Sunday, January 18, 2009

How to Perform Better at Work: Do What You Love

I did an interesting interview the other day for an article I'm writing for a corporate client about Marcus Buckingham's career training programs. I'd never heard of the guy, which means I must be living on a desert island because he was on Oprah last April. But I found his ideas intriguing. Here's what I learned:

1. You'll go farther in your career by focusing on the things you enjoy doing -- and spending less time doing the tasks you hate.

In Buckingham's world, your "Strengths" aren't necessarily the things you're best at doing. They're the things you love doing, even if you're not the best at them. They're the tasks that make you feel "in the flow" while you're doing them -- energetic, as if time is passing unnoticed.

In contrast, your "Weaknesses" aren't necessarily what you're bad at. They're the tasks that drain you, that you put off doing because you don't enjoy them. You might even be good at them, but you can't stand doing them.

Most performance management systems try to get you work on your "needs improvement" areas. But if these are things you can't stand doing -- Weaknesses -- the effort it'll take you to go from bad to mediocre in those areas isn't worth it. Instead, you should focus your energy on doing what you love to do -- your Strengths -- and you'll go from good to outstanding or even extraordinary in much less time.

2. The best way to be a team player is to offer up your individual Strengths.

When we're working on a team, we typically think we should do whatever the team needs. The truth is, the best way to maximize team productivity is to communicate what your Strengths are and offer those abilities. That way, your teammates know when they count on you to be your most brilliant and engaged.

3. If there's a work activity you can't stand (a Weakness), try getting out of doing it. If you can't do that, change how you think about it.

You know how you hate having to turn in that TPS report every month? Here's a thought: Maybe you don't have to. Sometimes, big bureaucracies have you doing tasks that aren't really necessary -- you just do them because your predecessor did them, but if you stopped, no one would notice, or care.

If the task is something you can't get out of, however, maybe you can change your perception of it. The woman I interviewed said she was coaching a lawyer who said he hated redlining documents. She asked him for a Strength, and he told her he loved negotiating contracts.

She said, "OK, so the next time your marking up a document, think of it as the first step toward a negotiation. Imagine yourself in the negotiation room, bringing up this point or that point."

He tried it and told her it worked. He doesn't love redlining documents now, but at least he feels somewhat neutral toward them. Which means the energy he used to waste hating doing them can be redirected toward something more productive -- like clobbering his adversary in a negotiation.


Goody 2 Shoes said...

I think I saw this Oprah interview (or a segment like it), and it came across as a lot less pragmatic: quit your job and follow your passion, instead of trying to bring your passion to your job. Your post has useful tips! I am wondering how I can apply them to grading papers, which I have to do, but don't enjoy?

Joan Novark said...

Maybe do what the lawyer did and imagine grading the paper as a preliminary step toward teaching a particular point in class. As you're writing comments in the margin, picture yourself in the classroom, explaining that point to your students...

Goody 2 Shoes said...

Yes, or I could be editing inspiring prose...hey i miss the picture of the warrior queen!

Joan Novark said...

Thanks... I liked it too, but it took up so much of the page that people had to scroll down to get to the blog and I was worried I'd lose readers in the process. I'm trying to make the design simpler and more straightforward, so it's clear what the blog is actually about. Anyway, it shall continue to evolve...

Joseph LeMay said...

I fell for that "do what you love" line when I was younger. Talk about bad advice. Do what pays the most, kids. Money brings happiness. Sure, that philosophy worked out for people like Jon Bon Jovi and Derek Jeeter, but for the rest of us - not so much.

Joan Novark said...

Joe -- Fundamentally, you're right. But this isn't quite so pie in the sky.

I'm writing this story for a big Fortune 500 company, and the way they see it, it's about employees spending just a few more minutes each week on stuff they enjoy, and less time on stuff they don't.

Granted, we can't completely eliminate drudgery in our jobs, but sometimes, for instance, we can hand off tasks we hate to teammates who actually like them. I'm writing this story for a group of lawyers, and even though they all have the same profession, their likes and dislikes are very different, to the point where some people love doing tasks their colleagues can't stand, and vice versa. Surprising, but true.