Friday, 31 October 2008

Career management, Self-leadership & Personal success

Google any of the above terms and you will find lively opinion from a variety of sources in your results. Some are in-depth, multi-faceted academic studies. Others showcase business services aimed at support and development. Some are the experiences or opinions of one individual but are no less interesting or informative for that reason. For the sake of an argument, what if you arrived at this blog after searching Career Management, Self-leadership or Personal Success. What would the message be here?

The underlying message would be that the three are connected. Career Management forms the context for this connection. Career Management combined with self-leadership enables the individual to set the agenda and the direction for their career. Self-leadership alone does not guarantee career satisfaction but when it is combined with Personal Success - that is success defined by an individual's values, talents and goals - self-leadership takes on the potential to deliver meaningful work and fulfilment.

Many people lead and manage their careers successfully: gaining promotions, pay increases, growing responsibility and status: but for success to have personal meaning - for it to leave us satisfied with our efforts, happy with our impact on others, proud of our achievements - the management of our careers needs something more. That something can be better understood by defining our own, unique version of personal success. Allowing us to apply self-leadership in the direction of purpose and fulfilment.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Opportunity management V - Mutual benefit

The last post on opportunity management - Opportunity management IV - talked about recognising the situations that present us with choice but what really enables the recognition part of this equation? Recently I have been working with an individual whose ability to recognise situations for their opportunity potential is exemplary. So how does she do it?

As well as a positive, engaging outlook, an absence of fear is definitely at work. This does not imply recklessness but it does mean that she asks questions freely and her intentions are out in the open. 

This means that the active conversation not only being the subject at hand but the chief motivation for the conversation as well. In other words, the subject contains the opportunity and its potential is already being explored (as opposed to the conversation being a subtext for a hidden agenda).

Recognising opportunities relies on an interest in the subjects you discuss and a two-way dialogue that illuminates on both sides. In situations like this - thanks to the example of outstanding professionals - relevant, mutual opportunities are much less likely to be missed.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Prem's story: Short & Long-term career planning

Here is a quick story from Prem about a career planning strategy that needed to answer immediate priorities but at the same time ensure that progress was being made towards a longer term objective.

Prem wanted to break into a new career but found it difficult and kept being rejected. Looking back at his initial job search activity with hindsight, it was clear that Prem was putting his new career objective ahead of what the job market saw him as qualified to do. There was a whole section of the market that was being ignored by this 'destination first' career advice he had been following.

Prem realised that a better plan of attack was to work with the market and target the jobs and companies that were interested in him but make it clear to them he had plans to develop in a certain direction. Finding a new employer who would support him in this aim was no simple task but - with his existing market qualifications and personal commitment to a career development plan that could benefit his new employer as well - it became a challenge that he was qualified and equipped to meet immediately.

The good news is that Prem is out there in the job market at the moment and the tide is already turning in his favour. Prem's story - even though it is told anonymously here - should be an inspiration to anyone looking to manage and develop their career in the short and long-term future. Good luck as your search continues Prem!


work/life fusion now shares reciprocal links with Not only is JibberJobber a great blog about managing your career and job search activity, it is also a tool that actively helps you to do the same. This recent blog post - DO NOT Lose Faith In Yourself - talks about managing your job search through challenging times and shares interesting direct experiences too!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Boulos's story: Job satisfaction

Job satisfaction is tricky to understand. The earlier Job satisfaction post on this blog looks at the difficulty analysing it, how it can be disguised and - for those lucky enough to find it - how uplifting it can be.

Here is another brief, first-person account, this time on the subject of seeking and finding job satisfaction.

Boulos says, "I did find some job satisfaction in my previous career. I won promotions, got increases in pay and went on interesting assignments but there were also negative aspects that weren't being addressed. The work that interested me most kept pulling me away from what my employer wanted for me. In the end, this wasn't something that titles, money and travel could distract me from. I ended up taking a big risk to further my studies and turn the direction of my career towards the work I wanted the most."

Boulos goes on to say, "I wouldn't advise anyone to do what I did. I was lucky to have a boss who supported me and I now know the same can be achieved without putting so much at risk. Start with the work that interests you most and talk to as many people as you can about it, friends, family, colleagues, anyone. In the end you'll find partners who will help you along the way and make sure the steps you take are supported."

Boulos's story could be described as an attempt to define personal success. Boulos hung in for the work he wanted because the alternative was one that ultimately didn't satisfy. His progress could have been made easier with an earlier focus on his values, talents and goals - which could have helped him define his route and partnerships more clearly. But - and it is a worthy but - his conclusions on finding the right partners and his success in achieving the job satisfaction he sought will find no challenge here.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Managing career change

Career change comes with unique challenges but a great deal of lasting importance can be learned about our individual relationship with work when change is chosen or forced upon us. Moments of career change can also be the best time to apply career learning based on our hard-won, personal experiences.

Individuals who deal with career change well are able to do so because they understand their current situation as well as their preferred direction for the future. These best-in-class 'Opportunity Managers' understand the pros and cons of their current job, how it might be improved and where they would like it to take them.

When new opportunities come along, their relative merits can be assessed in the same context, allowing critical questions to be answered faster and with greater relevance. Questions like, How is this new job an improvement? How does it affect my current commitments? What additional experiences will I gain? How will it help my long-term objectives move forward?

With a clearer understanding of what is important to you, what you are good at and what you want more of in the future, career change can be managed within the context of personal success. For anyone new to this blog, personal success is the version of success that you define through your values, talents and goals.

Acquiring this knowledge, applying it to your current situation and referring to it in your ongoing career decision making, enables career change to be managed - along best-in-class lines - with your preferences in mind.


Email or comment with your career change scenarios, questions or success stories to help the debate move forward. My thanks to everyone for reading, Paul.

Friday, 17 October 2008

work/life balance wobbles some more...

This post on The Times AlphaMummy blog - Work-life balance - Everybody wants it, nobody has a clue how to get it [specifically point 1 about work/life balance] - reminded me of the first set of posts that got this blog started. Back then this blog was about the career planning and decision making questions work/life balance was failing to answer.

The intention wasn't to start with a negative story. Work/life balance has been enormously useful to organisations and individuals since it was first coined as a term in the 1970s. Among other things it forced employers to think about the intrusion of work into the personal lives of their employees. It also gave individuals the chance to recognise the importance of their commitments and interests outside of work and how they might be protected.

What was always beyond work/life balance however, was the ability to understand and rationalise the relationship between work and 'non-work' in individual cases. This blog set out to explore the subject further, test new solutions and support career planning and decision making for positive outcomes.

In thinking about what comes after work/life balance, employers and employees are authoring a new chapter in the story of work/life relationships and the most exciting progress is being made right now.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Oliver's story: Internal promotion

This is Oliver's description of managing a recent career development opportunity, told briefly in his own words: "I worked in the operations team but always wanted to work on the investment side. With help I was able to leverage my experience and gain the relevant experience without the title, to the point that I have now secured a role on the investment team."

So, what did Oliver do from a career management perspective? First, he objectified his intention to move from a support role to his employer's core business function. Once this goal was established, Oliver could interpret and manage situations for their ability to help him achieve this aim. This meant that when he was asked to take on additional workload and responsibility in a crisis, it was easier for him to see it as a proving ground for his talents. If he performed well it would be another qualifying step towards his goal of internal promotion.

Looking back on these events, on the subject of careers advice Oliver said: "I have used career services before and have generally been disappointed. I found that traditionally, such advice is focused purely on how to progress externally so it offered little help in my situation."

Oliver's experiences also prove how close opportunities for internal development can be. He was already in a position of trust within his employer's business. Demonstrating that he could be relied upon when the company needed him most confirmed his greater potential within the business and gave his managers the opportunity they needed to realise this too.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Career perspectives defines perspective as, 'the faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship'. Perspective can also mean, 'the choice of a single point of view from which to sense, categorize, measure or codify experience' ( The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary simply calls perspective, 'a particular way of considering something'.

Perspective in the context of career planning is essential to success and all of these definitions play a part. The ability to see all relevant data is important but almost impossible to achieve without outside help. For example, you may be convinced that you are the best candidate for a job but that conviction needs to be shared externally in order for you to be successful.

Perspective as a single point of view is vital to a healthy relationship with work. If you are not happy in your career it doesn't matter how many other people envy your position, your sense of fulfilment or ability to achieve personal success is greatly reduced.

Personal success is a particular way of considering success. Not better or worse in comparison to anyone else, just appropriate to your unique perspective.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Knowledge, choice and understanding

No one is born with knowledge of work. Knowledge of work is something we have all acquired. In acquiring our knowledge of work we all make choices. For example, some choose to be doctors or teachers and acquire knowledge appropriate to these professions.

Admittedly, the choices for some are more limited than others but even limited choice does not change the fact that our knowledge of work is largely dictated by what we have chosen. Choice has played a large part in your understanding regardless of whether you have chosen to understand corporate finance, global investment markets, JIT manufacturing processes or people and business leadership.

So if knowledge is the result of a choice to understand, choosing to understand is a critical, early step in knowledge accumulation. To steal from an old maxim, if power lies in knowledge maybe understanding lies in choice?

Don't worry, all of this unsophisticated wordplay does have a point. The reason behind the above is to test the following statement: When choice - even limited choice - is available, knowledge and understanding are available too. The choice to understand your relationship with work - and the knowledge that this choice can create - is therefore within reach of us all.

So says the theory at least...!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Career Decision Making: The longer term view

In any decision making there are always essential, short-term priorities to be considered. For long-term plans to be successful, they must be able to interpret and adjust to everyday events. If they fail to do this, decision making begins to lose its relevance or, worse still, the long term plan becomes obsolete. Career decision making is a good example of planning that needs to be alive to the moment but also mindful of longer term aims.

For instance, you might be offered a promotion but you had planned on retiring in a few years time. Flexing your retirement plan to accept the promotion might be the decision that serves you best before and after you retire. Without the ability for your long-term plan to change, taking the promotion is out of the question and all of its positive effects are placed out of reach.

Good career planning should move us closer to what we want in the future by enabling better decision making in the present. A clearer understanding of our values, talents and goals can move us closer to personal success, one decision at a time.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

work/life: A long term relationship

One advantage in working with the same people over time is that you get to know them very well. You learn to appreciate what people/colleagues/friends are good at, where they need help, what situations or tasks they would rather avoid. All the while they are learning the same about you. In the long run, good relationships are lasting while those that challenge without reward tend to fall away.

Relationships that last don't always do so through everyday contact. Sometimes there are prolonged gaps between encounters but you always recognise a good relationship because that call out of the blue or chance meeting can be uplifting for some time afterward. It can lead to more regular contact in the future as well.

There are similarities in the way we as individuals relate to work. Sometimes our relationship with work isn't easy and we don't feel rewarded. Occasionally there can be a separation we would like to avoid -- redundancy is a good example of this.

Through the good times and bad, our relationship with work is one we are tied to for the length of our career. For this reason alone, it helps us to work through the difficulties and learn what we can to make the relationship work.

Just like good relationships created with colleagues and friends over time, a successful relationship with work can be achieved through an appreciation of what is important to you, where your strengths lie and what keeps you going. Values, talents and goals defining personal success.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Redundancy: Is there a positive future?

Some employers are quick to turn to redundancies when times get tough. The business case often used is: 1. We need to cut costs. 2. People are a big cost. 3. Let's get rid of some people.

Making people redundant is viewed as a risk but that risk is believed to be overshadowed by the need for business survival. In other words, without the cost saving of redundancies the business will fail.

There are undoubtedly circumstances where this is true but also true is the underestimation of the risk that redundancies pose to the business. Alongside this underestimation of risk on the part of the employer is an over-experiencing of difficulty by the individuals being made redundant.

Today's Times Online article - The day I was made redundant - is a good example. It describes the difficulties of the redundancy experience from an individual's point of view as well as the hit-and-miss nature of the organisational support on offer. So how could the experience be different on both sides?

Employers can identify the faults in their traditional responses and act with targeted solutions in mind. Employees can be offered support that helps them embrace and manage the opportunities that changing circumstances create for them. Risk and opportunity on both sides can be managed more effectively. Agreements can be made that address priorities within the context of success as seen from all sides.

For sure, redundancy will never be a perfect experience but it could be given a future more positive than its negative history might suggest.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Laura's story: Career Inspiration

Every now and then - almost without fail - a personal story about work comes along that is just plain inspiring. Such stories are hard to do justice when they are re-told because the person telling their own story brings it to life best. I hope the following story doesn't lose too much in translation. 

Laura's family had a successful restaurant business. She worked in the restaurants from an early age and loved the interaction with the customers and being part of the team. She was talented, hard-working and the natural choice to lead the business in the future. After leaving school everyone expected Laura to continue in the family business but to their surprise, she turned this down to pursue a career elsewhere.

After carving out a successful entrepreneurial career in property development, having a family, buying several houses at home and abroad - all without family assistance - Laura had reached a key moment in her career. After a lot of thought, she surprised everyone again, this time by choosing to join the family business.

This story has been simplified a great deal but although it misses the vibrancy of its original telling it can still inspire. This is because it demonstrates a number of attributes essential to a successful relationship with work: determination, commitment, self-sacrifice, humility, self-direction, clarity of thought, the list could go on. But, more than any of these, Laura's story demonstrates the value of exploring your relationship with work at a fundamental level.

Laura could have easily taken the job in her family's business and been very successful but she realised - at an earlier age than most - that success without personal meaning isn't enough. Laura wanted to prove to herself that she was the best candidate to lead the family business and that this career choice was relevant to her values, talents and goals once she understood them better. Laura's reward is the knowledge that a genuine connection did exist and that with it comes a greater chance of success with personal meaning and a far more rewarding relationship with work.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Prepare for the worst (Question that is..)

I've spent most of today preparing for an upcoming meeting. Making sure I have done my homework. Trying to anticipate the kind of questions I am likely to be asked. Looking for the unexpected holes that the other person always seems so skilled at finding.

The whole process has reminded me of preparing for an interview. So it seemed appropriate to post a few thoughts on preparation or readiness. As always, these thoughts aren't so much my own as they are a collection of the best advice and best practice I am lucky enough to have encountered over my career in live interview and assessment.

The best advice I have encountered on the subject of preparing for a big interview is knowing the outcome you are working towards and why you want to achieve it. There are snappier lines but for one reason or another, this is the one that has stayed with me.

When everything else is removed, the components that remain are you, the person(s) you are meeting and what each of you would like the encounter to achieve. Yes, it is important to know what the other side wants but turning up to an interview just to please the interviewer is rarely a winning strategy on its own. At some point, your interests have to be aired and justified too.

If you are asked, 'Why are you here today?' or 'What would you like this meeting to achieve?' or an old interview favourite like 'What would you like to be doing 5 years from now? ...', if your preparation on the above is clear, your answer will be clear too.

Good luck to anyone preparing their answer at this moment in time!