Extra Edition / Business Management

PEAK Performance for the Technical Professional - Part Six

September 10, 2007
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Jim Johnson

We’ve covered a lot of ground so far in this series, and in this, our final segment, we’re going to focus on the actions that a technical professional can take when providing outstanding customer service.

One of those actions involves developing the skill to see things around you. And the best way to explain how you can develop that skill is by understanding something called R.A.S. and scotomas. If you’ve never heard of either an R.A.S. or a scotoma, let me begin by explaining what the letters R.A.S. stand for, which is Reticular Activating System.

The next thing I want to point out is that everybody has a Reticular Activating System and it has an important job to do. The assignment of the Reticular Activating System is to act as a filter and allow you to see what’s important to you when you need to see it, and also allow you to not bother with things that aren’t important to you at the moment.

The word reticular is a Latin term that means like a net, or net-like, and your Reticular Activating System is just that - a net that catches what you need, but let’s what you don’t need go through the openings in the net.

Let me explain it this way …

If you were in the busiest section of New York City and had to get from point to another, you would be focused on only the things you need to know to get to your destination. There would be a lot of other things going on around you that you wouldn’t notice. Heavy traffic, thousands of people, lighted signs, and other unimportant things wouldn’t be caught in your “thought net,” your Reticular Activating System, because you would be focused on a specific goal that would ensure you only look at the important things you need to know to get from one point to another.

The best way I can explain how your Reticular Activating System works is to tell you what happened to me on two occasions when my wife Peggy and I went out to buy new cars.

The first occasion was quite a few years ago. And after looking around for cars at a few dealers, we settled on a Dodge Spirit and we bought it from Budget Car Sales, an organization that specializes in selling late model rental cars.

Until we bought that car, I had never heard of a Dodge Spirit. I figured that it must be something that was a common rental fleet vehicle. But, it was a nice color, a light blue, and Peggy decided it was the right car, so we bought it.

And, as we drove home from the car lot, I noticed something I had never noticed before. Dodge Spirits, lot’s of them, all over the place, and some of them were even light blue. There they were, all over the place all of a sudden.

But was it really all of a sudden?

No. Those cars had always been there, I just didn’t notice them before. Until I had invested some of my money in a Dodge Spirit, they weren’t real to me. But once I owned one, they became important to me and my Reticular Activating System allowed me to see them.

You might think this would work only if I purchased a car that was totally unfamiliar to me. But, the second occasion on which I purchased a particular car, a Chevrolet Suburban, proved that it doesn’t have to be that way. I have known about Chevy Suburbans for years. I have friends who drive them. So it wasn’t that I didn’t know about them. I did.

But, when I bought one of my own, guess what I began noticing that was never there before? Chevy Suburbans, that’s what.

I began to notice them in parking lots where I stopped to shop. I saw them all around me on the highways and streets that I traveled. And, like the Dodge Spirit, they were always there, but I didn’t notice them until they became important to me. When they became important to me, my Reticular Activating System allowed me to notice them. They got caught in my thought net.

So, how does this relate to you as a technical professional and the job you do?

It all goes back to providing outstanding customer service - and scotomas. What’s a scotoma? Well, the word scotoma is Greek and it means “blind spot.”

Have you ever seen one of those pictures that when you look at it one way, you see one thing, but when you look at it from another perspective, you see something else? Maybe you’ve seen the one that looks like two faces close together from one perspective, but then looks like a goblet when you re-focus. Or maybe you’ve seen the one that looks both like an old lady and a young lady, depending on how you look at it.

Well, the point I want to make about those drawings is that when one person sees them one way and another person sees them another way, it doesn’t make either person right or wrong. It just means that the person who can see the goblet but not the faces is experiencing a scotoma - that is until somebody points out a way that they can see the goblet. It’s the same thing with the old lady/young lady picture. Some people have a scotoma about the old lady and some have a scotoma about the young lady. The one they see first depends on their background and the environment that they’re from. If they’ve seen a lot of old ladies, then they will be able to see the old lady easily, but it will be more difficult to see the young lady. Or, it may be vice versa.

The idea I want to get across here is that, either way, with practice and concentration, a person can overcome a scotoma … get rid of the blind spot … and be able to see what they couldn’t see before. And I want to point out that all you really do to eliminate a scotoma is to shift your perspective, which is something you are capable of doing.

If you’re providing one service to a customer, and if providing that service is important to you, your Reticular Activating System can work to “expose” those other customer needs to you. You’ll catch them in your thought net - meaning that you no longer have a scotoma - a blind spot when it comes to recognizing what other services you can provide for that customer. And, by making use of your Neuro Linguistic Programming skills to communicate to your customer, you can let them know what you can do for them and why you and your organization should be the one providing the service.

And, as I’ve said, this all comes down to doing the best job you can do and reaping the benefits you’re entitled to for doing that job.

Which brings us to our final topic of discussion in our article series. What I want to say is that as a technical professional in the pursuit of excellence, you can take action we’ve talked about to provide outstanding customer service. And use the knowledge that you gain as you continue to strive for excellence and accomplish the goals you set. And you can do that by applying what I like to call the Eight Universal Laws of Success.

Let me list those laws for you first, then take some time to discuss them.

Here they are:

1. Enthusiasm.

2. Initiative.

3. Self-confidence.

4. Concentration.

5. Doing more than you’re paid to do.

6. Cooperation.

7. Self-control.

8. Tolerance.

When we present this list at our workshops, we seem to get universal agreement as we count down … 1, 2, 3, 4 … and then when we get to No. 5, we often get some comments like, “Whoa, wait a minute there, I’m already underpaid. There’s no way I’m going to do even more than I’m already doing,” or somebody might say something like, “Well, those are all good except one.” And of course, we know they’re talking about Universal Law of Success No. 5, the one that says “Doing more than you’re paid to do.”

Did that one kind of leap out at you too?

If so, that’s OK. We’ll get to No. 5 and I’ll explain why I think it’s valid and important to understand. For the moment, let’s focus on No. 1: Enthusiasm.

When a professional is enthusiastic about what they do, it shows. And, as professionals, we certainly should be enthusiastic about what we do. I often meet people who say they’re not happy in their job … some even say, “I hate my job, but I’m stuck doing it because I need the money it pays.”

Well, one of the things we said at the beginning of this series is that I don’t pull any punches. So, when I hear this kind of thing from people, I tell them that in my opinion they have one of two options.

One option is to do their customers, the company that pays their wages or salary or commission or whatever combination thereof, and themselves a favor, and move on. I mean that. I’m not interested in hearing about how somebody is trapped in his or her job because of money. I’m convinced that’s a cop-out and a false belief. So, like I said, if somebody tells me they really hate their job, then my response to that is that one option they have is to move on to a job they don’t hate.

The second option is to find something about their job that they can like.

One of the situations I pose to people in our workshops is this:

What if you had just found out that you won a million dollars in a contest or a lottery? After all the hoopla died down and you bought the new car, or boat, or took the vacation, what kind of work would you find yourself doing? Would you be doing something that would include any of what you do now?

If so, perhaps you could find something about your job that gives you satisfaction.

I once asked this series of questions of a person who worked as a computer instructor and who said he was quite unhappy in his job.

“You know,” he said, “now that you mention it, I would be doing something of what I’m doing now.”

He said that if he had won a million dollars he would probably move to Hawaii and open his own school, where he would continue to be involved in teaching computer classes, because he really enjoyed teaching people how to use computers and he got a lot of satisfaction out of that part of his job. 

Now, I know that sometimes the initial reaction we get from people when we present this scenario is something like, “Well, look, if I had a million bucks, I wouldn’t be working at all. I’d just sit around and live off the interest from my money, and never have to bother with the daily grind again.”

Well, if somebody considers what they do to be a “daily grind” rather than a work activity that gives them some satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, that might be their reaction. If so, so be it. We’re not presenting this series for people who think they’re in a daily grind, we’re presenting it for professionals - technical professionals who take pride in their work and their craft, and can be enthusiastic about the work they do.

And there’s something I know to be true about people - we, as human beings, are simply not built to just sit around. We’re, by nature, goal-seeking mechanisms, and we are most satisfied when we are accomplishing something. Which means that even if a person won a million bucks and stuck it in the bank, they would eventually find them themselves getting involved in something … some kind of activity or profession … in which they provided a product or service to others.

Which brings me to my final point about enthusiasm. If money wasn’t a factor at all, would you find yourself doing something similar to what you’re doing now? If the answer to that question is yes, then, fine, you can have some enthusiasm for what you do. If the answer to that question is no, then you’re in the wrong line of work. And, if you can’t have any enthusiasm for what you do, it’s my opinion that it would be in your best interest, and in the best interest of everyone around you, for you to move on to another situation in which you can be enthusiastic about what you do.

And, with that said, we’re going to move on to the No. 2 item on our list of the Eight Universal Laws of Success: Initiative.

We’ve all heard this term before, and we know how it relates to being a technical professional - when a professional takes the initiative in the day-to-day activities of their job, they will achieve a level of success that will bring them satisfaction, a sense of achievement, and provide them with an opportunity to earn more money.

We can consider the idea of initiative to be related to work habits. Things like how a person relates to an organization, the other people within the organization, the rules and regulations of the organization, observance of safety rules, attendance, punctuality, decorum, dress, or any other factor related to contributing to the success of the organization. And all those things are important to a technical professional. But, I like to take the idea of initiative a step further.

When I see people who don’t take the initiative in their work and compare them to those who do, I think about the difference between two types of toy cars. Really, I do.

One type of toy car is the one that’s not so sophisticated. You wind it up and turn it on and set it down on the floor and it goes … as long as it doesn’t run into a wall, table leg, or other obstacle. When it runs into something, it just sits there, continuing to run up against the obstacle, not getting anything productive accomplished. Just wasting energy until somebody comes along and points it in another direction. 

There’s another type of toy car that’s more sophisticated, though. When you turn it on and let it go, it does something different if it runs into an obstacle. It backs up and tries a slightly different path of travel, trying to find a way around the obstacle. It doesn’t wait for somebody to come along and point out every move that has to be made. It does it on its own. It takes the initiative.

When I encounter somebody working without initiative, they remind of the first kind of toy car I described. Once somebody gets them started, they’ll move along OK as long as no obstacles get in their way. If they run into something, though, they won’t take the initiative to find out how to solve a situation or get around an obstacle that’s come up. They just sit there, wasting energy until somebody comes along and shows them exactly what to do next.

Often, people who don’t take much initiative in doing their jobs will defend their position with a statement like, “That’s not my job” or “They don’t pay me enough to do that.”

My response to statements like these would be simple questions.

1. What is it you consider your job to be?

2. Are you supposed to provide outstanding customer service and use your own best judgment in any situation?

And, of course, the answer to the second question is yes. That, as we said in Part Two of this article series, is what it’s all about for a professional - to implement a personal policy that says “Provide Outstanding Customer Service” and “Use Your Own Best Judgment In Any Situation.” All of which simply means that anything that promotes this simple mission is part of the job of being a technical professional. So, there’s really no situation in which something is “not my job.” Any situation that arises for a technical professional, any obstacle that comes up, is “part of the job” and a professional’s obligation is to take the initiative to solve that situation or handle that obstacle. Sometimes that means handling it all alone, and sometimes that means asking for help or a decision on what to do from somebody else, but it still comes down to taking the initiative.

And, there is one factor that is key in being able to take initiative, which is No. 3 on the list of the Eight Universal Laws of Success: Self-confidence.

When it comes to being a technical professional, the idea of self-confidence is fairly simple. It all comes down to knowing that you are proficient at whatever skill you need or whatever task you need to undertake in order to do the best job you can do. And, in order to build, develop, and maintain that knowing, we have to commit to training, continuous self-improvement, and staying current in our field. Training initially as a technical professional is usually accomplished automatically, because, after all, without the basic training we need to do our job, we would never get started. It’s the continuing education that’s the challenge for someone who’s working full time.

While I realize that budgeting time for workshops, seminars, and training programs is a challenge for a full-time professional, it’s another area in which I don’t pull any punches.

Here are the facts as I see them:

1. It’s the technical professional’s responsibility to stay current in his or her field.

2. It’s the responsibility of the employer to assist in the effort.  

And here’s what I mean by that:

If there are training materials such as manuals, videos, or other information that’s necessary, it’s my belief that it’s the responsibility of the employer to make those materials available. If it’s necessary to conduct a training session, or for a technician to attend a workshop, then it’s my belief that the responsibility of presenting, coordinating, overseeing, or covering the expenses related to a training session or workshop rests with the employer.

And, if it’s necessary to review those training materials, attend the workshop or training session in the evening or on the weekend, or whatever “off the clock” happens to be, then that’s the responsibility of the technical professional.

That’s what I mean when I say that it’s the responsibility of the employer to support the efforts of the technical professional as they live up to their responsibility to stay current in their field. It’s a two-way street. Training to stay current doesn’t have to be done “on the clock” and I firmly believe that the technician who holds the opinion that it should be is practicing scorekeeping. Which, as I said earlier in this series, serves to diminish the professionalism of the both the individual and the business they work in. 

And, it follows that if a person is investing a great deal of time and effort in the practice of scorekeeping, then they won’t be fully concentrating on doing the best job they can do. Which brings us to Concentration, the fourth item on our list of the Eight Universal Laws of Success.

The ability to concentrate on the task at hand is the mark of a professional. Sure, it’s not always easy. People have families. They have relationships. And they have challenges that they face from time to time because they have families and relationships. And people have interests other than their profession … and that’s as it should be … so that means they want to make time in their lives for those other interests. None of this is a revelation to anybody. It’s nothing new. So, I’m not denying that there are things that are sometimes more important than the work we do, and that, at times, we feel the need to do something else that provides us with recreation, relaxation, and enjoyment.

And I’m certainly an advocate of living a balanced life. When you consider a balanced life, there can be an extensive list of life areas for you can consider. Here’s one example:

1. Family/marriage

2. Health (physical and mental)

3. Spiritual

4. Career/vocation/profession

5. Education

6. Community service

7. Recreation/leisure time

This list may not be complete for you, or yours may be structured differently. The only point I want to make here is that we all need to learn how to concentrate on what’s important at the moment.

So all we’re saying here is that when you’re supposed to be concentrating on your career, vocation, or profession, you’ll achieve success as long as you have the ability to concentrate on your career, vocation, or profession when necessary. And, concentrating on your work means that sometimes you may be willing to, as item No. 5 on our list of the Eight Universal Laws of Success says, do more than you’re paid to do.

I know that this can be a touchy subject. Like I mentioned earlier, this is the one item on the list that usually generates the most controversy at our workshops because, often, people equate this idea with an employer taking unfair advantage of a technician. But, as I also said earlier in this series, I don’t advocate that a person be taken advantage of, or used unfairly. I’m convinced that it’s quite right and proper for a technical professional to maximize their earnings, and I’m also convinced it’s quite right and proper for an employer to compensate a technical professional as they should be compensated, once it’s been established that the compensation is warranted.

Let me explain it this way.

I would like you to imagine with me for a moment that you’re somebody who enjoys hunting trips. And, that a friend has offered you the use of his cabin in the mountains of Montana so that you can go there to hunt. It’s January, and you show up at the cabin, and there’s nobody there but you. Now, let me ask you, if you were to show up at the cabin, go inside, and sit down in front of the fireplace and say, “OK, after I get some heat out of the fireplace, I’ll go out and get some wood from the woodpile,” would that work?

Of course it wouldn’t. In order to get some heat out of the fireplace, you’d have to first put the wood in and get the fire started. It’s the same way with deciding that you want to increase your earnings as a technical professional. You’ve got to put it in before you can get it out. And if you can put forth the necessary extra effort and take the approach of “Doing more than you’re paid to do” on a consistent basis, then it will obligate an employer to recognize your contribution to the organization, and, in the end pay you accordingly. Let’s face it, a business that employs a technical professional is a business like any other, which means that the business must realize a return on the investment of wages, commissions, or bonuses paid to the technician. So it makes sense that if the technician is providing an avenue for increased revenue for the business, it follows that in a situation in which the employer is reasonable, it will result in increased compensation for the technician.

Which means that, in the situation we’ve described, the technical professional and the employer are working cooperatively to create a successful environment for everybody - the technician, the employer, and the customer. So, Cooperation, No. 6 on our list of the Eight Universal Laws of Success, is key to success.

I know that this sounds simple, and it is. But, sometimes being simple doesn’t automatically equate to being easy. Sometimes being able to cooperate with everybody in every situation in an environment can be difficult. Sometimes it will take an extra dose of Self-control, No. 7 on our list of the Eight Universal Laws of Success.

And, one of the ways we can all learn to exercise self-control is to remember No. 8 on the list, which is Tolerance. At any given point in our workday, we may have to be tolerant of someone else. It may be a customer, it may be a supplier, it may be an employer, or it may be a co-worker. And the reason we may have to be tolerant of someone else is because they have temporarily forgotten one of the first seven of the Eight Universal Laws of Success, or it may be that they never learned about them at all.

Which brings me to the closing point in our series. We’ve presented a great deal of information and provided you with many tools you can use to achieve success in your profession. We’ve talked about how you can strive to provide outstanding customer service, improve your communication skills, achieve more, and increase your earnings. And we know from experience that sometimes, when someone within an organization strives for peak performance by applying the tools and concepts we’ve presented, there are others within the organization that may be intimidated by that person striving to be a peak performer.

If that should happen to you, I want to remind you that this will provide you with an opportunity to exercise tolerance with those around you who may not understand or appreciate your philosophy and approach to your profession. And while the reasons you may encounter resistance or criticism from others as you continue to learn, grow, and achieve may vary, I don’t recommend you spend a lot of time and energy trying to understand the specific reasons that you’re encountering resistance or criticism. I urge you to just remember a simple quote from Albert Einstein, which is:

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

And, with that, I urge you to be that Great Spirit, and I wish you the best as you strive to achieve success and reach the level of peak performance as a technical professional.

Note: The information for this article series is excerpted from Jim Johnson’s “PEAK Performance for the Technical Professional,” an audio learning program designed to help technicians develop their sales and communication skills. The three CD set can be ordered from: Technical Training Associates, HC 70 Box 3172, Sahuarita, AZ 85629 for $39.95 (shipping and handling included). Mail check or money order, or send Visa or MasterCard information to the above address. Credit card orders may also be faxed to 520-648-3334. For more information, visit www.technicaltrainingassoc.com.

Copyright © 2007, Technical Training Associates

Publication date: 09/10/2007  

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