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!

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.

Reinterpreting your career based on changing patterns in IT infrastructure

I read this piece in the context of my work in the tech industry but what really fascinates me about it are the implications its arguments could have for industry, and professional life, in general.

Key quote:

Over the course of the 20th century, each industry developed its own vertical stack – research, design, development, production, marketing, sales, service, etc. Although there were essential forms of shared business infrastructure – electrical utilities, transportation systems and telephony services – most industry sectors were much more different than alike. . . . But today, significant chunks of the traditional vertical industry stack are being replaced by an ever more powerful digital fabric of horizontal services – the IT infrastructure equivalents of energy, transportation and telephony.

The four layers of this ‘digital fabric’ are identified by CSC as follows (image below):

  • Compute/store/connect
  • Identify/secure/transact
  • Publish/communicate
  • Sense/analyze/understand


It strikes me that these four stack categories (the four lower categories on the image above) can serve to support career development strategy for those of us who don’t have obviously-identifiable professions and can inform thinking about the (potentially less stable) future for those of us who do have such professions.

We won’t necessarily go to school to become “sense/analyze/understand” experts per se (though, who really knows?) but it does help me to reflect on the fact that that probably represents the part of the stack in which I, personally, operate. I know others who clearly work in the publish/communicate part of this metaphorical stack. We each have job skills that are potentially more easily transferable between different traditional industries than between different parts of the stack.

Again, a useful construct that may provide an inkling of how changing digital infrastructure could change the professional lives of many.

Internet-related Thought of the Day: E-mail is “Real Work”

Many folks complain about how their e-mail stacks up and gets in the way of their doing ‘real work.’ I think that this common refrain misapprehends the role that many of us have in the information economy: that of Information Factory Floor Workers. That is, one of the principal responsibilities many of us have is to deliver information in the right quantity, in the right manner, via the correct medium, and at the right time.

The metaphor might not be glamorous but there is real skill and judgment involved in this task. The infinite line of ‘information widgets’ coming our way down the e-mail conveyor belt may be daunting but remains (for the meantime) a key way that many of us provide value in an increasingly digitized world.