Karma

If you’ve ever worked for me, you don’t need to bother reading this, you already know the content-  with any luck, can quote the post verbatim. Karma is:

“The sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences” – Wikipedia.

I define it in a far more lowbrow way. “Do the right thing because that’s why they call it that”.

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(image courtesy Jessica Simien)

I work in an industry of tactics and immediate gratification via transactions. (IT consulting, staffing). Every prescribed action is geared towards “The Next Sale”. Talk to a client. Why? To get a new lead. Go golfing with a prospect. Why? – Well, you get it.

This is not unique to my industry though. I’ve been consulting with F500 companies for many years, and there is a disturbing trend towards self-centered behavior. What’s in it for me? What can YOU do for ME???

My point is that this is a) very transparent, and b) never works out in the long run. People have a pretty clear sense of when they are being played, and when people are not genuine in their interest in developing a ‘real’ relationship.

To me, Karma is independent of business. You do the right thing by people, and if it has zero positive outcome for you, well, as long as it isn’t NEGATIVE, who cares? I’m always amazed at how small the world is becoming. And with the advent of social networking, it’s not only small, its also massively interconnected. You can no longer flee town if you’ve taken a scorched-earth approach with your employer. Cheat your landlord out of 6 months’ rent? Google knows about it.

Obviously business transactions are lubricated by social events. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be a conquest or forced. Don’t be ‘that guy’ working the room and staying engaged with someone just long enough to find out whether the person can do anything for him, and if not, he bails. Makes me want to go take a shower.

So how do you balance Karma with networking? Keep things genuine, and follow through. Discard your agenda when you come into the room. Meet people the way you did when you were in college – not because they could somehow help your career, but because they could be really cool, interesting people. Obviously, all the tips & tricks of how to interact socially apply, but stop overlaying that with some explicit outcome that will benefit your cause.

And when you meet people, if you DO make some kind of commitment to follow up or action, follow through with it. It’s not the first impression, it’s the last that impression that will last.

Some of the best, most lasting, and valuable relationships I have were ones forged where I (and the company I was with) made decisions independent of whether we would benefit. That point was not lost on the person we were working with, and that ‘investment’ paid huge dividends. – Maybe not the next day, a week, month, or even a year later. In some cases, the investment may actually NEVER pay dividends directly, but there are many ways to measure the intangible ROI of Karma.

To my mind, the point of Karma is that the ROI should really be measured primarily on the swing of an internal moral compass. As a leader, do you motivate your staff by demonstrating sound moral, ethical behavior independent on the personal benefit, or do you shy away from situations where there’s no personal percentage? Does your company kill deals if they make perfect business sense and benefit all parties – except as recorded in the financials?

Independent of the specific outcome of a given situation, Karma defines the respect you will earn with your employees. In the long run, people don’t work for companies that are simply financially successful. Employees need some sort of hook, some way to feel good about their association and co-mingled identity. It’s just like parenting: You can say whatever you want – your kids will observe and emulate what you DO.

And for some reason it’s weirdly hard to do: The business ‘goal’ is so entrenched in the language, actions and consciousness of business that you have to actively separate yourself – finding the objectivity to recognize the ‘right’ thing to do is not easy.

But it’s very liberating. Regardless of the direct-line-tie to business outcomes, Karma will reward you for your solid moral decisions with one critical outcome: Retention of the key employees that you need to succeed.

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