Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Survive before thrive

What do we have to do before we thrive in any field? Field may be personal or professional. We have to SURVIVE before we can thrive. We may not realize but survival is not something that we can take for granted. We do exactly that because we have survived so far. Survival needs a lot of attention in infancy in any field. That's when chances are high that we are annihilated due to variety of reasons some of which may be beyond our control.

Let's reflect on survival strategies at the work place. Some of us may take an exception to the very  notion of having to survive at the work place. That may be disgusting for some of us especially if we think we command serious attention in the workplace due to our knowledge, experience and other credentials. Yes, it is true. All our worth is like the power in a seed to grow into a big tree if and only if it is sown and nurtured. Again survival is important even for most talented people.

It's not at all surprising that people losing their position due to soft skills exceeds people losing due to hard skills by many folds. Employers are smart enough to hone in on hard skills quite well. They know what they want in terms of hard skills and grill candidates appropriately to select a person they think can do the job for them. Can the do the same thing with soft skills? Probably not. So, we have a situation where in a new hire is a good fit from hard skill standpoint but a questionable fit from soft skill standpoint. So, chances are high that people are found to be a misfit for lack of soft skills.

First and foremost, we have to recognize that our success or lack there of in any organization at any point in time depends a lot on our soft skills. This is a no brainer if we recognize that organizations are a collaborative entities in the first place. If a person can not collaborate (not just work together), he does not meet the first principle on which organizations are run.

So, first thing is do whatever we can reasonably do to fit into the culture of the organizations we are in. It is not enjoyable some time. If we have ended up in an organization which is not in sync with our values and principles, the conflict can be quite distressing. But, if we are going to be there for a while, it makes sense to accept the fact and do what it takes to make the best of it. It's like doing crazy things to fit into your peer group. Most of us have done stupid things to be part of the crowd when growing up. Those of us who did not do ended up being isolated. That time it may not have mattered much because we were focused on school and in school a lot of stuff  individualistic. But, in companies things change and keeping to oneself or staying aloof does not help in anyway. On the contrary, it may hurt if people around you mistake you for minding your own business. So, do all that is reasonable to fit into the company's culture. If majority of your colleagues go out for  lunch, do go out as often as possible with them. Join them to cafeteria. If they have a program every Fri evening and invite you, make it a point to show up at least for a while. The good thing about group acceptance is that it demands only the bare minimum. Nobody is going to complain if you leave bowling alley in 30 minutes Fri evening. Important  thing is that people should remember having seen you there.

Second thing is to swallowing our pride. In my practical value chain, pride is all the way down. It makes no sense to walk with you head held high with pride all the time. You risk banging your head against all the beams when you walk if you fail to bow when there is a beam across. Real pride does not require attention or outside exhibition. It's an internal feeling that you are doing right things in a right fashion. The pride that we need to watch out for is external pride which forces us to be right all the time, get our dues for our worth etc. This has to be watched for. Especially when you are new in an organization, not paying attention to managing your pride can be a serious problem to survival. People despise proud people. It may be absolutely wrong. You may be the gift from lord to the company but more your portray that image, more negative feelings you garner from your colleagues. Take it easy. Bow more often than you do. Take little more crap than you usually tolerate. Take care to say only politically correct things. Do not be in a hurry to rock the boat with your pronouncements. Lie low and take it as it comes. You know it is like fumbling your way through a dark room full of low hanging beams. Without knowing where the beams are you protect your head well by moving around bowing all the time till you figure out where all the beams are. After that you can time your bowing your head just in time when you are about hit a beam.

Third is patience. Patience pays. How? Patience is probably one of the very few things that pays because it conserves your vital energy which is spent when we are impatient. How do we become patient? We become patient by thinking thru our plans and setting realistic goals. By setting realistic goals and realistic plan to achieve them, we know what to expect at what times. If things we expect happen in advance, we can rejoice momentarily and move on. If they take longer, we do not have get impatient because our deadline is far into the future and we have contingency. Patience also goes a long way in winning over people around you. Do you like to be around an impatient person who is always in a nasty mood? Hell  no. Impatient people in authority figures are sure killers of productivity in their people. Their impatient demeanor immobilizes the very people from which they are trying to extract productivity. With patience, you start waiting for right opportunity. With patience, we can get along with all sorts of people. With patience, we win people's respect and admiration for being thoughtful for being a good listener and for being a good guy in general. Even if things take longer than you expect, be patient especially if you are someone who has manage solely by influence.

Fourth is to stay focused on your goals.  A lot of distractions and dilemmas come due to our lack of focus. With a clear focus in mind, we can banish most of the distractions and dilemmas. The goal need not be a long term goal. Even a goal such as 'I want to finish these 3 tasks by the end of the day' is a very valid goal. Once these tasks are your focus, nothing should come in its way. If anything has to come in your way, one or more of the tasks from the list of three must exit. Staying focused saves a lot of vital energy. Some of us are well tuned to fighting fires only. We can not survive without fire. The way we operate is that we come to  work, sit out watching for a fire to break out.  As soon as we get the emergency call, we rush to the place of fire and put the fire off. Do we always have to fight a fire? Think about it- do we always want to fight the fire? The best advice I got was 'fight the fire only if it is on the way to your goal.' Then it is a real impediment and needs to be attended to.  If it is burning somewhere else, let the firefighters there take care of it. Go there only if someone makes it a higher priority for you to fight that fire first and your original mission the second one. Bigger problem with fire fighting is that we become addicted to fire fighting and we can not operate without fires. If there is none, we light one up and fight that valiantly to justify our wages. That's our way to glory by pyrotechnics.

Fifth is going an extra mile to make yourselves valuable. This does not mean biting more than you can chew. It means going out of you way to help out where you can. Believe it or not. People who willingly take additional responsibilities without grumble or nagging are loved everywhere. For your manager as such is a big headache that he has to get some additional work done and on top of that he has to convince you to help him or her, there can nothing worse than that. Do not make your managers sweat out to ask you can you do that for me. Always portray the image that you are a 'can-do' guy.


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