Thursday, July 23, 2009

Going with the flow versus a need for speed

How can you get ahead at work when you're at the bottom of the list or the end of the line? How can you get better assignments, more interesting work, or even a little bit of job security? I've watched more than a handful of interns become frustrated at how they're treated in the architectural workplace, and some of their complaints are certainly valid. However, they make some errors of judgment that are worth addressing.

If you've worked in a firm for more than three months and are paying attention, you can reasonably judge what is required of you and most everyone else. X many drawings take Y amount of time. We prepare A, B, and C for meetings with the client. Right? The first way to set yourself apart from others at your level is to do the work you've been assigned correctly each and every time. That shows your boss(es) that you know what you're doing and that your level of quality isn't a fluke but a given. Bear in mind that doing what's expected of you no longer earns a gold star, especially in a tight economy. Doing more than just what's expected or required is the second, more vital way to move forward and up. This means a) asking for and finding new things to do before your finish your given tasks and setting up for that work, and b) finding ways to add value to whatever you're doing.

Simply asking your boss "What would you like for me to work on after I complete this?" shows your initiative and lets them know that you want to contribute and stay productive. If you complete a task and then say, "Hey, I'm all done--what do you want me to do now?" they suddenly have to drop what they were doing and find you something to do. If they send you back to your desk while they figure that out, they know that you're treading water and are killing time on the company dime while they find you a new task. Simply getting more than one task lined up at a time allows you to reduce that down time. Let me say that occasionally, we all need to kill some time--we have an off day, we're thinking about our sick pet or family member, we feel sick ourselves, we're excited about an upcoming vacation and have Shiny Object Syndrome, whatever. By being proactive and asking for the next task before the first one is complete 90%-95% of the time, you earn the right (yes, I said right, not privilege) to goof off now and then and turn a six-hour task into an eight-hour task. But you have to earn it.

Adding value involves a wide range of tasks. When given a task, ask questions: who will see this--owners or contractors? How precise does this need to be and how much detail does it require? There is a lot going on in this plan; should we do three plans that show each phase of work? I'm sure I've said this before, but always ask questions. Never fear asking questions. Many managers know that if you're not asking questions, you're probably trying to figure out stuff you don't know and that they could solve for you in ten to sixty seconds. We appreciate you trying to figure it out, but if you're still beating your head against a wall after five to fifteen minutes of struggling, just ask. Ask your boss, and if your boss can't help you, ask them who they should go to if he or she isn't available. Also, volunteering to take on a tough task really helps. By volunteering to figure out the hard stuff, you eventually earn the right (and reputation) to take on the tasks you want, not the lame tasks given to you. Those who go with the flow will eventually find themselves still doing section detail redlines and dimensioning enlarged toilet room plans while those with a need for speed will find themselves meeting with clients and working through questions in the field with contractors...the kinds of things that architects do.

It makes you more desirable to all management personnel, not just your boss. They'll actually fight for your help on a job, knowing that they'll get high-quality work out of you. This gives you the chance to work on more varied tasks and different kinds of projects in general, which leads to more responsibility and the advantages that go with those responsibilities. When managers fight for your services, that tells the people that hand out raises that you're a hot commodity, or at least one worth keeping. You've earned the extra cash in your raise or the right to keep your job through the next round of layoffs.

Thanks to Anthony Knoppe at HDR for today's post suggestion. Got a topic you'd like to see discussed? Got a question you'd like answered? Let me know in the comments or in an email!

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