Thursday, 29 May 2008

What would you like to do?

In your past experiences of career advisory services you may have been asked the question, "What would you like to do?" at some point. I don't think I am alone in being asked this question previously or in wishing that some of my answers had been a little more careful. The reason for bringing it up is that answering the "What would you like to do?" question can be relatively easy but ensuring that the answer is a useful one requires a little more thought.

For that reason, a key component in measuring the success of the work/life fusion approach to career direction finding is changing an individual's perspective from "Where is my career going?" to "Where my career is going". Arguably, only confidence in the latter can change fortunes going forward.

It would be good to hear examples of questions you have been asked or those that you use yourself in similar situations. As always, the conversation is an open one!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Opportunity management II - Response to change

Career change is sometimes within an individual's power to control but there are also occasions where change is forced upon us and control is not possible.

In each case a clearer idea of career direction is an important reference point that allows change to be dealt with in context and opportunity to be more easily recognised.

Do you agree or disagree?

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Splitting decisions

When faced with decisions traditional career planning often starts with the perfect solution and works backwards. Less than perfect is the reality we are schooled to accept but does this mean that all we can do is resign ourselves to less than perfect choices? In my view and in the view of work/life fusion, proof continues to build that there is more in our power than just learning to live with imperfection.

As demonstrated in Lise's story we have the opportunity to change decisions from a simple weighing-up of good and bad attributes into something that resembles a more empowered choice. With a clearer idea of personal success (based on foundations that we can test individually and externally) a genuine choice can be made for its relevance to the present and the future as well.

Individual choices will have their challenges but they can be made with greater assurance (or less doubt if you prefer) that the decision is the right one in each case. The perfect option might present itself one day but until it arrives, progress can be made toward goals that a growing number of individuals are now defining for themselves.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Gray's story - Career Choice from Within

Traditional career planning feels more secure in itself when the destination is known and the task at hand is working towards it. That can work just fine but what is the best response when an individual is unsure about his or her direction or destination?

I spoke with an executive in the past who was in that position. We'll call him Gray for ease of sharing his story. Gray was paying for career guidance with a consultant who told him to aim for a CEO job in a very specific business sector because that was what he was best qualified for. The trouble was, Gray did not share this consultant's view.

Thankfully, there is a happy ending because Gray was hired into a role that he is extremely happy in. This was due in part to setting aside ideas around destination and exploring the questions that led him to pause instead. By gaining a better understanding of these areas, as well as a clearer definition of personal success, Gray was able to look more broadly at jobs, companies and industries and test each of them against the new benchmarks that this knowledge provided him.

Destination-first career planning has its uses but as Gray found it is difficult to apply in every case. It might also be a long wait for reward and satisfaction if a destination is the only place it can be found. As anyone happy with their career will tell you (too regularly in some cases), they get something from it every day. To anyone making career decisions, that is an equation worth thinking about.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

More about values

An earlier post on this blog attempted to define the term 'values' in this context (work/life fusion: values) but, what values relate best to career direction finding and decision making? The short answer is that people value different things. You could also say that people value things differently but that would be an argument for a bigger pedant than me. Sorry, than I.

Going beyond the short answer, if a number of individual answers are combined a list of the more popular values could be created. Lists like this can be found in a number of places on the web and elsewhere. Alternatively you could visit any number of company websites and find lists of values that are very similar indeed (honesty, integrity, teamwork, community and so on).

These lists and statements are great reading but do they help relate values to career decision making or are generic values confusing and difficult to apply to individual situations? If you are unsure, the next time you are interviewing try answering 'honesty and integrity' when the interviewer asks what you value. You could be hired as the next CEO for verbalising their corporate values statement but you are just as likely to be asked for a more personal example of how these values have been demonstrated in your actions.

In the context of work/life fusion, the only values that help to direct your career towards meaningful success are your values. Exploring and understanding the things that you value offers a solid platform for your direction finding and decision making. Being prepared to look behind commonly used words like 'honesty and integrity' and ask yourself how you have placed value on their meaning through your actions is simple to do and rich in insight. If our behaviour reveals to us what we truly value, it becomes easier to find our values in our decisions and for these decisions to begin defining meaningful, personal success in each case.

Thanks for your comments on the subject of values. I look forward to the conversations continuing!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Keep battling

I have a couple of very talented friends, running their own small business and delivering great value to their clients. They are also doing this with a level of diligence, care and integrity that their larger competitors spend millions trying to achieve.

The element of surprise in this story isn't that I have two friends, it is that the two individuals in question have had to work so hard carving a niche for their business when the value they can deliver is so clear. Starting a small business isn't easy. There are few favours and there are definitely no short cuts, especially when you are building your reputation on client satisfaction and success.

The good news is that work/life fusion can offer a means of support because it can clarify the choices an individual makes in situations like this. Having a clear understanding of why you are doing something is very useful, particularly when the going gets a little tough.

When you have tested the belief that what you are doing is the right thing for you, your family and your career (as well as your business and your clients), you only have to apply yourself to the tasks directly in front of you to see progress being made.

When you apply yourself to something that you value, something that you have a proven talent for and something that offers goals that you are inspired to work towards, everything you do and all that you encounter takes you one step closer to achieving personal success.

Keep battling lads, it will come!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Lise's story - Returning to Work

To end this little run of case studies is a situation that most of us face at some stage or other in our careers, having to choose between one option and another. A devilish twist that might sound familiar too is when neither option seems ideal.

Lise was a successful senior executive with an important decision to make about her future. She was returning to work after a short career break, catching up with her family after a history of jobs with a demanding work and travel schedule. Lise's job search had reached the stage where a couple of choices had presented themselves. Both were exciting but she could not ignore the fact that each one had its negative aspects too.

Work/life fusion assisted Lise's decision because it helped her gain a better understanding of what was important to her. With this new knowledge, Lise could explore the positives and negatives in each option and for the first time have a meaningful benchmark to compare them against.

Supported by a clearer view of her values, talents and goals, Lise was able to chose a role that delivered both personally and professionally. In the context of work/life fusion, Lise's story is an excellent example of defining personal success to enable you and those around you to recognise the opportunities that deliver it best.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Ash's story - Career Decision Making

Ash's story began with a question. Should he continue a rewarding but uncertain entrepreneurial career or should he step back into the corporate world in a big leadership role that had recently been offered to him?

In the context of work/life fusion, once Ash was able to understand his situation the choice that he made is almost irrelevant. What is more important is that a clearer definition of personal success (thanks to his exploration around values, talents and goals) allowed Ash to choose against a backdrop that meant something to him.

Because it is still key to his story, it would be unfair not to reveal the direction Ash decided upon. The truth is, Ash's choice is still one that he revisits regularly because if the evidence suggested he should take the alternative route, it is within his power to do so. Is that enough of a clue into what he decided?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Why the case studies?

Today's post was going to be another case study but I am happy to answer a reader's question about case studies instead. The question was, "Are the case studies real people and, if so, where do they come from?" A fair question indeed!

Each of the case studies are true and the individuals are real. In true Hollywood style, the names, times and places have been changed or omitted in order to allow the stories to be shared. The idea behind the case study format is to show how real people have dealt with real career situations and how work/life fusion can help - directly in some cases, providing a perspective in others.

All of the case studies on this blog have at some time or another been related to me directly in my past professional capacity as a researcher, recruiter, interviewer and assessor. More recently they have been directly related and interpreted through my professional capacity as a career management consultant and exponent of the work/life fusion approach.

I hope that this short post sheds a little more light on these case studies and how they fit into the discussion. New questions or case studies are welcome so feel free to join the conversation if you have a situation or event to contribute. Thanks for reading and thank you for your questions!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Naida's story - Adapting to Change

Dealing with change is often the sternest test of leadership and management ability. The following case study illustrates how reacting to change on auto-pilot can not only create pressure for individual careers, it can also have a damaging effect on the ability of an organisation to achieve its overall aims.

Naida was an HR director with a consumer products business for over 10 years. The arrival of new owners, with big plans for the company's international expansion, led to initial conclusions that new talent needed to be brought in because the old guard, like Naida, were unsuitably qualified for a global future that would bear little resemblance to a largely domestic past.

Rather than looking at what Naida could contribute in this newly expanded role, the business viewed the equation as a straight swap. Bring in someone new who was up to the task and replace a member of staff who was not. The good news for Naida is that there were elements within the company's leadership who took a different view. As well as Naida's perceived weaknesses, the situation was also approached from a retention and development perspective. Could Naida and her team be supported in a joint effort to acquire the skills that the business needed as it entered this new phase?

This company in this example did indeed take the broader view. Actioning this development agenda, they pulled together to deal with the challenges around international growth but, with Naida on the team, they were able to accomplish their strategic goals with the additional advantages of senior management continuity and the retention, motivation and development of a proven member of the team.

The above example of leadership and strategic change is a common career pressure point. Its links with work/life fusion in this case may not be immediately clear but it could be argued that the management team who looked beyond the recruitment solution, ensured that their chosen direction listened more intently to the values, talents and goals of those involved. Dropping a long serving employee speaks volumes about the value an employer places on their people. Valuing an employee's experience and offering a development path that enhances knowledge, goodwill and opportunity on both sides, speaks volumes as well but in a completely different way.

If you have an opinion on the above or want to contribute new career pressure points, feel free to leave a comment! 

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Alex's story - Redundancy/Layoff with a Positive Outcome

One of the most common career pressure points is redundancy. Difficult for those directly affected, redundancy is also hard on the individuals who remain and the fall-out can take a long time for companies to overcome. Every redundancy story is different but a case study is a good way to illustrate how a career event that would traditionally be seen as a setback can be turned into a moment of opportunity with lasting, positive effects.

Alex, a senior client director at an advertising agency, was made redundant due to a change in client strategy that meant his industry experience was no longer required. He was offered outplacement but wanted to understand what was driving his career at a more fundamental level rather than just focus on being re-employed.

Instead of starting with a known objective, Alex allowed the answers to his career questions to suggest possible routes forward. As he learned more, his preferred direction became more defined. Alex found that his conversations with a growing network of contacts, recruiters and potential employers, became more interesting and that the elements he now understood as important to his new career direction, became easier to identify also.

After an intense period of discovery, networking and interviewing, Alex was successfully hired into a company and a role that he feels far better suited to than his previous situation. He is now with a company that values his expertise and joined the team with the exciting brief to lead and grow the business internationally.

Looking back at his experiences, Alex is still surprised by how hard redundancy hit him but, with the opportunity that now lies in front of him, along with a level of satisfaction that he describes as the best his career has offered to date, they are experiences that he finds it hard to imagine himself without.

Although there are moments that are difficult to live through for all concerned, the story above demonstrates that there are successes that begin with redundancy. In such stories, it is hard to find an application for traditional work/life balance or the 'destination first' methods of career planning. The typical redundancy situation offers most individuals the opportunity to focus on what is important to them (values), what they are qualified to do (talents) and what they are motivated to achieve (goals). There are no easy answers and the detail of Alex's hard work, commitment and bravery could fill an entire post. The clear message from Alex and those like him who have moved their careers on from redundancy is that, with the right approach, lasting and meaningful progress can be made.

Let me know your thoughts on this post and if you have any stories or situations that relate in any way! 

Monday, 12 May 2008

Career pressure points

Earlier today, the subject of when to apply career planning came up in conversation. Applying work/life fusion to the aim of personal success is something that this blog has covered from the outset but what are the typical situations that call for a broader conversation around career planning and decision making?

Career 'pressure points' tend to fall under two general headings: Individual and Organisational. Probably too diverse in their nature to attempt an exhaustive list, examples of both types of event can be found below:

Individual: Career Entry/Re-entry, Promotion, Role Change, Career Direction Change, Redundancy, Retirement/Semi-Retirement, Appraisal/Assessment and Stalling/Lack of Satisfaction

Organisational: Leadership/Management Change, Buy-Out/Take-Over, Strategic Direction Change, Growth, Business Failure/Closure, Values/Culture Change and Relocation

Recently in the news, the ups and downs of the economy could have found a place in the list but reactions to economic pressures can be found within the individual and organisational groupings in events like company closure, redundancy, strategic direction change and so on.

Over the next few posts, the focus of this blog will be on some of the more common career pressure points. Where appropriate (as with the earlier post Grace's story) there will be supporting dialogue through case studies of individuals who have applied elements of work/life fusion in their responses.

If you are reading and have any career pressure points or specific questions to contribute, please feel free to leave a comment and I will incorporate them into a future post. Like me, I hope you are looking forward to the conversation continuing into this new phase!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

work/life fusion: goals

Following the dictionary treatment for values and talents, today is the turn of goals. To that end, three definitions for the word 'goal' are on offer below. They are of course very similar but at the same time the subtle differences in the way they are expressed led me to include them all.

: t
he purpose toward which an endeavour is directed; an objective (

goal: a result one is attempting to achieve (

goal: an aim or purpose (Cambridge Online Dictionary)

Expanding on the above, in the context of work/life fusion a good initial analogy for goals is thinking of them as milestones or signposts that signal our career journey is on the right path. Traditional forms of career planning tend to use goals as headline objectives. Instead of looking long into the future and gearing an entire effort around achieving a distant goal, work/life fusion uses goals to identify, test and support a career direction, ensuring its relevance and ability to deliver the satisfaction and success that we define for ourselves.

As a result, our goals are motivational but it is critical to work/life fusion that they are also guided by what motivates us as individuals. Using an example to illustrate, imagine that you have a career as a highly successful finance or marketing professional. You are excelling in your field but an aspiration you have held throughout your career to become a CEO or MD leaves you with a nagging doubt that your career to date has been a failure.

Rather than allow this to continue, you (as our highly successful FD or CMO), have the opportunity to explore the underlying motivations that have helped your success. The results of this type of analysis can often uncover a very different set of factors at work than your headline goal suggests.

Although aspiring to the CEO's post has been the ultimate measure of success for our hypothetical FD or CMO, a closer look might reveal that she (or he) is actually motivated to a greater degree by the intricacies of consumer/brand relationships or marshalling profitable operations across a global organisation. In other words, wanting to become a CEO is more an acquired vision of career success than a goal offering genuine satisfaction. The point to return to in the work/life fusion context is that to deliver personal success you have to be sure that underlying motivations are supporting your goals.

Before getting into this post, I had assumed that goals would be simple to clarify but there is more resident here than a first look would reveal. This is perhaps one reason why traditional career planning can make life difficult. Far off goals are simple to identify but the process of achieving them is often left tantalisingly vague. My hope is that this definition of goals separates itself from the traditional view. Goals according to work/life fusion are practical, adaptable milestones for each individual career and they are directly linked to individual motivation.

In the hypothetical example of our FD and CMO, there may be the impression that work/life fusion seeks to limit ambition or reduce goals only to things that are readily attainable. In reality, work/life fusion seeks to clarify our goals and in doing so bring personal success into focus. Goals that also emphasise what can be done now can still aim for the top but they do it incrementally and offer a means of regular review, as well as the most accurate definition of personal success to illuminate the way forward.

(For a similarly progressive take on goals and objectifying personal success, the discussions on are an engaging read, as it the book itself).

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Opportunity management - Identifying career opportunities

This subject came up today in a broader conversation about job search management and it is evidently one that has a great bearing on personal success. What enables some individuals to identify, react to and even create opportunities while others are left wondering what they might have said or done?

The suggestion was made that successful opportunity management doesn't always call for us to become the aggressive networker or self-promoter. Of course there is far more to the subject that this but it seemed like an interesting place to begin the discussion and the search for examples within the context of work/life fusion.

Definitely a subject to be continued...

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

work/life fusion: talents

Back to the task of clearly defining the building blocks of work/life fusion. Next in line are talents so here are a couple of dictionary definitions to get us started:

talent: a marked ability or skill (

talent: a capacity for achievement or success (

It should be pointed out that there are other definitions of the word 'talent' that are not as relevant to work/life fusion. As an additional point, the two dictionary definitions above do not capture the role that experience plays in shaping the talents that drive individual career success.

Dealing with the less relevant meanings first. Talent in the work/life fusion context is not used to describe natural ability. Neither is it used to describe something that one individual can perform better than another or anyone else. In the context of work/life fusion, talent (or more accurately, the talents than every individual possesses), is the collection of skills and abilities that an individual has exhibited and developed across the sum of their experiences to date.

Talent can also apply to the abilities and skills that an individual would like to continue developing and using in the future. Understanding these talents (past, present and future) therefore plays an important role in the formulation of a career direction that more accurately represents personal success.

That brings us to the second point regarding experience. An appreciation of experience needs to be incorporated into our definition of 'talents' in order for it to be understood completely. In work/life fusion, experiences are to talents what chickens are to eggs. Without our experiences it is difficult for our talents to emerge and evolve.

In the context of describing an appropriate career direction (see an earlier post on Vocationeering) it can also be true that experience has shaped our talents in areas that we are not always aware. Exploring our experiences and taking a more objective view of the talents that they have hatched and honed is therefore a rich seam of not only insight but potential as well.

In summary, talents in the context of work/life fusion are how we as individuals and the outside world perceive our abilities. Many people allow only the latter to discern their talents but when they are explored, understood and incorporated (into objectified, self-actualised direction planning) our talents can be the authors of our personal success in every sense of the word.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Grace's story - Career Change

My next post wasn't due until tomorrow but I came by an interesting career story yesterday that is worth sharing.

The individual in question, let's call her Grace, pursued a city financial services career for around 15 years. Grace's career delivered all the trappings of success but also of all the usual issues that work/life balance struggles to address (long, exhausting hours; little time at home with her family; stressful commute; etc). Grace's career also delivered little by way of fulfilment or personal satisfaction and the longer it went on, the less the rewards seemed to fit with what Grace wanted for herself and her family.

In the end, the stresses of the job and difficulties that it created took their toll and Grace was forced to take an extended absence due to ill health. During this leave, Grace questioned how well she fit with her chosen career and resolved to make changes. As an initial step, she identified a set of critical factors that would guide her direction and decision making. Grace was seeking a new professional direction that offered a greater degree of flexibility, more collaborative working practices and an environment where learning and development were encouraged.

With a great deal of hard work, a little good fortune and even more in the way of persistence (for more on persistence take a look at How's your self-efficacy? on the Johnny Bunko blog) Grace completed a qualification in corporate law and, taking an up-front cut in pay and status, joined a commercial legal team in a big corporate.

It may not sound like a classic career-to-vocation transition but Grace is happier with her career now than at any time in the past. Today, Grace leads the commercial law function for her company. Her team is growing and her role, within an organisation that fosters progressive working practices, allows her to spend more time with her family.

Among the points of interest relevant to work/life fusion, Grace's story demonstrates that it isn't just the individual who stands to benefit when this type of career questioning is explored. When we are energised and directed, those around us at home and at work can also be beneficiaries. Grace didn't follow a classic career path or a traditional career plan but work/life fusion would point out that she took steps to understand the values, talents and goals that were important in her case.

Armed with this knowledge, Grace described a new career direction and actively tested it in order to clarify her understanding. Effectively, Grace re-defined a vision of personal success that she turned into reality. In doing so she has found much, by way of satisfaction and fulfilment, that was missing from her previous experience.

Friday, 2 May 2008

work/life fusion: values

So that the dictionary doesn't feel ignored (because it won't be troubled over the long weekend we are about to enter here in the UK), it seemed like a good opportunity to begin to clarify the three main areas that work/life fusion relies upon to personalise career direction setting. 

Mindful of the lesson that 'vocation' afforded us in previous posts, values are up first:

valuesthe beliefs people have about what is right and wrong and what is most important in life, which control their behaviour (Cambridge Online Dictionary)

So if values are the way we interpret importance and discern what feels right and wrong to us, we might be missing something if they are not consulted (or reflected) in our overall mission to define and plan for personal success.

Talents are up next but, in the meantime, enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

What having a direction achieves

Among a new breed of career management theorists, there are some who say there is no room for traditional career planning. What we know about work/life fusion agrees with this but it also goes on to offer something in its place. Work/life fusion supports the need for a career hypothesis (based on individual values, talents and goals) that can be tested, adapted and evolved in pursuit of personal (or work/life) success.

Understanding individual values, talents and goals to define a career direction might at first seem like an exercise only for those with too much time on their hands. To argue this point succinctly, maybe what work/life fusion has been missing up to now is a simple way of defining just what having such a direction achieves. To that end, opinions on the following are invited:

work/life fusion: Changing the question, "Where is my career going?" into the statement "Where my career is going."