An Early Start

Bart: Are we awake?
Jim: We’re not sure. Are we… black?
Bart: Yes, we are.
Jim: Then we’re awake… but we’re very puzzled.
Blazing Saddles

I am not a morning person. My preference is to wake up some time after the rooster has moved on to better things than crowing. Those who know me best can attest to the fact that I am the bane of loud obnoxious noises in the early morning. Yet I have to some extent succumb to the rat race that pushes us to always be moving/working. Contradictions abound

We are told at an early age that there are many advantages to getting an early start on our day.  “Cute” sayings like the early bird gets the worm are often used to add emphasis to this point, but it is a mistake to take it literally. My understanding and the one that I pass onto my children is that our focus should be on our overall work ethic. Work harder than the next guy and good things will come of it. But working harder shouldn’t preclude working smarter. It sounds obvious but it is a distinction that is often overlooked, ignored or disguised as “watch me work really hard.’

Many years ago I worked for a company where they used the parking garage as an unofficial time stamp of when you came and went. Management used to send out memos to individuals and sometimes to groups in which they shared what time you arrived. I received several emails that took me to task for arriving three to seven minutes late. Eventually we had a meeting during which I was told that showing up two minutes late was like stealing from the company and that I set a bad example. My response was that employees should mind their own business. Our compensation packages weren’t uniform, nor were our responsibilities.

The work that I did for them could be done from anywhere and my presence wasn’t needed for others to be able to get their own work done. I was told that this was unacceptable and that it would cause problems for me if I didn’t toe the line that they had established.

From a management perspective I understood that they were trying to establish a certain organizational culture and that my not following it exactly could be troubling. I also understood that my stance could be viewed as insubordinate. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to do exactly as they asked for a variety of reasons:

  1. 1) I received no credit or acknowledgement of work that was done during non work hours. They ignored when I stayed late, worked through lunch or did anything from home.
  2. 2) It was a sales position. I exceeded my quota, opened up new business and had customers who loved the company.

The issue was that we had different bottom lines. I wanted to work for people who appreciated and respected me. You hire a professional and expect professional work. That should be measured by the quality of their work and whether they hit deadlines. I did both, but that wasn’t enough for them because I didn’t look busy or crazed all the time.

And the reason I didn’t was because I figured out how to work smarter. I developed a system that enabled me to get more done without having to run around like my hair was on fire. Ultimately we parted ways and moved on to better and brighter things.

Many years later I look back on the experience and shrug my shoulders. I still believe that I was right and they had an unprofessional, provincial and second rate approach to business. I was a round peg that they tried to force in a square hole. Yet it is also important to note that you can still be wrong when you are right. It wasn’t my company. I didn’t make the rules. They owned the ball, the playing field and the rule book. And when you find yourself in that position you have a choice. You can follow their structure or leave.

Or so I would tell my children. Ultimately unless you own the company and/or are independently wealthy you’ll end up working for someone and will have to learn how to play by their rules.

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  1. Luna April 1, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Jump through those hoops! 🙂

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