Nine Rules To Work / Live By

DSC03306 small1As a people manager one of the greatest tips I have received was to share and be explicit about what my values are. Values that govern my work life, what motivates me, how I work etc. The tip was provided in the context of accelerating the on-boarding process for new team members but I have found it to be useful beyond that.

After a bit of self reflection I had a small list that in a burst of creativity and imagination was titled “The Rules”. They reflect my values and perhaps more interestingly are sourced from life lessons, some from good experiences and some that were not quite as delightful as one would have preferred. But as they say we are but a collection of our life experiences.

There is little connection to Web Analytics, except perhaps that I am a humble practitioner of the art of web analytics. Here are the rules, in no apparent order, that mostly govern my work life….

Summary:

  • Rule #1: Always have clear lines of ownership. Know exactly what you are supposed to do and ensure others know that exactly.

  • Rule #2: Always have your act together. You can't know everything, but what you can know try to know it well.
  • Rule #3: Under promise, over deliver. You will always come out on top.
  • Rule #4: Never make yourself indispensable. If you do you'll stay where you are because you are, well, indispensable.
  • Rule #5: Credibility is king. Period.
  • Rule #6: Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. You can teach anyone anything, you can never teach right attitude.
  • Rule #7: If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. Old cowboy saying.
  • Rule #8: "Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is (or where it has been)." The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.
  • Rule #9: At the end of the day always remember that it’s just a job.

Here are the the rules with some context for each:

Rule #1: Always have clear lines of ownership. Know exactly what you are supposed to do and ensure others know that exactly.

As companies become more complex and flat and matrixed I have discovered this to be more and more true. Often the core point of failure, for an individual or a team or a project, is the fact that there is not enough clarity on 1) who is doing what 2) what is going to get accomplished 3) how to declare victory. For me Rule #1 is an antidote to these issues. As much as possible I strive to define exactly what I own, what I am solving for and what does success look like.

Making sure others know that, well defined and written down, is to ensure that there there is shared vision (an opportunity to get input from others and adapt so that you are not alone playing in the left field but shared vision ensures that if you need help you’ll be able to get it because you, well, have shared vision).

Rule #2: Always have your act together. You can't know everything, but what you can know try to know it well.

In the business world every interaction you have, especially the higher up you interact with, is an opportunity to make that interaction accretive to building confidence in you, your team, your leadership. No matter what level you are at.  IMHO one way to build that confidence in you is to “always have your act together”. All that means is that know what you are saying, have data / facts / solid hunches to back it up, and be in the know of all that you are expected to know (and a bit more if you can).  It takes effort, it takes pro-activity, and it sometimes being a bit anal. But such is life.

Another facet of this is that, purely due to limits of my own intelligence, you don’t have to know everything and be good at everything. So if someone turns to me and says “how can we improve the logistics system of this company” or “what is r squared”, I simply say “I don’t know”. What you are supposed to know, know it well. All else have the courage to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t know but I can try to find out and get back to you by xxx time-frame”. This works better than hazarding a guess.

Rule #3: Under promise, over deliver. You will always come out on top.

This was an internal slogan at DHL at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where I worked for a few years. Time has made me appreciate it more and more.

There is always a natural tendency to promise the moon or think that you have identified all that could go wrong or you have a perfect system or process or that you are simply really good. At DHL we could deliver all the overnight packages by 0830 hrs in the morning. As a matter of fact 90% of the times the deliveries were done by 0800 hrs. But in all our ads and commitment points we promised the customers guaranteed delivery by 0900 hrs.

It would have been a slight competitive edge to say 0830 hrs. But the company choose not to because even though we delivered early each day the customers never got tired of the surprise. They always greeted us with a smile: “Ahhh John you are early with the package again”.

This lesson was solidified later in my years as a Sr Project Manager, always leave some room to breath in your commitment. Room enough to, if possible, deliver a little bit more to create customer delight.

Rule #4: Never make yourself indispensable. If you do you'll stay where you are because you are, well, indispensable.

One way to make a lot of money, to guarantee job security, to be high profile is to do something so well and in such a unique way that no one else can do it. You are the indispensable superstar of the company / team / project / something. We all try to do this. The problem with this strategy is that if you are indispensable then there is really no place else for you to go, the company can’t afford to move you on and fill your, oversized, shoes.

So the optimal strategy is to go into any job and do the best you can from day one to accomplish the goals that have been set. At the same time to do whatever is possible to ensure that the knowledge you possess is transferred to others and put down on paper and supporting processes created. If possible look for a successor who can take your place should you leave or move on. Sounds counter-intuitive but you are doing right by your employer and if you are good there is nothing to worry about.

Rule #5: Credibility is king. Period.

I don’t know what to say that is not obvious in that statement. I have worked in large companies and small ones. Direct line reporting relationships and matrixed. Through it all one thing that is obvious is that influence is the most, well, influential way to drive change, effect an outcome. Influence works better than dictating, better than control, better than “ordering”. And the most powerful thing you can bring to the table to be a good influencer is your credibility.

If you have credibility people will listen to you, they will not doubt that you have vested interests, they will look beyond hidden agendas etc. So be honest, be open, keep your promises and do what you have to earn your credibility (it can never be demanded, only earned) and then with every action taken reinforce that credibility.

Rule #6: Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. You can teach anyone anything, you can never teach right attitude.

This is on the post-it box that sits next to my monitor. Again a very obvious statement, but usually deeply under-appreciated in people. Matt said in our interview that rather than expertise and experience he prefers to hire “attitude”, I feel very much the same as I go out to look for team members. I have had the experience of working with any number of really smart or really on paper big university degree folks or people with lots of experience, but without the right attitude towards work and problems and teams it all comes up really short.

One practical manifestation of attitude to me is the desire to go above and beyond the call of duty. I find that it takes a very special kind of person to care when others stop caring, it takes a special kind of person to embrace and solve a problem even when it is not your problem and the difference is the right attitude. In companies there are usually less than 5% of the employees that possess this “special gene” and they make the difference between a star company and a has been.

Rule #7: If you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. Old cowboy saying.

Even though I am a MBA you must have noticed I have yet to use the omni-present MBA phrase: paradigm shift. : )  For me reading this quote a long time ago was truly a paradigm shift. Atleast for me in how I thought about things.

If faced with trouble or with a challenge or a difficult situation the natural response was to react, and usually react strongly. Yet in most cases it only made the situation worse. So one day I read this quote and the mind goes ahhhh. : ) All along it was not so much trying to get out of the hole but rather digging a deeper one.

One does need a certain amount of self-perception ability recognize it. Either in a meeting or when you find yourself deep in web analytics data, often to find the proverbial golden answer the thing to do is to stop digging, take stock and figure how to go seek alternative means of getting out of the hole and not keep digging.

Rule #8: "Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is (or where it has been)." The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

IMHO another key differentiator between those who are constantly in the state of catch up vs. those who consistently over-achieve. It is hard enough to figure out how to get from where we are to where “the puck” is, it takes a special dispensation to figure out where “the puck” is going to be and figure out how to get there.

Given our world is evolving so fast it is not enough to be merely satisfied with knowing what our world is and executing against that. There are so many changes and threats coming at us and we need to set aside time and energy and getting trapped in the weeds to up-level the thought process and look just a little bit beyond the horizon. This applies in our personal jobs, it applies to our teams and companies, it applies to hockey.

Rule #9: At the end of the day always remember that it’s just a job.

This one’s simple, for me. It is important not to get too wrapped up into a job. It is important that a job does not become our life, the only source of fulfillment. If it does people make pretty different decisions in every day interactions in their work life. There is something better and more important outside the four walls of the cubicle. That should give a sense of perspective as to why you are sitting in the cubicle in the first place.

For me it is my two small children. They define me, they mean the world to me, they are the reason I exist and they are what I am solving for. Not web analytics, not my career, not the next cool thing, not for fulfillment from a “job” (!). : ) Make no mistake, as the date and time stamp on this post will illustrate, I work hard at my job, give it all I have, build the best decision making platform I can, the best team in existence who does this kind of work. But all in service of what sits outside the cubicle. Knowing that I make different choices, small and big, every day.

So there you go, hopefully this was interesting. : ) Do you have other rules? What works for you? What do you think of the above mentioned rules? Please share your feedback via comments.

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Comments

  1. 1
    SEM Analyst says:

    Hi Avinash,
    10/10 for this post.
    This rule teaches us a lot of lesson
    Rule #6: Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

    Best of luck

  2. 2
    Alexander says:

    Hi Avinash – Another great post. Though right attitude can be taught, its not some mysterious gene, or random chance. My view is that we teach it by modelling consistently. We teach teach it by understanding it. We learn it by wanting to develop the right attitude, and by watching those that have it, and working daily to cultivate it in ourselves. Consider the great book 'the Diamond Cutter' by Geshe Michael Roach – that talks a lot about developing the right attitude in business, based on his experience in creating a major diamond/jewellery business plus his training as a Buddhist monk and being a student of Khen Rinpoche, a great Tibetan Lama in New Jersey. Just my view.
    Thanks
    A,

  3. 3

    As usual a great post. I think #1 is a critical component to succeeding in individual ventures and as a company. I've experienced workplaces where these lines have not been clear (especially for the online business units) resulting in very unclear goals, loose accountability and demoralized employees.

    Clear lines of ownership help improve employee moral and (IMHO) will lead to improved results as individuals have clear objectives to achieve and are provided the necessary ownership to affect change.

  4. 4
    Jia Adil says:

    Hi Avinash — Great Post! The one that stood out for me was Rule #3: "Under promise, over deliver. You will always come out on top." I wish more companies could follow this rule,as it keeps both the project team and the customer happy.
    I was thinking about how we spoke about making mistakes and being able to learn from them and thought of this one: "To succeed you need to meet repeated failure with no loss of enthusiasm." It is the only way to grow, continue to learn and be successful!

  5. 5

    Alexander: I have gone both ways that the right attitude can be taught. Over time though I had concluded that you either have it or you don't. Maybe childhood experiences shape it or maybe it is something else. But I am going to get Mr. Roach's book and give the recommended techniques a try. Thanks every so much for the recommendation.

    Jia: That is a fantastic quote, I am going to steal it! :) Thanks.

  6. 6

    Great post. I love #8, the Gretzky quote.

    For me this is about vision and the quote is so analogous to business since one quality great athletes and great business professionals share is the ability to be in the right place at the right time…and then execute.

    Similar to the idea that "you make your own luck," which is also true in many cases for business.

  7. 7
    Daniel Waisberg says:

    Hi Avinash,

    Just wanted to add to you rule #9 ("For me it is my two small children") I think that the American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emmerson defined it quite well:

    “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.”

    As for the rest of the rules, very well defined.

    Daniel Waisberg

  8. 8
    Juan Damia says:

    Hi Avinash, I do agree 100% with you. I just would like to suggest the rule #10 based on a Robert Townsend quote.
    "If you don’t do it excellently, don’t do it at all. Because if it’s not excellent, it won’t be profitable or fun, and if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing there?.

    Regards

    Juan
    http://www.damia.com.ar

  9. 9
    Waqas says:

    Great article (ofcourse I can see that I am a couple of years late in appreciating it).

    However, I do not agree with the point "Under promise over deliver" 100%. While the intention is understandably to gain appreciation for doing something over I really think that this sort of thinking actually kills the true idea. Many people start to promise stuff which is easy to do so as to always over perform and gain appreciation.

  10. 10
    Scott Petrovic says:

    Fantastic post. You wrote this two years ago, but I just read it and it still applies more than ever today. I never thought being indispensable was bad, but you gave me a complete paradigm shift. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this. It has helped me immensely.

  11. 11
    Bronwen says:

    Re: Rule #6: Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

    My dad (who was the King of Platitudes) had a variation on this rule I think you'll like:

    Attitude… It's the difference between an ordeal, and an adventure!

    :-D

  12. 12
    Rellish says:

    I printed this webpage to keep in my cubical. I try to hold on to inspirational writting when I can and this is top notch quality.

    However since I took something away I'll give something back. Quote from an Unknown author:

    “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

  13. 13
    vineet says:

    awesome article….well done….

  14. 14
    Ranjan Jena says:

    Great Article.

    My personal experience – It's a big challenge to lead a team, when one time they were your colleague. So plans, executions comes to a halt everytime you try to implement it, since change is never accepted easily.

    But after reading your article, I feel very relaxed esp., the line saying, "It's just a job." I've been a deep follower of your article.

    Thanks for being an inspiration & pathfinder in my life.

  15. 15
    Andrew Blank says:

    These are really great ways to be on the job.

    Although I have another sub-saying. I found that a question about the latest website traffic/survey results/competitors/etc would invariably come up in meetings and everyone would turn to me as if I knew the answer without looking it up. I started telling them (and myself) that "I am not the tool."

    I don't know where that would fit in (perhaps under Credibility is king or maybe It's Just a Job), but it has helped.

  16. 16
    Syed says:

    Brilliant post, I'm recent grad with 3yrs exp and I was working 12hrs a day coding away etc… Your sentence "don't make your self indespensible I have started implementing and can see the diff straight away.

    Thanks.

  17. 17
    Markus says:

    Over 4 years old and still so true today :)

    I find #3 very tough, because the more you promise the more appreciation you get – but if you fail delivering it goes straight into the other direction.

  18. 18
    Sid says:

    Hey Avinash ,

    An eye-opener article for me, and read it at a perfect time, right when i was self-analyzing my own principles. I thought and practiced most of this but was wondering if all this still holds true because of several experiences. This is an assertion to my beliefs and attitude. Will look out for more from you.

  19. 19
    Purt says:

    Hi Avinash,

    Wow! What a post! You totally charged me up for the day and further. In the process of analyzing myself overall and this post proves to be very helpful.

    I am a strong believer in "Under promise and over deliver" and try to do that at work and other places when possible.

    #4 and #7 is something I am going to implement from now one!

    Thank you again for such an amazing post.

  20. 20
    Kris says:

    I discovered this post because you shared it on Google+ this morning.

    I absolutely love it – most of these have long been my personal tenets – and have been sharing it madly. Thank you!

  21. 21
    Matthew says:

    Less is more.

    Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

    Never buy a house on a road with a yellow line.

  22. 22
    arun somasundaram says:

    Hi,

    Your posts ends the 1 year long search in google of a great articles/Gurus advice regarding work management…. Bullseye… My next step is to follow each and every piece of advise you have given and put into practise..

    Thanks…

    Arun Somasundaram

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