On the Attractions of a Professional Career . . .
“I believe one of the strongest attractions is the opportunity to serve others. Most of the really outstanding professionals I’ve run across in my career derive a deep satisfaction from this opportunity. The chance to truly help others solve their life’s problems, to clear away obstacles, or to help them more effectively pursue their goals has always struck me as a key driver for most of the professionals I’ve personally used in my life, along with many others who have been my partners and employees.
Now, there’s a touchy-feely sort of sound to what I’ve just written that many people might reject. So let me elaborate. The professions that are the focus of this book are not public charities, and their partners are not social workers. Most are all business, and some are even downright insensitive to the feelings of their clients. So this is not about warm and fuzzy, and it’s not about political correctness. Instead, it is about the “high” that most of us feel when a client brings us an important problem and we solve it–competently, efficiently, and with a style that says to anyone who might be watching, “I am a professional.” It may also be about the personal, soft side of the relationship, but that’s not the core of the issue. What it is about is solving a problem that’s important to someone else, and the bigger the problem the better. I have had no greater rush in my career than the times when I’ve done that really well.”
On Your Role . . .
“One of the most important drivers behind the environment that you will encounter in the professional world is the simple fact that you and all of your colleagues are the machinery of production. No manufacturing plant yet exists that can defend a client in the courtroom, manage an investment portfolio, or design a new office tower. These things, for the present at least, must be done by people. Yet the process by which they are completed often closely resembles a manufacturing operation with all its interdependencies and timing issues. A firm’s employees, therefore, are not only its “product”, but its production machinery as well.”
On Performance Reviews . . .
“Recognize going into this process that it is an imperfect one. In a very real sense, it focuses a tremendous amount of management attention onto a very small exercise. Emotions can be engaged, particularly those of the employee being reviewed. As a result, the outcome, be it negative or positive, can be exaggerated to an extreme. Great managers do such a good job here that even mediocre employees tend to come away feeling as though they’ve had an hour or two with the Super-Mentor-of-All-Time. And bad managers can botch the conversation so badly that even the best employees can come away wondering what they’ve heard and asking themselves if they have any future with the firm at all.”
“My experience, and many experiences of others that have been related to me, tell me that most firms do a somewhat inadequate job with the process of performance reviews, but generally end up getting the message right, even if it’s sometimes difficult for the employee to figure out just what that message was. By this I mean that firms are generally pretty effective when it comes to evaluating how a particular employee is doing, what she needs in order to advance her career and become more valuable to the firm, and if she has a future with the firm. What firms don’t do very consistently is paint a good picture of that for the employee, or at least for the average employee. The very strong performers usually see it, as do the employees who are not making it. But most of us, even if we have great futures with our firms, fall somewhere in between these two extremes. We just have to work a bit harder to extract the value that’s there for us in the performance appraisal/review system.
Here’s what you can do:”
On How Not to Handle Social Uncertainty . . .
“While I’ve never read an etiquette book, I’ve usually been reasonably comfortable in these situations and always just assumed that anyone who’d been around the business world for a while was also. Therefore, I was hardly ever quite so surprised as when one of my partners leaned over to me at a formal dinner one night and asked, “Which fork do I use?” I suspect he was never more surprised as well when he realized that his loud whisper just happened to land in the middle of one of those occasional moments of nervous silence that can suddenly appear out of nowhere. He was immediately surrounded by some thirty socially engaged dinner companions, all of whom were eager to answer his question.”
On Budgeting to Achieve Your Objectives . . .
“Budgeting is a discipline. It’s not unlike training for an athletic event. It involves doing mundane, routine things every day to promote your ability to compete effectively and win the game. In your physical training routine, you probably play little mind games with yourself to overcome the boredom and get a few more reps out of strained, tired muscles. Do the same with your financial plan. Find ways to trick yourself into doing what you know you need to do. It’s not unlike a person who’s perpetually late setting her clock ahead by ten minutes. Looking at that clock, her mind tells her that it’s ten minutes fast, and yet that emotional impact of seeing herself about to be late helps her stay on schedule.”
“The corresponding budget trick might be to periodically subtract a targeted savings amount from your checkbook even though you haven’t actually removed the money. Logically, you know it’s still in there, but emotionally you are moved to respect the balance that shows up in your check register.”