Creating direction

A leader must create direction and own it.  A leader can have a large team or very small team.  In both cases, communication must be clear and concise.  Both leader and team need to be on the same page throughout the effort.  A leader must also be able to influence to be effective.  The other piece is having enough experience to make  create good direction.

From personal experience, I find it difficult to successfully create direction without good communication, sufficient experience, team alignment, and the ability to influence.  If you are lacking in any of these four areas, you may lack in creating good direction.  The key word here is good.  Poor direction can lead to failures, which push back your timeline and may add cost to your project.

Also keep in mind, even if you are not the leader of the group, you are still eligible to create direction.  It does not even have to be in a corporate setting.  You can create direction in your personal life when it comes to family life, personal finances, or maybe even planning a vacation.  An item I did not mention yet is gathering information/data to better prepare yourself for the future.  You will want to gather as much information as possible to fully understand the entire situation.  Your experience can help you gather this information faster because you will know exactly where to get the information.

The team alignment piece will require you to have team members that can confide in you.  If they do not trust you, then they will be less likely to follow your direction.  This does not need to be in a corporate setting as I mentioned before.  This can be in your personal life.  It is very important to have family and friends trust you too, especially when planning upcoming events that everyone will need to get involved with.  The communication piece will be crucial because if you poorly communicate the plan, people may be less likely to understand and agree to take direction from you.  Communication is also important when you are influencing others to agree to take direction from you.  These are all things we should be thinking about when creating direction.

Continuous improvement

The great thing about continuous improvement is you are not expected to be perfect today.  As I have discussed many times before, goals are crucial to understand your current situation relative where you want to be.  The primary reason for setting a goal is to have something to work towards.  The continuous improvement piece is the work you are doing to get there.  There can be one over arching goal you are focused on with many mini goals or milestones along the way to help keep you on track.

Personal example of continuous improvement

There were years I went to the gym, played ice hockey, rock climbed, and so forth without any official goals set.  I do not find any issue in not having a set goal, but know by creating official goals to challenge myself with, I will push myself harder to be better.  In 2011-2012, I weighed about 160-165lb at the age of 25-26, which is roughly the same weight I was in high school.  I dropped 20lb since college from playing hockey 3 to 4 times per week and rock climbing 1 day per week.  I decided I wanted to bulk up and put on some more muscle.  I ended up slowing down on the hockey to a max of 1 day per week and stopped rock climbing.  I joined a local gym and lifted 4 to 5 times per week.

I ended up gaining 15-20lb in the next 9 to 12 months, putting me in the 185lb range.  A lot of people may wonder why I wanted to gain weight because most people are trying to lose weight.  Although the body mass index (BMI) says for someone at 5’9″, 165lb is within the normal range, I still do believe there are many body types.  According to the BMI scale, I would be over weight at anything above 169.2lb, which in my opinion is complete bologna.  Other factors should be taking into account like muscle versus fat.  I am now getting off track.  The point of this story is that this is a continuous improvement project I have been working on.  Gaining weight is one milestone achievement among many other milestones I would like to hit before reaching my overarching goal.  Even when I reach that large goal in mind, I will still have a long way to go because nobody is ever perfect.

Keep asking yourself what else you can improve on.  It could be financials, health – mental and/or physical, spiritual, emotional, and so on.  Quantitative data is always helpful in really holding yourself accountable.  If quantitative data is not possible, the second best thing is qualitative data.  Keep pushing yourself to those next levels and always continuously improve yourself and others around you.

Pyramid of growth

Early on in your career you may have more opportunity to move around to different roles in your organization.  If you can imagine what a pyramid looks like, the base of the pyramid would represent the beginning of your career.  It is here where you will want to jump into different roles across your organization to gain diverse experiences.  Different roles will give you different experiences, which will help you build different skillsets.  Understanding different areas of your organization will make it easier for you to make better decisions.

As you progress in your career and move up in your organization, you are climbing the pyramid to the more focused narrower portion.  At the top narrower portion of the pyramid during the later years of your career, you will have less opportunity to move around to different roles.  This is why you need to move around to different functions in your organization earlier on in your career.  For example, if you are a director of quality, you may not have many opportunities to work in logistics or finance.  If you did want to move around, there is a higher chance of you doing this in the earlier years of your career.

With this being said, I would highly recommend anyone starting out their career to think about roles outside their area of expertise.  Even if you are 5 years to 15 years in, you should look at roles in other functions.  For example, if you work in procurement you may want to look at supply chain or quality.  If you are in product development you may want to look at procurement or regulatory.  A lot of companies today encourage internal movement to different cross-functional roles.  If you are with one of these companies, you should take advantage of it.

It is important to stay in each role for at least two years unless you have a very good reason for leaving that role before you hit your second year.  You should always think two roles ahead of your current role.  This will help you better understand which opportunities you should be open to.  It is not very important to make all your career decisions solely on salary, especially during your earlier years.  It is not until the later years when you are in the harvest phase where you will be pulling in the majority of your money.  This usually happens after 15 to 20 years, you have been in your career.

All of these things I am mentioning here are things I did not always know.  As I move forward in my career I search for advice from people who I consider to be successful.  I meet with them regularly and take copious notes.  If you have other tips on these topics, please feel free to leave comments.

Handling failures appropriately

Failure was never viewed as a good thing when I was growing up and for good reason.  Failure is often associated with the complete opposite of success.  As I progressed further into my career, I realized failures can be positive.  The best managers I have had accepted failures as long as the failures were handled appropriately.  One way to handle a failure appropriately is to plan for the failure by having a backup plan.  This will show your manager that you are thinking ahead and planning for the future.

Secondly, you will want to fail fast and not delay the failure until it is too late.  Perhaps you are inventing a new product and want to take it to production, which can cost millions of dollars.  Before you get to this point, you will want to trial your product to understand its capabilities.  If your idea is going to fail, make sure it fails before it is too late.  You need to think of what sorts of things will happen if your product fails on the market.  It will be difficult to regain the trust of your customers once they have used your product and found out it does not work.  A failure on the market can end up costing you a significant amount of money, which can jeopardize your company’s future.  Failing fast allows you to minimize risks associated with failure.

Next, you want to learn from your failures.  A failure that teaches you absolutely nothing would truly be a failure.  A failure that teaches you something, is another piece to the puzzle in getting you closer to success.  I would also add, if you can learn from other’s failures, you should take the opportunity to do so.  This is why many companies have share-out programs once a project is complete.  The lessons learned can be crucial to pushing the next project through faster and with greater success.

Lastly, do not be ashamed of failure.  A while back while working at my father and my shop, I was tapping a hole and ended up breaking the tap.  For reference, a tap is a tool to thread a hole, so you can screw a bolt into it.  I was a bit annoyed with myself when I broke the tap because it took a while to remove the remaining tap stuck in the hole.  My dad told me this story that stuck out in my head until this day.

While my dad lived in Canada he was working for a company called Libby’s.  He was drilling and tapping over 100 holes on a machine and ended up breaking a few taps.  Another worker made fun of my dad because my dad was breaking taps.  My dad asked how many taps the guy broke and the guy said, “none”.  The reason the guy broke “none” is because he did not even drill and tap one hole.  Without broken taps, the job would not have been done.  It is just the cost of business.  We need to expect failures, but need to handle them appropriately.

Key takeaways

  • Have a backup plan for potential failures
  • Fail fast when the stakes are not as high
  • Learn from your failures
  • Do not feel ashamed of your failures

Commission free stock trading

For the longest time I wanted to start trading stocks, but was always turned off by the trading fees.  Just as an example, E*TRADE charges as much as $6.95 per trade.  At this rate if I made ten trades, then $69.50 will go to E*TRADE.  This does not make sense for someone like me who only trades about $500 each time.  This means 1.4% of my trade is going to E*TRADE.

Last December, I found an app on my iPhone called Robinhood.  Robinhood is a U.S. based financial services company that allows individuals to invest in publicly traded companies and exchange-traded funds listed on U.S. stock exchanges without paying commission.  Basically, you can trade using Robinhood and not pay any commissions as shown in their commissions & fees document.  There are regulatory trading fees, which come out as $23.10 per $1,000,000 of principal (sells only), rounded up to the nearest penny for SEC and $0.000119 per share (equity sell(s)), no greater than $5.95 for TAF.  These regulatory trading fees are negligible and will not be noticed.

To start testing Robinhood last December, I purchased the following stocks:

  • FCAU (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)
  • AMAT (Applied Materials)
  • VSLR (Vivint Solar)
  • BAC (Bank of America)
  • F (Ford)

Since then I have received dividends for Ford, Applied Materials, and Bank of America.  These funds are placed into my Robinhood account and I was able to quickly purchase more shares with the money.  Robinhood easily allows you to transfer money from and to your bank account.  You can also transfer stocks from other brokers to Robinhood and Robinhood will cover any fees charged by your old brokerage.

Robinhood may not have a lot of bells and whistles like E*TRADE or some of the other websites you may use, but they are quickly adding features such as trade options.  There is also a new feature, which will allow you to trade crypto currency through Robinhood.  Some of these features do require you to first get on a waiting list.  Since Robinhood is free and does not have fees for trading, I would recommend you giving it a shot.  It has pushed me to learn more about the stock market and companies I have never even heard about before.

Balancing your priorities

At this point, I cannot think of a better title for this blog than Balancing your priorities.  Have you ever felt overwhelmed when there is simply too much going on?    This is a scenario I find myself in too often, which increases my stress levels making me feel overwhelmed.  It seems like there is always a perfect storm with urgent issues at the office, papers due for school, and events going on at home.  The only way to prevent this from happening in the future is to plan ahead, which is easier said than done.

Assuming you have written your goals somewhere, look at your list and determine, which of your goals are most important to you.  You should limit yourself to having 3 short term (<5 years) and 3 long term (>5 years) goals.  Any more than this may be too cumbersome and prohibit you from accomplishing any of them.  It is crucial to identify the 3 short term and 3 long term goals, so you can plan out your next moves and understand what is a priority and what is not.

If something is not a priority because it does not help accomplish one of your goals, then you can push that task to the side if necessary.  If you have free time, then you can get to that task.  Also, knowing what is coming up in advance will help you plan. If you are working on school, have a full time job, and have a family life, then you will want to make sure you are not too busy in two or more of these areas at the same time.  Keeping things on a calendar of upcoming project deadlines, events, and so on does help keep everything in order.  It is really what works best for you because nobody is the same.

I view balancing priorities as an important skill to set yourself to succeed.  If you continue working without goals in mind, which are used to guide you in prioritizing, then you are going to have a difficult time succeeding.  So, identifying your goals, learning which tasks at hands are priority, and scheduling well in advance will help you minimize future stresses.

Living above your means

If you are not able to pay your bills or are on the verge of not being able to pay your bills, then you are most likely living above your means.  At this point, you are not financially stable and will want to make some changes in your life.  Start by looking at what are necessities versus pure wants in your life.  Here I layout what I would consider some must haves and nice to haves.  There are many-many more than this, but I wanted to share a few examples.

Necessities (must have)

  • Food
  • Regular clothes
  • Utilities (excluding cable)
  • Transportation (work, school, etc)

Wants (nice to have)

  • Cable
  • Vacations
  • Luxurious clothes and jewelry
  • Dinner at restaurants
  • Entertainment (bowling, mini golf, seeing a movie)

The must haves are simply things you need to have to keep living and support your career.  The nice to haves are items that are most likely not necessary for you to keep living or support your career.  For example, we need food to live, but we do not need to eat our food at a restaurant.  The cost of going out to a restaurant will be much higher than cooking at home as I previously discussed in my blog titled, Eating out versus eating in.  Vacations are another nice to have, but not necessary to keep living or support your career.  I discuss vacations a little further in my blog titled, Most relaxing vacation spot.

We really need to be discipline and accept our financial situation.  By ignoring your financial situation and living above your means, you are going to hurt yourself in the long run.  You are accepting immediate satisfaction, which cannot be sustained.  This will also not help you grow or drive yourself for larger opportunities in your life.

Dealing with poor performance

My last post was focused on Performance review.  I would like to talk a little bit about poor performance and how to deal with it.  The purpose of reviewing your goals monthly, quarterly, and yearly is to make sure you are on track and course correct if necessary.  It is highly unlikely for anyone to meet their goals 100% of the time unless their goals are incredibly easy.  It does not help you to only set easy goals because it is the more challenging goals that help you grow.

Back to poor performance.  First, you need to accept that you are not on track and performing poorly.  Once you accept it, then you can work towards improving your performance.  You need to understand the key factors in why you are performing poorly.  Why are you not meeting your sales?  Why is your mortgage not decreasing as quickly as you would like to?  Why are you not losing the weight you set out to lose?  It is important to understand what is not happening and why it is not happening?  You will also want to make sure you goals are not impossible.  For example, if you are making $60,000 per year and you set out to make $5 million per year for the next year.  If there is no strategic plan in place or you do not have any path to hit this, then surely it will not happen just because you want it to happen.

Creating a plan to improve your performance after accepting and understanding is the next step.  Initially, you must have had some background on why you set your goals to where they are today.  Looking back through your notes, you should see if you are missing any key points or if there are external factors at plan beyond your control.  If there are uncontrollable factors, then you will want to adjust your goal.  If there are key points you are not hitting, you will want to create a plan to make sure you are executing those key points.  In your plan, you may want to increase the frequency of your review process to make sure you are staying on track.

Lastly, you will want to review at your next milestone review (i.e., monthly, quarterly, yearly).  If you are improving your performance, then you are on track.  If you are not improving your performance, then you will want to take another stab at your plan.  Also, question whether you had enough time between this review and your last review for performance improvements.

So here is a quick recap of steps you need to take when dealing with a poor performance review:

  • Accept that you are poorly performing
  • Understand why you are poorly performing
  • Adjust your goal if there are uncontrollable external factors at play
  • Create a plan to improve your performance
  • Review your performance again at your next review
  • If you are not meeting your expectations, adjust your plan if necessary

Performance review

It is important to me to review my performance monthly, quarterly, and yearly.  During these reviews, I am looking for my progress in my career, business, and personal life.

Career

My ultimate goal is to climb the corporate ladder as quickly as I can with integrity during the years I am in a corporate setting.  In my goals I lay out the level and salary I desire.  This means I may need to step outside my comfort zone and take on new roles and responsibilities.  I have done this several times and have no problem doing this.  During my review of my performance, I am looking to see if I am moving along as quickly as I thought I would.  To hold myself accountable, I write down my goals by January 1st of each year.  My goals may be adjusted slightly based on progress for the prior year.

Business

My performance review on my business and investments are also based on the goals I write down every January 1st.  My main focus is growing my business by expanding our customer base and creating more value for the customers.  We have not reached a point where we feel the need to focus solely on cost savings because we have not reached a volume that justifies this.  If I am not hitting my targets, then I am going to look for immediate corrective action and hold myself accountable for it.

Personal

This section is a little bit less strict, but is also very important to my overall success.  For example, I have an idea of when I want children, want to further educate myself, and pay off debts as quickly as I can.  Each of the goals I have in this section are well defined and matched up with quantitative metrics to help me understand if I am on track or not.  If your goal criteria is too subjective, you can easily fool yourself into thinking you are meeting goals, even if you really are not.  For example, if you say you want to get into better shape, you may say you did, but how do you know?  Hold yourself accountable by including weight goals, body fat percentages, or any other quantitative data that makes you own it.

When it comes to financial goals, they are included in each of the sets listed above.  I am looking to hit certain financial goals in my career, business, and personal life each year.  It is crucial I list these out to review monthly, quarterly, and annually.  Monthly I may not go into super in-depth detail, but I am looking for the gist of how I am doing.  Quarterly I go into deeper detail and annually I dig all the way down.  It is during my annual performance review to understand what has been done and what needs to be done to reach my goals next year if I missed or improve if I was on target.

Be effective

Be effective every time you are doing anything.  It sounds simple enough, but can be tricky because we do not always know the most effective way of a completing the task at hand.  Experience is a big piece of it, but not all of it.  Just because you spent 25 years in your field, does not mean you are the best.  A young kid out of college can come along, spend 5 years in your shoes, and end up being more effective.  Along with experience, you need to constantly ask questions and try thinking of better ways of getting the job done.  Typically, someone with little experience will not know the questions to ask.  When you complete your first project or two, you are now more experienced and should start thinking of the questions you will ask on your next project.

Each additional project you complete will help you gain more in-depth experience and allow you to start thinking about the desired end results.  With more experience, you are going to be able to come up with better solutions for any issue that crosses your desk.  We want to constantly be engaged in our work and take ownership for the results.  Faster results do not always mean better results.  This is important to realize because it does not mean the person that pumps out more is always the most valuable in the eyes of leadership.  A lot of times the person who produces bigger higher priority results becomes more valuable and recognized.  This is why a lot of times you see some workers who you perceive as doing less than you, getting the promotions while you are sweating away not being recognized for your work.  Are you being as effective as you can be?

With all this being said, you still need to work hard.  It is important to understand your hard work needs to be funneled into certain focus areas.  If you are spreading your hard work out too thin, it is possible none of it will be noticed by leadership.  The hard part is determining what is most important to your company and getting alignment with leadership.  Leadership needs to know and understand what you are doing in order to recognize you.  Provide updates frequently to make sure they keep you and your work at the top of their mind.  Receive constructive feedback freely and be grateful for it.  These things will help you become more effective.

You are not just being effective in your corporate career or wherever you work, but also being effective in your personal life.  Effectiveness rules do apply everywhere in your life and you will see more gets done by doing these things.  This is a topic that deserves more discussion.  I will plan for a deeper dive into some concepts on this in the near future.

Newborn transitions

March 9, 2018, my first child had arrived!  My wife and I are very proud parents of our new baby boy.  Prior to the arrival of our baby, I spent 5-6 days a week at the gym, worked 60-80 hours a week including both my career as an engineer and working on my business and investments, went to dinner at least once a week with my wife, and hung out with friends frequently.  Of course, things are going to change when a new baby joins your family, but I want to make sure the important things do not change.

I have created a list of important activities I want to maintain as shown here:

  • Work 60-80 hours a week (career + business)
  • Gym 5-6 days a week
  • Spend time with my wife
  • Spend time with friends

There will be sacrifices I need to make, but do not want to sacrifice these four items because they are important to me.  I still have career aspirations and life goals I want to achieve.  It would be a poor decision to give up on my goals due to the arrival of a new baby.  My life is changing and will change further because of my new son.  To still reach my goals, I may just need to put a little bit more effort into the important things to stay on track.  Remember, excuses are the kryptonite of success.

Financially responsible vs frugal

Since I can remember, I have always been extra picky about what I buy.  At one point when I was visiting my family in Canada, I went to a local convenient store with my Uncle and purchased a pack of gum.  As I opened my wallet to pay the cashier my Uncle said, “you are letting the cob webs out”.  He was referring to the fact I rarely open my wallet.  I am frugal in my spending because I take responsibility for my financial situation.  I would be the last person not pay a bill because I spent too much money on other things.  I take pride in paying off debt and growing my funds.  With this being said, there is a difference between financial responsibility and being simply cheap.

Someone who goes about saving money in unnecessary ways may be deemed simply cheap.  If you do not purchase things you or you family need, then I would say that is cheap.  If you are purchasing products of less quality, which do not meet your requirements, then you may be cheap.  It is okay to be frugal, but it should not be at the cost of living your life the way you want to.

Someone who monitors their spend and does purchase necessary items should be considered financially responsible.  This person is frugal because they are aware of their financial situation and what they actually need.  I would not say you are cheap because you are conscious of your bills and need to save to pay them.  There are products like alcohol, tobacco, and jewelry that I do not see as necessities.  Luxury cars and fancy vacations are also not necessities.  If you have the money, then it is fine!  If you do not have the money, then it is not fine!  I do not think there is anything complicated about that.

I would never let someone else’s judgment on me sway my decisions on what to buy and what not to buy.  I purchase the clothes and food based on what I can afford.  I would not purchase something I cannot afford to impress others.  Too many people do this and end up in a poor financial situation.  At that point, they are not impressing anyone.