Stop and look at how far you've come...

This is actually meant to be more reflective than motivational; although let's see where it goes before any rash decisions are made as to what I'm actually talking about.

Recently I "reposted" an old blog that I wrote eighteen month ago (it is a personal favourite). What I expected to be a simple cut and paste exercise became a little more involved because there was sentence structure and punctuation that could be improved upon. Thank the "blogging gods" there were no spelling mistakes that I could see; pesky things.* Ultimately I clicked "publish", satisfied that my revision was a much tighter piece of writing than the original. And this got me to thinking... for good or bad.

Am I a great writer? Not today. Am I a good writer? It probably depends on the day, the phase of the moon and how much luck is with me at that moment. Am I a better writer? Absolutely, and here is why. I have written 128 blogs since that original post, edited dozens of project proposals and asked a very good friend of mine (who is a very good writer) how I am doing to which she tells me I am getting better; sometimes with a slight "wince" but she assures me I am much tighter with my words and thoughts.

Although there is credence in the old saying "practice makes perfect" and the statistic that 10,000 hours develops mastery, this is not what I had in mind when I started down this meandering path - I was being much more literal when I got to thinking and titled this "Stop and look at how far you've come..." I truly was thinking more along the lines of, "Literally stop what you are doing and take a look around to see how far you have come". To "see" your progress can be incredibly motivational; to visualize the ground covered, obstacles you've overcome and the skills developed on the way - It is exciting and re-energizing to see how far you've come and what you've accomplished.

Sure it is encouraging to see how much closer you are to your goal(s) but the value of understanding how far you've come is more important as it re-enforces accomplishment, allows you to understand your newly acquired skills, and ensures your activity is getting you closer to your goals. It is in this act of stopping and looking back you ensure you're current activity is what's needed, or sadly recognize that in effect, you really aren't doing anything at all. Either way you will know.

For me, I want to be a great writer and with the activity of blog writing I am becoming a better writer, and continue to head in the right direction. And how do I really know? In my recent "repost" I have received a number of comments, many "likes" and a large number of views, whereas with my original I had "zeros" across the board - I thought I would bring this up for those looking for objective data.


PS: Click here to see the re-write.

* Please let me know if you find a spelling mistake because those things are peskier than mosquitos.

Meritocracy is great, except when it isn't... then it's a @$%# train wreck.

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

Up front I will tell you George is no one person but a "mashup" of people and situations I've experienced over the years.

The organization from the top down made a point of saying the culture was one of meritocracy; people were rewarded for ability and performance be it merit, incentives or the coveted promotion. If you exceeded your goals and objectives you were rewarded. Straight forward enough when you see it on paper.

And now for a bit of a tale:

The reasons for George's promotion can be summed up as "he was good at his old job", the organizational structure was trying to keep up with growth, George had experience with the organization, and his boss to be liked him (minimizing the risk of problems down the road).

A couple of years went by with George's performance being somewhat average; as some of his peers were promoted around him he began to notice and asked about being "promoted" to a senior manager (reflecting his hard work and tenure with the organization). The feedback was his performance and current competencies did not warrant a promotion; development plans to one degree or another were put in place.  

Over time, the bemoaning turned into overt complaining about the situation, he dismissed his 360 degree feedback outright, George's people began to talk behind his back, his peers began to question his behaviour and his lead and lag indicators continued to be average at best - And then... he was promoted. SCREEEEECH, BANG, BANG, CRUNCH, BOOM, BOOM.... KABOOOOOOOOOM!! What a @$%# train wreck

Granted, the sound effects may be suspect but that doesn't make the imagery any less accurate; let me offer some perspectives as to why, and let's start with George.

  • George is really happy, as you would expect; all of his questionable behaviour and average performance has been re-enforced as a good thing... I mean, he did get a promotion after all!
  • George's boss is relieved that she doesn't have to listen to George complain anymore but unfortunately she has just re-enforced all of George's behaviours (not only with George, but all of her other reports). And what about those average performance results? There was no reason to expect they would change and in fact they didn't.
  • George's peers started to question the credibility of reward for performance and what is needed for the "next promotional opportunity". Also, George's behaviour seemed to be effective, so why not include it in the "toolbox".
  • Employees emulate their boss, as she (or he) is their direct role model for success. George's thinking and behaviour will spread to his direct reports.
  • The company sees a malaise of mediocrity has settled into the organization with regard to performance and true leadership; it wonders why there is an ever shrinking pool of high performance people and can't understand why great people are leaving. All of which comes with a heavy cost.

As fun as it can be to play the "blame game", it is more constructive to drill down to the root causes(s) and this particular "train wreck" was the result of poor leadership (be it the noun or the verb... you choose).

  • Leadership had not established an "objective talent management process" used throughout the organization to promote people, and if they had, it was not robust enough to ensure that everyone understood what it is and adhere to it. In other words, "Talent management helter skelter"
  • Leadership could not, would not, or did not engage in appropriate management to "develop George up or out".

I suppose George's promotion could have been the result of using "promotions" as a retention strategy; or that some analysis was done that determined "moving on George" was at the very best a zero sum gain so to "promote him and move on" was the best course of action; or maybe the leader simply knew something that "everyone else did not", and the promotion was very much justified in her mind. 

Again, we find ourselves back to "poor leadership" as a root cause.

And by the way, the real sound of this @$%# train wreck was not the loud SCREEEEECH, BANG, BANG, CRUNCH, BOOM, BOOM.... KABOOOOOOOOOM, but the nearly inaudible swoooosh as Meritocracy collapses into a trite and hollow word.


I put out a call for blog ideas and this is what I got...

I thought it was a stroke of genius* on my part to put out a call for new blog ideas so I could expand my scope of topics, challenge my thinking and develop myself - One of my oldest friends got back to me rather quickly.

After reading what she sent me twice, I actually muttered, "WTF am I going to do with this?" As I said, she is one of my oldest friends and a real sweetheart, so it would simply be wrong of me not to give it that ol' college try.

BTW, this is what she sent me:

"We're all about lightness and novelty in our society, but sometimes there's merit to keeping 'things' as totems, or physical reminders of good times in the past. I think sometimes, we're all about the pristine and sterile and we shouldn't be afraid of the layers of treasures and detritus that build up over the course of a lifetime." 

I like to tell everyone that on a daily basis I work with a 1000 word vocabulary; holding true to this conviction, I had to look up "detritus" [dəˈtrīdəs] which is defined as waste or debris of any kind. I will say literary interpretation has never been a strong suit of mine but then again I did say "I wanted to expand my scope of topics, challenge my thinking and develop myself", so I guess I got what I asked for.

No doubt there is innuendo regarding the youth culture and beautification of everything around us, with the "novelty" of fresh faced potential being preferred to the weathered face of experience; continually trying to retain order in what is believed to be an "unspoiled" image before the chaos and layers of a life lived has settled in. To this, there is a reminder that a life truly lived has both treasures and detritus (see above definition) and reflects our journey - All of which should be embraced and not feared.

But the question has to be asked, "Why only totems for the treasures when a life truly lived embraces the detritus as well?" I get that keeping 'things' as totems of the good times is much more enjoyable then that of the bad times - I mean, who needs the pain?

However, if these "totems" are seen more as signposts of a life lived and not as good or bad memories, they become "markers" of where we have been, what we have accomplished, the sights we've seen, and are forever reminding us of how far we've come - All to be celebrated as a life being lived.

And if we are willing to share our totem's stories, they become signposts for those who are finding their way.

I hope I have done well by my old friend,


* An example of a real stoke of genius is the 3M Sticky Note... what I did, not so much.