Monday, May 20, 2019

“Brian is only happy with 97%, of the results at work"

Brian is only happy with 97%, of the results at work" said Frank in conversation with a former colleague at IBM, Sid, and his lovely wife, Mafel. We were meeting for an early dinner at Jack Allen’s on Anderson Lane. 

Sid is great, and Mafel, charming, and we all got along well, especially Mafel and Frank as they both have similar charm and energy. They provided a great contrast as Sid and I discussed IBM and work. 

With the help of Mafel and Frank, as the evening progressed and after a glass of wine, the topic of discussion transitioned from work to Austin and favorite places to eat and be entertained.

Later at home I couldn’t shake what Frank said, "Brian is only happy at work when projects and the job achieve 97% of his expectations and results." He went on to suggest, and rightfully so, that any time my expectations are not met or exceeded translates into professional misery.

This struck me as very insightful.

It also made me realize that he was on to something.

Yes. It’s true. I do have high expectations for myself. This translates into real results for my clients. This streak of workplace excellence can also make me appear "difficult" in team settings, as I push for improvements when others are satisfied with the 80% solution.

So...while my work ethic does achieve a high level of expected results, it can lead to a teams’ frustration with me.

At 54, I know achieving what Frank calls the 97% solution is a high order for any project. If I shifted my expectations downward to align them with the team’s, however, fans the flames of frustration. It is indeed hard to change my spots.

I might be on a conference call or creative meeting at the agency and everyone around the "table" are content with the discussion and the plan.  But I might not be. 

My work experience gives me deep insight into the client’s point of view. I put on the client’s hat in my work for them and often chime in to redirect a trajectory the rest of the team has agreed upon, providing details that could be added or even deleted to improve the function or route to market for the project. A politically correct choice for a team, however, might not be the best choice for the client. Such a ‘group think’ approach could hinder the final result of a project and dash client expectations.

As I walked Daisybelle around Lady Bird Lake Saturday morning, I wondered how I got here. Perhaps it started in college working for IBM as a Co-Op. My team was a first at IBM focused on the marketing and sales of software at the time IBM announced DB2 which was one of the first commercially available relational databases in 1984.

In the 80s IBM was the IT juggernaut of the industry, and the way you progressed your career was to start in the branch as a marketing rep or systems engineer. The focus was on customers, growing the business in an atmosphere of excellence. Success was not meeting expectations or achieving your quota, but rather exceeding expectations and quota. This was rewarded with awards and promotions.

The people I worked with in Atlanta came out of the branch “system,” and wanted to exceed the expectations of the company and customer.  Whether they were working on a presentation to executives for more staff, developing a better approach to reporting software sales at IBM that had never tracked software sales, or creating client or industry presentation the professionals I worked with in my early days were all striving to exceed and overachieve.

The expectations were high, and at the onset of my career at IBM I learned to thrive. 

Thus, was my path to this 97%. I learned as I moved up in IBM that standing up for what was right was respected and helped advance my career.  My work ethic helped drive the creation of an Internet Briefing Center, create a Business to Business Commerce Community website in the 90's, develop new deliverables for driving partner sales with software appliances, and moved me into a North America small deal leadership position.

IBM trained me that 97% was achievable, and I was continually rewarded for not lowering my expectations.

Many are very happy with the 75% to 80% solution for results and achievements; such folks may also be easier to work with. I choose not to lower my expectations; to do so would be a disservice to my clients. So... I keep my focus on the end result and try to remember the client’s success is what guides and pushes me forward, just with a tad more determination and stubbornness.   

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