Below is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Hands on guide to Superior Management and Dirty Corporate Secrets” which I will be giving away for free. As of today 6/27/17 I am at 15,264 words.
A while back while working at a different location within my company I got a letter in the mail that had been forwarded from an older role in a previous location. I opened it to see that it was a request for an employee performance review for Top Security Clearance for a young kid named Ellis who had worked for me some three years prior. I was surprised as I hadn’t worked with this kid in three years but felt good that he would want to and had used me as a reference. I did a little more than I had to to help him land that role. The significance of this did not hit me several months later. You see, Ellis had an interesting back story. My boss got an email one day from his boss that was a forwarded message from some HR executive within the company that his son needed a job. My boss was told in this email to hire this kid. My boss at the time spent a day or two complaining about how he didn’t need an extra person and it was detrimental to the department needs at the time but that he had to do it because this kid was the son of some HR executive in the company. The make matters worse this kid, Ellis, turned out to be the poorest employee. He had the worst work ethic and a very poor attitude. My boss once complained to me that he should just tell the father how poor of a performer Ellis was and maybe the father would do something about it. Truth is I had the same though many times as nothing was getting through to Ellis to meet minimum performance requirements. But I would never shame a son in front of his father, I would see the Ellis’ father regularly as he would stop in to pick Ellis up from work and converse with us. I would always find one good thing to say about Ellis. But none of this was relevant when I was filling out the performance review for Ellis to get Top Security Clearance for the Federal Government. What crossed my mind – and quite possibly, the reason I was being used as Ellis’ reference; was the one conversation I had with Ellis that turned it all around:
I pulled Ellis aside and said, “What do you want to do after XYZ company?” Ellis replies, “Well I’ll have my degree I’ll get a better job” I pushed back, “What kind of job? What do you want to do?” Ellis replies, “I don’t know, a better job than XYZ Company.” I push harder, “Something nice… like wall street, $70,000 a year at least…?” Ellis nods in confirmation and I ask, “And you’re just gonna flick on a switch and be a bad ass worker?” Ellis nods his head in confirmation. I continue, “You see me busting my ass at this piece of shit job for crap pay. And the other managers don’t work half as hard. You know why I do it? Because I know that working hard is a habit but more importantly, slacking off is a habit. I won’t be here forever, I WILL get a better job, but I know I can’t just slack off here and then flick on a switch after I get a better job. It doesn’t work that way.” I look Ellis straight in the eyes and I ask him, “You think you’re going to MAKE it to Wall Street? You think you’re going to LAST?”
Ellis’ behavior didn’t change that day, but within a week it was measurably better. The other managers started to comment, “Ellis is good, you just got to find something for him to do, keep giving him things to do and he does a good job.” Eventually you didn’t have to find things for Ellis to do; he had initiative, he just did it. This story isn’t the lesson in framing, but it tells you everything you need to know about Ellis. Now comes the important lesson in framing, something I struggle with at times. And why this request for performance review was so significant. While I obviously wasn’t Ellis’ only reference, Ellis through his father had access to any level of leadership within XYZ company. You see, Ellis had his father, he had me, my boss, my bosses’ boss, even my boss’ boss’ boss to choose from for a personal recommendation. And believe me when I say, through his father he had far above that level of Leadership to access for a recommendation. Even more so Ellis had at least 4 years worth of college and countless professors and other professionals he could access to use as a recommendation. You see, when I look for someone to be a recommendation, and quite possibly you do this too, I look for the highest ranking person I can access to put next to my name. I want to align my experience, my work ethic, and my potential to this person and their role, their reputation, or job title. My job title isn’t anything close to the level of leadership that Ellis had access to. But Ellis STILL wanted to align himself with me, even 3 years later. Ellis did this knowing that I had at one point thought of him as a poor performer and not knowing at all what my response would be. Ellis was willing to risk his potential career on what I would say about him. On one hand you can dismiss it as just a formality without much meaning or that I am making a way bigger deal and that chances are Ellis had 10 other references and I was just one of them. But if you can take this lesson of seeing meaning in the simplest things and apply it, you will find success in relationships, your resume, job interviews, conversations with co-workers and interactions with customers. You will be able to LEAD teams and convey a Mission worth working towards.
“No, you aren’t JUST a cashier in a grocery store, you are the LAST line of defense and the last interaction that customer will have before leaving the store. Every single other thing can go wrong in the store and you are the last opportunity to turn that negative experience into a positive one. That’s a LOT of responsibility. “
“I don’t get to choose my family, but my friends are the family I choose for myself. I know I don’t keep in contact as much as I’d like to but I value your friendship and I want us to work on maintaining it.”
“People I haven’t worked with in three years are getting promoted, rotating through different Leadership and Departments, getting their Degrees, moving onto different companies and they STILL reach out to me and use me for advice or as a reference. Now is that someone you would like on your team?”
If you can find meaning in the mundane, you will be prepared for even the most demanding situations.