Throughout my career, I have worked hard, gotten lucky, and been blessed on many occasions. I have worked for large and small companies, had both wonderful and horrible bosses, and managed some pretty incredible people. No matter the circumstances, industry, work environment, or financial position, there are three guiding principles I have developed that have served me well. Call them secrets to my success, undeniable truths of the working world, or common sense; either way, I live by these principles every day, and you can benefit from them, too.
- Document everything. You have absolutely no idea how many times I’ve save my own keister by making sure I have everything in writing. So many of our colleagues rely on in-person conversations and phone calls to get the job done. I do the same thing, but I always follow up “offline” conversations with “online” documentation of the conversations. The best way to capture the information is by sending an email with the conversation highlights. Not only is it “on the record,” but it’s also time stamped. As we’ve discussed before, adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it, so sometimes when the pressure is on some people like to throw others under the bus. If you happen to be the unlucky recipient of that behavior, you can get in a lot of trouble if you can’t back up what you know is correct. Document, document, document.
- Assume nothing. Never assume your colleagues instinctually understand what you’re saying. Also never assume they have the same level of knowledge on a subject as you do. Don’t be afraid to “take it from the top” and give your coworkers full context on a subject, project, or initiative. Most people love the recap, even if they’ve been involved from the beginning, and it helps to level-set the expectation of those who may be coming late into the conversation. You can give a full recap in just a few minutes, and it helps to make you look like the thought leader. The downstream benefits are infinitely higher than the minor effort required on the front end.
- Think like a lawyer. This goes hand-in-hand with the “document everything” axiom. I’ve worked for several companies that are either highly regulated and/or have undergone intense government scrutiny. These experiences have given me a very unique perspective on how to act, react, respond, and communicate. The casual email or IM you send to your pal in accounting may very well turn up in your HR file in the future, through no fault of your own. The phone call you fielded from a reporter, where you provided some informal comments you assumed were off the record (remember to assume nothing) can end up on the home page of Fox News the very next day. Talking trash about your boss to a trusted colleague could be accidentally overheard by someone else and cost you your job. WWLD: What Would Legal Do?
These sound simple enough, but you’ll find they are actually quite difficult to incorporate into your everyday working life. Take the time and effort, and you will not be sorry. You can trust me on this. (This is the only time I will encourage you to ignore the “assume nothing” axiom.)
October 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm