Archive | 2008

Don’t Like To Work? (And What You Can Do About It) Part I

Interestingly, this phrase is one of the top search phrases that lead folks to Bailey WorkPlay. As much as it pains me to say it, I can understand why. I’ve done my fair share of work that’s sucked, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to do work that’s been exciting and rewarding.

Here’s a truth about me: I don’t like to work either when that work doesn’t challenge me, inspire me, or use the best that I have to offer. So, this issue is one that I’m curious to explore in more depth. Below is part 1 of 3 in this series covering two reasons why we might not like to work. Throughout this week, I’ll post five more reasons. And because I think there’s always something we can do to love our work, I’ll flip each reason in a more positive direction so we can do something about it.

Reason #1: I don’t like to work because…the work I do feels like drudgery.
I’m starting with what I think is probably the #1 reason folks do a Google search on this phrase in the first place. You’re in a rut, doing a job that sucks, wishing there was something better on the horizon. Now, I can tell you that the answer is to get out and go find work that you’re truly passionate about, but somehow I think you already know this. The question you’re likely wrestling with is…how? I can’t offer a complete answer here, but I say this: you owe it to yourself to find work that is uniquely yours, that fits your unique set of talents, that makes you feel of use. Make a commitment to find a career coach who can help guide you toward work that let’s your best shine through every day (note: I’ve worked with quite a few who I can highly recommend so shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to guide you along).

Other things you can do right now…
Know exactly what that drudgery looks like to you. Do you seriously want to leap to something else only to land in the same muck you left? Sit down and create an inventory of what you dislike about your JOB. Once you know what that drudgery looks like, you’ll hopefully be far less likely to find yourself neck-deep in it again.

Okay, now what do you like about your JOB? I guarantee there’s something there you can work from. Build an inventory of these things. You can use this list to construct an idea of what your best work looks like.

Reason #2: I don’t like to work because…I feel undervalued, underappreciated, underpaid, under-etc.
This was the impetus behind my recent post You Alone Define Your Value. Far too often, we internalize these feelings and own them as if they were ours to hold. Well, it’s time to disown this crap right now.

Things you can do right now…
Reclaim your value in your current work. If you feel undervalued, underappreciated, etc., create a gameplan for addressing this. It starts with you. Do you honestly feel that you’ve added value to your organization? Have you done something remarkable in the past few months? Have you visibly grown your business over the past year? If you can answer “yes” and have concrete examples, put these to paper. Now, it’s time to have a chat with your manager. Given the belt-tightening that’s going on right now, you may not be able to do much about the underpaid issue, but focus on a persuasive argument as to how your performance deserves greater visibility. Managers aren’t mindreaders and as much as we might expect them to instantly see our work and give us the necessary kudos, we need to understand they can fall prey to busyness too and can benefit from our gentle prods.

Find another place to work where you are valued, appreciated, well-paid, etc. Let’s say that you’ve done the first exercise and had the talk with your manager to little effect. Then, it’s time to move on. If you like the work you do and need to find another place to practice it, connect with your network. If you don’t know what that looks like, find a career coach, a mentor, or a colleague to bounce ideas.

Later on this week, we’ll take a look at these other reasons. And if there is another reason not listed here, leave a comment and let’s explore it together.

Reason #3: I don’t like to work because…I’m tired.
Reason #4: I don’t like to work because…I’d rather do something else I enjoy a lot more.
Reason #5: I don’t like to work because…the money creates a conflict.
Reason #6: I don’t like to work because…it means time away from my family.
Reason #7: I don’t like to work because…I dislike the people I work with/for.


Iron Man Puts A Beatdown On Best Practices

I love Iron Man. It just happens to be one of my favorite (and best written) comic book series being published right now. And as for the movie…I saw it twice in the theater and I’ve seen it three times since buying it on DVD. On my daily walk this morning, Black Sabbath’s Iron Man came up on my iPod and I started to think about scenes from the movie. One particular scene flashed across my thoughts and led me down an interesting path of reflection.

[SPOILER ALERT: the scene below is a crucial plot point so if you haven’t seen Iron Man…Wait…you haven’t? Okay, hurry up, buy it, and watch it…then come back. I’ll wait.]

Toward the end of the movie, Tony Stark/Iron Man battles his business partner, Obadiah Stane, who proves to be a megalomaniacal character with no remorse when it comes to selling weapons to both the U.S. and the terrorists that the U.S. fights. Stane also manages to steal the designs of Tony’s armor and has his engineers secretly build a much larger, more powerful version, which – at least in the comics – is referred to as the Iron Monger armor. So, this final smackdown between two metal giants becomes one between creator and imitator. Which, to me, is the connection to the fallacy of best practices.

Because Stane didn’t understand how his armor really worked, he became overreliant on someone else’s technology. Our heroic Iron Man took advantage of this by climbing on his back and ripping out Stane’s weapon targeting system which ultimately proved to be crucial to the villain’s defeat.

This isn’t the first time I’ve teed off on best practices (see here), but I’m also not completely opposed to them, either. The critical difference is how they are applied. If you blindly accept best practices without fully considering how they’ll work or without determining how they’ll integrate with your own systems, then you’re missing the whole point. And you’re likely in for a surprise when you find that you get some exceptionally poor results.

Instead, try this: BE UNIQUE for goodness sake. You have all kinds of creative ideas floating around your organization. They exist inside the heads of your people. Rather than looking for that next great idea outside your organization, look inside. Your people are the ones who have an intimate grasp of the challenges you all face…and likely they have some solutions, as well.


You Alone Define Your Value

It always amazes me how easy it is to lose our sense of value. As working professionals, it usually starts in our work. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that organizations are notorious for not fully grasping the value of each employee. I’m not talking about valuing that little slice of work that falls within the job description (though there are times when even this may be undervalued for sure). Rather, I’m talking about the richness of each employee’s value: their passion, their potential, their desire to bring the fullness of themselves to all they do. When this feeling of undervalue goes on for a while it’s all too easy to feel invisible and downtrodden. It’s also all too easy to create a story that says that no other organization will find you valuable. So you toil away in the same place, under the same conditions, quietly, desperately, each day muddling into the next. And the heart-wrenching part is that it often slides ever so easily into our personal life when we begin to question our value as an individual.

Remember that you alone have the ability to define your value. You get to decide your own worth as an employee, a professional, a human being. You determine which labels apply to what you do and to who you are.

If you’re trying to figure out where you’re going or how your work fits into the bigger picture of your life, I hope this holiday time gives you a chance to ease back and reflect. Know that it’s never too late to reclaim your value for yourself and choose to offer this for something better. Be of use to something or someone that appreciates all you are.


Monday Pickup: Touchstones And My BC5

Today, I’m feeling a little harried, anxious, and irritable. Yeah, yeah…it’s Monday you say. Well I do my damnedest to not fall into the TGIF and Manic Monday modes but I guess its unavoidable at times.

Which is why I learned a while ago that its important to always have touchstones to get me out of these spots. One of these is a tactile object that I can hold in my hand. It’s the red stone at the bottom right of the picture. I call it my heartstone (hopefully, you can see why). There’s something calming about having its weight in the palm of my hand.

The second touchstone is a set of mental reminders that help me to refocus. I call them my BC5:

Be Centered – breathe deeply
Be Curious – ask questions
Be Creative – pursue new ideas
Be Courageous – take risks
Be Connected – focus on relationships

Do you have any touchstones that help you reconnect with who you truly are when you find yourself being pestered by the flying monkeys of life?


The Subtle Art Of “Endiscouragement”

This idea and plan for Endiscouragement is not mine, but I wish it was. It comes from David Donathan at University Business (via LibraryBytes). David’s article is called Stifling Initiative and it proposes ten never-fail ways to kill innovation without actually saying “no.” With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he describes the reason why this is a practiced skill for managers:

Unfortunately, there are always those who just don’t get it. You know-those who think organizations need to adapt to remain competitive, that change is good and results in greater efficiencies, that failure to adapt to “modernalities” is evil and counterproductive. Since they usually mean well and truly believe they are trying to improve our situation, we don’t want to cull them from the herd (besides, who wants the hassle of trying to break in the newbie?). It usually suffices to discourage these people to the point that they fall in line and stop agitating. How do we get them to stop? How do we encourage the status quo without driving them to leave? I call this unique program “Endiscouragement: The Fine Art of Encouraging No Change Without Being Perceived as a Naysayer.” It has ten simple rules, which, if judiciously applied, will gradually lead the agents of change to conform to the culture of no that we are so carefully trying to preserve.

My personal favorite is #6: “Have you talked to … about it?”

While similar to rules 2 and 3, this rule is more nefarious in that you have appointed the agent of change the instrument of her own endiscouragement. The agent of change will wander from one overworked, disinterested employee to another as each key person refers her to someone else who needs to be “in the loop before I can help you.” Eventually the agent of change will be locked into a self-instigated merry-go-round of eternal meetings. Best of all, she will be so busy trying to deal with all the meetings for her proposal that you will be able to call her to task for not being attentive to her job.

The sad thing is that most of these rules are practiced in organizations not out of maliciousness or Machiavellian cunning, but out of a simple (and usually unconscious) belief that this is how the corporate world operates. Which leads me to a couple of related questions:

What does your organization do to encourage dynamic innovation at all levels? What does your organization do to stifle innovation? If you want to truly engage your employees, your answers will lead you to some interesting conclusions.


A Thanksgiving Story For Meaningful Work

I hope everyone has had a wonderful and meaningful Thanksgiving. With all that’s going on in the world, this year’s holiday has been a time for me to reflect on all that I’m thankful for in my life. And perhaps just as importantly, to appreciate the hope and potential that each day brings.

In my readings in business anthropology, I found this story which really speaks to how we create our own sense of thanksgiving each day in our work. The key is in our approach:

In one training exercise, new employees are sent into a small village dressed in plain white uniforms and are required to go door-to-door asking residents for simple household chores that they may do without pay. The trainees must do this alone and may not return to the training facility until they succeed in finding work. The exercise is not as simple as it may appear because doing a favor for someone in Japan creates an obligation, meaning that strangers are not eager to accept gratuities. After being refused several times, the young trainees usually find that they are happy to do whatever work they are offered, no matter how menial or onerous. This experience is meant to teach them that it is not the nature of the work that determines one’s attitude toward work, but rather one’s attitude that determines the way in which the nature of work is perceived. (emphasis added)

Marietta L. Baba, Anthropological Practice in Business and Industry (2005)

What are you doing to extend the feeling of thanksgiving into your daily work?


The Relationships Of Our Life’s Work

Leave it to Pamela Slim to help me fine-tune something that I’ve been playing around with for a while. As I aim to keep all the various parts of my professional life in some sort of harmonious symmetry, I find myself struggling to define what I am doing. On a near daily basis I ask myself questions like:

How does my career path relate to my current job?
How does my current job relate to my graduate work in business anthropology?
How does my graduate work relate to Bailey WorkPlay?
How does Bailey WorkPlay relate to my career path?
…and so the cycle continues.

Much of the confusion lies in that word ‘job’. I often wonder how the work I do daily relates to where I’m going in my professional life. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy what I do. Yet, there’s little of the business anthropology that I’m being trained to do and the employee engagement that embodies the focus of Bailey WorkPlay. How does all of this integrate? Or is that just the technicolor dream of a guy who is often accused of being a crazy idealist?

Let’s start with the whole notion of a job. It’s a word that carries some fairly crappy baggage…and more often than not we help pack its bags. By taking the small view of a job, we easily lose sight of our greater professional purpose. Pamela smartly points out:

When you focus first on the perfect job, you automatically narrow your opportunities to jobs you are familiar with. Jobs are temporary things, often enticing on paper until you realize that as soon as you get comfortable in your position, it will change, your boss will change, your team will change or your organization will change. That is just the nature of business. Therefore if you go into a job excited by the position or the person you will be working for and not the work itself, you often set yourself up to be disappointed.

Instead, she encourages us to think about our ‘life’s work’ instead. I’ve been mulling over my own life’s work (or what I tend to think of as a calling) ever since I left college. There are days when I think I have it all figured out only to have something happen that puts my idea of a calling in doubt. Thanks to Pamela I think I now know what happened: I focused a bit too much on the job details of the calling. I know…strangely paradoxical.

Now I have the beginnings of a new perspective on the question of my own life’s work. Where the core of Pamela’s life’s work is transformational, I believe mine is relational. You can see this in the questions I pose to myself above. It’s one of the reasons I chose anthropology since so much of it involves intensive study of human relations. I love taking ideas and seeing how they relate to each other. I love bringing people and ideas together and then helping them see the relationships. I love working in organizations and helping leaders better relate to their employees and customers. This is the core purpose behind my work in business anthropology and Bailey WorkPlay.

And knowing this, I too can be in occasionally rough situations in my job and still remain focused on my core passion of relationships. Even when I’m not actually doing business anthropology or employee engagement, I am helping to generate relationships between people, ideas, and actions every day.

So…here’s a gentle challenge for this week. If you’re struggling to figure out how your job, career path, and life’s work relate to each other, take some time and reflect on the exercise at the end of Pamela’s post. Then come back and share what you believe is your life’s work. I’d love to hear about it and know what I can do to support you.


At Connection Cafe: Is Your Data Collection Unbalanced?

For the Connection Cafe blog this month, I wrote about the need to use a balanced qualitative and quantitative approach to learning about constituents. Here’s a teaser of my latest post…the full post is at the Connection Cafe…

Mixed in with the work that I do at Convio, I’m also pursuing a Master’s degree in business anthropology. If you’re like most folks, you may be wondering what that is exactly. This field is somewhat new even though anthropology as a social science has been around for long time. Basically, business anthropologists work with organizations to help them understand things like staff culture, customer relationships, and product design. That’s fairly broad but at it’s core, we study people and their patterns of behavior. What I most love about it is that we are trained to help non-profits and businesses understand the deeper meaning of what seemingly appears ordinary and everyday…then take what works and amplify it.

For an example, let’s apply a business anthropology approach to a common issue among non-profits: how to better engage constituents. Hopefully you have plenty of metrics showing your email open-rates, donor conversion rates, website flowthrough rates, etc. You may also have survey results and graphical analysis. (And if you haven’t recently done this type of quantitative data collection, no worries…hopefully this post will reinvigorate you.)

Now take it one step further. Most businesses and non-profits commit to collecting quantitative data but usually neglect the qualitative data. The reason for this often rests with some common misperceptions that collecting and analyzing qualitative data is difficult, unmeasurable, and overly time-consuming. But, the fact is that every organization that is committed to developing better relationships with its constituents needs to employ a balanced data collection plan. Strict number crunching usually fails to get at the heart of the things that matter most to non-profit organizations which are people and their emotional connection to your cause. It all comes back to understanding the deeper meaning of things which numbers can only hint at.

In addition to your quantitative measurements, what types of qualitative data collection techniques should you consider? It depends largely on what you’re trying to learn. Start with the big question you want to try to answer. Here are two familiar scenarios:

1. If you host events like walks, pet adoptions, or volunteer pledge drives and want to know why individuals are giving their time (always a highly prized commodity) to your organization, consider a participant-observation program. You’ll be actively participating alongside your constituents, learning about their passions and why they believe your cause matters. Your aim is to see your organization’s relationship through the eyes of others and find the commonalities that they share.

2. If you want to know what exactly will help convert individuals from one-time donors to recurring donors (an even more prized commodity in these economic times!), consider an interview program. This is not just a survey in a different form…think of it as a semi-structured conversation guided by your big question. You’re trying to dive deeper into understanding the major themes of the relationship between your constituents and your organization.

One significant caveat to note here…these qualitative approaches are only effective when performed with a curious objectivity. If you think you already know the answers to your questions, you might want to consider employing another impartial staff member to do them or hire a consultant (a business anthropologist, perhaps?).

This is just a thin, surface-level slice of what a balanced quantitative and qualitative approach can deliver to your organization. My hope is that it sparks some dialogue inside your organization about how to best discover significant patterns and meanings within your constituency; then use this knowledge to improve the effectiveness of your actions. If you’re interested in learning more about the field of business anthropology shoot me an email at, leave a comment below, or follow the business anthropology tag on my own blog.


Matt Millen and the Art of Poor Management

For those of you who follow football, the firing of Matt Millen should not come as a great shock (and for those of you who happen to still follow Detroit Lions football, it likely comes as a Day of Liberation). If you don’t happen to follow or care for the american-style pigskin sport, this is just another example of what happens when you hire someone to manager your operations who has technical experience and passion, but next to zero management ability. The fact is that while anyone can be a manager, not everyone is actually good at it.

One of Millen’s former employees, coach Steve Mariucci, had this to say:

Matt’s interest really wasn’t there. I don’t think he was equipped with his background to do a good job. He certainly had an interest, certainly loves football, he certainly has a passion, but I think his skills would say that he simply didn’t have the experience to do a good job in management.

That’s not to say that he couldn’t have learned and honed his management craft because let’s face it…management is something that can only be learned through practice. However, judging by the fact that he made rather curious personnel moves throughout his tenure and other poor decisions that led to a 31-84 record over the last eight seasons, I would wager against that idea.

But luckily, failing doesn’t mean failure. Here’s hoping that Millen does find what he’s good at and runs wild with it.


Why Job Fit Is Important To Your Confidence

Unless you’re one of the exceptionally rare and fortunate individuals who has always landed in the right job, you’ve had at least one job that didn’t fit right. Like a pair of shoes three sizes too large or small, it always felt poorly aligned with who you are and your unique set of talents. Maybe you’re in one of these jobs right now. If so, let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do you often question your own personal value?
  • Do you sometimes feel a distinct lack of confidence in your abilities?
  • Do you feel marginalized and demotivated?
  • Do you wonder if you’re professionally valuable not only within your current organization, but possibly in future organizations, as well?

When we talk about job fit, at least on a surface level, we may understand its importance. But there is a deeper level to job fit which affects us psychologically. Here, we begin to form stories about ourselves. If the fit is wrong, then it’s much easier to create stories that the reason it’s wrong is because of what we’re doing. We tend to pin the blame on ourselves. If we’re not getting it, then it must be because of a deficit of ours, rather than the actual job or even the organizational structure supporting the job.

I’m not suggesting that we should throw personal responsibility out the window. But all too often, we take a bad job fit and assume all the responsibility for not doing well, not feeling content with our work, not feeling that we’re bring our best into the world everyday.

Instead, let’s take a breathe, back up, and consider a bigger perspective. Let’s get curious about whether we’re doing a job or in a position that uniquely fits us. Let’s think of how our work can create a healthier livelihood for ourselves. Let’s hold true to the knowledge that we do have choices about how we live each day.

ExtraPlay #1: Michelle Malay Carter has written a concise and extremely useful post on how to think about job fit (or what she calls work levels).

ExtraPlay #2: Rosa Say continues her terrific series this week with a post clarifying the differences between a job and work…well worth checking out.