Sharpening your thinking about personal effectiveness in the workplace

In my last post, I wrote about how to organize tactical activity from a strategic role. After thinking about where I make impact in the organization, I began to think more about how I make impact in the organization.  So, the topic of this post is somewhat the  mirror image of my last post: while my last post was focused on organizational activities, this post is focused on personal activities; and while my last post was about how to find tactical outlets for strategic thought, this post is about how to organize tactical activities, strategically.

And what’s the point today? To help a person think about where s/he is most effective and/or how s/he habitually operates in an organization.

To do that, I’ve looked at three dimensions. They could be called “modality”, “thought context”, and “audience” or, alternatively, “tools you use,” “things you think about,” and “people you talk to.” The idea is to adjust the size of each sub-box to reflect the relative importance of each selection for your personal effectiveness. A more detailed explanation is below the graphic.

Tools you use: Here, the mapping choices I provide are written communications, analytics, and conversation. It’s no coincidence that the colors for the first two categories correspond to certain popular software applications that demand the associated skills.

Things you think about: In my work, I spend time thinking about the market and the organization. In other words, what others (competitors, customers, etc.) are doing, and what we are doing and can do. I’ve subdivided the organizational (or operational) part into a few categories that, again, pertain to my position.

People you talk to: This should be relatively straightforward.

Below, you’ll see my interpretation of how my own work activities can be reflected through the schematic I’ve described.

I’ll be interested to hear what you think about any of this!

Is Strategy a Real Thing?

The other day, a friend, a very focused technology marketer, made the comment that “strategy”, in the business world, is a “vague term that disguises people who don’t really create much value” and that the essential levers for adding value in the business world are (1) increasing revenue, (2) reducing costs, or (3) reducing risk.

Since I work in a strategy role, I naturally felt that I had to defend myself. I shared my friend’s observation with my colleague, Jonathan Ha, who argued that, yes, those may be the three key levers in the business world but that “If you address all three, you are a Strategist! A Strategist takes a holistic view across all of these levers before determining where, and how, to engage.”

I took the challenge of trying to map these three activities to the parts of the ‘value chain’ in which I most heavily participate (For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the “value chain” is a metaphor for thinking about the activities that allow an organization to create an offering for a customer. You can read more and see a sample diagram on Wikipedia.)

The diagram below maps sample business activities to ‘levers for adding value’ (y-axis), as well as to a few selected (and adjustable!) parts of the value chain (x-axis). Jonathan had the additional insight that the chief way strategists reduce risk is by ensuring alignment across initiatives that take place across the value chain (See if you agree.).

I’ve found this matrix useful for me to think about what I do on a daily basis, and where I might consider doing more. I think, too, that the method is generalizable to other strategy positions, in other industries. Please let me know your thoughts!

The impact of autonomous cars . . .

. . . will go beyond the obvious.

Some of the insights from this McKinsey report are consumer-oriented [(such as commuters having free time to read on their way to work, or new car-service mobility models (think car-sharing, Uber, etc.)]. Others are more lofty-sounding, from a technical point of view: eg, autonomous vehicle [AV] technologies will "accelerate robotics development". The most intriguing gems to me, though, have to do with the impacts of AV’s that will drive significant infrastructure and economic changes; they may sound less sexy, but might ultimately have broader impact.

For example:

The car-service landscape changes. The proliferation of AVs could represent an opportunity for car OEMs. As of 2014, for example, roughly 80 percent of the car-service shops in Germany were “independent” from OEMs. Given the safety-critical nature of AV technologies, customers might strongly prefer strict adherence to OEM service processes and the use of original service equipment when it comes to maintaining and repairing AV systems. This could imply a disadvantaged position for independent service providers unable to afford AV-maintenance systems.

Comment: As I drive down the highway access road, I am often amazed by how many people make their living servicing cars. Muffler shops, inspection shops, brakes shops, auto parts shops, gas stations, and so on. Many of these are small businesses and/or small franchises (at least where I live). Could the advanced technology required by AV’s make dealership service a necessity in an increasing number of cases and decrease the number of independent shops?

Car insurers might shift their business model. Car insurers have always provided consumer coverage in the event of accidents caused by human error. With driverless vehicles, auto insurers might shift the core of their business model, focusing mainly on insuring car manufacturers from liabilities from technical failure of their AVs

Parking becomes easier. AVs could change the mobility behavior of consumers, potentially reducing the need for parking space in the United States by more than 5.7 billion square meters. Multiple factors would contribute to the reduction in parking infrastructure. For example, self-parking AVs do not require open-door space for dropping off passengers when parked, allowing them to occupy parking spaces that are 15 percent tighter.

Comment: Think about how much space in suburban areas is used up by parking. How much land would be opened up with broad AV adoption? Also, looking for parking is sometimes an important cause (to an uncertain degree) of urban traffic.
Lots to consider. The ‘hype cycle’ seems to be taking off about AV technologies over the past few months. Thank Elon Musk. What other changes or impediments do you foresee?

Part 2 of 4: Networking and Career Development in the Information Age (while Staying Sane and Natural)

In my introductory post to this series, I mentioned that I would explore the ideas of knowledge development, relationship development, and opportunity promotion in several contexts, relating to the professional world today.

​I’ll begin with the context of the job search and with my first principle of professional development: “Put human factors at the center of your career development strategy.” I am not arguing that this approach is the best for all. Just that it manifested itself for me under the distinct circumstances I will describe here, that it eventually proved itself effective, and that the relevance of the principle may be increasing in the professional world, or at least some parts of it.

The story begins with, and centers upon, the lack of focus and the professional uncertainty that challenged me not so many years ago. I was in the midst of some life/professional maneuvers that would ultimately take me from teaching second grade to working in the high-tech sector.

I had, at the time, certain quite general professional motivations, such as a desire be engaged in more cognitively challenging work, and to be better compensated. After taking a career risk or two too many, I decided that deciding on a career, per se, was not my forté. Of course, I could not, as I looked at my young family, neglect that determination either.

After moving states for my wife’s career, I began a job search in new environs. I tenaciously, and by necessity, focused on networking, beginning with my social network, and understood, of course, that I would need to deeply engage my conversational counterparts if I wanted them to help me find a job, or to provide me with an introduction to another contact.

I eventually determined that, instead of choosing a career path, a very difficult and confusing proposition for me at the time, I would put human relationships at the center of my effort. I would pursue multiple possibilities, at least somewhat relevant to my professional background, in so far as I could find promising leads that would support my continued effort in a particular direction. Eventually, I was able to sharpen my story–not out of a clearer idea of what I wanted to do but out of the necessity of holding people’s interest.

This is not to say that I neglected the truth. Just that I found ways to express investment—verbally, through reading, through gigs, or through volunteer work—in ways that resonated with my growing network, while still respecting my own desires albeit, yes, flexibly.

I volunteered, for instance, at the American Museum of Natural History as a survey researcher, not out of a deep desire to follow that career path, but due to the fact that I believed this experience would allow me to pitch myself more efficiently for the sorts of positions for which I was receiving bites.

Eventually, through trial and error, and via a focus on the dynamics of personal engagement, as opposed to the deliberate selection of a career path, I was able to land a position as a research associate at an education-related institute, based at a university in the New York area. The job was interesting and moderately well-paid. It provided the analytical engagement I had hoped to achieve in a new job, and, of course, it provided me with enhanced credibility as I continued to build my professional profile, albeit fitfully, but with a clear method now in hand.

The shift in perspective was subtle but it worked in this case, perhaps, as I have said, based on the peculiarities of my personality and/or circumstances. Still, I did eventually find that this same perspective and approach could be effective as my work circumstances, at least, became more traditional. I will describe those dynamics in the next post in this series.

The Artificial Divide between “Employee” and “Entrepreneur”

I loved this post from linkedin today.

Its headline talks about “reasons to stay in your job” but it’s really (in some places) about much more.

What James Altucher gets is that the “Employee vs. Entrepreneur” paradigm is tired, simplistic, and limiting. I would add that its derived from a romantic American individualism, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is that our jobs do not need to define us, and that we can use the dynamism of the economy to our advantage, once we let that comfortable idea go.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article (emph. mine).

Be an Entre-ployee . . . View a job as just one source of income among many.”

Have multiple streams of income . . .It doesn’t mean start “a company”. Then you are just going from one company to another​. . . . S​tart generating a lot more money from many different sources and if any one source is cut off then its not the end of the world. ​​It’s just an opportunity to replace that one source of money with an eve​n bigger source start generating a lot more money from many different sources and if any one source is cut off then its not the end of the world. ​”​

​​”​Suddenly you won’t have ​’​just​’​ a job. You wont’ be an entrepreneur. You won’t have any label attached to your money.​”​

Good luck!

Series on Networking and Career Development in the Information Age (while Staying Sane and Natural)

I’d like to develop, over a few posts, some thoughts about how I approach and build my career, develop projects at work, and, more generally, develop my professional network. There are a few key principles I employ that, I think, reflect the age of changing professional identities and unstable/dynamic organizational environments many of us experience. These principles have been of some service to me professionally, but even more than that, have allowed me to maintain a degree (I think) of sanity and balance as I contend with the forces/realities just described. I owe a big debt of gratitude for this general outlook to my brother, Jeremy Epstein, who is a Master Networker, with whom few can hope to compete (I am not one of those few.).

In the course of (what I think will be) a few posts, I’d like to develop/express some of these ideas (I’m getting there!!), which, with whatever faults, help me to develop opportunities outside of conventional linear business processes, and allow me to have some fun in the process.

OK, enough prologue. The key dimensions of the topic I’d like to call out are:

  • knowledge development (aka, learning)
  • relationship development
  • opportunity promotion (aka, seeking a goal)

I’d like to explore these ideas in a few contexts:

  • looking for a job/developing a network
  • creating opportunities in the workplace (accomplishing things, getting recognition, getting promoted, etc.)
  • why these ideas might be increasingly relevant ‘nowadays’
  • how these ideas help me maintain sanity and flexibility while developing my career

I’m not promising that I will develop these ideas in the particular order outlined above but, for the moment, the dimensions described seem about right. Thanks for reading, and I hope to have a second installment for you soon.