One of the frustrating things in life is not getting credit for the work you do. Married couples know this to be true. I still feel the need to be praised for emptying the dishwasher without being asked. Parents know this to be true as it isn’t until later in their lives that kids truly can appreciate the impact their parents had on them. Anyone with a job knows the frustration when their boss takes credit for their work.
Credit is one of those issues that is extremely difficult to navigate because it comes in many forms and often follows a hierarchy. The boss gets credit for the work of her team. The CEO gets credit for the successes of everyone in the firm. There’s nothing either right or wrong with this system, just the way it usually works.
The desire for credit comes from the need for our work to be rewarding. No one wants to work most of their life at a task that isn’t appreciated. If you develop software, you want users to appreciate your systems. If you run a bank, you want customers to trust you with their money. If you answer phones, you don’t want everyone you talk to complaining about you.
When we have big successes, whether individually or as part of a team, we really want that success to be recognized. Big successes don’t come along every day. But the thing about credit is that the more it is shared, the less anyone actually gets.
All of the above is true for a view of credit as something that comes from above. I’ve developed a different philosophy though:
The most valuable credit you can receive is the type that is never spoken.
The credit that comes from being trusted, given the hard tasks, asked for help, and generally counted on to be there in tough times is better than anything else. Reflected credit cannot be taken away because it’s not just one-time. It comes from building trusting relationships that makes all work better.
The easiest expectations to fill are the expectations that don’t exist. Just because an expectation isn’t written down doesn’t mean that one doesn’t exist. Managers will often have a deadline in their head for delegated tasks even if it isn’t clearly communicated. But for some projects, the schedule is firmly in the hands of the project team.
A schedule with no deadlines or commitments will always be the easiest to meet. If you don’t have to do anything, then there is no point when you can be behind. Every Red/Amber/Green report can be shown as green. Every status update can be given an “everything on track” statement.
Eventually, the process will always catch-up though. Someone will get around to asking “so what have you been doing all this time.” The answer cannot be that you were just having meetings and developing a plan. The moment the question is asked “what you have been doing,” an expectation has officially been established. Unfortunately for you, that expectation will be something better than where things are at.
It’s always best to establish firm expectations up front even if they are aggressive and cause you to go Amber/Red on your updates. At least that shows that you are trying and tracking. That’s how things get done.
The work we do is not as simple as a job description written down on paper. It’s not just about showing up at 8a and leaving at 5p. There are two very different parts to how every person goes about their job:
- What the actual job is.
- Their perspective on the best way of accomplishing that job.
The first is external to the person. Almost all of us receive our direction for what we are expected to achieve from some external source. It is possible to be very clear what we are expected to deliver.
The second is internal to the person. How do we choose to go about completing the job that we have been asked to perform? A direction that we choose for ourselves will often determine how successful we are perceived to be based on the expectations of others – even when the outcomes would have been the same regardless.
Types of internal perspectives include:
- Churn and burn: Work as quickly as possible to just get the job done at whatever level of quality is required. Work comes in, output goes out. There isn’t a lot of thought to doing things differently.
- Fill the hours: Complete the work provided in no more and no less than the number of hours assigned in the day. This may mean being inefficient with how the work is performed but the goal is to blend into the background.
- Learn and grow: Take on the work provided and determine ways to do it more efficiently. Often this will include taking on new requirements as you gain availability.
- Superstar to the stars: Look good at everything you do. Do it better than others, get all the attention you deserve, seek out that annual plaque for best performer. It may not matter how good you actually are as long as you are recognized as great!
- Quiet greatness: Everything needs to be done the best way possible. The best reward is a job well done. You aren’t seeking personal credit, but you do want everything to be the best way possible.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of perspectives that a person may have in their job. Humans carry more nuance than just one way of doing work. Sometimes we may even have one perspective on one task and a very different one in another. It may have to do with comfort level or something else entirely.
It’s also important to know that none of the above are “the best” perspective for any given person or job. Sometimes you want someone that will churn and burn and sometimes you absolutely need to avoid quiet greatness. A person who excels at one job may not fit well in another.
This title may sound positive but it isn’t always. The bandwagon effect is well established. When a team is winning, others want to be part of that success. But those others that come in bring with them their own issues, dilemmas, and drama. In the world of sports, this isn’t so bad because those bandwagon fans cannot do anything to really impact the on-field result. But in the world of business, they can lead to disastrous outcomes.
Successful projects are not terribly common. There are plenty of projects that achieve their desired outcome but they simply accomplished the expected. They may have been simple, ordinary, everyday type activities that just got on with it. Truly successful projects develop a reputation.
Much like people, some projects develop a reputation. They may be known for their timeliness or their scale. It could be the importance put on it by leadership or the breadth of participants from various groups. It may simply be because word of mouth has gotten out and people are talking about it during a slow period. Any number of reasons could transpire to make the project well known, but once it happens you know it without a doubt.
The bandwagon effect in business typically means one of a few things:
- People (not involved in the project) start using your project as the reason they haven’t done something on their list: I would have accomplished this but I’ve heard that Project Alpha is going to have an impact so I’m waiting for that to resolve first.
- People (not involved in the project) become nervous about the impact you are going to have: Have you heard that Project Alpha has the possibility of increasing revenues while cutting headcount by 15%?
- People (not involved in the project) begin acting as if they know what is happening and the outcome to influence others (not involved in the project): I was on a meeting for Project Alpha last week and it is definitely going to require changes to the cost allocations to my group immediately, we should start now to get ahead.
- People (involved in the project) start using it as a way of showing their own importance: Yes, I’m a project manager on Project Alpha but I really shouldn’t talk about it…
Almost unilaterally these effects have a negative impact on the business regardless of what the hypothetical Project Alpha is. It’s important for these behaviors to be spotted and managed as early as possible or the negative impacts could outweigh anything positive that comes about.
Back to one of my favorite topics today, communication. It’s the center of everything. It’s actually even more important than that in real estate. There’s nothing worse than implementing some amazing new office only to learn the business had decided to double their headcount and they won’t fit. Communication.
Sadly, one of the main reasons that communication breaks down is “too much work.” When people get busy they don’t want to “waste time in meetings” or “spend all day answering emails” or “stop and chat on the phone.” Said another way: they get too busy to communicate.
I’ll be the first to argue that many meetings are a waste of time. Some days it feels like many meetings are primarily a way for some people to appear busy without achieving anything at all. Other meetings feel like they are ripe with potential to achieve great outcomes only to be foiled by poor planning. Communication without thought is often worse than no communication at all. At least with no communication people may feel compelled to use their best judgment.
Communicating is the core component to every job. You need to be able to relay the thoughts in your head. You need to be able to convey the needs of your team. You need to be able to receive the current state of your partners. You need to be open to understanding your vendors. You need to be able to participate in group decisions.
On the surface, communication isn’t hard. But somehow most people fail at successful communication much of the time. Even successful communicators sometimes forget what to do.
All of us are impacted by the decisions of others. When we are children our lives are dictated by the decisions of parents, teachers and other adults. When we first start working, we are pushed by the decisions of managers. As we grow in our careers, we are still impacted by managers but often we also become impacted by the decisions of others outside of our direct line.
In real estate, this particular phenomenon is acutely experienced. If another group decides to grow by 100%, our job is to accommodate it. If HR decides there will be no more work-from-home, we have to ensure we still have enough seats. If a business decides that they need to open internationally, we’re on the frontlines helping find sites.
Our role is not to be directly part of these decisions and often we aren’t even consulted beforehand. These decisions directly impact our daily experience. It can be uncomfortable being at the whims of others that you neither report to or manage.
This discomfort is powerful because it is correct. Working for the decisions of others is more challenging than being fully accountable. At the end, your success is tied to the correctness of the original decision. Consultants and other service providers operate this way at all times. It actually enhances their authority in certain situations while allowing them to play the role of neutral arbitrator.
This discomfort from being driven by the decisions of others puts you in good places. The role of the neutral arbitrator is one of the most powerful in an organization. Yours becomes the voice that justifies and endorses the decisions or nudges them toward greater correctness. Embrace the role and you may find amazing things happen.
Good communications are hard to do. Over communicating can take up all your time. Under communicating can leave your team in confusion.
Figuring out the right line for their team is a manager’s primary job. People need information in order to make good decisions but they also don’t usually need incomplete, possibly wrong or sensitive information.
It is easy as a subordinate to take a lack of information to mean there isn’t a plan. Sometimes there isn’t a plan and you find out only too late. Usually, there is a plan and good reasons for limited information getting out until ready.