Does Your Mother Know What You Do At Work?

Way back when the dinosaurs roamed the badlands of Alberta, my mother understood what I did at work. My career started in the insurance industry as a receptionist, within two weeks I went for my broker's licence, and then I just kept climbing the insurance industry ladder. My job journey was understandable and fairly easy to explain. Then I intentionally left that job ladder and took a fearless swing on the job jungle gym counting on my brains, experience, and skills to carry me safely into a completely new industry, pharmaceutical distribution. That's about the time that it became challenging to explain what I did at work and it's roughly when my mother started to say, "I don't really understand what you do, but I'm sure you do it very well." Got to love mums and their votes of confidence in the face of ambiguity.

Before I go any further, I need to say that I have always appreciated my mum's confidence in me and I should probably apologize in advance for any artistic licence I might take in the writing of this blog. It wasn't just mum who expressed uncertainty about understanding what I did similar comments came from friends. Every time I heard it, the words stuck to me and made me question myself. How was it possible that someone with well-developed communication skills was not able to relay an understandable description of their work? And so, I began the quest for the thirty-second elevator speech that would explain my work.

That elevator speech eluded me for years, I would think I finally had it and then my work would morph again into something different. It was like trying to name a critter that was evolving too fast; I could hardly keep up with it.  There were all kinds of problems with the elevator speech concept and with my attempts at delivering it that had nothing to do with my mum's ability to understand.  The problems were mine not hers.

Jargon Is The Enemy Of Simplicity

One problem I encountered was expressing my work in lay terms and setting the jargon aside.  Jargon and inside lingo are the enemies of simplicity. Sometimes using the jargon can make us feel important, and there are folks out there who would rather you remain in uneducated awe of them than understand what they do. Different people roll differently. I prefer simplicity. Simplicity in all things is elegant and it is easily comprehended and absorbed. Besides that no matter how much jargon you use, you still have to put your undies on one leg at a time so get over yourself.

Short And Sweet Works Best

Once I got past the jargon enemy, I stumbled over another problem. It was really challenging to edit and audit my words; skinny-ing them back to the short sweet version. I became lost in the trap of giving examples of my work and my listener's eyes would glaze over.  Although I was enthusiastic about the projects, others were not terribly interested in hearing about the thousand of data points I had analyzed in order to reach a workable plan of action that could be measured.  I'd lost my audience again but mum hung in there with her votes of confidence, "I don't understand but I'm really proud of you."

Straightforward Questions

Despite my inability to explain my work to my mum, my career flourished, my jobs kept morphing, and my kids grew up.  The whole situation just kept niggling at me.  How could it be that someone who was known for being direct and succinct was struggling with their own communication?  Well, that's when the light finally went on upstairs.  Questions, good old straightforward questions, the kind I ask my colleagues and clients were the kind I needed to ask myself.  If I used the question technique well, I'd finally be able to explain what I did at work.  

What I Do At Work

Mum, this is for you. Question one is, "Are you at a crossroads, has your business hit a critical patch?"  Question two is, "Are you missing the mark because you haven't articulated your intent and direction clearly to those who need to know?"  Question three is, "Do you need to change something but you are scared to in case you mess something else up?"  If the answer to one of more questions is yes, I have work to do.  My work is:
  1. Enabling those at the crossroad to pause long enough to identify, set, and achieve goals so they can enjoy success.
  2. Identifying who needs to know what, and making sure they find out.
  3. Using facts, data, people's experiences, and their knowledge to shape changes that make sense.
I connect dots and I make a difference for organizations, for their leaders, and for their teams.  That is a simple, short, and sweet as I can make it.  I'd love to hear if anyone else has had challenges explaining their work to their parents or friends.  Tell me what you do in seventy-five words or less!