Sunday, December 21, 2008

You Don't Know What You Don't Know.....

I don't know where the phrase originated, but the old saying is: "you don't know what you don't know". In my business today, we call them "blind spots" and everyone has them. You don't see them because you are unaware of them. As soon as you become aware of your blind spots you can do something about them. Assuming of course, that you want to.

I had blind spots. Lots of them. In spite of the fact that I had always "gotten results," my blind spots had secretly been hurting my career for years. And I didn't even know it.

MCI was intent on developing their people and creating a workforce where the sum is greater than the parts. One day my boss called me into his office and told me that he had signed me up for a class in Conflict Management. I wasn't sure why he thought I needed a class like that. I was good at winning conflicts.

The class was an open enrollment class with about 25 people present. Remember, this is Washington DC, with a lot of very large companies. 18 of the 25 people were from different parts of MCI. the other 7 people were from 7 different companies. It was clear to me that MCI was not just investing in me, they were investing in all of us. The instructor began to talk about types of conflict and causes. I kept waiting for him to get to the part about how to win more. But as you have probably guessed, that wasn't the topic. The class was interesting for me and I took good notes. He talked about various ways to create "win-win" strategies, and ways to avoid conflict by asking the right questions. It made sense. But when I got back to the office I soon reverted to my old ways. I didn't give it much thought at the time, but looking back at it I now realize that classwork and training without reinforcement aren't really a sound investment.

My bosses signed me up for other classes as well. I probably spent 4 or 5 days in training each year. The classes were not chosen arbitrarily, but were part of a plan put together in conjunction with my boss. But there was more. I identified key employees working for me and they spent time in training classes also. I still had my blind spots, but I was becoming more and more aware of not just how to get results, but how to really utilize the people around me to create something bigger than myself. I became intrigued about people's potential and how to identify and unleash their potential. And while we couldn't afford to send everyone to training classes I began to look for creative ways to develop my people.

I found them too.

I looked at my employees and identified their technical strengths. They all seemed to have areas of specialization, areas where they were experts. I decided to use that to my advantage by having my employees prepare internal training to help their peers understand their areas of expertise as well as they did. I used those internal trainings to strengthen my group's technical skills AND to improve their ability to communicate.

Up until this time I had been working on IT functions within the Billing arena. But I had an interest in learning about the network side of the business. I went to my superiors and told them of my desires. By this time I was getting used to the idea of MCI helping their people grow, so I wasn't too surprised when my bosses not only encouraged me to move to a new area, but assisted me in finding just the right spot. In my move to Engineering I met another of my mentors. He was the VP of Network Services and his name was Jerry Hogan.

Till next time....

Dave Meyer

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