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Passion, People and Principles

‘Solve This’ #1 – How to Get into the Flow of Better Work

post # 239 — November 14, 2006 — a Careers post

In a previous blog post discussion on avoiding negativity, it was suggested we start a series of posts called “Solve This” where we invite everyone reading this to pitch in and offer real-world, practical advice to solve a particular situation.

Here’s one to get us started.

In the “Are You Having Fun Yet” chapter of my book TRUE PROFESSIONALISM I reported on a survey I have done for more than twenty years around the world. I ask people what percent of their work they would put in the “I love this” category versus “It’s OK It’s what I do for a living. It doesn’t excite me.” There’s also a third category called “I hate this part of my work life.”

I also ask people what percent of their clients they would put in the category “I REALLY like these people I serve and find their sector fascinating” (as opposed to: “It’s OK, I can tolerate them.”) The third category here is “By my taste, they’re idiots in boring businesses.”

The “typical” answers I am given (by people at all levels) are about 20-30% for “I love this” work, 60% for “can tolerate it” and 10-20% for “it’s junk.” On the client questions, typical numbers are 10-60-30. (I’m not making this up. By and large, people don’t REALLY like those they serve, bosses or clients.)

My message has always been that these are depressingly low numbers – I don’t want to spend the majority of my life doing tolerable stuff for tolerable people just because they pay me. I’m going to work to change that!

One young person wrote in to ask: “People will wonder what your message is if they really cannot find favorable numbers where they currently work, or at least on the tasks they are currently assigned to. Can someone in a junior position influence the flow of tasks that he / she is assigned so as to increase the proportion that is stimulating? What can a junior person do?”

Some obvious first thoughts:

  • Build RELATIONSHIPS WITH POWER PLAYERS who can get you in the flow of work you would prefer to what you are doing now? (Go be helpful to someone.)
  • VOLUNTEER for challenging activities so you can say “No, sorry, I’m too busy, when the bad assignments come along?”
  • PROPOSE and INITIATE suggestions for innovative projects that will get you assigned to things you would like to do?
  • TALK to those who are currently doing the work you aiming for in order to find out if it truly is as satisfying as you think it is?
  • Talk with OTHER STAFF MEMBERS in your firm, to find out which senior people you can learn from and which ones will just exploit you and dump you?
  • Go get friendly with CLIENT PERSONNEL. Any client intelligence you can pick up and bring back will mark you out as a go-getter, and it mike lead to more work for your organization.

Alright, everybody, we’ve all been juniors in an organization at one time or another, so let’s help. How do you get more of the interesting work and avoid getting stuck on the dull stuff? What’s YOUR top 3, 4, or 5 suggestions to an individual at the lower levels of an organization that would help him / her bring about a better future for him / herself?


Mike said:


Your list is pretty comprehensive from my experience. I would opine that your last bullet, getting to know client personnel better, is the most fertile area for exploration/leverage. It gives you better insight into how your firm can better serve the client, and how you can help your superiors personally become more valuable to the client (the ticket to bullet number one, which opens up opportunities to volunteer for interesting new things).

The other thing you can always do is find the challenge in the stuff you don’t like. There’s probably a better way to do it or a way to eliminate the drudgery if you spend time ON the process instead of IN the process.


posted on November 14, 2006

Paul Gladen said:


Another area I’d highlight is graduate recruiting (the “milk round” as we Brits call it). It’s a fantastic way to figure out quickly whether you can talk truthfully and passionately about what you do – you have to be authentic and credible in front of “inquiring minds”. If you’re having trouble being enthusiastic you’re probably in the wrong place.

From a career progression perspective it’s a great opportunity to gain profile and build relationships by working alongside partners and managers in the firm.


posted on November 14, 2006

David (Maister) said:

I had never thought of it that way, Paul. What’s being on the “milk round” like?

What about the opposite direction? How do those you are interviewing / recruiting find out if what you’re offering is for them? Has anyone being recruited ever “interviewed” you in a clever way so that they found out as much about you and your firm as you did about them?

posted on November 14, 2006

Duncan Bucknell said:

Great post. Here are my thoughts:

1 – be excellent, even in the tiny little ‘boring’ jobs that you’re given that no one wants to do. If you get these wrong, no one will want you to do the more interesting stuff. Focus on this first and foremost, it will be your foundation for bigger and better things as you move up the ranks in experience. If you are ‘excellent’ then everyone will want you on their engagements / projects / matters and this is the first critical step.

2 – work hard. Oh, I know that one, you say. No, what I mean is, you will inevitably have to work longer hours to take on the interesting work you are offered. If you are ‘excellent’ (as above), then you will be very busy. However, this alone does not fix the problem of the type of work you are getting. So be prepared to work longer hours as you shift the focus of the work that comes into you.

3 – understand that as a junior, you are a professional service firm of your own. You have a difficult job, because you have multiple clients, ie ‘the client’, senior people in your team, and your ultimate boss.

Numbers 1 and 2 apply to firms as well as junior operators. Understand that many of the principles for success of firms apply equally.



posted on November 15, 2006

Stephen Seckler said:


I echo what Mike said and would add that in general, developing your reputation outside of your organization will help you to build your reputation on the inside. Taking the time to get published in journals that your clients (or prospective clients) read or finding opportunities to speak to the industries that you serve (though trade groups, etc.) can do a lot to enhance your internal reputation.


posted on November 15, 2006

Paul Gladen said:


With respect to the recruiting “milk round” I’m thinking of the campus events and particularly the informal discussions following the formal presentations where recent recruits, managers and partners are quizzed by potential recruits about every aspect of the firm. You learn to think fast in that kind of situation!

On the interviewing side I’ve always believed it’s a two way process – and would be disappointed with a candidate that wasn’t also trying to interview me and the firm.

posted on November 15, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Paul, thanks. I’m going to turn your response into a new thread in a day or two. Watch this space! (But I hope it won’t stop othes pitching in on the original question!)

posted on November 15, 2006