Why digging up your own mud is a winning career strategy

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 10

If you were an awesome Cubicle Warrior,  you would do something called “digging up your own mud.” A sexy term, right?

What it means is that you want to coldly evaluate your own performance and determine in which areas you could improve. And, once you determine which areas you could improve, you put a plan in place to help improve those areas.

There are other names for this, of course — but not as sexy!

For example, “lessons learned” is another label for taking what you have done and determined what could have been better.

Altruistically, these make sense. It allows you to look at where you can improve, figure out how, and then go ahead and make those adjustments and improve.

Yes, you want to improve and this is a good way to do so.

You see, if you dig up your own mud, two things happen:

  1. You have found a problem and you start to fix it so that it never hits the management radar as a problem. In other words, you’re being truly proactive. And…
  2. If it is discovered as a problem by management, you can already say that, yes, it is a problem we discovered and here are the x number of things were doing about it to get it fixed.

That is the proactive way to “defend your realm.” Yes, there is a problem, we’ve already discovered it, and here is what we are doing to fix it. It shows you are on top of your area.

But, that is not why you want to dig up your own mud.

More interesting is that you can “dig up your own mud” as a way to evaluate your management. To test them to see if they really like to manage or if they are in it just so they look good.

Let’s say you are tasked to do some analysis and discover that the common wisdom of X isn’t that, but Y. And Y isn’t as complimentary to management — it won’t make them look as good — as they thought it might be.

You present your results.

Then, one of two things happens:

  1. After questioning your methods and data, managers go “holy crap! I’m glad you found this so we can now fix it!”. And then you invoke Number 2 above and acknowledge there is a problem, you found it and are now in the process of fixing it showing your group is on top of their business. Or…
  2. Your management ignores your findings, or says it isn’t a problem, or asks you to not bring it up. In this case, your management team is doing a variation of “hear no evil, see no evil” and all of that.

How often does your management group fall into group #2? Usually, unfortunately, way too often. When you see that type of response, it tells you that your management is not open to facts and how to fix them, but more interested in ensuring that problems are not discovered or, at least, not acted on.

And when the bad things are discovered by some other layer of management…there is no answer. Or, perhaps, you get thrown under the bus because it was your area and you didn’t do anything to find or fix the problem. Except you did, and management didn’t want to hear about it.

Dig up some mud. Find out how much your management wants to hear about the mud you find…