I was trying to be good at the things I thought mattered. What I missed was finding out what mattered to my boss and my company.

Rick Nelson TAG Portrait
BY RICK NELSON, TAG CO-FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN OF LAUNCH CONSULTING

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting with an impressive group of 40+ interns working in various areas of our business. They were meeting with me all together as part of their onboarding and integration process, so I won’t pretend they all signed on to hear what I had to say – but I was flattered that they appeared to have done their homework, knew who I was, and came prepared to ask very specific questions about my experience.

I’ve done these visits, virtually or in-person, many times. They are never the same and I leave each feeling that I received much more than I gave.

One of the topics that usually comes up from such an ambitious group is: “How can I advance my career?” At the risk of leaving everyone confused and bewildered, my answer is always: “Nothing on the floor!”

And of course…I have a story to share.

Two Measly Packages

As a part time supervisor for UPS, there were countless things I needed to do to run an effective load operation. Aside from managing my 10-person team, there were trailers to check in, QA tests to make sure the correct packages were being loaded in the correct trucks, and training junior people to load and sort packages. It was a fast-paced work environment with lots of moving parts and I loved it.

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On one particular night, my manager was making her rounds as usual when she suddenly stopped at my workstation. I was working hard (and of course looking for her approval), so I was taken aback when she sharply asked me, “What are those doing there?”

She pointed to two small packages on the ground. I was a little confused about her interest in those two packages since above us, 3100 packages per hour were flowing by on their way to nine different trailers, all with different loading requirements based on zip code, all happening in choreographed, seamless harmony. I said, “Those need address corrections before they can be loaded.” 

“Do it now,” she said. “Nothing on the floor.”

Wow! That irritated me. Just typing it now gets my blood pumping. I was working my tail off to make sure everything was done well, and all she cared about were two measly packages that I had every intention to address as soon as things calmed down. Simmering internally, I bent down to take care of the packages, and my manager walked off.

The whole encounter left me feeling under-appreciated and under-valued. She clearly missed all the good things I was doing. I was trying to decide if I should talk to her about the encounter when she called me to her office. Well, I wasn’t expecting that! How much trouble could I be in for such a simple little thing??

I stood in front of her desk, ready to let her know exactly how good a job I was doing out there—but instead, she taught me a lesson I’d never forget.

The Most Important Thing

“Rick, you do a good job. You’re one of the best load wall supervisors we have,” she said, disarming me before I had a chance to open my mouth. “But if you’re going to advance, you need to learn this. There are only two places for a package moving through the Hub: 1) On a conveyer system moving from one spot to the other, or 2) in a truck or trailer headed to its destination.

“Parcels on the floor,” she continued, “represent unfinished work, potential damage to the package, or interruption of on-time delivery. Nothing good can happen to a package on the floor. It seems like a little thing. But it’s the most important thing.”

What I learned was that I was trying to be good at the things I thought mattered. What I missed was finding out what mattered to my boss and my company. Once I learned to focus on and prioritize those things, I advanced quickly.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

This advice holds true for ambitious employees at every level. If you want to accelerate your career advancement, focus on what the company needs and wants from you. Agree with your boss on what those things are, measure them, and deliver results. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how easy it is. It can be as simple as “Nothing on the Floor.”

For those of us who have worked our way off the floor into management, here are some questions to consider as you set your team up for success.

  1. What is our most important thing?
  2. How do we communicate that succinctly to our team to set expectations?
  3. How do we hold people accountable and give feedback in a way that ensures employees feel valued?

And for all of you: As we head into a new year, what will you commit to keeping off the floor and moving toward its goal? Let’s chat in the comments.

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