A Secret Weapon
June 11, 2004
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There is a secret to any high-tech career,
and it isn’t in having an expensive computer, fancy software or
a great cell phone. In fact, it is something you can’t buy, no matter
how rich you are. This secret weapon can only be gained through time and
attention. Furthermore, I believe that those high-tech careerists who
cannot or will not develop this tool are risking a career of ineffectiveness
and unhappiness. What is this secret? Simply this – good colleagues
and friends who can back you up in your work and trust you to do the same
Watch my back
This week, I got a harried call, very early in the morning (for me). My
long-time friend and fellow computer consultant, Sam, had a crisis. Rather,
one of his clients had a crisis, but this, of course, made it his problem
as well. Sam recently started working full-time again and was unable to
visit this client immediately. A quick call to me, though, and I was on
my way to the client site. We established this reciprocal working agreement
in a very ad hoc fashion over the years. We regularly fill in for each
other whenever business or family calls us away from our clients for any
length of time. There has never been anything in writing, or even a much-discussed
agreement of duties or responsibilities. Rather, it has always been an
informal agreement to help each other.
Why is this so important? Well, you can imagine the distress of some of
your clients if they called, only to find that you were out of town or
otherwise occupied. Some situations, like the one this week, come at a
particular “crunch time” when clients are under great time
pressure for a meeting or event. If you are unable to service the client,
the client may, and probably will, look for help elsewhere next time.
Having a backup helps to insure that your clients remain your clients.
We all get called out of town for family matters, vacation, conventions,
trainings and a host of other reasons. Your life cannot, and should not
stop, just because you have clients who need you. Having someone to back
you up brings you a certain freedom to address other needs in your life
without feeling that your work will disappear while you are gone. It is
this peace of mind that helps you develop a healthy balance between work
and home life.
Where are they?
So, how do you develop friends and colleagues like this? First, you become
someone like this. If you help those around you, they will be much more
likely to help you. You can’t just ask some new acquaintance to
“mind the store.” You need to offer your assistance first.
You need to invest the time and energy in developing a relationship with
this person. Sam and I had it easy. We were friends before we were colleagues.
We had already established a relationship before the need arose for mutual
assistance. Still, you can start today in developing those around you
in the quest for assistance. When someone is planning a vacation, offer
to be the contact point for clients. Make it clear that you will not take
these clients in any way, shape or form, only that you are helping out
a friend. It is a simple fact that the more you help others, the more
they will be willing to help, and trust, you.
As I said above, these sorts of connections can only be made over time
and with the active investment of your energy. If you aren’t cultivating
these relationships today, you are doing a disservice to your career and
to your clients. These personal relationships are just as important, and
even more important in some regards, than your technical skills. High-tech
careers aren’t only about hardware, software and networks. People
are the most important, and most fragile, commodity.
Freelance or Corporate
Even though I use the word “client” when talking about this
issue, it applies equally well to those of you who are working within
a corporate environment. The people you serve are your clients and you
owe the same responsibility to them as you would to any external client.
Leaving the accounting department without any support while you are off
on vacation can damage your career. Make sure you develop those around
you so that you can depend on them to “hold the fort” while
you are away. This can go a long way towards retaining your position at
a company, especially when times get tough.
Make sure you are developing the support structures you need in order
to help you succeed in your high-tech career. Give of yourself and your
time and those around you will be more than willing to do the same. Everyone
needs a backup sometime. Now is the time to be developing this backup,
not when you need it most. Your success at developing these relationships
can have a dramatic impact on the success of your high-tech career.
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