Tag Archives: professionalism

Direct Deposit

Once upon a time when I was young, ambitious and determined to make the world a better place (unlike now when I am old, mildly less ambitious, yet still determined to make the world a better place) I set about an exercise of enlightenment with my team at work.  Embracing the tenets of continuous quality improvement with every fiber of my being, I asked each of the 30-plus team members to schedule 30 minutes to meet with me over the course of 3 weeks.  In those 30 minute individual sessions, I wanted each team member to answer three questions for me:

1) What do you think is going well in our work place?

2) What do you think the opportunities for improvement are in our workplace?

3) What can I do to help you achieve a professional goal of yours in the next year?

One by one, team members came in to tell me what they thought.  Some were bashful and didn’t have much to say at all.  Some had put tremendous thought into the questions, and gave me new directions to consider.  Still others amazed me with the most trivial concerns that they’d been holding in for the longest time – things like a malfunctioning key on their keyboard or static in their phone.  You know, things I could actually fix.

As I was nearing the end of this project – laborious, time-consuming, but fruitful and worthy nonetheless, along came an employee who had been there long before I started.  I didn’t know a whole lot about her, but I knew she always had a pained expression on her face.  Like it actually hurt to be occupying her chair each and every day.  So in my usual way, I pretended I didn’t notice her pained expression and welcomed her into my office.  I gleefully started in with my “spiel” about my sincere desire to hear what was one everyone’s minds and make our work space the best it could possibly be. No surprise to me, my spiel fell flat and was met with any icy stare.

With no choice but to trudge bravely forward, that is exactly what I did.  “All right,” I said.  “Let’s dig right in.  First things first, let’s start with the positives.  That’s where I like to start.  Tell me what you think is going well in our workplace.”

The employee didn’t hesitate, didn’t pause for even a nanosecond.  She looked me squarely in the eye, and answered me as coldly and crisply as she possibly could.  “Direct deposit,”  she said, and it was as if she said it in slow motion. I swear as I replayed the story in my head I could see the mist of spittle spring from her lips as she enunciated the hard “p” in “deposit.”  She didn’t smirk, she didn’t shrug.  Her answer was so precise, so searing, that I pictured her getting ready for work that morning, leaning against the basin in her bathroom and practicing her intonation and expression in the mirror until she got it just right.  “Direct deposit.  Direct deposit.  No, no, no, that’s all wrong.  One more time.  Direct deposit.”

Flustered but determined to press on, I noted that while yes, we could all agree that direct deposit is a very handy tool for all of us, it is something that is surely available in virtually every workplace the days.  “Anything you want to add that you think is going well?” I bravely asked.  “Nope.  That’s it.”  She punctuated her point, and although she didn’t pound her first on the desk as she said it, she might as well have.

I carried on with the interview and listened to her very long and comprehensive list of opportunities for improvement in our workplace (no surprise there).  When asked what professional goals of hers I might support in the next year, she quipped she didn’t have any, and that all she hoped to accomplish was to not get so pissed off that he just up and quit one day without notice.

And lo and behold, about six months later that is exactly what she did.

I’ve thought about this person over the years and I’ve gotten a good many laughs from telling the story.  How on earth could someone stay in a job that has only one redeeming quality, and that one quality is direct deposit?  Or perhaps the more telling question is, how could anyone be so miserable that they can only find one thing to like about any situation, least of all a situation that pays their bills?

I’ll never be that person, I’ve told myself over and over again.  And to date, I’ve never been.  I’ve learned – by watching others, by watching me – that my professional success doesn’t bring me happiness.  Quite the contrary, my friends.  My personal happiness brings me success.  And that time that I save every other week by not having to go to the bank because I have direct deposit?  I use it to list my gratitudes.


Do Not Reply

As I get older…and notice I did not say as I mature….I seem to be getting more petty and more flexible in equal parts.  I’m not yet the lady who is yelling at the children to get off her lawn, but then again I’ve not had any children on the lawn so I can’t be sure.  Truth be told, given the chance I just might be that lady.

I am the lady who thinks a lot of people are bad drivers and even though I almost accidentally ran a red light yesterday, I am not one of them.  I am also the lady who has had it up to here with all of the misplaced apostrophes (or should I say, apostrophe’s) and the lady who shudders at the thought of someone writing out a check in the grocery line.  Yep…I’m getting older…and that thing that happened to all those who aged before me seems to be happening to me, too.

So it’s no surprise that the workplace is a hotbed for a bevy of annoyances.  And the greatest of them all, perhaps, is the reckless abandon with which people use the Reply All function on their email.  I’ve thought about this for some time, and I’ve started to point it out to others as well.  Masqueraded as a part of polite society, Reply All is often nothing more than spam.  It was telling when I recently took a day off of work and took a firm stance that my work smart phone would stay at home.  After one day away from the office, I had 86 unread emails.  As I scrolled through them quickly, I realized that there were about a dozen that had information I really needed.  The rest were “thank you” or “OK” or “you’re welcome.”

So in light of this, I’ve started to muster up the courage to talk to my staff and tell them to stop and think before hitting Reply All.  Stop being so dang polite, stop feeling like you need to Reply All for much of anything, really.  Just stop it.  You’re slowing down our productivity.  I’ve even had fantasies of creating a way (or maybe there is a way?) to disable the Reply All function on some people’s email.  And then it happened.  I, the girl living in a glass house, was reminded why she can’t cast stones.  I became the biggest Reply All offender of all.

It was a Monday night after work and I was at safely at home, where I should have been minding my own business and doing something meaningful with my life.  But instead, I was paying more attention than I should be to my work smart phone (which is to say, I was paying attention to it at all.)  I wanted to ignore it, but the light kept blinking.  How can I ignore a blinking light?  Answer:  I cannot.

So my supervisor sent out an email to me and 25 other people – some of whom I know, some who I don’t, some who decide if I live to see another day at my job.  It was a big, widespread, influential group.  She immediately sent a second email just to me and one other close colleague and friend.  And you can probably guess where this is headed – I did a Reply All to the group of 25 instead of the group of 2.

The message I sent was cheeky.  It was meant to be endearing, a little sassy spunk to cheer up my supervisor who I knew had been having a rough day.  But to any reader other than her, it had a nice thick layer of anti-establishment snark imbedded right in the middle of it.  Trust me – it could have been a lot worse.  But it wasn’t exactly my finest moment, either.  It was not the sort of thing that promotions and professional accolades are made of.  I can forget about anyone erecting a statue in my honor now.

Of course I didn’t know what I had done until I hit send and 15 seconds later I got an out of office reply from someone on the list of 25.  My thought process went something like this:  “What?  Wait, WHAT?  OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?”  I cannot describe for you the panic that set in.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut, but the irony was that I was the one who threw the punch.  I spent about ten minutes frantically trying to discern if I could reasonably recall the email.  I then spent the next twenty minutes crafting a sincere and exasperated apology to my superiors who were part of the fateful 25 and were sure to not be impressed.  My apology was not enough, and it was also all I could do.

I spent a good day or so deeply resigned to a well-deserved spell of self-loathing, but the dust settled quickly. In time I was able to sit comfortably with my own ugly, awkward humanness.  The good news was, no one got hurt.  I still had my job, and I seemed to still have the respect ad admiration of the people who matter to me most.  And yes, I still had my Reply All function on my email, but you can bet I won’t be using it much anymore.

Every Little Thing

I was talking to a fellow colleague recently, and he told a story about how he landed a job for which he didn’t even yet meet the qualifications.  He applied on a whim out of sheer desperation, as he was jobless and had a growing family to support.  Much to his surprise, he got an interview and an almost immediate offer thereafter.  He didn’t fully understand what had happened until several months down the road.  He learned well after the fact that someone at his new place of employment had remembered him from a connection years prior.  He had been working as a Teaching Assistant at a local university, and she had called to express frustrations about the instructor for whom he was working.  They had a ten minute phone conversation that he could barely remember years later.  But apparently that ten minute conversation had been so comforting to the woman he now worked with, she had convinced the leader of her team he was a worthy hire – even without the proper credentials in place yet.


What happened thereafter is that this individual was hired, he quickly proved himself to his peers, and he was on the track for promotions and many other professional accolades.  Not only that, he confessed that he may have in fact landed himself in the most perfect place to match his professional skills and interests.  When he was in the midst of his job search, he had applied for other jobs that were a better match, at least on paper, and had been outright rejected without so much as an interview. He was grateful in retrospect for those rejections, because he could not imagine being any more passionate or fulfilled than he was at his current job.

Double wow.

There were many things that struck me about his story.  Certainly, there are lessons in karma and even the law of attraction in there, if you are into those sorts of things.  But on a more practical level, this occurred to me:  Every little thing we do matters.  I would say this is true personally and professionally, and this man’s story is a prime example.  An interaction he had years prior – an interaction where he had nothing to gain and nothing to prove – would catapult him into a perfect opportunity years later.  What if he had been hurried, dismissive, impatient or even distracted during that ten minute phone call?  The trajectory of his life could have changed.

It’s a lot of pressure to assume that every little thing matters, and yet it is not.  As my very wise friend recently pointed out, it is the difference between resolution and habit.  Good professionalism is a habit. My advice to you is this:   Be kind.  Be patient.  Be flexible.  Be helpful.  Be courteous.  And if you can’t do all that, take pause until you can.  You just never know how your choices will come back to you. Your consistently pleasant disposition may be the best insurance policy of all for your future.

You Can’t Un-ring a Bell

Working in the position that I do, I’ve had to learn a thing or two to survive.  My job has such high visibility and high stakes, there is little room for error.  People’s lives….their very fragile, complicated, unbelievable-at-times lives, mind you…depend on me to do the right thing in the right way at the right time, all the time. Because of this, I have to keep relationships vibrant and healthy, I have to walk fine lines, I have to find a way to like people even when I don’t at the moment.  It’s not always so easy.

Being a public sector employee is an interesting experience.  Don’t get me wrong – I love what I do.  I have an opportunity that few have ever had.  I get to help steer the course for an entire system that I am incredibly passionate about.  The most basic things I hold to be true – that we must be good to one another so that we can be good to our patients, that everyone deserves help, that much of the world is deeply hurting and we can change that with our compassion – get to be addressed in part through my actions and my vision.  It is a tremendous privilege.

And yet, and yet.  Being a public sector employee also means every day I have the potential to face very open criticism that comes through in some very vitriolic and irrational ways. I have spent more days feeling misunderstood, defensive, or downright disappointed in the last five years than I had cumulatively in the forty years prior. Strangely, I’ve become mostly immune to it.  I think it’s part of the deal, when you are paid for by taxpayers. Transparency is expected and rightly so. Diplomacy is the high road and the only acceptable path.  It’s actually kind of amazing that it only occasionally gets to me.

Given all of this, I’ve had to fine tune some very specific skills.  Patience. Understanding. Listening. Reading between lines. Stepping in.  Walking away. Giving in. Holding ground. And last, but certainly not least, waiting 24 hours to click “send” to ensure I don’t say anything I will later regret. Because as the blog title says, you can’t un-ring that bell.  The job has enough problems on its own; heaven knows I don’t need to create more for myself.

Every skill I’ve learned, every opportunity I’ve had, every mistake I’ve made and every sucker punch I’ve taken…I promise you this:  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  What I believe for sure is that I am making my corner of the world a better place.  Knowing that is what keeps my world right, even on days that feel all wrong.