Friday, July 18, 2008

Taking it Impersonally

The current economic funk has me thinking about the many folks in the sudden state of being let go by their organizations -- the disruptive reality that their plans are on hold (not to mention their medical, home, and car payments).

From the moment we're old enough to carry career ambitions we learn rule #1 for addressing what gets in the way of them:

"Don't take it personally."

This classic one-liner has been the mainstay since the first assembly cast out the first house member. It wraps around every fresh start, mid-course correction, and countless down-sizings and fire sales. And whatever bumps it was intended to cushion only rise to the surface -- and rupture. When one's career arc nosedives below the path we've cleared we hit the familiar potholes: hard decisions, obvious signs ... and no hard feelings!

I am not an HR professional or career coach. But I have a strong appreciation for the potholes that line the career paths of folks who need a tinge of personal integrity to remain vested in their professional roles. I am also an info maven who understands the rationale getting impersonal -- not to bring comfort to the recipient but protection for the message sender: "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you."

From a behavioral perspective it helps to divide the senders and receivers into two camps: groups and individuals. An individual is at the front-lines of self-preservation. Whether you're a GI in combat overseas or a working stiff with a pink slip no one can doubt the authenticity of your firsthand experience. A group is an abstraction; the blending together of mutual concerns and aims. It operates as a second and third-party (you know someone in the group or you know of the group). Belief in secular groups and group communications are not measured by authenticity but by credibility: do other groups trust this one?

Groups serve the purpose of enforcing the personal will of its leaders. An individual cannot declare war. An individual cannot determine their own compensation level. An individual cannot be trusted based on their own self-serving motivations. The group acts as the instrument for carrying out individual will (pending their credibility with other groups). Is this good or bad? Is it strong leadership or conflict-of-interest?

Sorting that out is rarely a who-dunnit. It's more like a what-dunnit on behalf of a why-dunnit: what were they thinking when they _______? But any time a group moves to expel a member, consider this. Unless you've been kidnapped, wrapped in burlap, and tossed from the trunk of your captors, you are not alone. The authenticity of the experience, while isolating, is rarely done in isolation.

A shared expulsion and some common conclusions can lead to:

* stronger positioning, (what positions are defensible)
* a wiser outlook (what battles are worth waging)
* an elevation of awareness (how can I make my efforts worth your while), and
* a blending together of personal authenticity and professional credibility

Their by-product?

Personal integrity.

Now it becomes easier to get impersonal -- a survival method to eclipse our own impulses and others' agendas. Perhaps this framework can guide you on what groups to join and your future role within them. Perhaps it can suggest ways to communicate as an individual job-seeker to a group employer. More importantly it might help you to consider what's worth taking personally.

No, I'm not talking about your personal life. Your family, faith, and friendships go without saying. I'm referring to what you take personally in the name of your professionalism. These are your natural gifts. They are your professional assets. It's the subjects that you know more than most but can't learn enough about. It's the passion that beckons the road to rise with you. Amid the unreturned phone calls, fickle contacts, and unforeseen bottlenecks your talents are what you take with you to your next business venture, career switch, and/or job search.

It's also the realization of everything we're not so good at. That's the stuff to not take personally.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.