Tag Archives: business

Welcome to the Period of Post-Quality, where the details don’t matter

Two men sitting in conference room

Remember when attention to detail used to matter?

A lot has changed since the 2008 financial crisis.

Some of the aftershocks are more obvious. There are fewer jobs. Fewer opportunities.

Wealth and abundance flow into Wall Street, while capital and resources are siphoned from Main Street.

Yet some of the effects are more abstract — harder to define. People sense there’s something off, but they’re not sure how to put it in words.

It’s vague, and harder to pin down, but there’s a definite difference in the way we do business.

I thought about it for a while, and out of nowhere, it hit me:

There’s less of a commitment to quality these days, and more of a focus on volume.

You see it everywhere, from the way we communicate to the products we buy to the superficial summaries we hear on the news.

Instead of forging a few meaningful relationships, we’re firing off friend requests to everyone online.

Rather than reading an article in-depth, we’re glancing at our phone and skimming the headlines.

Instead of fine-tuning the tiniest of details, we’re glossing over the aggregated data.

Like I said, it’s abstract and murky, but it’s a general sense that we’re not doing things as well as we could.

And I’ll be the first to admit: Maybe it’s just my perception. Maybe I’m turning into a crusty, old curmudgeon who grouses about social media and laments the good-old days when every phone had a cord.

But I don’t think so. I’m an older Millennial — just on the verge of being in Generation X — and I remember when things were different.

It’s not a dramatic change — like Marty McFly traveling to an alternate 1985 — but it’s there. It’s noticeable.

Details used to matter. Meticulousness used to count.

Go-getters would seek methods to add value to their jobs, and their motivation would be recognized and rewarded.

I’ve had some unpleasant experiences in the past. I was a receptionist for a small office, so I endeavored to create value for my employer. I was tasked only with answering the phone, but I offered to write ad copy, shoot video, start a blog, design intricate flyers.

I wasn’t looking only to advance. I wanted to develop a reputation as a valuable go-to and a knowledgable resource. I wanted people to regard me as an indispensable member of the team.

Yet that didn’t happen. The effort went nowhere. The details didn’t matter.

Despite my asking, the position didn’t expand to encompass all my skills.

Now granted, that’s only one bad experience. And it encouraged me to seek employment with my current company, where grit and heavy-lifting are appreciated.

But there’s a general malaise these days — and not just among Millennials like me. People in generations before mine feel the same way.

How do I know? I talk to them.

I’ve always felt more comfortable with people older than myself — which is a huge benefit in the workplace. Experienced professionals have stood in your shoes, and they can advise you on how to avoid the mistakes that they had to learn on their own.

I’d rather someone instruct me on the wisdom of tying my shoes, rather than falling flat on my face and finding out for myself.

I’ve heard many Baby Boomers talk about how things aren’t as good as they used to be. People cared more, they say. A job well-done was a badge of honor.

People aren’t as invested now, they tell me. Employees show up, but they shovel work onto others, or they make pompous declarations without considering all the facts.

These aren’t burned-out cubicle-dwellers on the verge of retirement. These are people I admire and trust. They’re not begrudging change, or holding their era in higher esteem.

When they tell me that things used to be better, I believe them. And I agree.

We’re living in a high-gloss, low-wattage society. There’s no substance beneath the surface. The perception of competency is paramount, but actual experience is scarce.

We pad our LinkedIn profiles with buzz-terms and jargon, but there’s no actual wizard behind the curtain. We build dense, keyword-specific resumes, but there’s no character beneath the clutter.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether it’s technology making us complacent, or the aftershocks of an all-embracing recession, we can choose to be the indispensable go-to who’d do anything to help out a colleague.

We can decide to be the master of details who’s known for accuracy and efficiency.

We can elect to be the resourceful collaborator who’s always seeking new ways to add value.

This doesn’t have to be the Period of Post-Quality. But it’s up to us.

If we can shake off all the malaise and complacency and rediscover our entrepreneurial roots, we could be living in a golden age where character counts, hard work is appreciated, and demonstrated proficiency is valued higher than smooth-talking swagger.

Details should matter. Competency should count. Hard work and resourcefulness should be rewarded.

That’s the way things used to be. And I’m hopeful that one day — once again, with any luck — that will be the way things are.

Being curt doesn’t make you businesslike

two businessmen in officeI’m noticing a trend lately where people respond to e-mails with an abrupt, terse tone.

No greeting. No “please” and “thank you.” Just a curt, one-sentence response, with a sprinkling of condescension.

I imagine they’re trying to sound confident and authoritative. After all, real professionals don’t waste time with pleasantries or kindness. Real professionals are tough and domineering, and they command respect with their aloof detachment and emotionless demeanor.

But if goal is to sound cool and confident, I’d like to remind these people that they’re failing spectacularly.

Instead, they’re just proving themselves to be clueless jerks with no skills to back up the swagger.

In fact, there’s a direct correlation between a person’s curtness and their incompetence.

The more curt the e-mail, the more incompetent the worker. It’s a rule.

I’d also like to remind these people that real competence stems from patience and understanding and putting yourself in another person’s shoes.

True professionalism comes from listening to the needs of others and responding to the best of your ability.

Genuine respect is earned by appreciating others and recognizing their contributions.

Humor and warmth go a long way in cultivating relationships and building trust. A person who can laugh projects much more poise and confidence than a sleaze-ball who tries to control others through fear and intimidation.

Most people want to be perceived as competent and able. It’s understandable. And our professional correspondence speaks volumes about our personality and the image we’re trying to project — even more so than the way we dress.

But please don’t mistake aloofness for ability. Don’t confuse curtness for competence.

No matter how stiff your upper lip, being a prick will never make you a professional.

So let’s cut it out with the abrupt, terse e-mails, OK? Si “hi” in your greeting. Tell someone you “hope they’re doing well.” Respond with a “thank-you” when they fulfill your request.

After all, isn’t common human decency worth a slightly cluttered inbox? If someone doesn’t appreciate a “thank-you” e-mail, then they always can delete it.

I’ll never subscribe to the notion that civility and decorum have to be sacrificed for the sake of doing business.

Skill and proficiency may define a professional, but it’s kindness and compassion that constitute the soul.

Every online Office Assistant job posting

An honest interviewer

Well, at least I know what I’m getting into….

Our company has an exciting opportunity for an enthusiastic and dynamic Office Assistant. The Office Assistant will be responsible for supporting 47 senior-level executives, as well as completing degrading, rudimentary tasks — such as making coffee and sorting the mail.

Qualifications:

• Four-year degree required, preferably with an emphasis on structural engineering or quantum physics. Candidates with a Master’s degree preferred.

• Must have your own vehicle for picking up Starbucks, giving rides to senior-level personnel and shuttling intoxicated executives to highbrow societal functions. Candidates with a Class-A commercial driver’s license preferred.

• Excellent written and verbal communication skills. Must be an expert writer and grammarian, with proficiency in Associated Press Style and the Chicago Manual of Style.

• Must have proficiency in technology, including hardware, software and network infrastructure. Must have expert knowledge of printers and printer drivers. Candidates with working knowledge of HTML, Pearl, Javascript, and CSS preferred.

• Must be an expert in graphic design, with working knowledge of Quark, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign. Must be an expert photographer with access to your own professional-level equipment.

• Must have advanced video-editing skills, with the ability to produce custom corporate videos in a variety of digital formats. Working knowledge of Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere required.

• Must be proficient in web design and marketing, with the ability to craft unique weekly content for our company blog and social-media accounts. The candidate also will write and edit our 5,000-word daily newsletter, as well as execute weekly e-mail campaigns.

• Must have the ability to type 90 words per minute on a Royal typewriter.

• Must have working knowledge of General Accounting Principles, with the ability to oversee annual budgets, complete weekly payroll and respond timely to unexpected IRS inquiries.

• Must have expert carpentry skills, with the ability to complete office remodels as required. Knowledge of HVAC, plumbing and electrical wiring required. Candidates with a general contracting license strongly preferred. 

• In addition to meeting day-to-day expectations, the successful candidate must complete 500 hours of career-focused training within the first 90 days of employment.

Applying:

To be considered for this amazing opportunity, please send your resume and a link to your LinkedIn profile. Also, please submit a 5-minute video in .m4v formant detailing your skills and accomplishments. Candidates also must take an online personality assessment, as well as commit to 60 hours monthly of community service.

Salary:

Compensation starts at $10 hourly.

So my boss said to leave the report on his desk…

boss patting employee on back.

When my boss is brutally honest….

When I first got my new job, my boss, Steve, asked me to write a one-page report for the executive manager.

“Be sure to send the report directly to me,” Steve said.

“You don’t want me to send it to the executive manager?” I asked.

“I don’t. I want to check it before he sees it.”

“I’m a fairly good writer,” I said. “I got As in high-school English, and I run spell check on all my correspondence before sending it out.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Steve said. “It’s that I want to review the report’s content prior to the executive manager reading it.”

“Are you afraid I’m going to say something offensive?” I asked.

“I just have to review it before he sees it. Employees are not permitted to e-mail the executive manager directly. Only managers can e-mail the executive manager.”

“So I have to write the report and send it to you so you can send it to him?” I asked. Keep reading…

Your dirty dishes are my problem

woman in office rolling her eyes

My response to most company policies….

Dear Senior Leadership Team,

Good morning. I’m writing to you today to express a grave concern.

I’ve spent many sleepless nights debating whether to escalate this concern to senior management. As a result, my work performance has suffered, and I’ve ordered way too many useless gadgets from the Home Shopping Network.

I feel I have no choice now but to voice my thoughts. Stoic silence is no longer an option. And though I often hesitate to make waves, sometimes you have to be the fat guy who does a cannonball into the pool.

My concern this morning is in regards to the company breakroom policy.

That’s right: the company breakroom policy. I don’t like it.

There. I’ve said it. I feel much better already.

As senior management is aware, all departments are required to take turns cleaning the breakroom. During a department’s designated month, employees must rinse dirty dishes, load and unload the dishwasher, wipe tables, restock the cleaning supplies, sweep the floor, and chisel Lean Cuisine explosions from the roof of the microwave. (At least I hope it was Lean Cuisine. But based on the mess, it could have been a cat. I’m not sure.) Keep reading…

Attack of the time parasite

time parasite

The dreaded time parasite attaches himself to a hardworking employee and sucks away not only his industry knowledge, but also his will to live.

The time parasite is a wretched and despicable creature. They’re among the lowest form of scum imaginable (a true invertebrate with no noticeable backbone or useful purpose), and they often come with an overinflated sense of self worth and a graduate degree in business administration.

The time parasite is a true bottom-feeding life form oozing with sludge and dripping with charisma. They often have a sallow, oily appearance, and they thrive in dank, slimy places covered in dead rot (otherwise known as the upper echelon of senior management).

To survive, the time parasite will attach itself to an amiable, industrious employee. The employee won’t mind at first, because the time parasite will present itself as an eager and dedicated manager committed to assisting the team.

As the employee discusses the easy-to-follow steps of a rudimentary procedure, the time parasite will sink in its fangs and begin to feed. It will ask pointless questions to prolong the conversation, and the employee will be forced to restate in a different way what he or she already explained in intricate detail.

As the moments stretch into minutes, the employee will begin to feel anxious and short-tempered. E-mails will keep piling up — many requiring immediate response — but the time parasite will refuse to release its sinister hold. The employee will motion to his or her screen, or they’ll pretend to pick up their phone and make an imaginary call, but neither tactic will work. The time parasite has a hunger for the souls of employees, and its ravenous appetite is insatiable.

As the time parasite continues to devour mercilessly, the employee will feel his or her existence slipping away, as if they’re attached to the Count’s life-sucking machine on The Princess Bride. Indeed, even the most self-driven, highly motived employee will lose his or her momentum when ensnared in a time parasite’s inescapable grasp. The employee will cease to perform at a high standard, and instead of looking forward to five o’clock, they’ll start wishing for their own death.

In that way, time parasites are much like the Dementors that guard Azkaban Prison — except much more career-focused and self-serving.

Indeed, the time parasite’s enervating effects drain the employee of their motivation. When the time parasite finally releases its bone-breaking grip (usually because it becomes bored by a conversation that it cared little about in the first place), the employee will feel chewed up and violated. They’ll shake themselves off and go back to work, but their once-productive workflow will be disrupted. The time parasite took from them something that they can never get back. Not only time, but a sense of wholeness — as if the very fabric of their being was unraveled by a tug of the thread.

It will dawn upon the employee then that none of their skills, knowledge, or ideas matter anymore — at least in terms of the employee’s long-sought-after upward trajectory — because the time parasite will be there to gobble them up and to take credit for all of the employee’s accomplishments.

And so the time parasite will slink back to its dank, slimy environment, leaving in its wake a department of demoralized souls who now have to work past five to make up for lost time.

An under-appreciated office-dweller

getting a big promotion“Thanks.”

That was the extent of your e-mailed response: “Thanks.”

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m glad that you at least acknowledged my effort.

But “Thanks”? That’s it?

Not to sound entitled, but I think I deserve a little bit more.

Did you see how quickly I acted upon your request? And did you bother to grasp the thoroughness of my reply?

I mean, I don’t expect you to write a haiku as a testament to my glory and magnificence, but give me something more than “Thanks.” Maybe something like “Thank you very much” or “Your assistance is greatly appreciated.”

Nope. “Thanks.” That’s the length to which you ventured to recognize my contributions.

I don’t want to complain, but I feel like my work here isn’t appreciated. No matter how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my personal life, I put forth my best each day. My commitment to timeliness and quality is unparalleled, and I’m highly regarded as a dedicated team-player. The meticulous approach I bring to my work has earned me stellar reviews from upper management.

So I don’t think I’m out of line to expect a little bit more than “Thanks.”

I suppose it’s not in your nature to recognize others (being so singularly focused on your own career and upward momentum). But the next time I go out of my way to accommodate one of your “urgent” requests, a little more gratitude would be appreciated.

And I’m not talking about an overdone dissertation dripping with sarcasm. You don’t need to say “I so dearly value your heartfelt dedication and perseverance. You are a radiant beacon in a shadowy sea of cubicles; a pillar of strength standing among a battalion of slump-shouldered staff. You consistently outshine your peers, like a brilliant star streaking across a twilight sky. Your mind brims with industry knowledge; your heart and soul exude the passion you bring to your job. I truly cherish having you on my team, and I wish to thank you profusely for your wholehearted dedication.”

No, you don’t need to say all that. I’m not looking for unconditional admiration, or a stepping stool to senior management. I’m clearly not on the fast-track, because instead of brown-nosing my way to success, I’m too busy doing all the work.

I just want something more than “Thanks.” And at the end of a trying workday, is that really so much to ask? I’m but a mere human with a humble heart. I seek not riches or fame, but just a smidgen of recognition, to validate my otherwise futile existence.

This mysterious journey of life holds little clues to the grander intricacies of the universe. Life moves forward in a constant current of progression, and unless we flow forward with friends, the world can make us feel isolated and lonely.

We must respect each other, cherish each other — love each other. If there’s a deeper meaning to the universe, it’s that all we have is each other. All people (and indeed, all office-dwellers) are interconnected — like a connect-the-dots game in which all the points are linked.

By the mere act of existing, each of us is obligated to bring warmth to this world, and we can do that by respecting each other. Don’t let your condescending, managerial detachment make this world a cold, unforgiving place. Be warm. Be loving.

Be human.

I so appreciate your contributions to this organization. All I ask is that you appreciate mine.

Thanks.

Omit the extraneous details, please 

Two businessmen in meeting“Did you know there was an earthquake last night?” I asked my friend, Hank, as we stood near the water cooler at work.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I felt it.”

“You felt it?” I asked. “They said it happened around eleven-thirty. I was asleep.”

“Yeah, well, I was awake,” he said. “You see, I’d gotten up around eleven to take a gnarly dump, and when I lay back down, the whole room started shaking. I thought a car had hit the house.”

I stared at him, blinking.

Hank frowned. “What?”

I crossed my arms. “Did you really need to add that extraneous detail?”

“What extraneous detail?”

“The detail about why you’d woken up.”

He shrugged. “I was just trying to explain why I was awake.”

“And you needn’t have done so. All you had to say was that you were awake and that you had felt the earthquake. Nothing more.”

“Right, but I wanted to explain to you why I was awake at eleven-thirty.”

“No one cares why you were awake at eleven-thirty. It’s an extraneous detail that’s not pertinent to the story. That’s why they call it ‘extraneous.’”

“I don’t think it’s extraneous,” Hank said. “I think it’s integral. If I hadn’t have been awake, then I wouldn’t have felt the earthquake. The reason I was awake is a pertinent part of the story.”

I shook my head. “It’s neither pertinent nor appropriate. All you had to establish was that you were awake and that you had felt the earthquake. Further elaboration was unnecessary.”

“I disagree. I think it’s a crucial detail that you can’t omit. Its absence raises the question of why I was awake so late on a work night.”

“Nobody cares why you were awake so late on a work night.”

“Again, I disagree. If someone is awake that late on a work night, an explanation is required.”

“No explanation is required,” I said. “Like I stated, it’s an extraneous detail.”

“Not when you’re an early riser like me,” Hank said. “It’s well-known among my co-workers that I go to bed early. That’s why I needed to establish why I was awake so late on a work night. You see, what happened was that we’d had Karen’s chili for dinner, and I woke up in a cold sweat with my stomach churning. I was lucky to hobble to the bathroom without exploding all over the hallway.”

I plugged my ears. “Not listening,” I said.

“It was terrible,” Hank continued. “It was like the Jeff Daniels scene from Dumb and Dumber — expect more harrowing and traumatic. Clearly, I had to shower afterwards. And then the moment I slipped back into bed, the earthquake hit. I was so rattled, it took me a long time to doze off.

“All in all,” he said, “the whole ordeal cost me two hours of sleep. So if I seem a little off today, that’s probably why.”

“Well, no offense,” I said, “but your judgment does seem a bit clouded. As you should know, it’s not entirely appropriate to mention your bowels in a workplace conversation.”

“My bowels are a pivotal part of the story. I thought I explained that point already.”

“In depth, yes.”

“Look,” Hank said, “all I’m saying is that I’m not exactly at my best when I have endure diarrhea and an earthquake in the same night. It’s all a little unnerving.”

I sighed. “I just wanted to make small talk, Hank. You know? Water-cooler conversation.”

“Right,” he said. “And I thought that’s what we were doing. We were talking about the earthquake.”

“No,” I said. “As you just pointed out, we were talking about your bowels and your chili-fueled escapade.”

Hank shrugged. “Well, it’s not exactly a detail you can gloss over. Especially if you had to live through it, like I did. Man, was it excruciating. Karen felt bad, too. She said she probably put in too many jalapeños, or something.”

I shook my head and started to walk away.

“Hey,” Hank called. “Where are you going? Was it something I said?”

“I have to go,” I said. “My stomach’s churning.”

Not much networking, but plenty of debauchery at the local chamber mixer

If you want to party like it’s 1999 (minus the hand-wringing anxiety caused by the possible Y2K meltdown), then look no further than your local chamber of commerce.

Chamber mixer

Depravity and debauchery are hallmarks of any successful chamber mixer. And if you can network a little during the festivities, then so much the better.

I sense your skepticism, but I’m serious. Chambers of commerce party more often than your local chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda. Plus, there are no annoying resident assistants to break up the fun.

Many chambers participate in monthly events called “chamber mixers,” which is a business term meaning “alcohol-fueled orgy where participants can network, make contacts and wake up in a neighboring county with no memory of how they got there — and all while promoting the corporate agenda.”

I have personal experience with these lascivious, libation-drenched displays of celebratory overindulgence. At the peak of my freelance writing career, I worked as a $10-an-hour receptionist for a small real-estate office. My duties included greeting customers and answering phones. All that hard work and money I had put into obtaining a journalism degree had finally paid off.

The office was part of the local chamber of commerce. And each month, the chamber would pick a different venue to host its mixer.

Usually, the location was at the place of business of one of its members.

And sure enough, our turn came. I received the foreboding news one morning that the next mixer — and all the carnal, frenzied festivities that term implied — would be held within the delicate confines of our meek and meager little office.

An announcement of such magnitude required extreme preparations. We catered pizza and sandwiches, chicken wings and taquitos. Workmen arrived to wash the windows and steam-clean the carpets. I was enlisted to dust bookcases and straighten furniture. As always, I seized the opportunity to put my bookish, cerebral journalism education to good use … so I grabbed a toilet brush and scrubbed like a madman. Keep reading…