Friday, February 19, 2010

The Confluence of "Three"


As a boy growing up in western Pennsylvania, I was taught from early childhood that the center of human history could be found at the confluence of three rivers –  The Monongahela, The Allegheny, and The Ohio – otherwise known as Pittsburgh.  Combined with a clear devotional focus on “The Steelers,” this orientation did make us “locals” believe that it was destiny in the years when the Steelers, the Pirates and the Penguins won championships.  There were even two years when two of the teams won their respective championships in the same year!

This orientation to look at things in “threes” amplified during my theological studies.  In a class called “hermeneutics,” the focus was on how to create, prepare and deliver an effective sermon.  One of the first lessons was that all good sermons had three key points.  While it was suggested that this structure was to mirror and emphasize the Trinity, I had a sneaking suspicion that the professor might have been a member of the “Steeler Nation.”

With all that said, over the past few months I found myself in a number of conversations in which I kept referring to a simple “three-part” model.  These discussions were generally with folks trying to gain clarity on their next career move, though they ranged from a company president to someone who has been out of the work force for years.  Regardless of their backgrounds, these people seemed to find this three-step approach helpful.  It centered around the concepts of:





When I’m working with people who are trying to consider professional alternatives, I try to help them find the confluence of the three factors above.  The process begins by pulling out three sheets of paper, one for skills, one for experiences, one for passions.  Then, on each sheet, write the details for each category  and rank them from high to low.  Finally, take the “highs” from each list and lay them out on a single sheet.  I have had some clients use a pyramid, a triangle, or a three dimensional graph for this step.  It works just as well to lay them out on a sheet and use them as a tool in making decisions. 

If an individual is deciding between a number of roles, he or she may use the list to see which role maximizes the confluence of the three lists.  If an individual is brainstorming possibilities, I help him or her imagine roles (or industries, companies, etc.) that would be a good combination of all three elements.  There have been moments across my career where I came close to making very bad decisions based on thinking about only two of the three factors.  As I was heading out of grad school, I had the enviable situation of having to decide between three very different job offers.  One was for a role in the marketing research department of a large food company.  I had tutored econometrics and statistics in grad school, so there was a good fit for skills.  I had worked part-time in the marketing research department of a company while at grad school, thus my experience was solid.  The trouble was that my passion for the work was a zero.  I was good at it and I hated it!  Thank goodness I had enough sense at that time to NOT take that job, but to take a role where my skills, experiences, and my passions ALL could be brought to bear.

As you face moments in your career or life when trying to make decisions about your next role or opportunity, think back to the confluence of those three rivers and try to find your best three-fold confluence.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Two Small Words

During my career at The Coca-Cola Company, I had the chance to work very closely with a wide range of senior executives.  While they all had their unique traits, none did I find as inspiring or motivating as Neville Isdell.  Neville’s career traversed multiple continents, five decades, and culminated as Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company from June 2004 to July 2008.  It was a true honor to have a chance to work on numerous initiatives that brought me in contact with him, always finding those experiences to be filled with learning and growth.  I wrote more about this recently in an entry titled “A teachable Point of View”. 

The cover of a recent issue of  “Business & Finance” magazine featured an article titled “Neville Isdell on recovery, sustainable growth and ethics.”  I was interested on first glance and dove into the article.  While a variety of topics would be appropriate to review, there was a very short paragraph that quickly caught my attention.  He is quoted as saying “that two very important words were left out of corporate strategies in the recent past: ‘over time.’  We forgot those two very important words.  What I was taught was that my role was to maximize shareholder value over time.” 

We are surrounded my so many examples, particularly in the financial sector, where a short-tem orientation has led to disastrous long-term results.  Neville says further “That became disastrous particularly when the banks’ short-term profits were driven by instruments that not many people understood, including the management of the banks.  But it is the ‘over time’ piece that is very important.”

Those two words – “over time” – seem so simple and so have they been so easy to forget?  Think about other elements of your life that are valuable to you.  It could be friends, partners, spouses, children, organizations, etc.  Are you only interested in how they are going to do next quarter, or do you have a longer view?  As I reflect on my two children, aged 9 and 11, I am interested in how well they do in school this spring, but my timeline for their “success” spans years and possibly decades.  I want them to do well “over time.”  If we can have that longer view in our personal lives, why can’t we translate that perspective into our work life?

As an action step, take a few moments and pull out your goals for 2010.  For those who might not have anything formal, write out what would success look like to you this year.  With the goals handy, push yourself to think longer term.  Use Neville’s admonition and think about succeeding “over time.”  Try thinking out over the next three years and push yourself to think about initiatives and goals that may seem impossible over the next few months but attainable “over time.” 

As an extra step, try thinking past three years.  What truly long-term objectives lie years over the horizon?  Only by laying out those goals can we reflect back on what actions we need to take over the next three years, and thus this year, to ever achieve those seemingly distant goals.  We can all benefit by remembering Neville’s two simple words, “over time,” and we can all look for ways to turn them into reality today.