholder analysis. I won’t bore you with the details, but ultimately I ended up with the stakeholders you see in the mission statement (family, friends, community).

So, here is the result of more balled up note cards and post it notes than I care to admit:

Personal Mission Statement

I am on this earth to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I will bring joy, loyalty, and friendship to those who know me. I aspire to be worthy of the respect and admiration of my friends, family, and community. I will use my skills and knowledge to improve the quality of life as we know it today.

Short and sweet. It addresses the people who are important to me, contains elements of all my values and personal guidelines, and serves as a constant reminder that I’m on this earth for a reason. It’s very broad reaching, but I think that’s good because I don’t want to set limits on what I can do. Of course, this can and will be revised, just like a company’s mission statement, as I grow personally and professionally. I’ll probably have a wave of ingenious in the middle of the night several months from now and rework this again, but for now I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out.

I strongly suggest everyone go through the values, guidelines, and mission statement exercise. It really adds perspective and helps you get to know yourself.

Time Management is Impossible

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted. I’ve gotten completely immersed in the start of Summer. With the pool open and the grill fired up, I just haven’t been able to get myself to sit down in front of a computer and write. But, thanks to my Kindle, I have been able to get a lot of reading done on the topic of leadership. The book I most recently finished is Stephen Covey’s classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Of all the concepts and topics this book covers, the one that stands out to me as a habit I need to work on is prioritizing my day. Covey’s quadrant framework for managing your time measures importance and urgency on the axes (pictured above). Right now, I can admit I spend a good amount of my time on Quadrant III activities, or things that are urgent but not important. Importance, of course, is relative. An interruption to a Quadrant II activity for another activity may be important to the person interrupting. But categorically, responding to an issue or urgent request from one individual may not be as important and as good a use of my time as preparation, planning, and prevention. A better use of my time may be to view interruptions as a “big picture” and, rather than respond to each one individually, take the time to plan to prevent an issue or interruption from occurring in the future. As my Dad likes to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

One of Covey’s challenges to see where you stand on time management is to measure an average day in 15 minute increments and place each 15 minute interval into a quadrant. I did this throughout an entire day (from waking to bedtime, not just a workday) and my breakdown looked like this:

Quadrant I: 25%
Quadrant II: 10%
Quadrant III: 40%
Quadrant IV: 25%

That’s definitely not where I want to be if I want to be effective at using my time. So why is time management impossible? Because you don’t manage time, you manage yourself. You can try to change the passing of time all you want, but at the end of the day the only thing you can change is the way you use it. The ideal mix spends more time on important things, whether they are urgent or not. It’s often easy to put aside very important things if they are not urgent in order to work on things that are urgent, even if they’re not important. Of course, if you push aside important, but not urgent, tasks long enough they will inevitably become urgent and you will have to be reactive when addressing them, without taking the time to plan appropriately and do them right. They’ll consume more of your time than necessary and the result will likely be ineffective as you scramble to try to get them done quickly.

My challenge for myself is going to be to flip my ratios around and try to manage my time more effectively with better planning. My goal is for my time to start looking more like this:

Quadrant I: 30%
Quadrant II: 45%
Quadrant III: 10%
Quadrant IV: 15%

I know the balance looks off with more time being spent in Quadrant IV than III, but keep in mind we’re talking about my full day. I think about 2 hours of “goof off” time at the end of the day is about right, and I’m hopeful that with more focus on Quadrant II that I can prevent some of the fires that creep up and cause so much of my time to be spent on Quadrant III today.

This week, though, a good portion of my time is going to be spent on FUN. On Wednesday night, I’m off to Disney World for a 4-day weekend. I’m not even sure what quadrant to put that in because while vacation might be seen as a time waster, I think there’s a good amount of personal development at play when you’re truly relaxed and in a place you really enjoy. I’m always so impressed with their leadership and innovation, so I’m sure I can already foresee the topic of the next post I’ll write.

“See ya real soon”…

A Job Begun is Half Done

Mary Poppins sure was on to something when she said that. Have you ever gotten so far behind on something that just the thought of starting it puts your stomach in knots? It doesn’t entirely keep you from being productive. Maybe you go do other, smaller tasks to make yourself feel better about not doing that one thing you really need to be doing. My house is a great example. If I fall behind on picking up after myself (laundry, dishes in the sink, etc.), the thought of having to do them all at once as one big cleaning “event” is enough to make me put it off for weeks and let more stuff pile up for the inevitable cleaning event.

It’s easy to do the same thing at work. Sometimes we get so bogged down with the little day-to-day things and ad-hoc requests that we don’t have any time left to devote to getting rid of those daily annoyances. I think all of us, myself included, are programmed to do the things we’ll see immediate results from. That’s why it’s so difficult to eat well, stay motivated to exercise, save money, and other things that seem to be too taxing in the moment but provide payoffs later. In a society where technology has made instant gratification almost expected, we have a difficult time seeing past the “right now.” But have you noticed that once you get the motivation to start it, you quickly hit your stride and fly right through it?

I challenge anyone who reads this (all 3 of you) to try to look past this. Accomplish one thing you’ve been putting off, put aside little things to do the big thing that can get rid of them, and do something that won’t pay off for at least a year. I’m writing this down and publicizing it to challenge myself. Over the next week, I’m going to do 3 things:

1. Knock out the thing that inspired this post – clean the damn house already. Top to bottom.

2. Get started on a work project I haven’t had time to start doing because of all the other little things that have taken precedence  (probably won’t be posting any additional details on this one, but I’ll update on whether I actually followed through on my challenge!)

3. Do something, or at least start something, that won’t pay off for at least a year. I haven’t figured out what this is going to be yet, but I have some ideas in mind.

If you feel so inclined to take the challenge, let me know in the comments what you’ve decided to do. It’s easier to actually follow through on something if you’ve made it public and have someone to hold you accountable.