Archive for July, 2008

Often it feels like work is a never ending series of very similar projects; each one looking remarkably like the one before it — that’s because it is!

Most people would prefer not to “rock the boat,” and so they continue to do things the same old way, even when everyone knows it’s not working very well.

If you’re not careful, you too will become numb to this series of routine tasks and find yourself blindly following the “old school” way of doing things.

Don’t do it; if you do, you’ll be missing a major opportunity for a Career Defining Moment as the Agent of Change.

You see, you’re not the only one who noticed that the “same old way” of doing things is kind of stupid, almost everyone has. And, the longer people have suffered under the old procedures, the more your reputation will be enhanced once you step up and break their chains.

While not all changes are automatic hits, I would say that the odds of ending up with a gold star for shaking things up are better than not.

Here are a few that worked out well:

Tracey Emerick

In the mid-eighties I worked at Prime Computer with a great guy named John Shea. He was a modern day “Jack of All Trades,” without any obvious unique skills. He did have one great, but subtle, skill which was his ability to size up a problem situation and find a solution that everyone involved could live with.

John was the Manager of Telemarketing (long before telemarketing became a dirty word). By the mid-eighties, it was getting pretty tough to sell minicomputers, so John had a tough assignment; he knew he had to change the way they were doing things.

John did some research, and found this guy Tracey Emerick, who had literally “written the book” on Direct Marketing, which was the next wave beyond telemarketing.  John convinced his boss to fund a small project with Tracey, and the next thing we knew the Telemarketing Department was setting new records for lead generation.

John had created a Career Defining Moment by transforming the Telemarketing Department into the Direct Marketing Department.

The Light Box

In 1994, I went to work for a small company called Concentra in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We were in the midst of a corporate makeover and our all of our sales presentations were changing weekly. Our sales force could not keep up.

Back in those days, you made presentations two ways. You either had 35MM slides or you had plastic “overheads” that you projected onto a screen. Our story was changing so fast, so we had to give our salespeople overheads.

Since we had evolved to “color overheads,” production became a huge bottleneck. Even with our top-of-the-line Tectronix color printer, it was still taking 2 minutes to print a single overhead and costing $4.00/slide.

That’s when I became an agent for change. I discovered the portable “light box,” that could be plugged into a laptop and used to project presentations onto a screen just like a 35MM slide show. Not only did this slash time and money, but it also enabled us to make custom changes on-the-fly.

The Light Box turned out to be a Career Defining Moment for a bunch of folks who figured out how to deploy the freedom to customize their presentations to win more business from their customers.


In 1996, I went to Aspect Development, a very fast growing company in Northern California. Aspect had developed a breakthrough software product and, accordingly, it required a very good demonstration to sell. It was also a complex technical product (based on UNIX), so most of our product demonstration specialists were actually engineers — with very limited presentation skills.

The CEO, Romesh Wadhwani, kept asking me to set up more training programs to teach the demo guys how to do better product demonstrations. These sessions took a lot of time and money to pull off. Worse, they didn’t really improve the demos!

One day I came across a product from Lotus Development called the Screencam. It enabled anyone to “record” a demo and easily play it back on a laptop computer like a CD player. This meant that the salespeople could now give the “wow demos” all by themselves, and since salespeople usually had much better presentation skills, Aspects demo practices dramatically improved overnight.

It’s not a coincidence that two of these stories involve new technology. Identifying an emerging tool that can be inserted into an existing broken process is one of the easiest ways to establish yourself as an agent of change.

Look for opportunities to become an agent of change in your job; they may turn out to be your Career Defining Moment.


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Look at some of the oldest axioms in business – “the customer comes first,” the customer is always right,” if there was ever any doubt, “the customer is king!” The reason is simple – nothing happens in business until a customer buys something (another old axiom).

There are also a few new axioms floating around about how “it costs a lot more to win a new customer than it does to keep an old one happy,” and how much more talkative an unhappy customer is when you let them down than they were when they were happy.

The customer is and will always be Number One, and the higher you go in the organization chart, the more this holds true. I have never seen a Vice President, COO, or CEO who isn’t willing to drop everything and fall all over themselves to keep a major customer happy.

If you’re career is in sales or some form of customer service, you already know this. In fact, if your chosen vocation is customer centric, it may be more difficult for you to find your career defining moment through customer heroics – because it’s just part of your job description.

But if you’re in a field that typically doesn’t interact with customers directly and a customer opportunity presents itself, you’re probably looking at one of your best potential career defining moments.

The Security Department at Prime Computer

A few weeks ago I was playing golf in a Cape Cod Senior League Tournament and as I stood on the first tee one of my opponents asked me “did you ever work a Prime?”

Of course I did, and it turned out, my opponent was Jim Lennon, former director of security for Prime Computer. We chatted and had a great afternoon sharing stories about the old days.

Jim also reminded me about one of the coolest applications of customer centric career defining moments I ever witnessed.

Jim and his predecessor Dick Guillemette had created their own career defining moment at Prime by reaching out to customers as complimentary consultants in computer security (back in the old days before computer security was a major industry).  

Rather than simply sitting in their office all day worrying about lost badges and problem employees, Jim and Dick frequently found themselves in the executive briefing center teaching customers about security. They earned a new respect from sales executives, even the President Joe Henson.

What are your opportunities for pulling off customer heroics to create your own career defining moment?

If you’re involved in production, distribution, or logistics, it could be as simple as responding to an urgent customer need with exceptional speed. Walking an order through the factory or driving a package to the airport to make sure it arrives on time seldom goes unnoticed by the customer.

Expediting a critical shipment also enables you to deal directly with the customer or sales team, which improves the odds that your good deed will be widely recognized.

If you’re an engineer, you can fix a stubborn design problem, finance people can “straighten out” a messy bill, and marketing people can publicize a story that showcases a customer’s business.

In the weeks to come I’ll talk about many other places you can find your career defining moment, but as a general rule of thumb, none can compete with customer heroics.

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Joe Petro

One of the 9 winning strategies we cover in Career Secret Sauce is called “Do What You Say You’ll Do.” During my research for this topic, I interviewed Joe Petro, the Senior Vice President for Product Development at Eclipsys – one of World’s leading Hospital and Healthcare Management System Providers.

We talked about his approach to achieving long lasting career success by delivering exemplary accountability in every task he undertakes.

One of the key ingredients in Joe’s formula revolves around something he called “career defining moments.”

Specifically, Joe said:  “If you can recognize these [career defining] moments and ‘knock the ball out of the park’ you will break away from your peers and be recognized by everyone as a star. It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in or how many ‘i’s you dot or ‘t’s’ you cross, NEVER allow failure or mediocrity in these moments. I have personally found that this is the most important lesson of my entire career.”

What Is a Career Defining Moment?

Simply put, a Career Defining Moment (“CDM”) is a rare opportunity that enables you to perform beyond everyone’s expectations.  It has high visibility and significant downside risk if you fail. Although it’s possible to create your own CDM, most of them fall in your lap as result of someone else dropping the ball, or simply you’re the only one available who can do it.

Over the next few posts, I’ll break down the top CDM’s I’ve encountered in my career. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of some of the topics to come.

Some of the best career defining moments involve solving an unusual customer problem, helping the company win a large sale, delivering a critical speech, making a personal sacrifice, or even just a well timed “random act of kindness.”

The point is, before you can cash in on the career opportunity represented by a Career Defining Moment, you must first recognize one when it comes your way.


















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