Nearing a large(ish) milestone birthday in the next year or so has meant I feel quite reflective at times, and I’ve been reflecting on two pieces of advice that I was given a long time ago that I still remember, and act on, to this day.
You don’t have to take the advice given to you, but sometimes it makes such a profound impact or is so important that it still shapes you and your actions many years later:
“There is always someone who will work better, cheaper, and more quickly than you”
My dad gave me this advice when I turned 18 and was looking at either going to university or getting a job. I chose to go to university, but I knew this would apply to any work I did – part-time bar work or the start of my career, or now decades later. No matter how hard you work there will always be someone coming up the ranks or watching you that can do the same work but better, or cheaper, or quicker.
The trick, my dad would later tell me, is to not give your boss an excuse to go looking for that person. Work hard, learn and grow in the role, be considerate of those around you and take those with you who want to come on the journey to ‘be better’. By wanting to grow, and by wanting to be better tomorrow than I am today, I will never be in a position where I am worried or threatened by that person who’s behind me who can do it better, cheaper, or more quickly. The journey I took to get here, to today, is what gives me infinitely more value to my friends or co-workers than the speed or efficiency they may get with someone quicker or cheaper.
I told this to someone a few years back who took it completely the wrong way – instead of seeing it as a motivating statement, which is what it is to me, they took it as “understand what the bare minimum is you can do before you are caught”. It can’t be further from the truth – it’s as much about confidence in yourself as it is about not worrying about others who may, or may not, be out to do you harm.
“Under promise, over achieve”
My first mentor was an entrepreneur and a very focused man. I learned so much from him, much of which still shape me today and I put it to good use in meetings and when I make decisions that affect me or my team. For me ‘under promise, over achieve’ means to understand what you are being asked and what you are capable of and to not overreach or over-promise. To miss a promise, either personally or professionally, will eventually let someone down, and I never knowingly put myself in a position where I have to let anyone down.
By ‘under promising’ on something also means I know my ability, I know the requirements and that I know what is needed, and that I can meet that. But it also means that I appreciate that sometimes unforeseen factors can play out and mean I am unable to complete on time. I still strive to complete whatever it is, and by ‘over achieving’ it means I can either complete it earlier than expected, use the time to fine-tune or improve on the work, or even use the time to enhance it with some new ideas.
Let me be clear, this isn’t (as someone thought, who I told this to a year or so back) about ‘ripping’ someone off and charging more for doing less, it’s about being upfront and honest about what you think is possible while still thinking and planning for what else you can do to make it something of real value to someone else.
Bonus – “Add value”
Again, one of the sayings from my mentor was “add value” – where can you add value? Whether you think about financial terms when you hear ‘value’ mentioned, or in ways how you can improve or help doesn’t matter, the value can be based around whatever your role is. You’re a manager, then the value you can add here is to give your team the tools and time to complete their tasks.
This piece of advice really follows on from the ‘under promise/over achieve’ advice – where can you add value. Is this directly to a project or product or activity, or indirectly by ensuring friends or colleagues have the tools or time to complete their tasks. Adding value can take all sorts of forms, and only you can know where you add value.
Then again, if you’re not adding value, what are you doing?
What about you – what advice were you been given that made an impact on you? And how?