Want to Launch Your Career? Try These Strategies

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Photo by William on Unsplash

With all that is written about how organizations are evolving to engage today’s employees, I can’t help but think about the opportunities that we have as contributors to transform those very same organizations. Our own actions shape our careers, and the fact remains that workplaces are built upon a two-way partnership — where both employers and employees contribute to eventual success.

I would venture to say, that the dynamic between the two becomes more vital with each passing day. Yes, the door swings both ways.

To consider this, we should examine the unspoken “organizational contract” that we make with our employers. What should we (as employees) do to maximize our contribution? I’ve talked to supervising managers (from sales to consulting) to get a handle on the attributes they often see in their high potential contributors.

Here’s a list based upon that feedback:

  • Strive to be industry savvy. If your are not keeping up with the current  “hot buttons” in your industry, you are probably letting yourself and your employer down. The internet offers endless possibilities to tackle industry specific topics. (You can have a brief chat with an in-house expert as well.) Get up to speed as quickly as you can.
  • Bolster your level of business acumen. Not sure how your role affects the bottom line? What your boss really does? Do you understand exactly how your organization makes and loses money? Devote an hour a week to develop this business “muscle”.
  • Take a broader view of your work. When completing an assigned project, try not to simply just check off tasks on your “to do” list.  Always focus on the end-user — whether it is an outside client or someone within the organization. How can you craft your work so it becomes more valuable to them?
  • Work with a sense of urgency. High potential employees see the necessity to build a clear road map and stay on task. As one Senior Vice President described, “They get up in the morning, have a plan, and want to accomplish their goals”.
  • Ask about company initiatives. Be as concerned about your organization as you would like them to be about you. Inquire about current challenges and initiatives. Offer help where appropriate — you’ll be the better for it.
  • Know your fellow team members. Are you assigned to a team? Being a team member is an art form — and an important part of work life today. So, do your research. You’ll be more invested in your team if you know the backgrounds of your fellow team members. If you have a tendency to “turn off” opposing opinions, you may look at things quite differently, when you know a little more about the source.
  • Don’t play the career comparison game. Career progress is an individual process. It may be frustrating when a fellow employee climbs the career ladder more quickly than you — but there may be a perfectly good reason. Don’t “abandon ship”. Trust in your value, and have confidence that you will also excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, speaker and coach You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Mastering the New Normal

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Our beloved Krups coffee maker decided it would brew its last wonderful cup of coffee this week. That might not sound like much to you. But, I assure you — to the finicky beings that are my taste buds, it is. I loved that coffeemaker. Each day it brewed the perfect cup of coffee, that would sustain me through many a morning meeting or assessment.

However, I had no choice in the matter.

Done. Kaput. Farewell.

So, I reluctantly charged off in search of a replacement. The same machine was no longer available. What? Why have you messed with success?

Change is hard. Even the small ones.

When change unceremoniously arrives at work all sorts of havoc can ensue. A little like my coffee machine dilemma, we’re not always consulted when changes occur. Whether anticipating a new boss or company-wide reorganization — change is challenging. It really is. I’ve been there. I’ve lived through lay-offs, sudden resignations and client shake-ups. (I’ve also helped teams move through those very same challenges.)

Embracing that change is an entirely different story, and that is difficult for most of us.

How do we deal with change?

I’d say, as best as we possibly can. But I’m sure that is the last thing you’d like to hear. In many cases, we manage to find that new path and we do manage to adjust.

On some level, we simply have to construct (or wait for) that “new normal” to develop.

While you are waiting, here are a few things to consider:

  • Embrace the need. While uncomfortable, our work lives demand that we appreciate and recognize the need to adapt. Organizations must evolve. In some cases, the need to revise our own course is inevitable.
  • You can maintain your identity. Remember, that the qualities you personally bring to the table will remain — even in the midst of change. Don’t assume that revisions to your work life will entirely derail you or force you to become less of a contributor.
  • Learn more. With any change, learning more about what is about to happen can alleviate the accompanying fear and anxiety. Do a “reference check” on your new supervisor. Ask for the “expanded” explanation as to why that new procedural change is necessary. (And organizations, you need to keep on explaining.)
  • Ignore the “naysayers”. The last thing you need around you is an individual who isn’t going to give the situation an iota of a chance. Inoculate yourself against the negativity that they might be spreading. It’s really not wise to borrow additional trouble.
  • Give it time. Once the changes occur, offer the situation time to settle. Some of the initial bumps that pop up, work themselves out. There is a period of re-calibration that must occur.  Once that is complete, a clearer picture may surface. You may actually like a bit of what you see.
  • Look for the up-side. Change often opens the door to more change — and there could be opportunity lurking there. If you have a new supervisor, for example, they may just be the person willing to listen to those piles of ideas you’ve carefully stored.

I hope you discover your “new normal” quickly. Meanwhile, our new Krups #KM7508 12-cup programmable coffee machine sits on our counter. It has big shoes to fill. But, I’ll have to admit — today it brewed a pretty mean cup of coffee.

Is change difficult for you? What are your strategies to deal with it?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, advisor and speaker.

How To Design A Kick A** Internship

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Have interns? I’m guessing that quite a few may have walked through your doors this month. Now, let me pose another vital question: Do you really know what to do with them? (If you’ve ever been stuck in an internship collating reports and getting coffee, you know to what I am referring.) We can do quite a bit to maximize the internship experience. So — let’s do everything we can to make this a positive, career-energizing stint.

Here are some pointers:

  • Keep things real. Ideally, the tasks that your interns complete should be similar to those that would be performed in a full-time entry-level capacity (think relevance and complexity). While there will be obvious differences in terms of level of required supervision — tasks should represent the type of work that would be experienced post-internship. Of course, this helps facilitate a smooth transition from academic life to career life.
  • Offer a broadened perspective of work. Assigning portions of a project piecemeal, with little information concerning how the work fits into the larger picture, does not a permanent employee make. Ensure that interns gain a realistic understanding of the all aspects of your work, including the inter-relationships of project components, client considerations and other business-side elements.
  • Discuss goals. Interns certainly offer a needed set of “helping hands” to your employee roster. However, don’t neglect to schedule that all-important meet-up to discuss their personal learning objectives. (Yes, interns do have opinions concerning why they are with you and what they would like to accomplish). Set the summer on the right foot — and let them know the working relationship is indeed a two-way street.
  • Pick their brains. How long have you been away from an academic setting? Your interns are a well-spring of information concerning new techniques, recent research, case studies and strategies. Inquire as to what caught their attention and have a discussion on how they might share their insights with the larger team. This process builds self-esteem and confidence.
  • Don’t underestimate them: Ramp up challenge. Ascribe to a “stair-step” strategy with regard to the assignment difficulty. Note how they handle autonomy and challenge, increasing these as time and ability allow. No intern dreams of being “stuck in neutral” — and truth be told, you’ll be wasting valuable manpower.
  • Teach networking as a defined skill. Not the easiest of skills to master in the real world — interns are in a great position to start a solid networking base. (Yes, your 20’s are important with regard to work and career. ) We know that students that complete internships are more likely to use informal job sources to find work and are more likely to be satisfied with extrinsic rewards, such as salary.

What strategies are you utilizing to to maximize the internship experience? Share them here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as one of their “Top 100 Websites for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Considering Success

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Do you consider yourself to be successful?

Yes — I’m aware that’s a loaded question. In this case, I’m speaking of workplace success. But I’m certain that by the end of this post, other elements of our lives will come into play. Work life success is a complicated construct. It has to be…simply because we’re people…and people are complicated. But, this query seems to come up quite a bit during the course of our career lives. As I coach clients (both individuals and teams), I’ve realized this question often looms central.

Unfortunately career growth is not always reflected in the numbers. When career growth doesn’t jibe with outside measures of success (such as money, power and title) — we have doubts and question our path. We tend to place great emphasis on metrics in business. What you’ve sold. What you’ve earned. How many employees you might supervise. On some level the numbers work on other levels, not nearly as well. Numbers don’t tell the entire story. They never have. Never will.

Sometimes the numbers lull us into a false sense of security. In other cases, they really don’t reflect or keep up with the progress we should really claim. I see this too. (I’ve left one or two “cushy” jobs with great salaries to pursue goals.) Think of all the organizations that have misread the cues. They may have thought they were at the top of their game — and for a time, the numbers stated that they were. However, the success was fleeting in some part, because their metrics were essentially flawed.

When we are in transition career-wise, the numbers almost never reflect the depth and breadth of what’s happening. (We may have changed paths in exchange for a lower title, for example. We may have opted to re-train. Our goals or focus may have evolved.) But, we still wait for that outside confirmation that we are doing the right thing. I’ve done this. I’m sure you have.

The important point here it to find the guideposts that work for you. These may not be anything like the metrics we are accustomed to — but will offer the information you require.

Here are a few alternative measures of success to consider:

  • You are developing a voice. We’ve all held roles where our expertise or opinions were lost or ignored. No amount of money can make up for this problem. A voice matters. Always. When you can operate at a level that let’s you know you’ve earned your turn to contribute in a meaningful way, that is priceless.
  • Mastering something new. You don’t need to leave your current work life to master something new. It’s a commitment, I know — but worth the trouble, as the rewards are certainly there.
  • You’ve found a challenge. There are “seasons” of our work lives where a new challenge is the last thing that we need. But, when there isn’t enough challenge, this too, can be suffocating. With challenge comes hard work — but also a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.
  • The chance to create something. We’ve all held jobs where our role was to sustain something — a practice, a policy, a program. But, to have the opportunity to create something new (a post, a new product, a business), is an experience that cannot be measured with traditional metrics.

There are so many other elements success that I’m sure I’ve overlooked. Please share your story here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as one of their “Top 100 Websites for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Quit Already

I’ve met a lot of great people during my journey as a coach. The lion’s share of these individuals possessed great ability and solid credentials. Above all — I feel they possessed a sincere passion for their work.  But, there was only one glaring problem. Most of them held a really bad job. These roles may not have been bad for another individual. However, the match was undoubtedly the wrong one for them.

This is usually the point where we would cross paths — a moment in their career when they were intensely unhappy at work.

Sometimes this presented as an entire department or team. Either the group was grossly under-performing, secretly plotting their exit, or half of them had already walked out the door.  The jobs these individuals held had often led to feelings of anger, bewilderment, disappointment, stress — and in some cases, despair.

No matter how far they had traveled in life, what institution they had attended, industry or personality — the stories are strikingly similar.

Work just wasn’t what it should be, or could be.

It is highly unfortunate. As a coach— this is the normal state of affairs. I rarely interview happy potential clients. I want that to stop. Now.

Of course, the state of today’s organizations plays a role in this dynamic. Certain elements of work life have evolved over time — and the social contract that once allowed us to count on longer-term employment, has been replaced by a quite a different scenario. The economy has made for some unusual job-person mismatches.

However, we are right in the thick of it all. We contribute to the malaise, because we succumb and feel immobilized.

Back in the 90’s there was a long-running television sitcom called Murphy Brown. The name sake of the show, Ms. Brown (played brilliantly by Candace Bergen) was a high-flying, highly opinionated, hot-tempered news reporter — whose over-riding style was to “kick butt and take names”. She was beautiful, witty and well-spoken. However, Ms. Brown also had a penchant for burning through assistants (during the course of the series she had 93 of them). She was, by most standards, a really lousy boss. For most of us, this situation would have been impossible to navigate. She was completely impossible to work for, and this element was a running (and highly entertaining) sub-plot of the show.

However, the really peculiar thing about all of this, was that even though her reputation preceded her — another assistant always appeared outside of her office on Monday morning. (On some level that bothered me. In the real world, I’d like to think that we would have known better.)

Inevitably, we don’t always see the signs of a poor fit. When we do see things for what they are — we’re just not sure how to act. Then work life can develop into what someone aptly described to me, as a “soul sucking” experience.

Each time I connect with a new client, I marvel at how great people have such negative experiences in the workplace. I’ve not only come to the conclusion that there are a lot mismatches out there. I have also come to realize that we play a role in this dynamic. We don’t craft the rules, but we insist on playing by the rules. I fear this can be quite dangerous.

In many cases, even though we are suffering, we feel the need to seek permission to move on. That’s the role I often seem to play. I offer permission to be happy at work. But, we can offer that to ourselves.

As they say, “You’ve had the power all along”.

It can be difficult to explain how these work life scenarios have evolved. We know that recruitment and selection aren’t perfect processes — this is a given. In many cases, we have a clue that things are not right. We may have been hopeful that we could master the situation, or that things would miraculously resolve. But in many cases, this doesn’t happen. As a result, we remain stuck and unhappy.

Many of us do not think it is even possible to claim a better work life. I’d like to think we can change that dynamic.

So let’s at least try.

Have you ever been stuck? What caused you to finally act?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.  She is also an Influencer at Linkedin.

Getting Out of Our Own Way: Employing a Life Strategy

raj-eiamworakul-1031067-unsplashAt times, we’ve all lost our way  — and finding our way back to the right path is imperative. This process can prove both confusing and painful. Often, we believe that the root problem lies externally; the wrong boss, team or organization. But, are we overlooking the obvious? In fact, looking inward might just be the best place to begin. Truth be told, we put enough obstacles in our own career paths to last more than a lifetime. When it comes down to it — we are usually right there in the mix, adding to the fog.

What if you could find that vital guidance, that mantra of direction, to actually get out of your own way once and for all? Well, developing a life strategy may be the needed prescription. It’s not fluff — it’s just plain smart.

We assume we’ll traverse through our careers (and our lives for that matter) without taking a single moment of pause to formulate a plan. (An organization wouldn’t think of moving forward without first considering a clear-cut path.) Strategy, can allow us to focus on our goals. Because at the inflection points that challenge us, we often forget to stop, breathe and look in all directions.

A great read to find that needed path is Allison Rimm’s, The Joy Of Strategy. (Her concept of the “Joy Meter” is a stunner, and that alone is worth the read. Apply the meter to your work life — and you will never view work or career, in quite the same way.)

A few things The Joy of Strategy would also like us to consider:

  • Listening more. Not to everyone else — to yourself. Stop shopping for the advice that would allow you to support what you already know you need from your work life. Trust that inner voice. What have you left behind? As Rimm describes so aptly, “Don’t die with your song still inside of you.”
  • Taking another look at purpose. We can easily confuse being busy with purpose — and defining a “clear intention” can help to filter out the “noise” surrounding our most important career decisions. When I began blogging two years ago, a colleague was less than enthused with my career pivot. This caused me real stress. But, when all was said and done — the path fulfilled my purpose to help others gain fulfillment in the workplace.
  • Visualize, visualize, visualize. Where do you really want to be? What would you be doing? What do you really want to accomplish? One solid strategy for change, is to thoroughly consider the “future state”. Go there — dream a little — it will help you master your future.
  • Defining what you really need. Be brutally honest. If you could move forward to build your best career life, what materials would you collect to ensure your success? A trusted mentor? More opportunities to lead a team? Sharper communication skills? Take the time to define these.
  • Time and Emotion.  We spend our time — but what do those moments really offer us? As Rimm explains, “We should all derive some measure of joy from our work.” I couldn’t agree more. That indeed, is a winning strategy.

How have you built your own life strategy? Tell us a little about that here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes at LinkedIn.

More Options for Today’s Working Women: Leaning “Homeward” vs Leaning “In”

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Many women would opt for time away from the traditional “9 to 5” work life to remain home with children — and a growing body of research supports this.  I reached this inflection point a short time after finishing my degree. Happily entrenched in a growing HR consulting firm (with a fair amount of career momentum on my side), it became obvious that my best laid plans for melding home and work life weren’t going to materialize. At the time, my decision to “lean out” may have appeared ill-advised — but as time would pass, it became clear that it was truly for the best.

Our young son didn’t sleep nights. He couldn’t tolerate formula. He seemed particularly distressed when we left him with a sitter for even a few hours. When I compared stories with other working mothers, things just weren’t adding up to a “lean in” scenario. The guilt and compounding stress were overpowering. I was torn between two disparate worlds that just weren’t meshing. My instincts told me to stay at home if at all possible. Luckily, after weighing both emotional and financial concerns, the option to complete some project work at home came into play. I happily chose this option — too exhausted in the moment to even begin to evaluate the long-term ramifications of that decision.

Knowing what I know today about work life integration, I would have sought a more permanent part-time solution (with an option to return when home life became more predictable). A recent article in The Atlantic, Moms Who Cut Back at Work Are Happier, explores the often difficult quest for women to find balance with their ever-evolving roles. The piece discusses research which reveals that many married moms would indeed, rather work part-time at specific points or “seasons” in their career — “leaning homeward” instead of “leaning in”. Furthermore, many who have the opportunity to embark on such a career “sacrifice” are happier overall. A recent CBS/New York Times survey echoes this sentiment, where it was found that nearly one-half of working women with children under the age of 18, would prefer an option to work part-time.

The fact remains, that it is challenging for many women to carry on their careers after children, as if nothing has changed. Dialing down the pressure should be a viable option — but keeping meaningful work in plain sight should also be part of that equation. With women making a significant investment in both their education and career, this has become a growing necessity — as we should have the opportunity to continue to contribute in a manner that remains fulfilling.

We are indeed making progress in this area. However, widespread acceptance of part-time options will likely not materialize until we acknowledge the need for a pervasive change in mindset. If you have had the opportunity to read, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter — you’d know exactly where I am going with this. We have to step up and vocalize what we really need to remain both happy and productive. With a healthy dose of transparency, these changes may come sooner than later. We  should discuss the realities of melding work and career life, openly and often — because the essence of being truly happy at work, might lie just as much in being honest about what we cannot do — as much as what we can.

Suffice it to say, that my instinct to remain at home was on target. I needed to be there for a variety of reasons. Years later, it is apparent that I’ve had a fair amount of explaining to do in reference to the gap in my career. However of late, I no longer feel the need to either hide the reason — or the fact that I did so without hesitation.

I would like to think that in the future — working women won’t have to make these decisions bleary-eyed and exhausted.

Have you shared a similar experience? Were you able to adjust and work part-time? Share your story.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.  Read more of her posts at LinkedIn.