Traditional economic theory relies on the assumption that humans are rational and – importantly – make logical decisions in their own self-interest (self-regarding). But there’s a fatal flaw in that: humans can be far from rational. We live in a world where personal success is linked to the success of others. Think: teamwork, morale. Think: job tasks that are outcome focussed rather than output focussed.
At work, it’s often the little things that make a big difference in our success. I call them The Smarts: doing, thinking and feeling in a way that gets results at work. People who possess these unique skills are called ‘Smarties’. They are the subject of my book, The Smarts: Big Little Hacks to Take You A Long Way at Work, published by Penguin Random House and available now on Amazon.
Years ago, figuring out the smarts was a matter of necessity for me. I was born into an immigrant family and was the first to get a job in ‘The City’. I needed to understand mastery at work, fast! This led me on an adventure to discover precisely what the smarts are. Over the years I’ve found them everywhere – from the boardrooms of leading companies to crisis response units. From the trading floor to the operating table. The organisation I founded, The Smarty Train, has trained tens of thousands of people, working for some of the biggest brands in the world and winning several awards along the way.
Here are three smarts, taken from my book:
1. Know the vitals
Smarties can sum up what’s happening where they work in half a dozen words. They know its vital signs inside out.
Traditional medics are trained to relay a patient’s vitals at any given moment. You need to be able to do the same. The terms (and numbers) that drive your business should be imprinted on your brain and always ready to go.
Learn them. Understand them. Watch how they change, progress or retreat. Be prepared to reel them off whenever necessary without hesitation should someone ask you something.
Work vitals are not the difference between life and death, but they are crucial to your work and your relationship with it.
At the bare minimum, the vitals you should know about are: your organisation’s current values, vision and strategy, the problems it tries to solve, its leaders, its revenues (and targets and financial drivers, if applicable), stock performance (if applicable), what your organisation asks of its people and any big projects it has on.
Cherish the vitals – they’ll keep your career healthy, too.
2. Check and validate
Smarty conversations happen when you check and validate. Your manager asks you for an update. Two minutes into your response stop and ask: “Am I going into the right level of details?”
The questioner might only have wanted a couple of words: “It’s going well”, or “I’ve encountered a few issues but I’m dealing with them”. Or, they may have wanted to dive even deeper into the detail. By checking and validating in the early stages of the answer you will give them exactly what they wanted from the interaction. And who wouldn’t want that?
Dial-up, or dial down, or make no change; ask if they want the scenic route or the highway. You’ll both get to where you want to be faster.
Checking and validating could be used in lots of your interactions at work. Many things going wrong (or not being right) are because of an absence of it.
3. Which Hat Should You Wear?
We are asked to play many different roles at work. On any one day, you might be the details person, the structure person, the challenger, the tone person… the list goes on. For maximum effectiveness, get into the right character from the off.
When a Smarty is asked to contribute they ask: “What role would you like me to play here, in order to help you the most?”
While it’s tempting to jump in and go the extra mile, the true value is always in ensuring you are doing what’s being asked of you.
You may have been invited to go over a document simply to proof it for spelling and grammar. Alternatively, the person who asked for your input may feel you’d be a great fresh pair of eyes to see it from the recipient’s perspective – is anything missing? Will this be understood in different geographies?
There are a myriad of reasons you may be brought in. Ask.
If you don’t play your part, at best you’ll irritate your colleague. At worst they’ll know never to ask you again. Ouch.
- This blog was first published on the Department of Management blog.
- The post gives the views of the author, not the position of Management with Impact blog, LSE Careers or the London School of Economics.
- Saj will be talking about how we can work smarter at a public lecture at LSE on Monday 4 February 2019. Find out more and register your interest now.
Saj Jetha is an LSE alumnus, economist and former strategy consultant. He’s founder of the multi-award winning The Smarty Train (TST), a training and talent advisory described by clients as ‘The Secret Cinema of Training’. TST uses principles of design thinking and behavioural science to unlock talent in some of the biggest organisations in the world. He’s was recently awarded Freedom of the City and is one of a hundred ‘Faces of a Vibrant Economy’.