Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Collaborate and co-invent, when your instinct says present

My apologies if the title of this post comes to you straight outta Seussville but I got carried away after talking with a friend recently about why he has a strong preference for dealing with issues around the table rather than making presentations. When I asked why, by the end of his answer I was amazed that anyone still gives presentations at all.

Presenting to an audience creates a degree of separation between the speaker and everyone else. Great speakers can overcome this but most subjects, and most businesses for that matter, are better served in the day-to-day by collaborative dialogue focusing on the vision, where things stand, the issues and their resolution.

Standing apart as a presenter can also place feedback - and possibly more worryingly, understanding and innovation - at one remove as well. Again, the picture of a group huddled around a table is a lot more given to action than its speaker/audience counterpart.

This also highlights essential questions around career leadership. When we search for that new job, send out our resume/CV, meet recruiters and interview, many of us act out speaker/audience roles by default. We are taught to tell our story, learn 30 second pitches and convey our strengths in the most compelling way possible.

With the above in mind, might we be better served considering more readily the two-way nature of these situations? Who is the individual we are talking with, what is their interest and what information do they need from us? What priorities govern their success in the context of the encounter? Already, this type of collaborative thinking changes the dynamic from speaker/audience to a more involving, collaborative interaction. All of a sudden there is more opportunity to learn and understand on both sides.

In the same spirit of co-invention, if you are reading this, what do you think?

Monday, 29 September 2008

Failure: A label applied by mistake

Failure is inevitable in every career. Experiencing failure, and managing the events that can cause us to fail, is therefore critical to the overall success of every individual. Dealing with failure means looking hard at what we - ourselves and others - label as failures and applying this knowledge to better define our success in the future.

Failure, large or small, will occur in every career. Outcomes we would have liked to be different contain valuable lessons for us all. Not getting a promotion or being made redundant are good examples. Most of us plan for the alternative outcome. The person with the greatest chance of succeeding in the future however, is the one who looks into the 'failed' outcome or event, seeking to understand it further.

Events like this - 'failures' as we are programmed to call them - can teach us where we went wrong and why. Under closer examination, such events create opportunities for future successes based on empirical, practical lessons that are also highly personal to us. In short, failures can author and enable genuine progress and they do so with a level of personally relevant insight hard to find in general examples or generic 'How-to' career texts.

So what can any of us do when faced with uncertainty or facing up to failure in our careers? Initially, the aim should be to understand our situation: How did we get here? What were our previous aims? Do we feel different about them now?

Understanding these questions begins to focus on our relationship with work. Exploring our values, talents and goals (see earlier posts for more details on these) continues this and prepares us for the future independently. In time, this externally tested, individual preparation helps us manage opportunities in the immediate future and give our preferences a better chance of coming out on top in the longer term.

Failure is essentially the title we give to our mistakes. Learning from failure can be a fast-track to identifying and defining personal success. Through the failures and mistakes that are inevitable in all of our careers, an insight into lasting satisfaction and fulfilment can be achieved.

Friday, 26 September 2008

For the to-do list or the don't call us pile?

With all due apologies, today's post is more of a collection of thoughts than collected thought.
  • Taking the time to study the career events and achievements you are most proud of, or have remained connected to over time, offers useful insight into your relationship with work
  • Starting a career dialogue that is ongoing, inquisitive and challenging creates more meaning in your relationship with work and the overall direction of your career
  • Setting out to find a vocation is a difficult task but gaining a better understanding of what is important to us in our work, what we are good at and what keeps up going, can help to define our vocation more clearly and move us steadily towards it
  • Instead of being something to achieve in the distant future, with a greater insight into our values, talents and goals, personal success can become part of our working experience today
Have a great weekend!


Thursday, 25 September 2008

An argument that holds water or just a bad analogy?

You may have struggled with your career in the past but have you ever thought about your relationship with work? Old-school career planning enters our thinking at specific times in our working lives or around specific events: when we leave school or college, when we are looking for a new job, if we are made redundant or when we start to think about retirement. The traditional career planning approach is like the office fire extinguisher: always there, most of the time ignored but in an emergency we all rush for it.

Your relationship with work is a new way to think about your career and, like most relationships, in order to be successful it needs regular thought and attention. This ongoing dialogue around your relationship with work has more in common with the office water cooler than the fire extinguisher: it's still there all the time but it's used everyday and you always feel better after a huddle around it.

Okay, so the water cooler and the fire extinguisher serve a different purpose but shouldn't you have access to something that serves a better purpose for your career too? Think about your relationship with work and how it could become a positive, ongoing dialogue. Something that can be with you for as long as you need it to be as a source of confidence, information and insight. Something that belongs to you alone that can be explored and understood to define and move you closer to personal success.

If your relationship with work sounds like an interesting subject, start by looking more closely at your values, talents and goals (this post might be useful here, Looking back, around and ahead). Alternatively, for more bad analogies keep visiting this blog!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The value of career conversations - Update!

New evidence continues to suggest that companies are realising the benefits of their involvement in the career conversation and how it can deliver value to employer and employee. This recent article from Personnel Today (Retention improved by talent management for seniors) is a great follow up to the post on this blog a few days earlier (KEEP Consulting: The value of career conversations...)

In this employer's example, focusing on the career conversation and clarifying the "goals and ambitions" of senior staff has meant, "they're motivated to join in with new opportunities, more productive, more likely to stay, and we get a bigger contribution from them."

Being critical of this article for a moment, it is written more for the employer than the employee but the positives described above do appear to be derived from the greater sense of purpose and reward experienced by individual employees following a conversation that targets their personal success.

Try not to be too put off by the fact that senior management are the immediate beneficiaries either. With the benefits a programme like this can deliver, it won't be too long for staff at other levels to be included.

What a pleasant change to read a positive headline too!

Monday, 22 September 2008

What would you like to be doing 5 years from now? - Revisited

A previous post on this blog (What would you like to be doing 5 years from now?) suggested that the most successful answers to this question place genuine career knowledge ahead of what might get you through an interview. For that reason, it is probably worth considering that the most successful answers have two main components:

1) Relevance to their audience (company, job, interviewer, etc.)
2) Relevance to the future of the individual's career

A great deal of effort is expended to ensure that our answers are relevant to their audience, particularly the interviewer. Of course the most successful answers do not forget this but they also do not forget the importance of the individual's career.

Understanding a preferred direction for the future of your career offers insight into both areas. With greater insight into what is important to you, what you are good at and what keeps you going, your answer begins to resonate with interviewers for its clarity and depth.

Whether you are interviewing for the role of a chief executive or an administrative assistant, an answer based on your values, talents and goals is arguably the best method of creating a link between this question and your personal success.

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Learn how your answer to this question can evolve over time at exploreyourcareer.com

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Career planning: Handle with care

In his best-selling book Blink, the author, columnist and occasional blogger Malcolm Gladwell (gladwell.com), makes a strong case for decision making that leaves room for understanding in the moment. The cues that we take both consciously and sub-consciously from a situation are as valid as any pre-conceived intention or conditioning, in some cases more so. In other words, any plan or conditioning with little or no room for 'live' action and reaction can hinder rather than help.

For the same reasons, a successful career plan should not limit opportunities by being too prescriptive. It does need to answer questions convincingly on the subject of where we are heading and why but it should also be flexible enough to take into account the opportunities we encounter, need to process and manage every day.

Adopting the habits of successful people will get you so far but only so far as they apply to the situations you are in, or how much you agree with the role model you have chosen. A much stronger case presents itself for a career plan based around the core components of each individual's relationship with work. Only a plan that has been individually authored in this way has the ability to define a meaningful direction for the future and allow the freedom to act and interact in the moment.

I hope Mr Gladwell would approve.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Looking back, around and ahead

We all want something different from our careers. Some prize the creation of wealth above everything else, others are satisfied by the security that comes with a profession or trade. More still work for necessity or view their careers as a means to an end, whether that end is providing for their family or financing next year's holiday.

The individual aims for our careers are further complicated because for most of us they change with the changing circumstances of our lives. For example, when you got your first job you might have been single, after 10 years you might be in a relationship, possibly married. After 25 years at work, whatever your partnership status, your motivations and needs are likely to be different again. A multitude of events and factors, either at home or at work, contribute to this change. Change that every individual needs to respond to and manage if their career is to deliver personal success.

This blog started with a challenge to the way we manage our careers. The intention of that challenge wasn't to provide all of the answers, it was to try to understand if a better way existed to deliver success from our working lives. I'm not a professional writer and sometimes I don't think I have done this subject justice but I have continued the challenge, learning from my mistakes along the way.

Looking back over this blog (the other career related blogs and the opinions and experiences of the people I have encountered along the way) there is more evidence today to suggest that independent, forward-looking career leadership is not only possible, but also within the reach of more people now than any time previously. The moment anyone has a decision or choice related to work (e.g. Which company do I join? What skills should I learn? or What do I want from my next year at work?) they also have the opportunity to make that choice alongside a preference for where it might lead their future career.

The best and simplest method of ensuring that the decisions we make today are connected to what we would like from the future, lies with an understanding of our individual values, talents and goals. Asking three simple questions, "What is important to me?", "What am I good at?" and "What do I want more of?", brings values, talents and goals and our relationship with work into view. As this understanding develops, for the first time decisions can be made in a context that looks beyond immediate factors and needs. A connection between the decisions we make today the opportunity they create for our careers in the future.

Although supporting evidence has grown, this conversation needs to face new challenges today if it is to deliver value to anyone else in the future. Its future relies on the ability to make a difference to individual careers and that future was never in the hands of this blog. To use a personal example, a great deal has changed in my own career since this blog started but responding to this change and continuing in a direction that makes sense for my career is down to an understanding of my values, talents and goals and what they define as my personal success.

There is some risk to considering this conversation in your own career decision making but if this blog has achieved anything to date, it is demonstrating the rewards for doing so.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

What outplacement did next

The next few years present outplacement consultancies with a once in a generation opportunity to respond to what some commentators have called once in a generation economic conditions.

Outplacement has an opportunity to deliver greater value to individual careers and contribute more positively to the health and success of their clients' organisations.

Working with individuals who have experienced outplacement at various levels illustrates the need for a new process that delivers career long benefits. Academic and customer satisfaction studies over the last few decades highlight this. For example, outplacement is challenged for focusing only on re-employment [Davenport, D. W. (1984). Outplacement counseling: Whither the counselor? Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 32, 185-190] and for having little or no interest in studying the results from the perspective of individual clients [Wooten, K. C. (1996). Predictors of client satisfaction in executive outplacement: Implications for service delivery. Journal of Employment Counseling, 33, 106-116].

More recent studies offer new insights but the example of the challenges above best illustrate the need for innovation in the aims, delivery, results and measurement of quality outplacement services. Why? Because the need for change highlighted in 1984 and 1996 has had enough time to sink in.

Have you gone through an outplacement process as an individual? Has your company engaged an outplacement consultancy? What were your experiences? What were the results? What were the longer-term outcomes? If you have an opinion please comment here or email me at worklifefusion(at)googlemail(dot)com

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Celebrating the decline of the job for life

New US Department of Labor statistics quoted in the previous post continue to reveal more about employee/employer relationships and the career long relationship between individuals and their work. Despite the job and direction changes they expose, it wasn’t too long ago that the phrase ‘a job for life’ was associated with many careers.

Employers and employees took a longer term view of their commitment and it was not uncommon for a 25 or 30 year career to be spent within the same organisation. So why is it now time to celebrate these statistics and welcome the decline of the job for life?

Employers have benefited for some time from more fluidity in the labour market but the advantages to employees are only just beginning to be fully understood. With the ability to exercise choice throughout their career, the average worker has the chance to apply the lessons learned through direct, practical experience in their career decision making. 

This degree of insight into any individual relationship with work is invaluable. For example, a career decision made at 18 years of age might still be relevant at age 35 but if it is not, a more informed choice can be based on the understanding created through 20 years in work.

Interpreting an individual’s values, talents and goals enables such informed choices to be made. Decisions are based on what an individual has learned through their full range of experiences at work, what this qualifies them to do and what they are motivated to do in the future.

The decline of the job for life has created the opportunity for more individuals to pursue personal success. This in turn can create a greater number of successful and meaningful relationships with work. A reason to celebrate indeed.

Friday, 12 September 2008

One career, One conversation

According to new statistics from the US Department of Labor, individuals born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 10.8 jobs from ages 18 to 42. Similar studies have revealed that the average US worker experiences 3 to 5 trade/professional changes over the lifetime of their career.

This report and statistics like the above are a fantastic insight into the nature of careers, job searching, recruitment, redundancy and a host of other aspects that influence individual success but for me the most interesting question it provides insight into is: How should we prepare for the life of our career?

In the 3 to 5 direction changes and 10.8 jobs, the average worker will interview, meet recruiters, work alongside new colleagues, experience new bosses and work with a variety of customers and clients. Jobs, surroundings, locations, pay and satisfaction are all variables but one remaining constant is the individual's relationship with work. This in turn suggests a dialogue focusing on our relationship with work, adaptable to the changing nature of our careers, as the best preparation for any individual.

A long-term dialogue based on the pursuit of personal success, founded on rigourously tested values, talents and goals, prepares for the changes all individual careers will encounter. Not only does this understanding allow different jobs and direction changes to be dealt with, it also goes further to ensure that changes are made in a direction that delivers improvement to the individual with every step.

Of course, not every change will be a promotion (change for example, could mean redundancy) but each change can be experienced, even managed, with the application of past learning in present decision making. In addition, guidelines from the fundamental elements that continue to shape our relationship with work (e.g. values, talents and goals) provide insight into a preferred direction going forward.

Studies like the above create opportunities for those of us in work today (and those beginning their careers) to learn from the practical experiences of others. Opportunities that can positively influence individual relationships with work and personal success.

I am currently researching similar statistics for the UK and other nations. If you know of any relevant, recently released studies outside of the US your input would be most welcome. If you have any comments or emails regarding the above, please send them along or post them here. Enjoy the weekend ahead, With Thanks, Paul 

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Making network connections

At a recent networking event I met with an entrepreneur and we talked about her new venture. It was soon clear that the business concept was a sound one. The individual energy, passion and expertise were all in place. The profile of the business had grown beyond all expectation but at the same time something was missing.

Continuing our conversation we agreed on an important point, in this case the need for a professional marketing opinion. We also agreed that neither of us were experts in this field. The good news was that between us we had worked closely with professional marketers in the past. Between us we could make a connection and an introduction with the potential to move this entrepreneurial business one additional step forward.

Considering this encounter a few days after the event, there are parallels with the networking activity that forms an integral part of successful career management and job searching. Most networking conversations and introductions will not create immediate opportunity but they are great opportunities for understanding and gaining new perspectives. What can you learn about the other person, their career or business? What are their priorities, trends in their market or expectations from the future? How does your perspective differ and importantly, as in the earlier example, what opportunities do your combined networks create?

Understanding in such situations creates opportunities on both sides. The people in your network (old and new alike) can easily be the greatest asset in your pursuit of personal success but becoming so depends on their success too. Creating opportunities, regardless of whether they appear to benefit you immediately or not, enables success in the future. A narrow focus for your network discussions also contrasts with the aims of a successful career management plan and what it can help you achieve. 

Monday, 8 September 2008

Challenging the outplacement response to redundancy

How could outplacement services deliver more value to both employers & employees?

Outplacement success is traditionally measured by how quickly an individual gets back to work. While this is not an unreasonable aim, it often doesn't take into account the longer-term impact on the individual's career. Evidence also exists to show that long-term commercial & organisational opportunities from the employer's perspective are also being missed.

Getting an individual back into work is a necessary objective but the longer-term after-effects of redundancy - as well as the number of individuals who go through outplacement repeatedly -presents a challenge that providers of outplacement services have yet to respond to meaningfully.

So, is it reasonable to ask outplacement providers for something more strategic than short-term re-employment? In my view the answer is yes, and there are now practical as well as statistical means to support this.

Employees, employers and outplacement providers could all benefit from a revision of their aims and expectations. Providing individuals with a service that achieves short-term re-employment but also considers broader career factors - e.g. personal success, managing opportunity situations, decision making in context, etc. - can deliver value to the former employee well into the future and well beyond the initial redundancy event.

A service that considers the long-term aims of the former employee also creates advantages for the employer as well (employers are the fee-paying client after all!).  As discussed in a previous post, investment in an individual's future is one that repays both parties over time. As well as more meaningful management data from every intervention, employers can positively impact their organisational culture and employer brand. In-turn helping them to attract, motivate and retain the people they need in order to be successful.

Delivering value in outplacement situations is a challenge to employers and outplacement providers alike. Both sides should be looking to take their partnerships and the opportunities they create, to the next level. In the economic climate many commentators are now predicting, benefits to employers and employees facing redundancy situations play a pivotal role in business and career success for a growing number of people on both sides.

If you have an opinion or a personal experience relevant to this subject or any of the other subjects discussed on this blog, please comment or email me directly!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

KEEP Consulting: The value of career conversations between employers and employees

Traditionally, employers & employees do not discuss careers. Discussions that focus on an employee’s future regularly take place but exploring the independent direction and development of an individual’s career is a rare thing indeed.

This poses an interesting question: Is there an opportunity that both sides are missing?

A career conversation between employer and employee can become a powerful statement of partnership. Even if an employee leaves there are investment returns that both parties continue to benefit from. Through a strategic career dialogue employers can positively impact the future of their former employees beyond their time within the business.

So, what do employers get out of this? First, a positive investment by their brand that former employees carry with them throughout their future careers. Second, significant benefit if the employee decides to remain within the business.

This is where things start to get exciting. An employee leaving is actually the worst case scenario  but even this can have its positives, as seen above.

Before an employee leaves the company, a career conversation has even more to offer. A strategic career dialogue establishes clear priorities for the future. It also connects employees to their development with a greater influence on motivation. There is also evidence proving that both employer and employee gain a unified perspective on how to achieve mutual reward and results.

In short, a valuable connection (or re-connection) is made between the individual and the organisation through a strategic career dialogue. Through our successfully delivered client work to organisations & individuals alike, we [KEEP Consulting] have proven the ability of career dialogue to offer unique, long-term advantages for both sides. Particularly in situations where performance, business strategy, investment and resources are under pressure or review.

The career conversation is a subject employees and employers have the opportunity to rethink and benefit from in a variety of ways in the future. If you are an employee or an employer and you have an opinion or a situation that might be relevant, we invite you to contact us and begin a new dialogue!


This article is an excerpt from a white paper by KEEP Consulting Ltd.
Visit http://www.keepconsulting.net for more information.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Complex career issues

The first reader poll on this blog finished a few days ago with a small majority voting for more of the same, i.e. debate about complex career issues. With that result in mind, during a recent conversation I was told about a General Manager who received resignation letters from four of the managers in his region (almost half of his mid-tier leadership team). Now this fits the bill as a complex issue but what career issues are also involved?

Clearly, the four individuals who chose to leave made an earlier decision to separate their employer from their career decision making. They also came to the joint conclusion that their careers would be better served elsewhere. Without learning more about the situation it is difficult to pinpoint cause and effect but we do know that somewhere along the line, the feeling of partnership with their employer was lost.

This is an interesting case study for employers and employees alike. From an employer's perspective, detailed career dialogue with an employee can serve as a point of alignment and it has the potential to avoid situations like this. Employers are working harder than ever to understand what employees at this level want from their future and a career dialogue creates opportunities on both sides.

Of course, a career focused conversation won't always be enough to prevent employees leaving. There are some offers that can't be beaten after all. In this example, an existing career dialogue with mutually agreed priorities could have provided common ground for talks before any decision to leave was made. From that point at least the opportunities for continued partnership between employer and employee could have been discussed.

Monday, 1 September 2008

A broader perspective

One of the great things about blogging is the access it gives to opinion. Blogs are written on most subjects, whatever your questions or interests might be. It was reading blogs that inspired me to become a blogger myself and contribute something to the debate.

MultiCultClassics is an example of a great blog that got me into blogging in the first place and I have enjoyed reading it for a while now. For me, the heart of the MCC blog is the assertion that starting from a narrow perspective (in this case a lack of cultural diversity in the advertising agency world) creates a limited outlook. Even if efforts are made subsequently to redress or balance this view.

Following the MCC blog over time has helped me to recognise the same principle at work in career planning. If your career perspective is limited at the planning stage, the opportunity for it to deliver satisfaction and success in the future is limited too.

Developing an understanding of what drives our careers and our relationship with work at a more fundamental level delivers a broader, more accurate definition of success. As well as a clearer view of the opportunities where progress can be made.

If you are intrigued by brand communications and/or comment on the evolution of an entire industry sector, you might find the MultiCultClassics perspective interesting. If you have an interest in the future of your career, you could always add your perspective to the debate here.