What keeps you up at night?

I said earlier that people want a chance to talk about good things in their personal and professional lives, they just need an avenue to do it. Creating that chance for people to tell me something good helps me connect. For those people I share the table with, my leaders in each area, there’s a different dynamic I want to talk about. Sometimes, people also need an avenue to talk about the uncomfortable stuff.

A couple times a year, I like to have everyone sitting at the table share the things about work that are keeping them up at night. Every person gets to talk about two things in their respective areas they think will fall apart. For many, it’s a single sharp person leaving. In some organizations, especially small ones, the loss of one truly competent person at the wrong time can have us worried. Often, people talk about training, a piece of equipment that might not last as long as we need it to, or a worry about logistics that will stop us from getting the things we need in time.

So, we have lunch and talk about the things that can go wrong and the scary stuff about our jobs. We do it behind a closed door where we can let our guard down, and yes, I share the things worrying me at my level and the risks I see ahead.

I know what everyone’s good at, that’s easy. They’re rock stars at what they do, and they’ll almost always let me know about the successes, but I’d rather hear about the worries so I can prevent them from becoming failures. I can only do that when we talk early, and sharing them with the group in a safe setting allows us to brainstorm, to be on the lookout for solutions, and make plans before emergencies arise.

Again, people sometimes need a chance to talk about those things. If I don’t ask, I don’t find out early enough to help, but that’s not the real reason for it all. You know what usually happens when we do this little exercise? 
We’re reminded that we’re all worried about the same basic things, we’re all in this together, and they know the boss wants to hear about the bad as well as the good. Through this, I learn more about what’s coming and why, and I can do things at my level to encourage the right decisions to happen.

Maybe I can get some people into training early, or I can start making some phone calls to my mentors to ask for guidance, and sometimes I can just be aware. If there’s something out there that I can’t get ahead of with my extensive network of people, I now know enough to make sure the boss knows as well. Maybe, as we openly talk about risk up the ladder, the right resources can be put to finding solutions early.

There’s nothing worse than something falling apart right in front of us. The first question I always get from my boss is: “Why didn’t you know about this and tell me?” I can tell you from rather painful experience that there is no version of “I didn’t know because I didn’t ask” that makes sense to the people above you.

Sometimes we need to talk about risk all by itself without rushing to find a solution at the same time. Again, good decisions come when you create a buffer of time between questions and answers. This is a way to figure out what to ask as early as possible.

– What at work is keeping you up at night?

– Do you have some forum where you can get your senior people together to talk about risk as a group?

Have a great week out there.

– JT


James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.