Core Upstream Content

Core upstream content. That means visible, actionable advice for an organization that also provides a landmark to return to when you get confused.

I don’t like creating “fire and forget” content that assumes people will absorb it perfectly the first time and implement it flawlessly with no challenges. That’s silly.

Instead, I try to create good starting points that also provide a way to circle back. Anchor points, “bases.”

Do this in your organization. Focus on instructional content that gives a core concept and philosophy of implementation, not endless edge cases. Let people come back to base when they need to. Welcome and guide them.

This way, you create a stable “expanding spiral” instead of trying to force a straight line that falters.

New Month’s Resolution – November 2022

Happy New Month!

I’m resolving this month to put more effort into intentionally checking in on relationships, both personal and professional. I don’t want to leave things on auto-pilot, and I want the people I value to know about it. I also want to put the time and effort into becoming a better participant in those relationships myself, whatever that ends up meaning for those people.

I hope your relationships flourish this month!

Head of People

Strategy is better than conflict.

An employee goes to their boss and complains that they need a raise, don’t get to do the projects they want, and doesn’t feel in general like they have the resources they need to succeed. The employee is a great asset to the team, and overall likes their workplace, but these things are becoming a problem for them. They don’t want to quit, and the boss doesn’t want to lose them.

But it’s already a conflict! These things need to be resolved, and there’s a great relationship under them – but they’re cause for alarm. Yet this is a bad way to address them. It’s already adversarial.

Now, imagine a different scenario:

The CEO sits down with their Head of People for their weekly digest. The Head of People shares some statistics: 45% of employees have made inquiries about different projects than the ones they’re being assigned, indicating a misalignment of workforce priorities. In addition, an unbiased comprehensive salary report indicates that the company is trending behind the market average, which might cause higher turnover in the near future. Because this is strategy-driven, non-adversarial, and unrelated to any specific employee, it allows the CEO to strategize solutions and actually implement them.

The difference is a system that allows the initial “conflict points” to be distilled into actionable strategy. The Head of People (or Chief Culture Officer, or CHRO, or whatever title they have) is an essential part of this system. Their existence alone encourages the team to voice their concerns, and their role is to consolidate those concerns into something actionable.

Everyone gets heard, efficiency is maintained, and a mutually beneficial relationship is enhanced. Win/wins all around as employee engagement and retention skyrockets and the true power of your organization is unleashed.

If you’re not doing something like this in your organization – why not?

Curve Ball

When you find yourself ahead of the curve on something, you can end up doubting the very thing you’re ahead of the curve on.

You look around you and you see no one adopting the new methodology or technique. You see a useful tool laying around unused. And you think: maybe you’re wrong. Maybe you shouldn’t be trying so hard to make this work, maybe it’s not a good idea after all.

Give it a little time. Your early successes will be part of what inspires others. Someone has to be an early adopter, after all. There’s more risk there, certainly. But also greater reward.

What Say You?

Don’t take “verbal shortcuts.” That’s when you want to be thought of a certain way, so you say it instead of being that way until other people say it.

For example: if you want to be thought of as generous, then give. Give until people say you’re generous. But don’t just call yourself generous.

The verbal shortcut is a bad path. It makes people think things about you, all right. But not the things you’re aiming for.

Here’s a good general rule: don’t describe yourself, except to yourself. Talk to the person in the mirror about what you want to be, and be it. Other people will see it and say it – or they won’t. But you’ll sleep a just sleep, and that’s enough.

Head Shot

If you wake up in the morning with a pounding headache, it’s possible that you spent a long night drinking heavily, banging your head to loud music, and crushing beer cans against your skull. Another possibility is that you were minding your own business and an unprovoked lunatic assaulted you with a blunt object.

The thing is, you probably know which one it was. If you wake up with that pounding headache, you probably don’t confuse one cause for the other. You either wake up mad at your past self for a bunch of bad choices, or you recognize that it wasn’t your fault.

That’s for physical pain. We’re really, really bad at that for mental or emotional pain.

Some things are your fault. Some things aren’t. We make mistakes in both directions. We blame ourselves and internalize fault for things that had nothing to do with us. And we blame others (or “the universe“) for stuff that we absolutely engineered for ourselves.

So how do we avoid these mistakes? The very first step is to accept that neither one is automatically true. My observation has been that individuals tend to skew one way or the other. Either everything is their fault, or nothing is. By first accepting the paradigm that individual challenges need to be evaluated individually, you can begin to look for ways to look at your pain in a fair way.

Sawdust

Once upon a time, sawdust was seen as a waste product. An unfortunate externality of the lumber milling process, sawdust had to be discarded in vast quantities. It was burned, buried, or even dumped into rivers.

Eventually, people figured out that sawdust was a valuable product in its own right. It had myriad uses and could be bundled up and sold. Instead of paying to get rid of it, people would pay to take it! The best part: this was pure profit. The sawdust was already being created, and the cost of disposing of it was already baked into the operating cost of a lumber mill. This didn’t just reduce waste. It completely inverted a negative into a positive.

You produce sawdust all the time, and you throw it away.

When you do something for work, that’s the lumber going through the mill. Your boss needs you to write a report for the shareholders this week. That’s lumber. The sawdust is the connection this makes between you personally and those same shareholders, as well as members of other teams within your company that don’t usually hear from you. Instead of doing nothing with that connection, instead of throwing away that sawdust, use it! Send a follow-up email afterward asking for feedback and a coffee chat.

Everything you do produces side effects that you could harvest, but don’t. Tasks you complete can become articles on the associated skills. Projects you finish can become rapport-builders because you complimented your teammates on social media. The beautiful lawn that you landscape diligently can become an equally-beautiful picture to put on a postcard to send to your family.

The point is simply this: don’t waste the side effects. Bundle them up and make them valuable to you, because you’re already making them anyway.

If It Bit Them

It is vital that you think about what you want in a neutral time and space. Before you even have options, you should focus on your desires as an inner conversation.

Why?

Because the stuff you don’t want constantly launches itself at you and tries to convince you that you do, while the stuff you do want sneaks up on you and you won’t even notice unless you knew to look.

Think about the old adage, “don’t grocery shop hungry.” If you do, you end up buying nothing but overpriced, flashy junk on the eye-level shelves with colorful packaging. If you’d made a list, on your own, of what you wanted to cook for the week while you were still home, you’d have gone in and found those things, even if they were tucked away.

This is true about everything. People take horrible jobs because they come with a fancy logo on them. They date terrible people who ‘clean up nice.’ They buy impractical, costly cars because of a good sales pitch. All these things happen because you decided to get before you decided what you wanted.

Most people wouldn’t know what they truly wanted if it bit them, so take the time to think about it in advance.

Signing On

People don’t sign things enough. I mean, in general – an artistic flourish, a maker’s mark, a signet stamp, something. But you should be marking the things you’ve done!

There’s a reason artists sign their work. It’s not just for ownership – the artist will sign a painting even when they’re painting it for other people. It’s because your work is a reflection of who you are as a professional, and the more work you create, the stronger of a reputation you can build.

If people know it was you, that is.

But okay, there’s a world of difference between Picasso signing a masterpiece and you signing a slide deck, right? Heck no. They’re both professional creations that you worked hard on, and you want to reap the benefits.

Think of it like this: if Picasso sells a painting for $10,000, he’s getting more than ten thousand dollars. He’s also getting an increased reputation – one that allows him to charge even more for his next painting. He gets more opportunities to communicate with the artistic community.

But if you get paid to make an earnings report and by the time it reaches senior leadership it’s basically anonymous, you’ve missed that opportunity.

Remember what I said about “maker’s marks?” Your signature doesn’t have to be a literal one. It can be anything that marks it as yours. A specific style can become known as yours. A gimmick like a particular animal as a brand. It can even just be helpfully putting your email address in the footer of each page in case anyone has questions.

But make them yours. You work too hard to do otherwise.

One Times A Hundred

A man walked down the street and saw a crumpled-up piece of green paper. Excited at the prospect of finding a $100 bill, he eagerly picked it up and smoothed it out. Alas, it was but a humble $1 bill, so he crumpled it back up and threw it on the ground. He wanted a hundred dollars, not one!

He kept walking and soon found another crumpled bill, but again it turned out to be only a $1 bill so again he discarded it. The route he walked was littered with bills (maybe an armored car had overturned nearby or something?), but they were all ones, so they all got discarded.

This happened three or four hundred times before the man finally threw up his hands and declared “There are no hundred-dollar bills out here! Guess I’m just destined to be poor forever!”

This happens more often than you think. The small opportunities and wins you discard while you’re searching for the perfect solution can add up to what you want. Don’t discard a positive just because it’s smaller than what you want if it’s bigger than what you have.