Ten Characteristics of Excellent Performance Standards

As a Leader, clear performance standards are your best friend. Memorable and meaningful standards are linked to the rationale that created them.  The “why” behind the standard must be tattooed on the brain of every team member.  Effective Leaders link expected behaviors and tasks to standards by talking about the relationship dozens of times a week.

Performance standards differ from goals.  Standards are completely within our control.  Goals are mostly, sometimes only partly within our control.  When your team knows the standards they are to achieve, and when they have effective training in support of those standards, your work as a Leader is made less complicated.  In the absence of such standards, inconsistency reigns and strong personalities are in charge.  Have you been there?  I have.  It’s no fun. standards-performance

Whenever conflict arises, check to see if you have clear standards that inform the conflict.  If not, create them, test them and implement away!  Then, if clear standards exist, use them as the arbiter of the conflict.

All good performance standards have many of the following ten characteristics:

Clear performance standards are easy to understand.  They contain concise terminology and leave no question as to their essence. Everyone knows exactly what the standard is and how to achieve it.

Clear performance standards are directly related to the explicit values of the organization.  It is easy to see how the standard expresses one of your organization’s core values.

Clear performance standards relate directly to the mission.  The organization’s mission should be a realistic, concise, and focused statement of the purpose of your work.  The mission should be able to be accomplished.  It differs from an expansive vision statement in that everyone should be able to say how they accomplish it daily.  Performance standards are the leading measurements of the work of the mission.

Clear performance standards must be supported by tools and technology. Standards that are not are incredibly frustrating.  If tools and technology create unnecessary friction in the work, or if the processes are not lean, the standards are less meaningful. l They become a joke to the team.

Clear performance standards are measurable. Performance measurements must be consistent and easily captured.  They must occur regularly and as close to the point of the performance as possible.  Measurements that report performance from last year, last month or last week are much less helpful than those that report my performance in real time. Think of the difference between a bathroom scale and a Fitbit.  The scale measures what happened in the past, one donut at a time.  The Fitbit measures activity as it happens, at the source.

Clear performance standards measurements must inspire confidence. The measurements themselves must be reliable and meaningful.  We need to trust that the numbers are accurate and that they measure the right things.  This inspires confidence.  Think carefully about how you measure success.  Most team members love keeping score but loathe doing so about things that don’t matter or in an unreliable manner.

Clear performance standards are attainable. Most team members are able to attain the standards all the time.  Carefully reserve 100% standards for those themes where absolute achievement is essential.  Set 90% standards, or year-over-year improvement standards, for the rest.

Clear performance standards are trainable.  Your training approach can replicate the skill in anyone you hire, regardless of aptitude, personality or haircut.  Never hold the team to a standard that is not supported by training.  Expecting the team to learn it on their own means it is a performance goal rather than a standard.  If standards are not being met, look first to training.  It is likely your solution will be found there.

Performance standards are consistent.  As you develop and use clear performance standards, ensure the supervisory team uses them consistently.  Inconsistency about performance standards is incredibly frustrating, especially to high performers.

Finally, clear performance standards are not in conflict with one another.  If achieving one performance standard makes it impossible to achieve another, neither will work. Look closely at conflicts and resolve them.

Once you have clear and meaningful performance standards, your entire work as a leader gets easier.  All challenges are met in the context of these standards.



Blue Bird Busses and Railroad Crossings

As an undergrad student, I landed a part-time job driving a school bus.  Early mornings have long been the best part of the day for me, and I love heavy equipment, so this job fit perfectly.  For three years I drove a rural route, beginning at the Anderson’s dairy farm and ending as the sun rose at the largest high school in the county.  Sleepy children, cold morning air, and the smell of diesel exhaust dance fondly in my memories.

I took the job seriously, never missing a day’s work, and honed my driving skills.  At one point I even placed second in the state’s School Bus Driver Rodeo, an accomplishment that made me feel superior to other bus drivers.

That is until February 8th, 1978. bus-school-school-bus-yellow-159658.jpeg

It was an unusually dark morning.  Snow covered the ground.  The bus was nearly full of bleary-eyed junior and senior high school students.  The heaters in the brand new, clean and shiny Blue Bird diesel pusher bus were cranked up all the way as I approached a railroad crossing.  As all good drivers are supposed to do, I stopped the bus, flipped on the crossing flashers, opened my window, tossed open the passenger door to my right, looked left, right.  Looked left and right again, eased off the air brakes, accelerated across the tracks and was hit squarely in the door. By a bull.

His horns, head, neck and front hooves made it all the way up the first steps before trashing about, breaking the front window, destroying the door, slinging slobber on everything. I thought he was a train.  It was a train track, after all!  I remember wondering what a bull was doing on the front of a train!

He withdrew in a rage, pranced around to the front of my stopped bus, now half-way across the tracks, snorted and charged again.  His 2,000 pounds slammed into the front of the bus, shattering the flashing lights.  The hour-long rampage lasted all of 20 seconds.  At 23 seconds, I realized the bull had anger issues and was not getting out of my way.  I had to get off the tracks no matter how aggressive the bull remained.

Airhorn blasting, engine growling, I shouted, “Sit down! Hang on! We’re getting off these tracks!”   A high schooler in the back yelled, “Time to make some hamburger!”  Another, “My dad is not going to be happy!”  I punched the accelerator.

The “stop, look and listen” habit of all bus drivers has not been lost on me.  As a leader, I’m presented with multiple railroad crossings that require just such an approach.  Admittedly, there have been many Leadership crossings where, quite sure of myself, I have “slowed, glanced, and talked” my way through the event.  And thankfully, most of the time, the only cost has been in opportunity.  But, occasionally, I’ve been struck.  Not by the expected train, but by an unexpected bull.

I’m slowly learning to apply my bus driving skills to these leadership crossings.  Stop, look, and listen.  Then proceed cautiously. 

Stopping at an opportunity crossing means just that: stop moving.  Stop my hyperactive, easily distracted mind.  Sit down.  Or, just stand still.  I’m learning to come to a full stop, not the “California roll” style stop.  This is a challenge for someone who loves momentum and activity and stimulation.  Stopping is exhausting.  I’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do!  Lots of stuff, and things!

Look at reality.  I’m learning to look, to really look, at the faces of the people involved in this opportunity crossing.  I’m learning to look, and actually see, what is right in front of me.  I’ve always loved numbers and measurements, so looking at them comes easily.  But, looking for what is NOT there is another challenge.  I’m discovering that seeing what is missing is quite revealing.

Listen to, and listen for: This is difficult for me.  I’m quick to hear and even faster to fill in the end of the sentence, to fill in the meanings and intentions, of those with whom I’m engaging.  I’ve recently begun to love the short silence between the end of their sentence and the beginning of mine.  Listening for me means a very high “question to comment” ratio.  My questions should outnumber my comments by three or four to one. This is difficult.  I have so much to say!  And now as I listen, I am hunting for themes, knowledge, and wisdom that I do not have.  And for perspectives that I did not even know existed.  Such discovery informs if, when, and how quickly I move across the opportunity tracks in front of me.

In all, this discipline takes an extra few minutes of my day.  And, in the chaos of important interruptions and critical administrivia, it can feel like an unnecessary practice.  Especially since I am so damn good at what I do! (In my mind.)  It’s just an untraveled railroad crossing on a dark, snowy morning in February.  Trains never travel this track.  What could possibly go wrong?

Had I stopped, really looked, intensely listened, not just for trains, but for any threat, I would have handled raging bull a little differently.  I would have kept the door closed and kept moving as the raging bull slammed into us.

I buried my foot in the accelerator pedal.  As the bus lurched forward, the angry bull pivoted to my left, and slammed into the driver’s side, collapsing the panel at my left knee and destroying the Motorola radio.  He got one more swipe in as we passed him, shattering the left rear lights.

The students were all awake and cheering as we completed the route, lights flickering, cold wind filling the bus, crushed door swaying, and mangled stop sign waving at traffic.

Later, I discovered a nickname given me by the students when they presented a homemade version of a matador’s cape.  I smile when approaching railroad crossings to this day.  They serve as a reminder to me:  When my busload of team members and I approach an inflection point, requiring vigilance, I try to really stop, to really see, and to really hear.

That Was Close! The Art (and Science) of Learning from Near Misses

Most organizations have the ability to track and learn from errors. And most effective leaders have figured out what to measure, what those measurements mean, and how to use what they learn to improve.
The information that tends to get the most attention, and creates the strongest emotional reaction, often relates to complaints and errors. And, it is our observation, the obvious mistakes and errors are addressed appropriately and rarely occur again.
So, most professions are getting quite good at continual improvement.
Skilled leaders, however, do not wait for mistakes and errors in pursuit of excellence. They pay close attention, not only to overt mistakes, but also to habits and procedures that were almost mistakes. They pay attention to events and actions that, except for blind luck, could have become a mistake.
We call these shadowy events “near misses.” IMG_0087
For over a decade, I have been fascinated by the idea of near misses in high risk environments. So, we formalized a way to highlight the existence of near misses, then emphasize their ubiquity, and finally, we devised a way to identify specifics and learn from them.
We defined a near miss is an event or mistake that, if not caught accidentally and addressed intentionally at the last minute, would likely have resulted in a critical incident, or undesirable and costly outcome.
We believe that uncovering, aggregating and learning from near misses is akin to striking a vein of gold just a few feet under the surface. It takes a little digging, and one needs to know what to look for, but the effort will expose hidden treasure.
Our research looked at the world of near misses in the operating room, the patrol car, submarines, cabs of emergency response vehicles, and shooting ranges. We studied near misses in on-foot police pursuits, emergency departments, hospital pharmacies, Special Forces training environments, the airline industry, and with UPS drivers (during the Christmas rush). We were particularly drawn to those environments where shift-work and sleep deprivation were the norm, including 9-1-1 Centers.
In our study, we discovered that most of these events occur in the last segment of a shift. In Fire Service, for example, 85% occur in the last six hours of a 24-hour shift. The bulk happen in the last 90 minutes of a 24-hour shift. Near misses are rare in eight-hour shifts. They occur occasionally in ten-hour shifts. They increase in 12-hour shifts, and dramatically in 24 hour shifts.
The challenge with learning from near misses, from an organizational effectiveness perspective, is that they often go unreported. Unreported events are not connected with other similar events; they are unaggregated. Unaggregated events are not understood as we tend to only analyze and learn from clear patterns. However, near misses, when contextualized and connected, are a rich source of wisdom and instruction.
For example, one of the lessons we can learn is about the causal relationship between burnout and the near miss. These events are reliable early indicators that an individual beginning to burn out. Momentary tiredness has become seasonal weariness. And, the individual has begun to rearrange his or her life around a near-constant state of exhaustion. The adrenaline rush created by the near miss results in brief behavioral adjustments, and perhaps in muttered promises to self and God, but they do not yield actual change in the weary employee. The event masks an underlying problem. It is often set aside by those experiencing it amid promises to be more careful or pay more attention or drink another Red Bull. Unreported and unanalyzed, the event does not trigger any fundamental change. Near misses are indications that such change is required.
And, as we all know, change requires energy, thoughtful focus, and concentration. None of which the Near-Missee possesses beyond the moment.

There is more to be written on the topic. Perhaps we will do so at a later date, but for now, I offer the following advice to leaders and supervisors:
Talk about the concept of near misses. Describe those you have experienced. Remove the stigma from the idea. Remove the negative narration around them. Make it easy, even honorable, to talk about them. Remove the fear of almost making a mistake. Start with yourself. Move to your supervisory team, and then to the most experienced members of your team. Reward, through simple gratitude, conversations about near misses.
Track, simply and informally, every near miss. Make the tracking visible to everyone.
Do not make significant changes on the spot. Following a near miss, especially one that could have resulted in catastrophe, resist the urge to change everything. This is an over-reaction and usually creates a cascade of unintended consequences. Be patient. Aggregate several seemingly unrelated near misses.
Pause and analyze the near misses once the list grows beyond a dozen or so. There is no magic formula here. Or, at least not one that we have discovered. The precise number of near misses is not important. Simply gather enough so that underlying causes begin to present themselves. What appears at first, for example, to be a software or equipment problem, may emerge as a schedule problem.
This is precisely what occurred in our observation of sleep-deprivation as the underlying cause of nearly all traffic related near misses in a Fire Department in the southwestern United States. The cause was sleepy Firefighters in the driver’s seat, not increased traffic or too few lights on the rig. For years that Department had increased the number and intensity of beacons and light bars following near misses (and actual misses). But, the problems continued. Then, additional remedial training ensued. Then, louder sirens. Still, the misses continued. However, when misses and near misses were aggregated, it became apparent that they all occurred at the very end of 24-hour shifts. All of them.
Finally, mine the gold from what you’ve learned and use it responsibly. After analysis yields wisdom, have the courage (yes, that is the right word) as a leader to address the actual causes of the near miss. Design, and test, a solution. Be patient. It may take time to see the results. Your patience will pay off.

The idea of learning from near misses is exceptionally useful. You can apply it in any complex environment, including your personal life. Begin mining this vein of gold by understanding the concept of near misses. Then, allow yourself to identify and track them. A simple note in Evernote or on your phone will suffice. Don’t change much until you have enough of them logged from which to make enlightened observations. Involve someone outside of the experience at this stage. Take a little time to see what this list reveals. Then, when you think you’ve discovered the underlying cause(s), thoughtfully and courageously design a change. Test it patiently and see what it yields.
Apply the idea of near misses to your health, finances, relationships, or your driving skills. Apply it to hiring, discipline and coaching programs, to small and large organizational purchases. Apply it to parenting, and to the use of power tools. Overcome your internal narrator’s critical voice, or declaration of denial, and look closely at what you discover. It will set you, and those you lead and love, free.

Footnote: Just as I completed writing this, the General Manager of one of our companies called to say how grateful he was that the top candidate for a recent position, to whom he had offered the job, had declined the offer in hopes that the GM would counter with at 20% increase in total compensation. The GM said decided against it and thanked the candidate, who became angry and wrote an email blasting the decision and the GM. It also turned out that the candidate had dramatically inflated the size and existence of “other offers” as a negotiation tactic. This, of course, is unethical. The GM said he had “dodged a bullet.” True. We then spoke about logging this as a near miss, to be evaluated in light of others later. I will share what we learn when the time is right.


The Unintended Consequences of Comfort

Early mornings delight me. Dawn is at least two hours away. I’m sipping a perfect morning espresso, made with a push of a button. The fonts, position and glow of my iPad Pro are set precisely to my liking. The temperature in the room is 68 degrees. My phone is silenced. Text alerts, email notifications, Instagram and Facebook beeps are all quiet. As I look around, nearly everything I see has been calibrated to my exact requirements, set for comfort.

My perfect cup of espresso

But my watch band is a little too tight, so I adjust it a notch. That’s too loose. Now, it’s just annoying. It’s like an inconvenient itch. So I take it off and think of replacing the pre-drilled leather band with an infinitely adjustable one.

It’s now 4:45 a.m. I’ve spent 20 minutes adjusting my world so that I can concentrate. But the old clock is too loud. And now it’s 66 degrees in here. What is this, Little House on the Prairie?!?

It occurs to me that a wealthy, connected, tech-dependent society creates endless options for comfort. Fueling these options is a powerful expectation that we should be able to adjust everything around us to achieve greater and more carefully tuned, pain-free comfort, efficiency, effectiveness. We have come to expect our world to respond to micro adjustments on every level.

This is not a bad thing. I enjoy hot coffee and cool sheets. I expect, and notice, micro-changes in the driver’s seat of my SUV as well as the agenda of my next meeting. But, perhaps these wonderful capacities have an unintended consequence. Perhaps I, and others, have developed an adjustment disorder.

The ubiquity of connective technology has given many of us the ability to adjust everything in our daily experience. We never need to be out in the cold, or face the chill of an outrageous opinion. Once reserved for the ultra wealthy, we are now able to adjust the world around us to reinforce every warm, comfortable assumption, strengthen every closely held mental model, and confirm every bias. And, the belief that it is the purpose of civilization, is what I call an adjustment disorder.

Unlike the more severe diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder wherein an individual is incapable of overcoming and coping with a major life trauma, my more subtle description of an adjustment disorder is the assumption that everything, everyone, should be able to be adjusted to fit my desires. I don’t change, you do. Adjust your schedule to fit me. Adjust your taste. Adjust your attitude to fit me. Adjust your thinking, your words, your beliefs, your faith (or lack of it) to fit me. Adjust your political views and even your world view. The way you drive is making me uncomfortable. Adjust it. More importantly, I have an acute case of this adjustment disorder when I believe that you should somehow just know your words, beliefs and behaviors are making me uncomfortable and adjust them immediately. To fail to do so is unforgivable. Making me uncomfortable is the ultimate offense.

There’s another way. It is less comfortable. Less efficient. When we encounter something, or someone, that cannot be adjusted, we can learn to become curious about what this unyielding obstacle reveals. We can look for what it exposes about others, about the world around us and about the opportunities it presents. We can learn to pay attention to what it reveals about us. As the Stoics of old, we can learn that sometimes the obstacle is not in the way. It is the way. Effort spent trying to adjust or remove some obstacles for the purpose of comfort often obscures opportunity.

So, go ahead and adjust your driver’s seat another four centimeters and change your ringtone to something slightly more cheerful. Adjust your belt, backpack, and background noise. Fine-tune your footwear. This is a wonderful benefit of civilization. At the same time, pay attention to those nouns and pronouns that resist adjustment. Perhaps the discomfort they create is an invitation to a great adventure.

Now, I need to warm my espresso again. It’s not quite as hot as I like it.


Get a Bigger Hammer!

Knowing When to Keep Going and When to Pivot

The Evinrude outboard engine on my father’s pink 16-foot fishing boat transformed gasoline and oil into smoke and noise and forward motion.  That small outboard engine was a wonderful member of the family deserving of as much attention as my grandmother.  Fishing expeditions required a tackle box, bait, poles, peanut butter sandwiches, and a toolbox.

Every trip also required patience as, without fail, the Evinrude would propel us to our favorite spot on the lake and refuse to bring us back.  That is until my exceptionally patient father coaxed it back from the edge with Merlin-like skill.  It would cough, sputter, and roar to life in a blue cloud of ozone-depleting smoke. Then my father would turn and face his children with a grin, wiping his hands on a rag, and say, “Sometimes all you need is a bigger hammer.  And, sometimes all you need is a bigger bag of patience.”

I’ve never been a “bigger bag of patience” kind of guy.  Now is more natural to me than later.  And bigger hammers fit me better.  My tool box, until well into my 40s, contained only hammers.  Big ones, bigger ones, biggest ones.  Then, I acquired some patience.  Not quickly enough, in my opinion.   At first, to be honest, it was the pretense of patience.  My daughter once laughingly corrected me by saying, “Dad, you aren’t patient.  You pretend to be patient.”  After the sting, I thought about it and concluded that pretending to be patient is good enough if I’m a good actor.

Now that I am occasionally patient, I’ve grown curious about how to know when patience, endurance, tenacity is the best approach and when I should just get a bigger hammer.  It’s a sophisticated question.  How do I know when to keep going, or when double or triple my investments of time, energy and money to break through, or when to quit?  When do I stick with a plan?  When do I intensify the effort?  When do I pivot?  And, to what?

To answer those questions, I need to know at least four things:

I need to know the result I’m trying to achieve.  Is the result still worth the effort?  When I achieve the result, will it create other desirable opportunities?  Then, perhaps I should keep going.  Perhaps the bigger hammer will break things loose.  If the result is worth it, keep going.

I need to know my hammer.  Some hammers are constructive.  Some are destructive.  Does the use of the hammer solve the problem at the moment but make a dent you must repair, or live with, later?  Constructive hammers require a bit of finesse.  Destructive ones, not so much.  I admit: destructive hammers are more rewarding at the moment.

I need to know myself. Am I tenacious, or stubborn? Am I determined, or just proud?  Am I focused or closed-minded?  Overcoming my own psychology in the face of resistance from the project, plan or person, is my greatest challenge. Machines (or projects or computers or strategic plans or team members) don’t frustrate me.  I frustrate me.

As my grip on the situation loosens, and my grip on the hammer tightens, I’ve learned the value of a pause.  Before–or while–I reach for the bigger hammer, I’ve learned to take a breath, step back, and focus on the result. More often than I can remember, this habit gives space to unlock the clenched fist of my thoughts.

I need to know the pivot.  The pause sometimes shows another way.  Another approach emerges, slightly different from my current one.  Occasionally, my pause is more than momentary.  A few days pass, and I craft a completely different approach.  Usually, the best pivots increase leverage.  Mechanical leverage is a wonderful thing, thanks to Archimedes but leverage can be achieved across a system as well.  When faced with many options, the leveraged one is that activity that, if successful, makes other problems easier to solve.  But, the leveraged choice does not present itself readily.  Seeing it requires a mental pause and a little patience.

If you are facing a challenge that seems to be stuck, unyielding, and frustrating, consider a bigger hammer.  Better yet, consider deliberately reaching into a bigger bag of patience.   And, like my father who knew his tools, knew his Evinrude engine, the distance to shore, and how to paddle, step back, pause and consider your options.  Consider the results you are trying to achieve.  Then, act.  When you realize the challenge is overcome, opportunity will roar to life in a blue cloud of smoke.

Spam. So Good. So Bad.

During World War II, many islands in the South Pacific lived on a salty canned meat-ish product called Spam. The original Spam had nothing to do with junk mail in your inbox. A hunger-induced and acquired taste, affectionately named “mystery meat”, it was slightly more nourishing than dirt and sticks. While visually unappealing, it served a noble purpose: keep people alive when food was in short supply.spam-tin

Today, the need for Spam has disappeared but it is still a staple in the diet of many cultures. Spam sales globally have not slacked even as food supplies and advanced preservatives abound. People eat it for breakfast with eggs and for dinner with rice.

My business partner Donnie (a proud descendant of Guamanian parents) smiles, laughs and eats Spam with delight (and a hint of guilt). He knows it is not good for him. That knowledge does not dampen his evangelistic zeal for the stuff. Admittedly, I also get a little giddy when he makes a feast including the suspicious substance. I enjoy the salty oddity like I’m an Islander. It’s not good for me. I know it. Donnie knows it. Spam, Inc. knows it. No one on the planet thinks Spam is good for them. But we still choose to eat it. It is comforting.

Some workplace cultures have comforting cans of Spam in them as well. Practices, norms, behaviors that were adopted at another time and served a purpose but are no longer necessary. Behaviors and habits that erode the health of the organization but that we keep doing because we like them so much.

What are the Spam cans in your workplace? Perhaps “venting” is one of your Spam cans. Regardless of all common sense and deep research outlining the destructive impacts (to the individual and the team) resulting from a culture where venting is accepted, you like it. So it continues.

Perhaps your Spam can is the “we have it so hard; this job is so stressful” mantra where individuals think that no one else works as hard as they work. Maybe your Spam can is the belief that no one else could do your job. You and your team members are irreplaceable snowflakes of excellence. Perhaps your Spam can is the mindset that Management doesn’t get you, so you must have an adversarial labor/management relationship.

Or, your Spam can is about conflict avoidance. You remember a conflict that went poorly, so you all agreed to keep things tranquil at all costs. Never upset one another because, after all, making everyone happy is your organization’s mission. All of these and more were probably appropriate at one point. They might have been the best you could muster for the season. Now, they are Spam. They remain part of your culture, not because they are correct and good and powerful, but because you like them. At one point, there was someone to blame. He was a hot mess, after all. Now, blaming is just comforting. At one point doing more with less was the right thing to do. Now, it’s just an excuse for not achieving replicable excellence.

What can you do about it? First, share this idea with your team. Bring in a Spam can and serve it up with eggs and rice. Laugh over habits and practices that you all have that are not good for you. Then identify the ones that are not all that funny. Pick one of them. Decide how to stop it. And, stop it. Then, replace it with expectations and behaviors that get you to your mission more effectively. Rather than comforting gossip (called “getting feedback”), learn to communicate directly. Rather than eating the Spam of “common sense,” do the hard work of clarifying expectations. Rather than feasting on the salty goodness of your personality because “that’s just the way I am,” replace with the nourishing meal of humility. Adapt.

You get the idea.

You’ll likely have Spam withdrawals. But it’s worth it. Thanks for reading. Now, I’m going to finish off this pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

Do Park Rangers Dream of Being Accountants?

The alarm sounds at 4:35 in the morning after six days of work. Overtime again. Six-and-a-half hours of sleep feels like three. Why am I doing this? Is it for the money? Or the glory? There is probably not enough of either. Maybe it’s the fame. (Be careful if it’s about the fame. As my dear mother used to say, “No one is designed to be famous.”)

Why do you work? I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this in moments of exasperation or weariness.  Maybe you could become a Park Ranger.  Do Park Rangers ever dream of being Accountants?

Why are you in this specific job? If you are honest with yourself, your first instant thought is probably the answer. Do you work to eat? Do you work to buy fun things? Or to have security? Do you work for other reasons and food on the table is a nice and necessary benefit? Do you work at this job because you do not see any other choices?

Clarifying why you work, and why you work at this job, is crucial. If you are not clear, you will not be as resilient as you could to be. If you are crystal clear about why you are in this job, and if the purpose of this part of your career is beyond money, and if it is worth it to you (worth getting out of bed even on cold, dark days), then you are free. Then you no longer work for money or for the boss or the company but for a purpose worth engaging for.

When we study the most effective and resilient people, we discover that they are all clear about why they choose to engage in this work.  They are keenly aware that it is, after all, a choice they make daily to engage. And their “why” transcends a paycheck. It transcends convenience or comfort.  It makes the daily and weekly challenges worth surmounting.

An Accountant who dreams of being a Park Ranger, or a Park Ranger who daydreams about being an Accountant, will squander her moments, hours, weeks and perhaps years if she does not create clarity about what really matters to her.  Then, a surprising thing happens: she discovers she can move toward what really matters one hour at a time, standing where she is right now.

So, why do you work?