“I’m gonna be honest here, Rick,” Tuan began, “I just don’t know what you’re doing all day, and that’s the problem. You haven’t resolved a whole lot of tickets – only 50% of the next lowest technician.
“You say that you’ve been working in your labs and trying to learn more about the new cloud technology, but if that’s true – if you’ve really been spending eight hours a day on that – then I think there’s a real deficiency in your technical know-how.”
Four. There were four crumbs on Tuan’s desk. Counting and making lists was Rick’s way of dealing with … well everything he was dealing with: shame, embarrassment, fear that he’d have you tell Laura that he’d been fired.
Rick shifted uncomfortably. “I uh … I understand what you’re saying.”
“Look. I’m not trying to dig at you. We’re willing to help. Whatever it is – if you need training, if you need to move desks, whatever. Just let us know what we can do. But honestly Rick, I really think that you need to just buckle down and do the work, you know?”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
When Rick got back to his desk, he was 2 parts relieved and 1 part depressed. He’d been able to save his job, but Tuan, and the rest of the team, expected a lot of improvement. Rick knew that he could improve, but did he really want to? Did he really want this job?
His face was red, he could feel it. It wasn’t anger though. The truth was that Rick had been expecting this talk for a while. He knew that his work wasn’t up to standards. Rick had been feeling unfocused, apathetic and just lost for a while. Those feelings had manifested as aimless and “lazy” behavior.
He’d taken new tickets as they came, but his efforts had been lackluster to say the least. He’d escalated to the admin team more often than not, and the tickets that he was completing on his own were coming back with mediocre Customer Satisfaction scores.
Rick needed to make a choice.
Rick’s Personal Realignment
He took out a notepad and wrote the following across the top:
What do I want?
Then he made a list:
- Provide for my family
- Make a meaningful contribution
- Further my career
Beneath that list, he listed his three options:
- Find Another Job
- Continue the Same
He tapped the pen on his desk for a few seconds, thinking, and then began writing:
- Find Another Job: The job market is horrible right now and I could get fired in the meantime. Even if I find another job, there’s no guarantee that it would have the same pay, perks, and benefits. And I definitely wouldn’t be able to use Tuan as a reference.
- Continue the Same: I’ll get fired eventually. It’s inevitable. So I’d still have to be looking for a job in the meantime.
- Improve: This job has good perks and great benefits. The people are pretty decent. Do I really want to leave? What would it take to improve?
He looked at his options in light of his list of priorities. He pursed his lips and nodded. The answer was clear. He needed to improve.
Before leaving for the day, Rick made one more list:
How I Work Best:
- Quantitative measurements
Deciding to Change Behaviors
The next day, Rick arrived at the office 15 minutes early with a renewed sense of purpose and direction. He looked over his lists from the previous evening, and decided to expand upon that last list:
- Responsibility: Complete tickets. Don’t hand off until I’ve done my due diligence. Treat customers with respect and care.
- Accountability: Meet with Tuan once a week for 1:1 and be honest about how I’m doing. If I’m struggling, try to have some possible solutions prepared.
- Quantitative measurements: Keep track of my time. Monitor my closed and escalated Tickets, as well as the time between ticket opening and closing. Keep track of my average Customer Satisfaction rating. Show improvements in all areas.
Despite having been put through the wringer the day before, Rick felt good. He had some concrete goals with quantitative measurements attached. He knew what he needed to do.
He taped the list to his computer monitor, and got to work.
It’s no surprise that we sometimes feel trapped in our work and habits. It happens to everyone – full time employees, contractors, freelancers, middle management, artists, business owners, etc.
In my blog, I talk a lot about leadership and how leaders can influence, inspire, and manage their direct reports. However, as I consider the topic of personal realignment I’m reminded of two quotes by one of my personal heroes: Lao Tsu, the founder of Toaism. The quotes are as follows:
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”
If we want to lead others, we must cultivate a personal leadership over ourselves. We must be willing to change, to let go of destructive habits and evolve into a better version of who we are.
In Rick’s case the motivation came from an external source, his boss. That doesn’t have to be the case, however. Whenever we feel lost, apathetic, frustrated, or stuck we can take the opportunity to realign our behaviors and motivations with our priorities.
Ultimately, the difference between success and failure is not in the type, intensity, or scope of challenges that we face. It’s in whether or not we can realign ourselves to overcome those challenges.