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Winning at Working


Nan Russell

Sep 30, 2019

What Does It Look Like?

Seated at the table next to me at a fast food restaurant, I couldn't help hearing the lack of conversation between a young woman and a younger uniformed man, clearly employees of the establishment. "You need to take pride in your work," she told him. There was no response.

"I told you last week, to start taking more pride in your work, but I don't see any improvement," she stated. This one way conversation went down hill from there. He kept glancing at her with a confused look as she repeated her unvaried message. Finally, the high school employee muttered something under his breath about "trying harder" and the conversation ended.

I understand his confusion. What does it mean to "take pride in your work?" What does "pride" behavior look like? How will he know if he's taken enough pride to satisfy his shift leader? Since pride is not an action, the input she gave wasn't something he could apply to improve his performance.

I expect their conversations won't get any better as respective frustrations grow. Yet, conversations like these are typical in many workplace relationships. A team leader or supervisor tries to provide feedback or coach a staff member toward better performance. She thinks she's providing direction, when in fact, she's offering what a former boss of mine used to call "round" words. They're pumped up and nice sounding, but they don't communicate much.

Let's say you inform your child that he needs to "study more" after a disappointing report card. You're thinking "more" means an hour a day and he's thinking another ten minutes. Even if you settle on the time allotment, "more" is one of those round words. It doesn't tell him what you want him to do during that time. What if you told him the TV and phone had to be off when he studied, he needed to review his homework with you before dinner each school night, and on the evening before a test, he had to be prepared to be quizzed on the chapter? You'd get better results.

It's the same at work. Telling a coworker you'd like to get the information "earlier," or informing a staff member that she needs to "improve her performance" won't help you get either. Instead, paint a word picture of "what it looks like." Tell your coworker you need the information at least a day ahead of the meeting, and inform the staff member she can improve her performance by reducing misspellings, responding to requests within twenty-four hours, and following up with customers without being prompted. These are actions she can "see" and hence, do.

When you can tell your staff, coworker, or child "what it looks like" to be doing the outcome you desire in specific, measurable, quantifiable, or descriptive ways, you'll discover a secret people who are winning at working use every day. They paint word pictures for themselves and others of what it looks like to be doing the something they desire. So, if they decide they want to be more successful this year, they'll have an internal picture of what that success looks like so they can achieve it.

Someone who is winning at working would coach our fast-food restaurant employee differently. Instead of telling him he needed "more pride" in his work, she'd specifically describe behaviors she wanted him to display. She'd tell him he needed to return from breaks on time, verbally greet each customer, wipe off the tables and sweep the floor in slow times, fill in cups and napkins at the end of each shift, and wear a clean, unstained uniform to work each day. Once he achieved these behaviors, she'd coach him with a new set of specific "what does it look like" to-be-performing-well behaviors.

People who are winning at working not only offer the best of who they are to their work, but they help others do the same. They facilitate an understanding of what it looks like to be successful in their workplaces. One philosophy I found particularly useful in my years in management comes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "Treat people as if they were what they should be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming."

Want to help others be winning at working, or enhance your own results? Use the "what does it looks like" approach.

Nan S. Russell - Gellatio.png
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