How unnecessary anger destroys your professional image

I had an urge to write about this due to an experience I had this morning. I wanted to write because this comes from the viewpoint of an employee and how an employee feels. In addition, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about setting organisational culture and that culture also helps you retain your people aside from monetary and other welfare benefits.

I was required to send an information dissemination email out to certain groups of people, except that this group was too big and I wasn’t sure of the structure of other business entities. As such, I was advised by a superior to pursue it from a top-down approach, and direct the information to the bosses instead and have the bosses decide whom that information should be sent to.

In the next morning after I sent the mail, I received a phone call from one of the bosses whom I have never seen before or interacted with. The first thing that came over was “Am I a mailbox to you?” And he continued with a barrage of questions designed to hint of my incompetence and how he shouldn’t be doing my job for me. All I could do was apologise and tell him that I will sort it out myself. He hung up the phone without an additional word.

The incident left me feeling unnerved and hugely affected. It was a good morning and he ruined it. I tried hard to control my emotions so other people would not realise and I hoped I would not accidentally ruin other people’s mornings as well.

But what made me upset was that I wasn’t incompetent. I could have tried searching for the relevant personnel on the address book, but that might mean that some would not have gotten the necessary information. In addition, I didn’t have a real chance of explaining myself and I felt wronged.

In the field of Neuro-linguistic Programming, one of the presuppositions that we learn is “The Map is not the Territory”. What it means is, our visual representations of the world around us might not be the reality of what has happened. Briefly speaking, what the boss interpret of my actions was different from what I sought to do. I did not seek to look incompetent; I was advised to approach it this way.

However, I realised that it is too late to repair the damage. I’m not talking about the damage of my reputation in the boss’s eye. Rather, the damage of his representation in my mind. I will only be able to see him as someone who called me over the phone to give me a good scolding without finding out the reasons why I did what I did. The relationship is strained, and I have yet to meet the guy in person. I don’t even know how he looks like!

And I think it is really sad that someone you do not know holds such an image of you. Such torn relationships can never be easily mended, and your impression in the eyes of your subordinates will stay bad for some time. All you will appear to be is someone who didn’t care for others, whose ego is bigger than his compassion; someone who was rude.

The question is, why would we want to end up like this? If we did not assume, and approach the person in a different way, we might even gain some respect. For example, calling the person up and telling him “I will help you disseminate the information, but perhaps in the future you can do it this way…”. The subordinate would feel grateful for the advice and your help. He would have respect for you even if the both of you have not met.

Look at the vast difference..feelings of positivity vs negativity.

Also, let it be known that positive emotions are the building blocks of high performing teams. As we seek to become more productive and do more with less, you need all the high performing teams that you can get.

That said, I am also suddenly aware that my own actions can have the same consequences towards my subordinates. It has also given me more control over things I might choose to say and I can effect changes I want to see in the organisation through my sphere of influence. So thank you, that particular boss, for ruining my perfect morning.

Learning More When I Was Younger; Should Have

When I was younger, I sat in the back of the passenger car watching the world go by. There were trees, buildings, schools, clouds and many other fascinating things. Now, I drive and all I see is the road in front of me. Occasionally, I look through the rearview mirror and I can see the car right behind me. Compared to the good old days, the viewpoint sure isn’t much.

And I am quite convinced that this is the kind of life that we are leading once we start work. The analogy was used to point out how we know better now that we should have appreciate the times in the past more as we have lost the time to enjoy the scenery. But really, I thought, if only I could have learnt more when I was younger, or paid more attention to specific subjects.

Before I entered my workplace proper, there was a period of training. Those days were fun where life was good and all we had to do was study. When we started working, you realise that there will be a pile of work for you to do, on the assumption that you knew what you were taught. However we soon know that all we did remember was the awareness that such a topic exists, and we have to re-learn everything again, and on our own time, no less.

But we could have just paid more attention right at the beginning so that we remember more and hence spend less time training for what we should have learnt from the past. The time spent could be used to tackle the future or preparing for what is to come.

I hope that people who are on their training courses would gain some insight from this post and place more emphasis so as to not make the mistakes that I did. In future I might blog more about how to learn better and focus more..but that’s a post for another day.

Spirit of Competition

Recently at my workplace we had an inaugural competition among the various operational squadrons as a way to test our proficiency. Being the maintenance team, my colleagues and I were split to join the operational squadrons which we work for. At the beginning, it feels as though the competition was a distraction from the work that we have to do. We are already so busy, yet there is a competition to distract us. As per usual, once we reserve our judgement, we actually found out that it was better than expected.

Mid-way into the competition, the camaraderie built up between my maintenance team and the operational squadron. We worked together for a common goal and accepted responsibility for the outcome of the tests that we had to undertake. It was fun to see everyone work hard together and the joy we had when we learnt that we were consistently ranked second and hence was in the running for the champions.

At the same time, I was delighted to see that my team felt disappointed in losing certain categories of the competition which we were responsible for (we got 2nd). I saw the personal pride in my team and every member actually owns the competition instead of labeling it as someone else’s responsibility to win it. This ownership is commendable and wouldn’t be brought out under normal circumstance. In the spirit of competition lies the desire to improve and excel. This is what will make future competitions even more exciting and bring up our capabilities.

In the end we got 2nd. All of us were disappointed I guess, especially when we heard we lost by a narrow margin. However, there was no finger pointing. Everyone was in the team and as a team. Instead, each party took it upon themselves that they could have done better and thus win the championship. I feel extremely proud to be in this team where everyone is responsible and have a good fighting spirit.

On the other hand, there were comments (disclaimer: hearsay) from other units that the competition mechanism was “kelong” and that since they are organising it next year, they will structure it to win it. I put a disclaimer because I did not hear it myself, but I chose to talk about this as I wanted to talk about the words as a whole and not put blame on any party. In any competition, there will definitely be teams who lose. However, what matters is to lose graciously. Somehow, at every competition, there will be sore losers who blame others instead of themselves. They are living in denial. For starters, competition rules have been set and agreed upon by all parties, so we should respect that.

People who live by blaming themselves before others will tend to find success. This is because they recognise their fault in any matter and hence will take active steps to change themselves for the better. People who blame the system will continue their path as they do not see where they have gone wrong. It is the system’s fault and not their own, hence there is no requirement to change what they have been doing.

This is termed as living “at effect” as opposed to living “at cause” which refers to accepting responsibility for our results. This is one of the things I have learnt from an NLP book that I was reading for my April book.

Are you living “at effect” or “at cause”?

Make a Conscious Effort

For those who are out there seeking improvement to yourself, you might be doing it through a few different possible methods. Examples range from reading self help books, browsing self help articles on the internet, watching videos on YouTube and reading other people’s blogs etc. However, we can read and learn the content that is available to us and yet nothing has changed. We are still the same person that we once were, with nothing to show for the hours we put in to learn new materials.

Something that my colleague shared with me made much sense. There has to be a conscious effort to do something. There has to be a decision within yourself to say “I want to do this today”. We were talking about being in meetings that do not affect us much and hence were boring and dull. He said that he made it a point to learn 1 new thing which he wasn’t aware of, so he actually spent the effort to pay attention to something new, write it down and think about it. Or it could be a conscious effort to raise a point in a meeting for the benefit of others. This could help those who always have ideas but are afraid to raise them. Force yourself to contribute just one during the meeting and slowly you will get used to contributing more.

The Conscious Effort has got to do with part of habit forming. Forming habits are really difficult; good habits, that is. For example, you might have a grand goal of keeping fit. The execution part requires you to don your exercise gear and go out there to do some exercise. You would also have to do it diligently without fail at a pre-determined frequency. In short, forming a habit to exercise. The Conscious Effort is just a mechanism to get that first step out of the way. Your Conscious Effort might be to run 2km at least once a week. It will slowly transform and upgrade to include other exercises. Once the habit is formed, it is very easy to continue!

The other thing to note about The Conscious Effort is that it is something that we have to keep reminding ourselves about. Every time we go to a meeting, or meet new people, we have to set a conscious effort to improve beyond what we currently am. For example, introverts might decide that you want to start a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you instead of waiting for others to introduce themselves. No matter what it is, if you have identified a weakness you need to change, set a Conscious Effort goal today and make sure you go out there and do it.

Questions to Ask Your Job Interviewer

One of the reasons that people don’t pass their interview and get employed is the level of interest shown during the interview. One of the areas to assess anyone’s level of interest is in the questions that they ask the job interviewer. I remember seeing some slides on this topic previously asking people to Google for questions and to ask questions that someone hasn’t asked yet. While I might not be able to help give ideas on what others have yet to ask, but I hope this list of questions would help show your interest and at the same time help you gain insight to the company. These questions are what I thought should be asked by new graduates in order to decide on whether the company is right for you.

1. What is the leadership/working culture here at YYY?

The intent of this question is not to find out how long they work but how people work together. Is it mainly an individualistic job or is there many opportunities of collaboration. The part on leadership culture is to find out how the senior management leads the rest. Is it a you say and I do culture or are there spaces for ideas and suggestions? Do you get to contribute as a new hire or is the culture one that is “shut up until you are experienced enough to open your mouth for constructive comments”.

2. How often do you collaborate with other departments?

This is to find out whether you get to meet other people out of 20 sq m of your work area. A follow up question could be working with external agencies.

3. How often are we evaluated and how often do we receive reviews of our work?

My personal take is that it is not important that we are evaluated frequently. The main benefit is when we receive regular reviews that are not evaluative in nature. This means reviews which are bad will not affect your performance bonuses and this gives you a real chance to change and work better. If every review hurts your final evaluation, then it might be a little over stressful. Informal reviews also count as they are non evaluative and give you an opportunity to discuss on how you can better yourself.

4. What are the type of industry training that will be provided and will there be other forms of training not related to the industry such as soft skills etc?

Face it. When you graduate with a degree, all it says is that you are good at picking up concepts and you have a level of basic expertise. When you enter the workforce, you need to learn more about the industry that you are in. These are skills that let you perform your basic function. Soft skills are also important in my opinion. Soft skills ranges from presentations, writing minutes, mind mapping, managing meetings, networking etc which I thought would be beneficial. Find out how often do you get to go for such training and the mode of signing up e.g. do your bosses dictate for you or do you have a choice?

5. Are the employees encouraged to be innovative and what are the policies in place for such an encouragement to take place?

A healthy workplace is one where creativity is allowed to flow. This also leads to a stronger product for your company and helps bring in greater efficiency. If you can, talk to the people on the ground to find out how the policy is actually carried out.

I will continue to build this list as I think of more examples. Hope this helps!

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares

I took some time off to watch a few episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and while it entertained me, it gave me a lot to think about in terms of applying the key lessons to the workplace. Kitchen Nightmares is a programme where Gordon goes to a bad restaurant and revamps everything that is bad. It is not as stressful as Hell’s Kitchen, but it sure did wake a lot of people up to do better in the restaurant business.

1) Treat your work as though you run the business

A key problem was that many of the managers in the show are not pulling their weight. They do not treat the restaurant as a business and ran it anyhow they liked. One was giving out free bottles of wine on the house and driving profits down. The other ran a 50% off voucher which also caused the restaurants to make a loss. When they finally woke up and did the job that they were hired to do, things became better.

2) Be professional about the workplace and tidy up

One key disgusting factor common to the different episodes I had seen so far is the dirty kitchen. Out of the four episodes, Gordon shut off three restaurants for at least a day because they were filthy. The ingredients were rotten and moldy and cockroaches were running all over the place, even the seams of the fridge doors. The key to a successful kitchen is the chef’s personal pride in ensuring the place is clean and tidy. I guess this is the same as our work place, in terms of organising our desk or our to do lists. When they are neat and everything is in the correct place, things don’t get rotten and cockroaches don’t come.

3) Know the intricate details of your role

As mentioned in point (1), many managers do not know what they are required to do. The manager is also in charge of making sure the kitchen is in tip top condition and the place is hygienic for good food to be produced. The manager also has no excuses to say that he is not aware of the rotting food. We have to be aware of the finer details of our role, sometimes almost to the point of being obsessive and looking at every corner; especially when people you have under you are not living up to the roles. In this instance, if the chef does not tidy up the place and ensure ingredients are fresh, the manager has to scrutinise the kitchen.

4) Accept responsibility

Gordon’s remarks are always sharp and to the point, showing no mercy to whoever is at the listening end of the tirade. However, many manager’s reaction is that “how am I supposed to know…”, in response to point (3)’s rotting food. The thing is, that is what Gordon, the famous chef, would expect out of a manager and the manager needs to live up to that expectation. The thing is, the manager is supposed to know and hence when criticised, he needs to accept responsibility and implement changes instead of pointing fingers at other people. Only by accepting responsibility can the situation improve as one is making a commitment to change. In one of the episodes, the chef boasts of his 30+ years of experience, even when there are no customers. He refused to sample Gordon’s cooking and claimed he knew how the fish tastes like. By refusing to admit his weakness, he is depriving himself a chance to learn and improve. Eventually, Gordon recommended his dismissal. Imagine being dismissed by a world renowned chef. I wonder how he is going to find another job in a restaurant.

5) Accept help

Sometimes help comes in the form of a really capable person who succeeded in the field you are in. When he gives you some comments and pointers, take it. Ask questions to clarify and then try to internalise it. Don’t act like an arrogant prick when the situation had already taken a time for the worst. This is linked to (4) as when you accept responsibility of your individual failures, you are better able to accept that help is required.

It’s really nice that so many lessons can be derived from watching these sort of videos. We can really learn the skills that are synonymous throughout the various industries.


Choosing a job based on what you would like to become

As I looked through the statistics compiled for the visitors to my site, I realised that there was something in common. People don’t come to my site because they are frequent visitors; rather they come due to search engines which harvest key words from my articles. In the recent months, the posts that were viewed more often was about being an Air Force Engineer in the RSAF, how is the percentage of first class honours like in NUS/NTU (which is a fruitless effort, i’ve tried finding), how is the Guards Conversion Course like.

At each stage of our lives, we are confronted with uncertainty and to reduce this uncertainty, we go to Google to find more information that can help us anticipate. Which is why people are interested in finding out how an interview is like at a particular company etc. People are seeking advice.

Then, I thought about myself when I was graduating and I felt that I could use some honest advice about choosing a job myself. I didn’t regret my choice, so I must have done something right. But I shall also write about the lessons I have learnt about my job so far and how I thought a graduating student should know of before settling on any job.

In 2011 when I was graduating, I was somebody that isn’t very decisive. I would usually think about something for a few days before moving on with a decision, if at all. I used to not interact with new people much, but now I’m slowly becoming better at it. There are many changes that I have had and it is all due to the same reason: My job. My job shaped me into who I am today.

And that is what a fresh graduate should think about. What do you want to become and how does that job you are going to take up help you get there? Most people get into a job not knowing what is going on, but if we took a more proactive approach to learn and ask our interviewers, we might find out more.

My job at the Air Force helped me in many ways. The Air Force provided me with a long training duration which gave me some breadth in a variety of topics. Through my job I was exposed to staff writing which drove hard to me on the importance of keeping words simple. Through the many papers that I wrote to justify expenditures for welfare-related expenses, as well as the many reports I get to vet prior to submission, I have learnt to be very particular, and anal, about certain formatting. My own experience from it told me something important: When you are busy and have to make important decisions, the last thing you want to do is to have to re-read sentences again to get its gist. The formatting, grammar etc helps in making the reading smooth. Never have I gained more motivation to learn proper grammar, to find out the differences between advise and advice; or whether is it “Principle Considerations” or “Principal Considerations”. The latter is correct, btw.

Through having nobody to command to actually having people, I developed many aspects of myself. The many experiences I get helped shaped my leadership and management style. I got the opportunity to explore different methods of getting jobs done. I had free reign in implementing policies within my department. I could call a meeting, ask someone to be a secretary, and move things along. I could ask for something to be done simply because I believed I need to. Through this I became more decisive, more structured. And the Air Force still continues to challenge me. Sometimes you feel down and tired, but you realise that you are growing.

What about inspiration? I’ve been inspired by countless commanders, each with a part of themselves I seek to emulate. Some are people friendly, others are sharp witted and clear about their jobs. Sometimes I realise how much I need to level myself up, and that means I still have the chance to grow.

So what do you want to become at the end of it all? Does the company provide you with the necessary training? Does the company allow you to have job rotation opportunities to learn more about the company and develop yourself in other ways? Does the company provide you with sufficient challenges? Does the company make you a better person? What kind of culture does the company have? Is it supportive? Caring?

With all these to think about, an interview should not be a one way street anymore. Also, need I mention that a conversation is more interesting than a Q&A session? That way it makes you more likely to get hired as well.

So fresh graduates, take the advice and find the job that you truly need to develop yourself further.