Archive for March, 2017

What Are You Pinning Your Career To?

March 27th, 2017

Most of us will recall many a childhood party that involved a game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’. Blindfolded and invariably spun around numerous times to disorient, we walked aimlessly towards a board with a picture of a donkey, firmly holding the missing tail and hoping to get lucky as we aimed to pin it to the right end of said animal. Many of us considered ourselves lucky if we even managed to connect the tail to any part of the donkey let alone the right end! Generally speaking there was lots of ensuing laughter at how ridiculously misplaced our judgment actually was.

Interestingly I meet many people who seem to have adopted a ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ approach to their career. Progressing through their careers blindfolded, directionless and hoping that their knowledge and skills are ‘pinned’ to the right job or manager inside their organization. Often they too find themselves disoriented and making poor decisions due to a lack of career planning or clarity about what they want.

Whilst we all know that rich and rewarding careers don’t just happen, too often career planning is something that is relegated to the ‘too hard’, ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I don’t know what to do’ baskets. Why? Because it is hard; and it does require time and action to figure out what you do want. It requires us to reflect, get curious about what is possible and challenge ourselves on what actions and directions to take. The risk though of not planning is finding yourself stuck or overlooked for new opportunities when they do arise. With no plan, how can we be ready to position ourselves for the right opportunities when they are presented?

Creating lasting relevant careers that offer genuine challenge and fulfillment requires you to ‘dig your well’ long before you are thirsty. As leadership expert John Maxwell explains, ‘if you are preparing today, chances are you will not be repairing tomorrow’. Preparation as he notes, doesn’t just begin with what you do, it begins with what you believe. If you believe that your success tomorrow depends on what you do today, then you will treat today differently.

As leaders we need to do this not only for ourselves but also with the people that we lead. Failing to understand what our people want, can and will do sees us risking retention of key performers, engagement and ultimately productivity. How can we ensure that we have the right people, in the right place at the right time if individuals don’t know what they want and leaders don’t know how to help them work it out?

Creating career choice and confidence requires us to build knowledge in three key areas: Clarity, Demand and Transferability. These three elements should form the basis of your career plan and be underpinned by strong networks that allow you to understand how you are regarded and to position yourself effectively.

  1. Build clarity: Around what you can do (Skills, Knowledge, Experience); what you want to do (Values, Career Anchors) and where you think you best fit (Personality, People, Culture).
  2. Build demand: Become the expert in what it is that you do and the way in which you do it. Learn how to position yourself as the expert and give people and organisations a reason to want to engage with you.
  3. Build Transferability: Identify where your skills and capabilities also apply. Remain relevant to the future of your business, your industry, and your networks and become nimble enough to adapt and leverage with the inevitable changes ahead.

It is always worth remembering that the organisation owns the role, whilst you own your career. As such the more that you invest in owning it, the greater agility, relevance and confidence you will have in growing a purposeful career.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts below.


Margot BLACK Signature

The Business Of You

March 21st, 2017

Current employment trends have seen us bear witness to ever increasing job competition at all levels; rising unemployment figures; increased redundancies and company downsizing; low job security; and new technologies continuing to disrupt the way in which we do business.

‘Getting ahead’ on the career ladder and successfully navigating the volatility and ever-changing nature of the employment landscape is a challenge we all face. I recently heard a comment that obtaining career success requires individuals to consider themselves as entrepreneurs and their careers as a start up business. Reid Hoffman (Linked in Co-Founder) and Ben Casnocha wrote a book on this very topic, stating that the skills that start-ups require are the very skills that professionals need in order to advance their careers: nimbleness, personal investment, strong networks and intelligent risk taking.

Building these skills into your career requires a high degree of self-awareness, confidence and foresight: it requires a well-executed plan. Without one it is all too easy to become caught in the whirlpool of uncertainty, change and fierce competition.

For many of us who have spent time in leading businesses and teams, we are familiar with the process and benefits of writing practical, action oriented business plans. They force us to think realistically, objectively and unemotionally about our business. They allow us to review our goals, successes and challenges in a timely manner and make necessary changes on route. They allow us to make informed decisions about investment; identify areas where additional learning and support is required; and identify both risks and emerging opportunities.

So why are so many of us not creating plans for our careers? For many it seems to be a case of the ‘rabbit in headlights’ scenario – not knowing what we want, not knowing how to effectively develop or implement a personal plan, and not having the time. If you are to accelerate your career or stand out in the market place, there is no denying that you need a robust and adaptable plan. Creating one that offers you clear direction, practical building blocks, and builds resilience, is critical if you are to achieve personal fulfillment and career success.

Consider how you can apply these following seven strategies to help you future proof and accelerate your career today:

Be ready for change: It is estimated that over 65% of today’s children are currently being educated for jobs that don’t yet exist (Cathy Davidson – Futures specialist). The ability to develop and adapt your personal career plans as you change, as our social environments change, and industries and business protocols change is critical if you are to maintain relevance and protect your career.

Invest in your strengths: To build your competitive advantage you need to not only know your strengths but how best to build upon them, where to apply them and where they are most valued.

Never Stop Learning: Never assume that you know all there is to know about managing your career – even transitioning out of a full time career takes planning and foresight. Begin by investing time to acquire the right intelligence and know-how that will accelerate your career. Investigate key industry trends and challenges; recent business success stories; know who the key influencers and thought leaders are. Be proactive in educating yourself in what is required from both an industry and individual perspective.

Invest in a career coach or mentor: Building and maintaining career momentum can be difficult. It is all too easy to get caught up in the business of doing and for many the career management process becomes a stop start process. A career coach can provide clarity of direction, consistency of focus and provide new tools and perspectives to elevate performance and productivity.

Strengthen your professional network: Invest in the right relationships and dedicate time and energy to them. Identify your key influencers and thought leaders, and identify a meaningful pathway of how to approach and engage with them. Build a networking plan that fosters authentic professional relationships where you can also offer valuable contributions.

Take proactive risks: Low risk is often associated with stability. However it has been suggested that in the long term, continually opting for the low risk options leads to increased vulnerability as it reduces our resilience to deal with sudden and high level change.  ‘Playing it safe’ with your career can in fact create higher risk through an inability to cope with the volatility and rate of change which is all to common in the market place today.

Create balance: When we create balance we create strength. Healthy relationships and interests outside of work help not bring a strong sense of calm, being grounded, resilience and motivation.  You can contribute to the success of your career by building balance and dedicating time and attention to your family and personal life.

If we are to build rich and rewarding careers that see us thriving and not just merely surviving we need a plan to get ahead. Without it we will simply be in the same place this time next year wondering why nothing has changed.

In the words of Mark Twain… the secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is knowing your career purpose, breaking down your larger goals into manageable, realistic tasks and simply starting on the first one.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

Margot BLACK Signature

How Healthy Are Your Work Habits?

March 14th, 2017

I was recently reading an interview with Diane von Furstenberg (renowned fashion designer) and Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter) about their daily habits and routines. I was particularly taken with Diane’s response to the question of how she started her day: ‘I start by sending one email each day that does not benefit me at all’. She went on to explain that it could be an introduction, a note of congratulations or a simple compliment.

What an incredible, simple act of generosity and influence that has an enormous capacity to impact individuals, workplace culture and broader networks. Whilst this daily habit does not immediately or directly benefit her day-to-day responsibilities, I do believe that over time it has the potential to greatly impact her business and career success. Her personal and professional reputation, the quality of her networks, the engagement of her staff, the potential for new opportunities and least of all the shaping of a positive and grateful mindset are but a few of the long term benefits to be had from this simple action.

We all know that success can be made or broken by the habits we form. They either become the major obstacles or the greatest foundations to all that we do. In short the actions (big and small) we take or don’t take today, do shape our tomorrow.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, a highly regarded New York Times business journalist explores why some people and companies struggle with change while others seem to effortlessly reinvent themselves overnight. The answer he says is in our ability to understand how habits work and to focus on the daily patterns that shape our lives. Knowing what triggers our routines and what rewards we are really seeking is critical to changing or motivating our future actions.

In his book, he uses the example of how every day at 3pm he would stop what he was doing, head for the office cafeteria, grab a biscuit and chat with colleagues before returning to his desk twenty or so minutes later. Whilst he knew that he was putting on weight, he just couldn’t seem to break the habit.

When examining his habit he established that the time of day was his ‘cue’, the trip to the cafeteria was his ‘routine’ and the cookie was his so called ‘reward’. However when he really looked at it further, it wasn’t the cookie that was his reward it was the opportunity to engage with his colleagues. When he realised this, he was able to create new practices or habits that gave him the same reward. In doing so, he also saved both time and money whilst also greatly increasing productivity.

In essence we need to identify habits that serve our purpose. To eliminate or change those that are not we need to develop the ability to diagnose why we continue to do what we do. When we can effectively diagnose them, we can influence them. With this in mind, it is worth asking what patterns am I focusing on to shape my current and future career success? What daily habits am I taking (or not taking) to support how I effectively deliver on my role, grow my capability and brand, and to develop my team and myself?

I would encourage you to think about some of the daily actions below that are widely regarded as the key habits of successful leaders and ask yourself how they could reward you and your career:

  • Start your day early: Creating space for both ourselves and to think about the day ahead provides a buffer to its demands. It helps us position ourselves strategically, positively and with a sense of control about what we are doing.
    1. Commit to adding value: There is no way to get ahead without committing to add value. Everyone you engage with needs to see, hear and feel value in the interactions they have with you. When they do they will invariably talk about it and seek to replicate it with what they do.
    2. Read something related to your industry: To remain informed and in-demand, you need to know what’s being demanded. What are the current trends, practices and opportunities for your industry? With sources such as LinkedIn and online industry free publications that can be delivered straight to your inbox it is all too easy to source the information.
    3. Focus on your network: Daily actions taken to invest in the growth and relevance of your network will help future-proof your success.
    4. Learn how to ‘fold time’: Learning how to maximise ‘incidental time’ not only improves your productivity but also helps us create time. Time spent commuting can be converted to daily exercise routines, your personal development time or engaging with networks. Rather than having to find extra time, we can simply maximise the use of the time we already have.
    5. Acknowledge your wins and achievements: This does not mean shouting from the corner office or endless self-promotion. Recognising how and where your capabilities, knowledge and skillsets have added value will help you determine new and relevant opportunities.
  • Reflect: All to often we race through our day ticking things off our to-do lists or filing things away with little consideration to how they add value or ways we could further enhance it. Taking a moment at the end of each day to reflect allows you align your daily tasks with the bigger picture and ensures that you remain focused on the immediate requirements at hand.

So maybe tomorrow before you open up your to-do list, tackle your inbox, or dive head first into your day, take a moment to consider how your daily patterns and habits are setting you and your team up for career success.

For me, I am going to try and adopt Diane von Furstenberg’s daily practice of sending an email that doesn’t (immediately or directly) benefit me at all.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts.


Margot BLACK Signature

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