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Crucial Applications: How to Overcome a Career-Limiting Habit

We recently completed a study which reveals the top five Career-Limiting Habits (CLHs) that cause employees to miss out on raises and promotions. According to the study, 97 percent of employees report they have some habit that keeps them from achieving their potential at work.

 

The Top 5 Career-Limiting Habits:

1. Unreliability
2. “It’s not my job”
3. Procrastination
4. Resistance to change
5. Negative attitude

Other CLHs that limit employees’ progression include: disrespect, short-term focus, selfishness, passive aggressiveness, and risk aversion.

The research found that these habits are the main obstacle to career advancement. Nearly half of bosses report that addressing employees’ glaring bad habit is three times more important than increasing their technical skills. Unfortunately, bosses also report that only 10 to 20 percent of their employees actually make profound and lasting changes to their CLH.

Despite this, the study found there are predictable paths to success for employees who want to reverse their CLH. Here are some tips for shaping better habits for career success:

  1. Create a Personal Motivation Statement. When you hit a motivational wall while changing your work habits, motivate yourself by visiting your “default future”—the career you’ll have if you are repeatedly passed up for promotion.
  2. Invest in professional development. New habits always require new skills. Top performers hone their craft. Actively develop the skills you need to be viewed as a top performer through training, workshops, or books—but make sure this is only one part of a bigger change strategy.
  3. Hang with the hard workers. The Career-Limiting Habits that keep you back are likely enabled, tolerated, or encouraged by others. Use positive peer pressure by surrounding yourself with hard-working friends who share your career goals. Distance yourself from the office slackers.
  4. Find a mentor. Changing habits requires help. Find a trusted mentor to encourage your progression and help you navigate the career development opportunities that exist within the organization.
  5. Put skin in the game. Reward yourself for reaching short-term goals by placing money at risk. For example, if you reach your goal in your next performance review you can purchase a reward with the money you set aside. However, if you fall short, the money goes to support the political party you oppose.
  6. Control your workspace. Make your new habits easier by enlisting the power of your surroundings. If you’d benefit from close association with another team, ask to move offices. When possible, turn off electronic interruptions that keep you from being as productive as you need to be to move ahead.
Crucial Conversations QA

Dealing with Resentment at Work

Dear Crucial Skills,

In our hospital, we have a person who made a grave mistake during surgery. As the manager’s pet, she was not disciplined or reprimanded, but anyone else would have been fired on the spot. The rest of the staff noticed the special treatment given to this individual and are extremely resentful. How do I, as one of those staff members, interact with the offending person without letting my resentment show?

Sincerely,
Resentful Coworker

Dear Resentful,

We studied this very problem in our research, Silence Kills, and found that 84 percent of healthcare professionals observe colleagues take dangerous shortcuts when working with patients and yet less than 10 percent speak up about their concerns.

I applaud you for raising your concerns. Nobody wants to work in an atmosphere of resentment that could compromise your paramount concern of patient safety. However, the situation you describe is complicated. There are many parties and probably many perspectives on the same set of facts. Let’s begin by examining your concerns.

1. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Think about what you want long-term for yourself, the other person, and for your relationship. This is what I learned from your question:

  • You want fairness and justice. You think your peer is “the manager’s pet,” receives “special treatment,” and perhaps should have been disciplined, reprimanded, or even fired.
  • You want to make sure your team provides patients with the safest, best care possible.
  • You want a positive set of relationships so people don’t feel resentment toward one another.

2. Master your stories. Each of these concerns is based on a set of facts and/or a series of incidents, including the mistake that happened during surgery. But different staff members, and your manager, may interpret these same facts in different ways. All of you are telling yourselves stories about what these facts mean.

Treat your story as a story, not as a fact. Your story should be your best, most honest interpretation of what the facts mean. But also look out for what we call “clever stories”—interpretations that let you off the hook for feeling resentful and letting your feelings show.

Interrogate your story with two questions: a) “Do I really have all the facts I need to be certain my story is true?” and b) “Is there any other story that could fit this same set of facts?” Let’s examine two of the stories you’re telling yourself:

Your story about fairness and justice: What are the facts or incidents that combine to make you tell yourself a story about injustice? How confident are you that your story is true? Here are a few questions to consider:

It sounds as if you are holding your peer accountable for not being disciplined. Shouldn’t that concern be with your manager more than with your peer?

I wonder whether you and your manager are telling yourselves different stories about the “grave mistake.” Your manager may not have witnessed the mistake and that may mean he/she has less information. On the other hand, your manager may have interviewed your colleague as well as others who were there and this information might be both important and confidential.

Your story about patient safety: Any time you have a concern about patient safety you need to deal with it. It’s one of those non-negotiables. However, before you have this crucial conversation, examine your story.

It would be easy to tell yourself the story that your manager is putting friendship above patient safety. That would be a very troubling conclusion. But is it true?

In the old days, errors were often blamed on whoever touched the patient last. Every error was considered “operator error.” Then the pendulum swung toward “system error.” Errors and near misses were seen as caused by faulty processes and procedures rather than individuals. Of course, sensible people demand both capable systems and capable individuals. Neither is sufficient by itself. Do you see how this interplay complicates the stories you and your manager tell about the very same incident?

I don’t have enough information to know whose story is closer to the truth. But I think there is a lot of room for people who value fairness, justice, and patient safety to disagree. Have this conversation with your manager, but don’t assume he or she has bad intentions.

3. Start with the facts, then tentatively share your story. Take the time to prepare for this conversation. Try writing it out as a script and then review it to make sure you:

  • Avoid accusations or any “hot” words or phrases.
  • Begin with your good intentions—what it is you really want. Explain that this conversation is about patient safety. That is your mutual purpose.
  • Start with the facts. These facts include the incidents you are fairly sure you and your manager will agree on. This is your common ground.
  • Tentatively tell your story. Draw the pattern these facts are forming for you. But remember, your manager may see the facts—and almost certainly sees the pattern—differently than you do. Be careful to be respectful of your manager’s story.
  • Stop so that your manager can share his or her perspective. Understand that some of the facts your manager has are likely to be confidential.

I also encourage you to review our latest study, The Silent Treatment, at www.silenttreatmentstudy.com or register for The Silent Treatment learning series to learn how to solve critical communication breakdowns and avoid dangerous mistakes in the hospital.

David

Influencer QA

Influencing Corporate Policy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.

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InfluencerQDear Crucial Skills,

Our company has a review policy called the 70/20/10 rule. This means that 70 percent of my staff must be rated “Meets Expectations,” only 20 percent can be rated “Exceeds Expectations,” and worst of all, 10 percent must be rated “Needs Improvement.”

I find this rating system unmotivating and unfair for many obvious reasons. Specifically, at the present, I don’t have anyone I’d describe as “Needs Improvement.” However, I must come up with two people to fit this category.

At the other end of the spectrum, more than 20 percent are exceeding expectations and deserve commensurate rewards—yet I must arbitrarily leave people out so I don’t exceed the quota.

I raised my concerns over this policy but was told I should always be able to find 10 percent who “Need Improvement.” This seems like a losing battle, but I’d like to encourage the decision-makers to rethink this policy.

Sincerely,
Frustrated Reviewer

A Dear Frustrated,

I find the performance appraisal system you’re describing to be as unjust as you do. However, I believe it was designed to address an even more egregious injustice.

Forced rating systems have been imposed on managers for decades because managers were failing to manage. The heart of good management is the speed and effectiveness with which managers hold crucial conversations. However, they typically put off holding crucial conversations for many months and, even when holding them, tends to gloss over the most fundamental messages.

I believe that forced ranking systems have been imposed on managers primarily because senior leaders believed that, without the compulsion of these systems, managers would continue to shrink from their responsibility to deal candidly, ethically, and professionally with performance problems. Managers are now being governed by unjust systems because so many failed to exercise ethical and leadership responsibilities in addressing performance problems willingly.

Now, with that said, most system responses to behavioral problems are doomed to fail. They produce unintended consequences of the kind you describe. They are brute force solutions to entrenched influence problems. Those familiar with our work on influence know that problems exist because there are six sources of influence that are perfectly aligned to produce the negative results you’re experiencing. To change those results, you must affect four or more of those sources of influence—nothing less will do.

Okay, soapbox aside, here are some thoughts as you decide how to be an ethical manager, a loyal employee, and a decent human being at all once.

1. Keep the spirit of the law. Given that the 70/20/10 system’s intent is good, first make sure you are not fooling yourself about the quality of your team and are stepping up to crucial conversations scrupulously—both in the interest of your organization and in the interest of your team members. You lose the moral authority to claim there is a “better way” than the 70/20/10 system if you aren’t an example of that better way yourself. For example, if you conclude that 40 percent of your team is in serious need of development, you should acknowledge that just as honestly as when you believe 40 percent deserve a rating of “Exceeds Expectations.”

2. Choose only from ethical options. When considering my options in confronting value conflicts in organizations, I distill them down to three. I can quit, stay and accept, or stay and influence. In other words, I could conclude that I would be a hypocrite to stay in an organization whose practices so conflict with my values. If you take this option, I’d suggest you use your exit as an opportunity to exert influence. In a clear and respectful way, detail what you admired in the company and all of the reasons you are reluctant to leave. Add your concern with this system and the inequities it made you participate in. One strong and clear voice like this can be remarkably effective at influencing change. It may not happen overnight, but it can plant seeds of doubt that spur reflection after you leave.

Second, you can stay and accept the circumstances. The only ethical way to do this is to decide to loyally fulfill your duties, even though you personally disagree with the system. If you stay in your current position at this company, carry out the 70/20/10 system as you are bound to do, and avoid badmouthing the system or the leaders who choose to continue with this program.

Third, you could stay and influence. You could, for example, decide that you are remaining only contingent on your success at influencing the system. If you do so, you must do so under the same ethical terms as the previous option. You must carry out the spirit and letter of your management duties. But at the same time, you can make your best effort to influence change. If this is the approach you take, I’d suggest a time limit to your efforts so you don’t become the angry rebel and waste your professional efforts in a lost cause.

If you choose to stay and influence change, here are a couple of options you could consider:

1. Invite study. If you have influence with HR or senior leadership, attempt to invite them to study the effectiveness of the 70/20/10 system rather than simply criticizing it with anecdotes. Honestly share your concerns with some of its effects, but also express openness that further study may convince you it’s the best approach. Encourage HR to declare what “dependent measures” they believe will be positively affected by the employment of the system, then study over time whether or not better results are following. It’s likely you’ll find that the system did produce some worthwhile effects—which will help you make recommendations more useful than just “throw out the bad system.”

2. Teach influence. As I mentioned earlier, the intent of the system is to influence managerial behavior. Our research into the six sources of influence is often a very effective way to help leaders see the limited success of their “single source” influence strategy. Share copies of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything with key leaders and attempt to engage them in reflecting on its application to managerial behavior in your organization.

I applaud your desire to do right by your people and your company and wish you the best as you make this crucial decision.

Warmly,
Joseph