Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why we must step out of our comfort zone and expand our circle of influence


Arquímedes Machado

Many of you have heard about the “circles of influence” and the “comfort zone”. Today I’d like to talk a little more about these concepts. 

Let’s start with the first one, the circle of influence. To better understand this concept it’s useful to picture two concentric circles, where the smallest is the circle of influence and the biggest one is the circle of concern. The circle of influence represents the situations we can change, those we can control.

This way, whenever we hit a crossroad, we can assess if the situation belongs in our circle of influence or our circle of concern. That is, if the situation is something we can take care of, something we have control of, or rather something that concerns me but is beyond my possibilities. A typical and I think very familiar example for us is the traffic jams in Caracas: it’s very likely each one of you would agree they are stressful. However, a solution to Caracas’ traffic escapes our circle of influence. Luckily we can always improve our situation by taking actions that minimize their impact, e.g. leaving earlier to avoid rush hour, taking the subway instead of driving, all the way to more radical solutions like buying a bike, moving closer to work or even to a different city and job. In any case, these are decisions that can alleviate my traffic related. 

I’ve realized that if there’s something we have to strive for, it’s making our circle of influence grow steadily. This way, if I’m facing a problem (initially in my circle of concern), I’ll be able to control my actions and reactions to solve it, bringing it into the circle of influence. I’ve read that proactive people focus their energy in solving situations within their circle of influence, thereby expanding this circle every time.

Another concept I’d like to discuss is the comfort zone, the space where I’m comfortable with what I’m doing even though it may be hard work, because I have the expertise to do it right. Being in the comfort zone lets me feel good about what I do because I’ve mastered that skill, I’ve become an expert on the matter. However, it’s so important, so valuable for our personal and professional growth to step outside of these boundaries and go into the unknown, facing uncertainty (or what some authors call the learning zone).  

When I visualized the comfort zone I never pictured it as a circle, but just like with the circles of influence and concern, we can use the same analogy and see our comfort zone as a smaller area encircled by a zone of uncertainty (or learning). After reading this article and seeing that image, I realized that both concepts are closely related, close enough to be viewed as synonyms. Personally, I think they’re different. Widening my circle of influence lets me be the master of my actions and reactions toward the situations in my life, having greater control over them. Similarly, expanding my comfort zone lets me have new tools to solve things I couldn’t solve before, acquire expertise in new situations, and broaden my knowledge.  

As both circles grow, we grow as people.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Smartmatic Dragons: recognition to excellence

There’s no doubt that 2012 was a very positive year for our company. We had the chance to execute large projects. We carried out elections in three countries (in the same month) with different law systems, cultures and even languages! Once more, our solutions were vital in supporting the will of millions of citizens. But, beyond technology, it was our people with their commitment and hard work who made possible to turn all of last year’s challenges to success stories we now celebrate.   

For this reason, we’ve held award ceremonies in several of our offices to award our Smartmatic Dragons. These awards were created in 2004 after the two big electoral projects we conducted in Venezuela, as a way to recognize our valuable human capital, which had grown and matured together with the company. You can read the history of the Dragons here, written by Edgar Zorrilla. 

The following people have been recognized for their work in 2012: Mauricio Ascanio, Finances; Ruliena Piñate, OPO; Herlen Rosales, José Lucena, Alejandro Claro and Fernando Hernández, Electoral Solutions; and Ricardo Hernández, Mayerling Fajardo and Ely Alvarado, Global Services.

Pleased for being selected as recipients of the 2012 Dragons, some of our coworkers took the time to talk to us about how they face their daily challenges at Smartmatic.

Maryeling has been with us since 2007 and has worked in the coordination of complex projects like the Venezuelan regional elections, working against the clock handling hundreds of pieces of data and information, and thousands of variables. She told us that “it’s very important to know well how our processes work, not just the ones I’m in charge of but those from other departments, because that lets you gauge all the information coming from your peers and organize things, answer all their requests, help them solve problems and do a proper follow-up on their tasks.”

For Ricardo, who has been with us since 2010, previous planning is important. “What I always try to do is prepare beforehand, before a challenge pops up; that is, I do my daily tasks but I also spend time reading on new technologies, applying new techniques to solve small everyday problems to avoid repetition,  and asking my teammates about different approaches to do my activities. This way of approaching work makes me need more time to fulfill my obligations, but when new challenges come up I can face them more efficiently and with a short-term vision of automation and the application of the best possible tools.” 

Mauricio, from Finances, told us that he approaches his daily challenges by “taking the initiative of starting and finishing whatever I want to achieve, with an open mind, creative and proactive in the face of any situation that arises, [being] patient, methodical and unshakable to reach my goals.”

Perseverance, dedicated work and commitment, taking the initiative, daring to innovate, looking for excellence, being efficient, having the courage to be self-critical; these are key traits that the 2012 Dragons identified as present in their day to day work. Many of these are our values, the backbone of our work methodology.

Ruliena coordinates the OPO unit (Operational Planning Office) and tells us that this recognition goes beyond her, since it’s the support of her work team (small in numbers but big in talent) that has allowed her to meet the goals we celebrate today. “Personally, I’m very thankful to have had the honour of being nominated among so many brilliant people who work with us. I feel that this award is also recognition of my team’s work: Alejandro M, Julio César, Anaissa and Alejandro G, who are crucial to our success. I have to mention the importance of Roger’s leadership, my boss. His humane way of managing is a living example that respect is earned by example, and that vulnerability isn’t a hindrance but rather an engine that makes us work hard and lovingly towards our goals.”  

José Lucena worked in 2012 in different stages of the elections we carried out in Venezuela. “Getting the Dragon has been very meaningful to me, it’s a recognition but also a reminder that there’s someone watching what you do, that your actions and behavior don’t go unnoticed and above all, that there’s people who believe that your work has had some positive impact in our company.” For José, teamwork is crucial, having people that support you and trust what you do, and who you can lean on in turn. “Individual players score goals, but teams win games.”

The accomplishments shown by the Dragons prove that every effort to improve we make at Smartmatic, will always have outstanding results and give us another reason to feel proud of what we do, another reason to do our jobs as best as we can. In the words of Ruliena, “[our] departments and job titles are just a structure that organizes our labour, but the contribution of each one of us is just as important, that is why we’re all called to serve and help one another, no matter what our job description is.”   

We’d like to end with the words of our teammates when we asked them: What does it mean for you to be one of Smartmatic’s Dragons? 

"Offering solutions to every problem you or your teammates may have, feeling [these problems] as your own.” Maryeling  

Being passionate about what you do every minute and doing your job with a vision, understanding clearly how your work can help towards the goals of Team Smartmatic, to make it a better company evey day.” Ruliena 

"Being consistent with the work you’re doing and the responsibilities you have.” Ricardo 

"Putting dedication and effort beyond daily activities and towards improving our procedures, giving value added to the company.” Mauricio   

“Loving what you do; being convinced that whatever you’re doing, however minimal it may seem, has value, be it for someone in the company, a friend, a relative or society as a whole.” Jose