iMedia Connection

7 more bad habits that are ruining your career

Jim Nichols

A little while ago, I wrote a piece about seven bad habits that limit the career opportunities of marketers. The article got some good feedback, and so -- because I am the king of bad habits -- I thought I'd knock out seven more!

7 more bad habits that are ruining your career

Our days are filled with habitual actions -- things we do that, at first glance, are just part of how we do our jobs. But what if those things undercut our effectiveness and possible success? And what if we aren't even aware of their effects until it's too late? Here are seven (more) of those sorts of habits -- and why they are a problem.

Overreacting to email and IM criticism

When we meet with people or hear them on the phone, we get cues as to their intent and emotional state. It's much harder with words on a screen -- especially when you are communicating with people you don't know very well. But even individuals who are longtime colleagues can sometimes send messages that are easy to misinterpret. You can read a lot of negativity into a cryptic message. Here is an example from my own career.

I once had a client who used a collaboration platform to review art and copy. She was a harried person, doing a great deal of work with a number of agencies. Not well liked, I admit, though I didn't share the distaste. She just wasn't all that great with people, though her intentions weren't malicious in any way. And she made sure the invoices got paid on time. (That's nice.) We got an assignment that required a new white paper be ghosted in just two days. I sent a draft white paper to her for review and heard nothing back for a day. The following morning I received a four-word email:

Re: Whitepaper
Unclear. Resubmit this AM.

After many years of working in marketing services, I flatter myself that I am pretty good at interpreting client comments. But that was mind-boggling. Oh, the midnight oil burned. And it was a good document, despite minimal direction. And now I was to rewrite the paper in a morning, with no idea as to why what had been delivered the day before was unacceptable?

I started penning a poison keyboard email. I spent about 45 minutes on it. Oh, the indignation. Oh, the personal inventory I took. And just as I was spell-checking it and dialing up the flames, I got a second email:

Re: Whitepaper
PDF came through blank for some reason. Please resave the PDF and resubmit.

Instant messages can be even worse. "Do it now" can read like a request or a command from an overseer.

The need for total victory over internal "foes"

There are times when you must deliver an impassioned argument for something to which others in an organization are diametrically opposed. Sometimes you will win. You can do an end-zone dance, or you can begin the process of repairing relationships with your former opponents. We're all people, and even the most professional disagreements spur ill feelings.

Even if you were professional and your opponents at times weren't, use your victory as an opportunity to be more professional. More focused on outcomes versus process. More of an example of how to fight for an idea without getting dirty.

It chaps my ass when people talk about "The Art of War" in a business context. War is war. Business is business. It is an insult to people who served in wars to equate what they did with the "battle" for shelf space in the fabric softener section.

You're not a Fabric Softener Seal. Or a Barbecue Sauce Ranger. You're a leader who persuaded others to your point of view. Now it's time to persuade those who disagreed with you that it is time to work together for the future of your business.

Contempt before investigation

Oh, this is a road well-travelled in my noggin, so I know of what I speak. Many of us approach new decisions with a preconceived notion of what is the correct course of action. Perhaps we've been down the road before. Perhaps we're experts on the topic.

But in a remarkably dynamic environment like digital, it makes sense to solicit alternative ideas before you take action. You might make an even better decision. But, more importantly, you give those who work with you the sense that their ideas matter -- that they are integral parts of the team. You might still take the course of action you first identified. You might make another decision. But you will have arguably done something even more important: energize your team by caring about their points of view.

Failure to communicate the why

"Just do it." An excellent slogan, but not an excellent management approach. There's a concept called democratic centralism. The idea is that you argue a point until a decision is made. But once the decision is taken, you all work your hardest to get it done. The underlying concept here is that people are aware of the reason for the decision, even if they don't necessarily agree.

I've gotten very good at fighting for ideas I don't agree with. (I give the credit to my 20-plus years in the ad biz.) But it's much harder to do if you don't understand the why. We all know that compromise is the engine of progress. You focus on the good and live to fight another day. But you can't focus on the good if you don't know what it is. It's the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Perhaps not in a delightful way, but it's what it takes to get the -- oh, whatever (I've taken all this metaphoring far enough).

Fear of new process

I have the honor of working with a remarkable head of sales in my new job, who told me a great story about human nature and the fear of the unknown. He says that when sales teams are presented with a new tool, like a CRM platform, many will react with immediate condemnation.

"It'll distract us from our goals. It's really hard to use. It provides far more 'information' than anyone can actually use."

He says all of that condemnation usually occurs before the person has logged in. Or when they hit the first screen after bypassing the tutorial and don't know instantly what box to click or page to visit.

That's not a behavior peculiar to sales. Most people react to this sort of process change in just this sort of way. Don't be one of them. Take a deep breath. Click the back button and watch the two-minute-and-nine-second tutorial. Take five minutes to futz with the darned thing. Read the document that HR sent explaining how to log in and use it.

First of all, you'll probably find that the tool is enormously helpful. It was developed by experts for a reason. And more than that, you won't be the complaining bastard that attacks something and expends personal political capital on something you don't actually understand.

Neglecting your time sheets

If you work for a professional services company, time sheets are very likely a key part of how your firm makes money. No reported time? No revenue to report.

In addition to the revenue issue, there is another issue to consider. Many people fail to do their time sheets because they think they are "too busy." But time sheets are a key means by which companies determine the workload of individuals and departments. If you have a team of five, and everyone is reporting more than 50 hours every week, there is a good case for hiring a new employee. If no one is filling in their sheets, you have no real evidence of the work strain on your people.

In addition, companies sometimes use a lack of completed timesheets as a delaying tactic to slow new hiring. "How can I know you're overworked if your people don't fill out their sheets?" And the ultimate hire date is pushed out at least a month. Pretty tricky, huh?

Finally, filling out time sheets is a requirement with your company. As such, it is like showing up -- something you must do. Why create a bad reputation for yourself by avoiding five minutes of work a day?

And, by the way, do them every day. If you wait until the end of the week or month to fill them out, you'll make mistakes, either by failing to report billable hours or by billing hours to the wrong client. I'd call either one fraud, unintentional or otherwise.

Failure to right-size the importance of being on time

I've worded that heading poorly but carefully, as I have two points to make here. I am a remarkably punctual person. I've been late on about three deliverables in 25 years. Usually I deliver early. I get to every meeting on time -- every meeting. I view it as disrespect to keep others waiting or having them keep me waiting.

When you are chronically late, you create a perception that you are lazy and arrogant. It might be unfair, but it's true. When you are chronically late, you make other people late. I have no data to prove this, but I would also imagine that the chronically late are far more likely to be the first out the door in a layoff. An expression of disrespect, remember?

To me, 1 p.m. means 1 p.m. (Well, actually, 1 p.m. means 12:55 p.m. to me, but that's an expression of my pathos.) I have accepted lateness from my former bosses and those above me in an organization. I resent it in others. But again, that's simply an admission of pathos because most people don't think like I do.

I bring this up because the flip side of this, as I must constantly remind myself, is that the importance of being late isn't on par with manslaughter. People can miss deadlines because we miscalculated the time it would take to finish a task or because they were asked to do something else that was more important.

If you are going to be late for a meeting or delivering a piece of work, let people know. Tell them in advance, as early as you can manage. Notice is an expression of respect, and it allows others to make adjustments to ensure that things can continue to operate smoothly.

Jim Nichols is vice president of marketing at Mediaplex.

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