Get Promoted #1 – Manage Your Deadlines

Sometimes people will say to managers, “I want to get promoted.” First off, this is not the best start towards your boss (perhaps not the most professional) – maybe instead ask, “What can I do to get promoted? I’m interested in moving up.” Most of the time your boss is not just sitting around waiting for you to take the call to action and tell them you want a promotion and then immediately proceed to promote you because you were assertive. Nice try. Take responsibility and figure out what you need to do.

That’s what this series is – what things do we see as most common gaps in people as they are looking for the next move up.

The number 1 thing – people not able to manage deadlines. If you can’t hit your milestones consistently now, why should someone promote you to a job where it’s going to get worse and you have 2x, 4x, or 10x the number of spinning plates? Do you hit your deadlines? How often? Be honest. This could be holding you back, even if you aren’t getting the feedback.

So how do we fix it? There are a bunch of questions you can ask to help bridge these gaps as you take on the next project.

What’s the deadline for the current job? – Ask this question to you boss, director, producer, client, whoever has given you the work. This is what a professional does. Right away. If you don’t know when the deadline is, are you just hoping you randomly hit the target? If they don’t have a milestone for you, give them your target date so everyone is on the same page.

Can you complete it by the deadline given the resources? – Ask this question to yourself as it’s being assigned. Talk it through with your boss if needed. Again, it shows professionalism. Ask this question again as you in the midst of it and ask again as many times as needed during the process.

Take stock during the process. – This is similar to above question. Does it feel like things are running late? Can you recover and still hit the deadline? What are your options? If you see that you can’t or may not hit the deadline, shoot off a flare. Tell your boss what’s happening.

What is your history? – With similar workloads / projects, what has been the outcome before? How many times have you done this before? Once? Ten times? Two hundred? Use your experience to inform your forecast. How often did you deliver on time? If you can’t forecast, you look like an amateur. By the way, if you can’t forecast accurately and tell your boss the wrong time (overly optimistic target) with consistency, that’s a problem too.

What will it take to complete by deadline? – Assuming you’re not going to make it, what would it take to finish on time? If you had one additional person week would it land it? Do you need one more day to review material? How late will it be given the current resources? Think about needs and convey to your boss. Accuracy here is critical so your boss can help you with resources / clearing the way.

Do you have other obligations? – What else is floating around you that could affect THIS deadline? Telling your boss you are sorry but this week you had to take the kids to day camp or that you were busy on another project deadline is probably something you could have planned around. AKA it’s a ‘you’ problem. Knowing your capacity and what other creeping responsibilities you have haunting you will affect your output.

Do you have bad luck? – Does dumb, bad stuff always seem to happen to you and screw things up? Your computer eats your homework, your person always calls in sick at the wrong time, you got all the bad client notes, etc. Who cares. Your boss doesn’t want your sob story excuses. There’s always going to be some kind of battle. If you are a bad luck kinda person, have some contingency plans. Be like the Boy Scouts – be prepared.

Next level move: Capacity – Know how fast you can potentially work vs the assigned project. Most people just work at a default pace vs an approximate deadline until the project is done and use up all the time they have (Parkinson’s Law). By having awareness of true capacity / potential, you can more accurately predict what projects will hit (or not hit) deadlines AND if you can adjust based on how much room you have left to move.

By the way – answer these questions honestly. If you lie to yourself, it just makes you bad at deadlines. You get better by failing, seeing where the gap was, and adjusting.

Tough questions here but if you want things easy, you probably shouldn’t be promoted. It doesn’t get easier as you move up. Let’s get to work.

Are You Using The Right Tools?

During my college years, I worked in a machine shop part time and learned how to use all kinds of different tools. Inevitably I would screw things up, which resulted in me quickly learning what I did wrong and how to use the right tool for the job. Three tools may do the job, but perhaps only one will work the best, improving accuracy and efficiency (and reducing headaches). Lucky for me, veteran machinists were there to help and tell me which tool to use. This meant as I learned, there wasn’t as much trial and error on my part (and less for them to deal with and fix).

This older Japanese machinist that everyone called ‘grandpa’ would look over my shoulder and see if what I was doing was right. He’d give a fatherly approval nod and a grunt if I was doing it right and if I was doing it wrong, he would make fun of me. Basically he was like a real life, smart ass Mister Miyagi. I’ve never seen another guy work a metal lathe with the accuracy and craftsmanship he did. I appreciated grandpa and the other machinists looking out for me and teaching me the ropes as a young, completely inexperienced, green machine shop grunt.

Which tool to use?

Unfortunately for us (especially in this remote work world), we probably aren’t going to have someone looking over our shoulder (like the veteran machinists back at the shop) to help us with the right tools to use. Additionally, the more you move up in job roles, the less help you are going to get determining how the tools work and what tools to use. This all sounds rather bleak, doesn’t it? How do we figure out what tools to use then?

When you are new to a process / skill / job, you likely will not start with a good idea of what tools to use or possibly even what tools are available. You have to try out different tools and see how they work. You also use available resources and learn from others. The lead editor has been doing this awhile, she might know some tricks – go pick her brain. What website, book or video has a tutorial / help on what you are struggling with? Who knows how to do this?

Sometimes the tool won’t be obvious, or sometimes it might be personalized for how you work. If it is based on preferences – your natural talents / weaknesses, contexts and inclinations, it will naturally drive you towards certain tools (or away from others). Other times your tool choice will be process driven – there is a definitive best tool or required tool and there isn’t a question of what to use. In these cases, hopefully someone tells you what to use, but they may not necessarily train you in how to use or the best way to use (you have to dig that out on your own through learning and execution).

Is the tool working (for this task)?

The way to understand if your tools are working is easy: just look at the results (isn’t that always the answer?). And please – do a hard look at what the end product is, don’t idealize and sugar coat what might not be the best so you can feel better about the mediocre job you did. You might consider asking friends, peers, bosses if your methods are working effectively. You can always lie to yourself (or might be too close to the product), hopefully others will give you good / honest feedback. If you have real, quantifiable data to reflect on your progress – use it. The old saying, “What gets measured, gets managed.” works here.

When you are using the right tools with consistency and improvement, you will see good results and progress. You should also be getting a paired decrease in gaps and errors. If you are instead seeing ongoing just barely meeting standards or getting below standard quality (or declines), it might be time to review your tools and update.

Avoiding Problems

Most of the time we talk about the importance of things like problem solving and crisis management.  We celebrate the traits of a leader who can get us through catastrophe.  These are exciting to talk about – big battles and war stories.  

It’s not as dramatic to talk about the problem that never materialized because the director knew how to avoid it entirely.  We don’t say, “That guy sure knows how to spot a bad deal.”  It’s a type of business aikido that’s a little difficult to comprehend.  It’s typically unseen, not recorded, hard to recognize, and definitely not exciting.

Marshall Goldsmith talks about this idea in his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. That book made me realize how important and also how unrecognized this skill was. 

What’s the best way to not get punched in the face?  Don’t be there.  It’s not learning to defend a punch, it’s learning to avoid the fight entirely.

We are not talking about ignorantly avoiding existing problems that are already on your doorstep, this is only for avoiding potential problems that are on the horizon before they arrive / materialize in your world.

The skill of avoiding problems comes from preparation, repetition, knowing the field and then experience takes it the rest of the way.  It’s difficult to describe, because you already have to already know or at least have a sense of what you are looking for.  

Someone who is great at their job, they can see things shaping before the problems fully materialize.  They calculate options that are never used to find the best way.  They avoid issues entirely – no one knows the issues were even there.  It’s like a reverse opportunity radar.

Some people wait for problems to show up on their doorstep, others look for problems to unearth and address.  The next level operator scans the field for potential problems and finds the best available path that avoids the issues without incident.

There’s not a lot of rewards or heroism in avoiding problems.  ‘Hey boss, look at this big problem I avoided!’  No one cares, get back to work.  Learn this skill and people will sometimes see you as ‘lucky’ or you are always on the ‘easy project’.  That’s fine.  As Jim Rohn said, “Results is the name of the game.”

Resume Tip #1 – Keep It Simple

Write less than you think you should

One of the best things you can do for your resume / CV is to keep it simple – write concisely, write less.

Too often we see resumes with 3 or 4 pages, explanations of every responsibility they have ever had, whatever other nonsense they can cram in paired with little to no experience. Candidates write like this in an attempt to look impressive BUT any decent hiring manager will see through all that. This is a lot of filler and usually makes the potential employee appear desperate, so don’t do it!

Secondly, a big, chunky resume is difficult for the reviewer / hiring manager to read. I am more apt to pass over a 3 pager, loaded with all the toppings than a cleanly written one page CV. You want your resume to be easily readable and more importantly, scannable. Very few people are doing a deep dive on your resume – instead you want it to read fast and catch their eye.

Here is your goal – keep the resume to ONE page. Unless you’ve been in the business 20 years, you can fit it on a single page. All that semi relevant small stuff doesn’t NEED to be included – have a good reason to include what you do and tailor your resume to the job you are going for.

Also think about this – someone reviewing 50 resumes at a time may not actually look at your 2nd page. You only are guaranteed a glance at one page. Make it a good one.

Whenever I rework my resume, I always ask myself, ‘What can I remove?’ This is a great question to ask every time you sit down to retool the resume.

Your past employment should be 90% of your resume. Where did you work, what job did you do, and for how long. The rest you can go over in the interview. Scrape it down and make it simple!