Every A-Player Needs a Playbook


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I recently worked on a project that included the creation of a Sales Playbook, and it sparked an idea worth sharing. What would happen if you created a Career Playbook that captures your methods for success?

Personal Playbook Page

Mindmap from Kelli's Playbook

Could you use it as a competitive advantage if you are job hunting? Perhaps you’re craving an opportunity to do and be more where you already work, and you want to prove you’re ready.

If a Personal Playbook did nothing other than map what makes your methods unique, would it be worth your effort?

My answer? Yes. Definitely Yes.

What Do I Mean By a Playbook?

Just as in sports, it’s a notebook containing narratives, lists and diagrams of the plays you have practiced. It is the blueprint for how you operate in business scenarios. This is the HOW, not simply the WHAT.

Your Playbook is a highly-personalized tool that reflects YOUR direct experience. It’s your reference, your bible, your go-to resource.  It is your proof of concept.

Fast Company founding editor Bill Taylor wrote The 10 Questions Every Change Agent Must Answer, and in it he asked ‘What Are You the Most of?’  That is the guts of your Playbook. It’s the User Manual of what you do best.  It isn’t your memoir or a journal nor is it a lesson book.

Your Playbook is a collection of YOUR tactics and best practices (not those of your favorite guru). It’s not a history book; it is a living-breathing body of knowledge about your methods and rituals.

Why Write a Playbook — More Than Just Intrinsic Value

No matter what type of thinker you are or whether your strengths are strategic or tactical, a Playbook will boost your market value.  I came up with 5 reasons to do my own book:

  1. High performers have a methodology. Own yours, because it sets you apart.
  2. Methods and rituals do co-exist with creativity. Even the most spontaneous people are predictably spontaneous.
  3. You can’t scale without process. When you articulate a scalable methodology, you will blow the door open for new career opportunities.
  4. Prove to yourself that you are a repeatable success story and not just a tale of one-hit wonders.
  5. If you want to jump industries, you have to prove you can transfer your knowledge.  Your process makes that possible.
Timeline Exercise

Brainstorm technique: Timeline your highlights of a key position.

The Content: Part Ritual, Part Process, Part Magic.

If you’re still with me on this idea, you may have guessed it is no small task to create. Let’s be real about this project: creating a Playbook demands an honest look inside of yourself and a fair bit of writing.

What goes into your Playbook? Simply put: any (or every) scenario that is part of your regular work life.

Here is part of the list I created for my own Playbook:

  1. How do you (begin to) understand your customers?
  2. How do you gather competitive intelligence?
  3. How do you seek understanding of the formal and informal communication norms inside a company?
  4. Where do you look for new ideas outside of the company?
  5. Who do you turn to for advice?
  6. How do you make an unforgettable impression?
  7. What is your decision process?
  8. How do you break down the walls of communication with people who are NOT like you?
  9. How do you communicate most effectively (i.e. what do people need to know about the way you do it)? This includes all channels of media.
  10. How do you cross cultural barriers?
  11. What are the signals that you’re stressed or over-committed?
  12. How do you know when you’re short on resources? What steps do you take to get what you need?
  13. What feeds (and kills) your creativity?
  14. Who is in your power base?
  15. What motivates you? (don’t skip this, because you need to be very clear with your own boss about this.)

3 Ways to Start the Process

  • Replay your success reel. Think through your career in 5-year increments and identify the 1-2 remarkable achievements that stand out.  What made those possible? What did you face, and (most importantly) how did you make it work?

    Left Brain - Right Brain Example

    Inside the pages of my separate Vision and Mission Book, an ongoing project.

  • Look at where you’ve prevailed against all odds. Your biggest lessons often come from there.
    List the project or the job or the company. Explore how and why it didn’t meet your expectations (in some cases, maybe it did, but it fell short of someone else’s).
  • List your Always and Nevers. This is your sacred ground and the deal breakers.  Know where you draw the line with colleagues and clients.

The good news is that you already have the content for your Playbook. The content is in your head,  but in order to make it tangible, you need to invest the time and discipline to put it on paper.

Have you done something like this? I’d love to hear about it.

Great Additional Reading:

2010 Advice: Feed Your Starving Staff


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Whether or not you make New Year’s Resolutions, here’s a 2010 leadership resolution I challenge you to make.

Fix Morale.

Morale is a leading indicator of your team’s ability to deliver  game-changing results. Take a good hard look at the individual and collective vibe among your direct reports. Have you fed their confidence or inadvertently starved them in the last year?

Relax, I’m not advocating lofty or poofy “love thy employee” initiatives. This isn’t about an HR-driven campaign. You don’t need posters, pom-poms or anything containing the words success, initiative or move my cheese. Workers don’t need you to announce one more motivational contest that you pulled out of a New York Times bestseller.

Simply pay attention to your people.

Give your employees thoughtful attention.

What is thoughtful attention, you ask? It’s any act on your part that shows you notice the small stuff. Below you’ll find examples that have worked well for me (as both the giver and recipient).  Each action carries an implicit affirmation that your employee matters, not just to an organization but to you.

  1. Tools that enhance their performance
  2. Encouragement and reinforcement
  3. Demonstration of trust

Things to give them = TOOLS

  • Magazine subscription (their pick)
  • Levenger gift certificate (don’t underestimate the power of a nice pen or a Circa notebook)
  • Subscription to an online resource (As a marketer, my faves are Ragan.com and MarketingProfs.com)
  • The Artist’s Way
  • Any book. (Better yet – send them to the bookstore and tell them to expense it)
  • Updated equipment or software (without forcing them to labor over a cost justification, for goodness sakes)

The littlest things can really make  me feel appreciated…new stock photography or fonts, fun notepaper, even desk accessories can make me smile. ~Kim Brandt, marketing manager

Things to Communicate = Encouragement and Reinforcement

  • When you delegate a tough assignment, tell them in ADVANCE they have what it takes
  • Give them a card and in it praise them (Guys, if you do only one thing this year, do this.)
  • Scribble a short “atta boy” on a Post-it note (there’s nothing like it when an employees finds good news stuck to their monitor)
  • Leave a positive voicemail or email in the off hours (it’s a groovy feeling to know your boss is thinking positively about you in his off-time)
  • Take him or her to lunch and talk about what keeps you up at night. Be human.

A gift card to Starbucks and a thank you note for a great job. I will never forget that on my chair. Loved it! ~Travis Hall, designer

Opportunities as Things = TRUST

  • Send them to a workshop or a conference (give her an assignment to bring back one innovative idea that could spark change)
  • Give a change of scenery. Tell her to work at a coffee shop for the afternoon. Or library or anyplace that inspires her (home doesn’t count)
  • Proxy for you in a meeting (then ask for fresh feedback)
  • Ask for input before a company meeting or a speech (“What do you think your coworkers really need me to address?”)
  • Offer your full attention. Use a 1:1 and don’t put them on the spot. Set down the Blackberry. Find out what’s in their way and what they’d do to fix it if they were you.)

    (My boss) is always happy to see me. He tells that he is glad I am part of the team, and he honors how important family is to my life balance. That means a lot to me. ~Brooke Green, business coach

Last but not least, Recognition 101:

  • Restaurant gift certificate (big enough for a splurge)
  • Birthday card (a real card — not a boxed corporate set. And, no, signing the group card doesn’t count)
  • Recognition of their hire date anniversary (These are recurring dates on my calendar, and I still send a note to a few of my former employees who were stars on my team)

Does it sound like work? I hope so, because it is. Good morale requires care and feeding like any relationship.

In the successful organization, no detail is too small to escape close attention. ~Lou Holtz

Here’s the good news, size doesn’t matter when it comes to thoughtful attention. The beauty resides in the detail. So wake up and start paying attention.  Let me know if you need more suggestions.

Deconstructing Your Failure


Photo credit: Steve Ford Elliott

Career Grief sucks. There, I said it. It sucks — horribly.

I sat in a pool of it this past week, despite an astronomical EQ, a mad set of business skills, and growing demand for my work.  That, my friends, is exactly why it torques my day.  It rolled through at the most unexpected (and least welcome) moment, leaving me cranky that I still feel the aftershock of losing a job I loved.

Some days grief is like a spider web. You walk face first into it and no matter how much you spin and try to pull away from it; the tiny strands cling to you all day long.

Rather than wallow in a pool of self-loathing, I pinned down the source of recurring frustration.  I confess that my departure felt like a failed mission — it’s one thing to admit defeat but altogether castrating when someone else calls the time of death for you.

A Sense of Failure at the Root of Grief

It turns out that I’ve been mourning a vital part of me that I left behind. That part of me is kick-ass brilliance and talent, and I’d be an idiot not to retrieve them. In order to do that, I deconstructed my (self-labeled) failure by asking four questions:

  1. Did I attempt too much?

  2. Where did I contribute to poor communication or incomplete information?

  3. How did I dilute my own authority or weaken my team’s responsibility?

  4. When and how did I permit “drop-in crises” to derail our primary mission? Continue reading