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My Greatest Success. . .So Far

September 24, 2018

I’ve had some great success in my career. I worked for Microsoft during the glory years when we were top of the world. I worked for WordPerfect in the early years. I single-handedly saved the largest email account from abandoning WordPerfect Office (later renamed Novell GroupWise.) I performed one of the largest Exchange -> GroupWise migrations in the history of those two products. I wrote the most successful Microsoft Exchange training course.

More recently I oversaw the migration of 3000 agents to a cloud-based Voice over IP (VoIP) architecture. I’ve released many products and successfully sheparded project. I have had success, either large or small, in virtually every position I’ve had.

And yet, when I think about what my greatest success was, I have a difficult time picking any of the these. Not because they weren’t accomplishments, but because success was a matter of picking a valid process and seeing it through.

I once had an employee named Jake. Jake was a good employee, but not one of my superstars. And then Jake made a mistake. It was pretty big. He accidently deleted an entire department’s network credentials. And to make it worse, Jake lied about completing the task on time. And then he was gone for two weeks while his team cleaned up the mess.

I was Jake’s manager.

My manager wanted me to fire Jake.

If I’d fired him, no one would have batted an eye.

I opted for a different approach, against my boss’s wishes, but he agreed it was my team to manage and discipline as needed.

I tried to understand why Jake had screwed up so badly. It seemed to me that Jake was overpromising and then underdelivering. I told Jake that for his 90-day Performance Improvement Process he had only three tasks:

– Every Monday by 10:00AM send me a list of project he was working on
– Every Friday by 3:00PM send me a list of projects he worked on
– Don’t allow anyone to interrupt him during the week (Send them to me if needed)

My manager was skeptical. And honestly, so was I. For the first two weeks, Jake didn’t send me the required emails. Finally, on week 3 he seemed to catch the vision and really embrace my suggestion.

An amazing thing happened. Jake started to get tons of stuff done. He also became a lot more comfortable at work. Forty-five days into his 90 day probation, he came to me,

Rodney, I just want you to know that these last few weeks have been the best of my career. Thank you.

Eventually, the probation period ended and Jake no longer had to send me emails twice a week. But, even years later he commented that he still uses that technique to keep himself focused during the week.

I could have fired Jake and no one would have complained. In fact, I had to fight my manager to get a chance to keep Jake and coach him. And there was no guarantee that my coaching would work. The fact that it did was a credit to Jake. But, when I think of what I’ve accomplished in my career, I often think of the people I’ve been able to influence. And I naturally think of Jake.

At the end of my career, when I have a chance to look back on all the successes, I think I’ll remember Jake long after my recollection of projects and programs has faded.

People really are the most important asset a company has, and the most important asset you, as a manager, will ever influence.

Wherever you are today, I wish you the best, Jake.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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