Monthly Archives: December 2011

Be passionate about work: No job change required

When it comes to work, it’s natural to think of passion as a function of what you do. We speak easily of passion for an activity or topic of interest, like when we say, ‘he’s passionate about photography’ or ‘she’s passionate about design.” As a consequence, many of us wonder if passion isn’t limited to a few driven, talented or just plain lucky professionals. But is finding that thing you really love to do the only way to bring passion to your workday?

Not according to a short but interesting piece Alexandra Levit recently posted to her blog, Water Cooler Wisdom. In it, she comments on a book by Richard Chang, called The Passion Plan, which draws a distinction between two kinds of passion:

The Passion Plan describes passion as both content-based (activities like writing, hosting events, or racing cars) or context-based (themes like innovation, nurturing, and risk-taking).  Chang says that we can experience both types of passion in our work, and can often find ways to weave our passions into a current job without making a drastic career change.

It’s a powerful idea for those struggling in a job they find less than enthralling. Rather than spend your time daydreaming about making a career change to another gig that suits you better, why not attempt to alter the context of your current job? You could push not only for more of the type of tasks you like best, but also more freedom in terms of where and when you work (and whom you have to interact with regularly), as well as more learning and development to ensure you feel both autonomous and nurtured. Of course, that won’t work if your boss is an inflexible ogre, but these types of changes may be a possibility in many workplaces — you won’t know until you try.

For those struggling to enjoy their jobs, changing how they work may be far more manageable than changing what they do, but the idea that context sometimes trumps content is also a powerful one for managers looking to get the most out of their teams. You may not be able to change what your employees need to get done, but by making changes to the environment in which work is accomplished, you may be able to create a more passionate, and therefore more productive, workforce.

When it comes to passion for work is context as important as content?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Piratex.

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Performance Reviews

On Wednesday, I got to have a lovely dinner with a long time listener and friend of Manager Tools. As he began to describe his work and his team, he said something like ‘I feel like I have to tell you I’m doing everything perfectly’.

We laughed, but it was a moment for a serious point. Please don’t ever feel like this. Don’t feel like you can’t tell us you’re struggling and ask for help. Don’t feel like this should be easy and you’re the only one who finds it hard. Management is hard. Work is hard (as I told my interns, if it wasn’t, they’d call it play and you wouldn’t get paid for it). Life is messy. Mike, Mark, Maggie and I regularly confess to messing things up – sometimes on air. We’re not doing it perfectly either.

If you’re here, you’re open to critiquing your own performance and trying to do better. You’re open to listening to guidance and trying it out. You’re doing better than 50% of the other managers you know just because of that. Give yourself an A+ in your management performance review. Don’t stop though, and keep trying to do better in 2012. We’ll be here to help you.


An article in Fast Company focuses on Jason Evanish, and his influence on the start up / angel investor / vc relationships in Boston. He runs a clearing house for networking events and startup resources, but he also ‘turned himself into a gatekeeper, arranging strategic meetings to filter out the groupies’.

He says ‘Everyone thinks entrepreneurs are short on money, when in fact their most scarce resource is time’. No one has more time than they need. I regularly wish for 48 more hours in the day. I’ve never had a job where I have had more than enough time to do everything – and I don’t believe such a job exists.

Given that ‘not enough time’ seems to be a universal complaint, all we can do is work within that constraint. What are my priorities. What needs to be done now? What can I not do in order to get the stuff I need to do done?


What’s the solution to your building having a mailroom which may be targeted by someone sending a suspicious powder? An article in November’s Fast Company describes the way Visa has solved the problem: the mail goes into a modular building near to their office. If a suspicious powder, ‘the mail room can just be airlifted away’.

That wasn’t the solution I’d have come up with, but it is genius. I admire anyone who is that creative. An engineer I once worked with told me the trick to thinking of ideas like this is to stay in the ‘problem space’ for longer. We tend to jump straight to the ‘solution space’, rather than really considering the problem.

But jumping there quickly, he told me, means you don’t consider the more outrageous (and genius) solutions. Really fleshing out the problem – for example, that we don’t want the suspicious powder to have any more contact than absolutely necessary – allows you to find the more creative solutions.

It’s the little things…

In a regular feature, Bloomberg Businessweek gathers a bunch of smart people to ‘fix’ a part of the economy, or a political or other situation. In the October 17 edition, the situation to be fixed was education. Obviously, the US education system (and from my experience living in other countries, the education system of any country) is contentious.

What interested me though was at the very end of the article, when one of the participants describes going to a KIPP school in Manhattan. The participant says to the co-founder, you’re doing a great job. The co-founder then takes him to a classroom and shows him 5 things the teacher (who by everyone’s standard is a great teacher) does wrong in five minutes.

For example, she hasn’t checked the writing that’s on the bulletin board for two days. The co-founder says: “What this job is about is a thousand of those things, not about some kind of silver bullet”. It’s true for all our careers. There isn’t some miraculous project or promotion that makes you a super star. It’s about getting results day after day, are day. It’s about planning your work, doing the work and then looking at it critically to see how you could have done better. It’s not about the little things in terms of your expenses, but in terms of making sure you do everything to the best of your ability and then pushing yourself to do better.…


There’s an article in December 19th’s Forbes magazine about a new burger chain that started in Denver in 2007 and now has 143 locations. In it, CEO Dave Prokupek says: “We overinvest in the things that matter most”. The article goes on, ‘If a line cook fills orders in under six minutes on average, he gets an extra 50 cents per hour. Store managers can earn monthly bonuses…based on monthly revenues and customer reviews’.

This reflects the reasoning in the feedback model: the reason for the feedback model is to encourage effective behaviour – in other words, we use feedback to incentivise the behaviour we want to see in the future. Reducing the cook’s pay by 50 cents for being slow would be much less effective.

It’s much more effective to give positive feedback for the behaviour you want than to give negative for what you don’t want. AND, reasons for positive feedback happen much more often. That’s why we recommended a 9/1 ratio for positive behaviour. Look for the things you want to continue, and give feedback about them.…

The 10 key skills for the future of work

What are the jobs of the future? The demographics of an aging population suggests health care will be big, say some. Data science is scheduled to explode, suggest others, or maybe anything computer-related is a solid bet. But let’s be honest, predicting exact job titles set to soar or the fates of specific sectors is nearly impossible.

With technology and economic developments moving so quickly, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on today, more or less foresee what career paths will make you a winner in a decade or two. But even if betting on specific jobs is a fool’s game, the Institute for the Future believes it is still possible to say something useful about how to prepare yourself for the careers of tomorrow.

The Palo Alto, Calif.–based nonprofit research center focuses on long-term forecasting and recently released a report titled “Future Work Skills 2020″ (available for free download here) that analyzes some of the key drivers reshaping work — including WebWorkerDaily’s greatest hits like connectivity, smart machines and new media — coming up not with specific, recommended professional paths but instead with broad skills that will help workers adapt to the changing career landscape. What are they?

  • Sense-making. The ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence. The ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel and adaptive thinking. Proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Cross-cultural competency. The ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking. The ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New-media literacy. The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity. Literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mind-set. Ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • Cognitive load management. The ability to discriminate and filter information for importance and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual collaboration. The ability to work productively, drive engagement and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

Check out the complete report for a detailed description of why each of these skills will be key. It also delves into the implications for education, business and policymakers of the projected increase in demand for these skills, noting that current educational establishments at “primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels, are largely the products of technology infrastructure and social circumstances of the past.” They will need to adapt rapidly to the changing needs of students, the report concludes.

Do you agree that these skills will be key in the future, and if so, how are our schools doing in preparing students for this reality?

Image courtesy of Flickr user x-ray delta one

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Hire For Attitude

One of Manager Tools mantras around hiring is we’ll take less skill if we can get more attitude. Skills can be taught. Attitudes – the behaviours that we want in our team and our workplace – often cannot.

I was pleased to see an article reporting on a speech given by the former People and IT Director of Asda (one of the four biggest supermarkets in the UK), which began with this title.

In it, David Smith says, that the number one principle of seven he believes will turn around a failing business is hiring for attitude. He points out: “you can switch people on or off though the new people you’re hiring. Current staff will either say, of you’re new hire, ‘who’s that? She’s great’ or ‘who hired hm? He’s rubbish’.

Yet another reason to hire well – your hires have an effect on the productivity of your current staff. If they don’t believe you care enough to hire well, they won’t care enough to work hard.…