Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ed Muzio Talks Career Transitions and Job Incentives

Ed Muzio - Make Work GreatToday we are very excited to have Ed Muzio, author of the new book, Make Work Great, answering some questions with us about adjusting to a career change, learning why we work and what jobs have to do with lakes freezing over. This is a really great piece and I recommend it for anyone looking for employment, or looking to take their career to the next level.

This is Part 2 of the interview with Ed. You can read Part 1 at the Carolina JobSpot.

Orlando JobSpot: In the second chapter you talk about incentives and the reason why we work. With many people just looking to find a job that can stop them from dipping into savings, how much should they focus on the incentives to work that go beyond a paycheck?

Ed: Unemployment is a complex problem, because issues of survival become intertwined with career-related concerns. When you are worried about how you will put food on the table, the question of long term job satisfaction takes a distant back seat to the need for income right now. And because the expectation of future stressful events has the same cognitive effect as a current stressful event, many job seekers experience of the anxiety of financial failure, over and over, long before it has happened. Faced with that type of stress, it’s no wonder they become likely to jump into the first opportunity that presents itself, even if it is a poor fit in terms of work, salary, or lifestyle.

Each of us differs in financial habits and risk tolerance; certainly there is no single answer to the question of when to “settle” rather than continue the job search. The key is to begin with two well crafted definitions. First, you need a clear picture of the job you would like to have: type of work, salary, commute distance, workplace atmosphere, incentives beyond the paycheck, and any other element you imagine when you visualize your best case scenario. Remember that many of these items may not be industry specific, and craft your definition as broadly as possible while making sure it still excites you. Second, you need a clear understanding of the objective status of your finances: requirements, reserves, savings opportunities, risk tolerance, and anything else that you or a financial advisor deems appropriate. Consider also any information you can get about the employment market in your chosen sector or field.

Good information drives better decision making. A job offer that meets 15% of your best case criteria, made 24 months before your reserves run dry, may not look so good. An offer that meets 40% of your criteria and is presented eight weeks before the end of your reserves might look great. Having clear definitions of your career goals and financial status won’t guarantee that your decisions are easy, but operating from facts will reduce unnecessary worry and allow for more balance between short term and long term concerns. You don’t want to starve, but you don’t want to end up in job you hate either.

Orlando JobSpot: In your book, you use the metaphor of a crystal to identify the process of your work life and the work process. Can you explain what the crystal is and how we can begin to build our own?

Ed: When a lake freezes over, the individual molecules of water undergo an organic process of structural change. First one or more seed crystals of ice form, then as neighboring water follows the example of the seed and organizes in a new way, the ice spreads until the lake is frozen. This process is an excellent a metaphor for my method of creating cultural change in an organization, for three reasons.

First, anyone can start. In the lake, there is nothing special about the seed crystals of ice except that they freeze first. Through their example other molecules learn the new pattern. In the workplace, any person at any level can begin to demonstrate new patterns of behavior that create more output with less stress. Over time, like the neighboring water molecules, neighboring individuals will begin to see and mimic those same patterns. When they do, the cultural crystal has begun to grow.

Second, it is flexible. In the lake, if a piece of granite protrudes from the surface, it does not stop the freezing process. The ice does not judge the granite or complain about it, it simply wraps around the stone. In the workplace, if a particularly difficult individual is unwilling or unable to change, he or she does not have to stop the improvement of the culture. The culture can just wrap around the difficult individual, without passing judgment or expending energy complaining. Granite can’t stop ice from freezing, and your most difficult coworker can’t stop you from improving your output and reducing your stress.

Finally, it is an organic process. In the lake, it takes time for the ice to spread, and even more for it to thicken and become stable. In the workplace, culture change takes time too. When it comes to changing the behaviors of a human system, the changes must happen incrementally and spread out slowly over the whole system. It may be tempting for a high level leader to issue a directive, but until the new behaviors are internalized by members of the group, they will not stick.

It’s not advisable to sit by the lake in the fall, and watch it as you wait for it to freeze. Similarly, if you want to be a seed crystal of cultural change, it’s not advisable to check in every day and see if the whole workplace world around you has changed. All you need to do is begin to practice some better behaviors – for example, learning how to be extra clear with everyone about your workplace purpose – and let the rest take care of itself. The good news is, if you choose your new behavioral patterns wisely, they will begin to help you long before anyone else even notices.

Orlando JobSpot: We work with a good deal of experienced workers who are looking to either a) make a career change (laid off or just time for a change) or b) get back into the workforce after a delayed period (motherhood, etc). What can these folks learn from your new book that will help them make their new career great?

Ed: One advantage of career change or career re-entry is that you are considering a wider set of options. When you’re not constrained by a specific industry or job title, you can begin to evaluate positions in terms of the broader work environment or culture, and whether you see yourself as a fit. If I were pondering a career change, I would use the first section of Make Work Great as a guide for evaluating potential workplaces.

First, I would seek through observation and interview to determine whether the new environment demonstrated the six elements of overtness about task. In other words, are they clear as to what I am supposed to do, why my work will matter to the company, how my work will relate to my personal incentives, how quickly I am expected to make progress, what resources I need to be successful, and what capabilities I would need to develop or leverage? Are they clear about those same issues with their other employees? I would look for environments where productive discussions about those topics are the norm, rather than places where these questions are left unexplored.

Second, I would explore whether the environment supports clarity within relationship. Conflicts and confusion arise in every workplace, and I would want to make sure that interpersonal issues are resolved respectfully, carefully, and functionally. For example, what happens when an employee and manager disagree over what work is most important? What if two employees are competing for the same resource?

These questions are not about what the HR manual says, but what actually happens. Do the two sit down, define their disagreement, and address it carefully? Or, do they let it fester under the surface, or allow a more senior manager to dictate the answer? I’d be looking for patterns suggesting mature, functional human problem solving tendencies, rather than too much politics and too little common sense.

If I found those two elements – overt treatment of what is necessary for task success, and clear and functional treatment of interpersonal difficulties – I would feel much more comfortable committing my time to their cause, because I know that my own success would be much more likely.


If you enjoyed this interview, please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

I also encourage you to check out Ed's new book, Make Work Great. It was a truly nice read and is filled with tips and instructions on how to better your career and truly "make work great!"


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