Friday, November 14, 2014

The Perfect Blend of Life and Work

The Perfect Blend of Life and Work

I am immersed, heart-deep, in the greatest challenge of a lifetime.

How do I make what I do for a living align as completely as possible with what I value most?
I am a veteran. I have worked in the corporate world for over a dozen years. During that period, I’ve experience the following results.
Two years ago, I started a small business because, at the age of 41, I finally figured out what I want to do with my life- I want to help people find values-driven success. My own experiences and frustrations have driven me to ask hard questions about myself and my career path. My values have inspired me to continue to move forward, to break out of the thinking that my personal and professional lives cannot be blended. I'm convinced they can be through thoughtful, deliberate effort because I've experienced it before. I want to get it back and I know I cannot do it on my own. I need people-values-driven people.

Like almost every veteran I've talked with over the years, what I miss most was being a part of a culture where people did great things for each other. In that culture brotherhood and trust are earned. It is a culture based on love, the kind that compels one to action.

So, even though I still work for someone else…someone who seeks financial success while giving little more than lip service to values…I continue to develop my own business. I keep working at setting the conditions for my own values-driven success.

I volunteer with several organizations. One of them is an online mentoring program for veterans. In that role, I usually focus on developing one-on-one relationships and action plans with people I can help instead of spending a lot of time in discussion threads. Recently however, I came across a thread that caught my attention. The question that started it all related to the challenges veterans are facing as they work toward finding success in the corporate world. Veterans are struggling with finding satisfying careers.

Veterans and values-driven thinkers have a common problem to solve

After we transition out of the military, how do we fit in so we can be successful in a results-driven world? Is this what we really want?

First, let’s get to the core of the real issue- Veterans were taught how to think in a way that puts values before results. Many corporate leaders and hiring managers are conditioned for results-driven thinking. The difference between values-based and results-based thinking is the real problem.

Every human being on this planet can recognize when someone else's actions don’t match up with the stated values.

Veterans come from a culture where people come first. They care about each other so much that they are willing to point out the gaps between words and actions when they become apparent. The reason why they’re willing to do that is they recognize the real mutually beneficial relationship they seek with their colleagues: They need each other in order to be successful. 

So, values-driven thinkers learn how to tell the hard truths. More importantly, we learn to listen to the hard truths. Listening to honest feedback from the people we care about is so important because it is so easy for us to fool ourselves. Ignoring such feedback leads us to complacency and acceptance of the status quo.

In an environment where people place a higher priority on the results there is less incentive to provide accurate feedback. One could argue there is almost no incentive. The risks are just too high when one works in a culture where cutting to the core and speaking truthfully appear to be judgmental and abrasive. In such an environment, personal results (position, power, financial) are prioritized over purpose (mission, vision, values). Results-driven people value job security and political relationships as the means to get what they think they want (more rewards or maintaining the status quo).

Let's not confound the real problem.

This is not meant to be a polarizing discussion. I’m not saying values-driven people don’t or should not value results. And, I’m not saying results-driven people do not think values are important. It comes down to what is most important in every situation. Everything we do is a value-proposition and our decisions and actions show what is really most important. So, it is a question of priority. What comes first, values or results? Results-driven people tend to create gray area around values by prioritizing results. Here’s the thing about gray area: It expands. Here’s the thing about results: They’re quantifiable and therefore they become the yardstick against which success is measured when they are prioritized. The problem with being primarily results-driven is there is a great risk one will expand the values gray area beyond what is acceptable. Every human being is susceptible to this risk.

What does a successful blend look like?

What I'm really trying to say is success is a blend of both values and results. In my new book Finding Success, I tell stories to illustrate how the kind of success each person on this planet really seeks isn't as simple as just getting what you want (results). The kind of success each person is really after is values-driven success- Getting what you want and being the person you want to be (or the leader, or the organization). Values-driven success is the perfect blend of values and results; the perfect blend of life and work. Perfection is not possible, but we can always keep moving toward it...but only if we know what it looks like.

So, here are the conditions present for the problem I'd love to solve:
  • Veterans have learned to say the hard truths because we seek values-driven success through continuous personal, professional and organizational improvement. Because we've learned how to prioritize values first, we’ve been inspired to achieved results that have exceeded expectations. The satisfaction we get from our efforts drives us to want to continue to improve and achieve more in the future- We see and we seek the opportunities for success beyond the status quo.
  • Results-driven leaders have learned to become both risk and conflict averse. They are looking for safety and security. This is apparent when performance is measured and recognized only in relation to a budget and financial statements. Why do I say this? Budgets are generally created based on performance in previous years, especially the successful years. In other words, by wanting to repeat what's been done before results-driven leaders expect to make the same mistakes they made the year before (think about it). So, a previous level of performance has been identified as successful by people who hold power they recognize it as such. Here are a few examples:
    • Staying safe = maintaining the status quo = meeting the budget = success.
    • Staying safe = maintaining the status quo = keeping your job safe = success.
    • Staying safe = maintaining the status quo = keeping political allies = success.

Why do veterans and values-driven thinkers even want to fit in?

There has been much discussion on focusing on encouraging businesses to hire veterans, especially with the recent passing of Veteran’s Day. The conditions I listed above cause me great concern as I don’t see things working the way everyone intends. If no one is willing to acknowledge that these conditions are present things will not end well. The conflict alreadyexists. The fact that it is publicly not acknowledged does not make itotherwise, but it does make the problem more difficult to solve.

I want to ask the veterans and other values-driven thinkers- values-driven thinking is not exclusive to veterans- these questions:
  • Why do we even want to fit in?
  • Is results-driven safety really what we're after? 
  • Given our experiences, are sustainable safety and security even possible?
  • Don’t we really want to find ways to help people find satisfaction in their efforts? Don’t we want to help people find values-driven success?
  • How do we accomplish values-driven success in a world where the very resources everyone needs to survive are constrained? Resources are always either limited or unevenly distributed- This is the ultimate root cause of results-driven thinking!
  • Again, why are we trying to fit into cultures where actions are primarily driven by the prospect of results (position, power, financial) when we know it’s not what we really want?
  • Why would we fall into that trap when we know what truly makes us satisfied, happy, and successful is the personification of our values? (We know this because we have experienced it before!)
  • What better way is there to find the blend between our personal and professional lives than to continue to put values at the forefront of our decisions and help others do the same?

Why would results-driven leaders even want to hire veterans and values-driven thinkers?

I want to ask results-driven leaders these questions:
  • What is more important to you, continuous improvement or maintaining your status quo?
  • What if you were given the opportunity to hear how you could achieve more personal, professional, and organizational success than you currently expect and accept?
  • What would you do with that opportunity? Would you listen? Would you recognize it as help? Or, would you perceive it as abrasive, as a threat? (Actually, it is a threat, but not the in the way you might think: Every values-driven thinker wants to threaten the status-quo, not you. They want to help you.)
  • What difference would it make in your organization if you hired people who know how to achieve values-driven success and you let them help you improve your:
    • Culture?
    • Performance?
    • Profitability?
(Hint: The order of those last three sub-bullet points is not coincidental.)

Why am I asking these abrasive questions?

I am a veteran. I once left an organization by choice despite great success with regard to results (performance, position, power). I was once fired from an organization despite great success with achieving values-driven success which exceeded everyone’s performance and profitability expectations (even mine). It took me a long time to reconcile what happened but once I did, I found the conviction to do something about it.

I have real reasons for my concern with bringing values-driven thinkers into organizations that are primarily results-driven because I have been experiencing the frustrations created by the conditions I described for over 12 years in the corporate world. That’s why I started a business focused on solving the problem. That's why I wrote a book about the problem and what every individual can do to change the world by thinking and acting according to real values.

Today, I still work in a corporate environment because of personal resource constraints and I have not yet created the business model for helping others achieve values-driven success that can provide a living wage. But, I get closer every day. I keep working at it. I remember what is most important to me. I do not accept the status quo and I keep trying to do things that I can be satisfied with so I can find the values-driven success I seek. I don't want to fit in, I want to help make things better. I know that kind of success can only come in the form of helping others do the same.

Important questions for everyone. 

If you’re a veteran or a values-driven thinkerconsider your answers to these questions  before you decide to accept a job offer. 
  • What kind of success do you really want?
  • Do you know what to do to get it?
  • Are you willing to do what it takes?
    • Tell the hard truths?
    • Listen to the hard truths?
    • Put your emotions aside and solve the real problems?
If you’re a results-driven leader, consider your answers to these questions before you decide to hire a veteran or values-driven thinker.
  • What kind of success do you really want?
  • Do you know what to do to get it?
  • Are you willing to do what it takes?
    • Tell the hard truths?
    • Listen to the hard truths?
    • Put your emotions aside and solve the real problems?
Yes. The questions for each group are the same. We all really want the same thing- success. The key is to become aligned on the kind of success we seek. We can create a world, a culture, a company, a community, a family where the objective is the perfect blend of values and results; the perfect blend of life and work.

It is not what we have today. We must challenge the status quo.

Values-Driven Success.


Tom Eakin
The Success Engineer, BoomLife