If you operate with the philosophy that looking after #1 is all that counts and you’ll stick with your current employer only until you think you see something better on the horizon, that’s a questionable rationale. On the other hand, blind loyalty to your employer that ignores any other considerations is going to the other extreme. Neither choice is great, and neither is likely to provide you with solid career success.
Company Loyalty vs. Focus on #1
As is often the case, you’re probably going to see a better outcome for your efforts if you position yourself somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. That is, you acknowledge that the company that pays your salary deserves a certain amount of consideration in return, which means you invest the emotional energy to produce the value you’re getting paid for. At the same time, you don’t sacrifice everything (such as close family relationships) to satisfy an employer’s expectation that you’ll be available 24×7, 365 days a year, regardless of your personal needs and well-being
If you’re at the senior management/executive team level in your career–or pushing hard to get there–you might find this a tough issue to deal with at times. Just be aware that each time you make a choice, you usually have to give up something else–in most cases, you can’t “have your cake and eat it, too.” It ties back to the concept of opportunity costs; spending your available time or money on one thing means that you don’t have it available to spend on something else.
Your best course, in many cases, is to adopt a practical approach to protecting yourself and your career at each job you hold, while not short-changing your employer.
Company Loyalty–So How Much is Too Much?
Company culture can influence expectations about performance, about what you will be expected to do versus what you might have thought you agreed to do when you took the job. If a company has a very “driven” atmosphere from the CEO on down, you might have to either toe the line or be prepared to bail (find a hopefully less demanding job elsewhere).
When you’re evaluating possible actions to take, keep in mind that your employer is a business organization, not your lifelong buddy. Even the best companies might sometimes make pragmatic decisions that run counter to your preference. The rest of them will probably exhibit a wide range of attitudes (if a company can have an attitude), all the way down to responding with “you’ve got a job, you should be grateful and just do what you’re told” to any concerns you might raise about what’s being expected of you.
An article I read by Alan Henry, titled “The Company You Work For Is Not Your Friend,” makes some good points about not counting too heavily on the company (and in particular, HR) to look out for your interests. Among other things, he maintains that HR primarily exists to protect the company, not to help you, and it shouldn’t be your first choice in seeking to remedy a troublesome situation. He also mentions the double standard that expects employees to give two weeks’ notice before leaving but allows companies to lay off employees with little or no warning.
Basically, your goal is to maintain a balance between practicing smart career management and giving full value to employers for compensation received.
In any business environment, meetings are probably an inescapable fact. While not bad in and of themselves, they create a hugely negative impact when they aren’t well-organized and managed. The sad fact is that this happens much more often than it should–and it can be avoided (at least for the most part).
Way back when I used to organize meetings, I would become very frustrated at the lack of cooperation from people who were supposed to attend those meetings. Sometimes I felt as if it would take a miracle to get them to the meeting on time! Those people were all department managers who reported to the VP, not lower-level workers, but they seemed unable or unwilling to get their act together. The result was that other attendees would give up, say “let me know when you’re ready to start,” and leave.
If you hold a position that requires you to be the meeting leader, you have both the opportunity and the responsibility to set expectations and then communicate those expectations clearly to your team–with some consequences if they don’t follow the plan.
Ways to Avoid Time-Wasting Meetings
Since we’re dealing with human beings, there might not be a perfect solution, but you can do some things to move in that direction. I just read a short article titled “Effective Meetings: The Top Three Challenges,” which gives a few useful tips on dealing with ineffective meetings. These are the three issues the article mentions:
- “Do you have any tips on encouraging people to be on time to meetings?”
- “We hold regular staff meetings but often we spend a great deal of time on nothing at all. What can we do to be more productive?”
- “No matter what we do, our meetings go on and on and on. What can we do to shorten our meeting?”
As I said earlier, you as the meeting leader have a responsibility in all of these areas. If the people who need to attend the meeting report to you, the situation is a little simpler than if they don’t. However, it’s up to you to do whatever is in your power to improve the situation. In my view (and that of the article’s author), that would include:
- Start the meeting on time, even if some people show up late (if they miss something they wanted to have input on, maybe they’ll plan to be on time for the next meeting!).
- Create an agenda ahead of time and stick to it–don’t let the discussion get sidetracked or allow someone to go on forever and monopolize the meeting.
- Eliminate or postpone items that aren’t critical at that time (either they can be given to someone individually to do or they can be postponed to a later date).
What if You’re Not the Meeting Leader?
If you’re not in charge of the meeting, your options are more limited. For example, if your boss is the leader and allows unproductive meetings to become the norm, you might not be able to change that. In such situations, you might have two ways to go:
- Talk privately with your boss if he/she is receptive to getting feedback; let him/her know that you want to be a valued contributor to the meetings but are finding it difficult with the way those meetings are playing out. Be ready to offer a constructive suggestion or two that might improve the meeting process.
- Resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to be stuck in a few meetings you’d rather not be in and do what you can to make them productive for you in spite of the lack of good meeting leadership. For instance, is there anything you can reasonably do while the interminable discussions are going on (or even ahead of time) that will help you do your job better?
You can do a lot of things on your own, without help, and that’s true not only personally but in your professional life. It’s important not to delegate actions to others that are integral to your professional growth and career success.
But that’s not all there is to the story. You need collaboration–in the best (most positive) sense of that word–to carry out career management plans that offer the greatest possible chance for ongoing career success. According to Merriam-Webster, to collaborate is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”
What Can Collaboration do for Your Career Success?
Wikipedia says that “teams that work collaboratively can obtain greater resources, recognition and reward when facing competition for finite resources.” That reference applies to an activity going on in the work environment. It could fit equally well in terms of a job search. The main point is that you can often achieve more or better results if you work collaboratively with others, especially if all of you share common goals.
Will everyone around you be equally interested in your career success? Very likely not. However, collaboration can still have a valuable role to play. What might be needed is for your group to have a common business goal that all of you can gain value from achieving. That could inspire the sense of purpose and determination that will enable you to achieve your career success goal while benefiting the others as well.
In other words, collaboration can create a true win-win situation that goes beyond your individual goal but still enables you to achieve it.
When is Collaboration Not Good for Career Success?
In any situation where you are expected to accomplish a task on your own, turning to others to get it done can backfire. You could be making a serious mistake because the results are supposed to come from your efforts alone. In other words, it’s not all right to try to get out of some specifically assigned work by offloading all or part of it to someone else. Collaboration in that case would be the wrong answer.
Except that such a situation doesn’t really involve true collaboration. There’s no shared goal, no potential for mutual benefit. Basically you’re abdicating your responsibility, not collaborating. Also, if you’ve ever tried to achieve a goal where one or more people in your group had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or in advancing their success at the expense of others, you’ll know that collaboration simply isn’t happening under those circumstances.
Collaboration, Cooperation & Leadership
If you hold a leadership position and are trying to achieve career success, you might need to take a fresh look at what the concept of collaboration means. Another term sometimes used today is “collaborative leadership” or “cooperative leadership.” What does that entail?
Merriam-Webster defines cooperation as “a situation in which people work together to do something”–sounds a lot like the definition of collaboration, doesn’t it? And a gentleman names William Arthur Wood once stated that “leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation.”
In such cases, your career success might depend at least partly on how effective you are at both exhibiting and encouraging others to exhibit a genuine spirit of collaboration.
Think about this: It might be theoretically possible to prepare and launch yourself in a hot-air balloon without help, but it’s a safe bet that collaboration would get you to your goal much faster and more effectively.
If things aren’t going well with your professional life–maybe you’re engaged in a frustrating job search–you might feel as if you don’t have much to be grateful for right now. You could be viewing Thanksgiving Day as “Turkey Day” at best and as a waste of time at worst.
I’m not going to deliver a Pollyanna sermon to you. At the same time, focusing the lion’s share of your attention and energy on the highly unsatisfying situation you seem to be stuck in will not help you get out of it. I can almost guarantee that.
Refocus Your Job Search Outlook
Whether you’re into visualization or not (many people aren’t and that’s fine), you can consider your situation pragmatically and begin identifying any potential positives about it or any that you can realistically see a way to make happen somewhere down the road. For those of you who do use some form of visualization, you might decide what kind of different attitude or approach you want and how that might look.
It could involve becoming aware of things you’ve been ignoring or were previously unaware of. For instance, maybe there are people who have expressed interest in your career success and/or willingness to be a resource for you, but for some reason you haven’t taken them up on it. In that case, what’s been holding you back? Taking a few minutes to refocus your job search outlook can open up possibilities you weren’t able to see before.
Gratitude for Major Changes Completed Successfully
Often, achieving a successful job search or career success goal can be less about moving from Point A to Point Z and more about going from A to D to M to C to K…. In other words, you don’t take a straight-line path. If you find it discouraging, particularly when you’re engaged in a really major change, gratitude might seem out of place. However, I encourage you to suspend disbelief for a while and give gratitude a try. It can’t hurt, and it could make a big difference in your overall results.
I might add that I’m speaking from experience here. In my former life (before starting A Successful Career), I went through many job search challenges and sometimes (though thankfully not often) through unsatisfactory job situations. I know I learned something useful from each one, though, and that helped offset the negative feelings I might have been experiencing at the time.
As some of you know, I relocated my family/household and my business from California to Massachusetts last June, which was a project of epic proportions! The disruption of my routine and necessarily of my ability to maintain full business operations was substantial. However, now that the dust has settled more or less, I am decidedly grateful for our new home and for being much nearer to a close relative whom I value. That makes the path ahead look challenging but do-able, and I’m “up” for it.
I find it helps to pair gratitude with a hopeful attitude. I can still look forward to helping clients achieve their goals–just in a new setting. That makes the struggle to get here very worthwhile.
The following scene isn’t exactly what I can see out my office window (we’re not quite that close to a lake), but it’s typical of this area in the fall. It refreshes me to look at it–and hopefully it will help me to get through the coming winter with acceptance if not enjoyment. I hope you will have–or find–your own motivating key or outlook in the weeks and months ahead.
Some of you probably knew what you wanted to be when you grew up, even before you left childhood behind. Many of us, though, take longer to figure it out, and some take a really long time.
Others never quite do choose a single goal. If you’re one of those, does that mean there’s something seriously wrong with you? Not necessarily, but it might mean you’ll have a more challenging career road ahead, with a lot of zigs and zags.
Multipotentialites or Multipods
This was a new concept for me, but a very intriguing one. I found it in a fascinating article by George Lorenzo titled, “Why Figuring Out What You Want To Do Isn’t Necessary For Success,” on FastCompany.com. The article highlights the career of Emilie Wapnick, founder of Puttylike.com, which is a resource for individuals who can’t seem to focus on one career objective. As the article puts it, “These are people who simply cannot work in only one arena; they have multiple passions they might dive into with extraordinary zeal, often temporarily…. Or they have numerous finely tuned skills and hobbies….”
The problem is, of course, that such people don’t fit into the expected pattern. It can make your work life (and personal life as well) much more challenging than you might like, because people tend to label you as someone who “can’t decide what you want to be when you grow up” and dismiss you as doomed to career failure rather than career success.
You might be interested to know, though, that you’re in pretty good company if you’re a Multipod. Wapnick presented a TED talk in which the following were mentioned as Multipods: Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo DaVinci, and Thomas Jefferson. Not bad company to be in, right?
So is Focus a Bad Thing?
Of course not! At least, not if you don’t happen to be a Multipotentialite (Multipod). Your career success might rest more on a focused path than on a diversity of directions. If you have a strong passion or a well-defined skill-set you enjoy using, you might decide that your best bet is to pursue a goal that takes advantage of it and focus on developing it into a viable career.
In that case, however, you might need to remind yourself from time to time that focus is not only a good thing but also important to your professional development and eventual career success. It’s not that you have to concentrate so hard on the chosen direction that you can’t ever do anything else in your life; you just need to invest a fair amount of time and effort in actions that move you in that direction.
By the way, some people who might be considered at least borderline Multipods find their satisfaction from pursuing one direction for a professional career and indulging many other aspects of their interests and talents outside the workplace–or even as a second-stage career after they retire from the first one.
Sometimes the concepts of entrepreneur and employee are described as two sides of a coin–that is, you can be one or the other, but not both. In other cases, they’re positioned as not so mutually exclusive. I tend to support the latter view, at least much of the time.
What does that mean to you? For one thing, you might find that even a bit of entrepreneurial spirit gives you an edge over your competition. It sets you apart from the “I just do my job” crowd. In terms of promotability, for example, it suggests that you’re potentially a valuable resource beyond your present role in the company. If you’re already a senior manager or executive, it can still indicate your readiness for bigger and better opportunities.
Think Like an Entrepreneur–Even if You’re Not One
I just read an item by Stan Silverman titled “Think like an entrepreneur, regardless of your career path” that recaps a speech by John Fry, president of Drexel University. In the speech, Fry says, “Entrepreneurship means the ability to champion new ideas, to take them out of the theoretical realm, and use them to make a real impact on the world. New discoveries must translate into new technologies that help us live better lives. This is a mindset we all should have as academics, as professionals, and as leaders. And you’ll need it whether you work for yourself or someone else, in business, or in public service….”
That might sound a little “high-falutin'” to some of you, but it describes a way of thinking that’s likely to take you farther–and maybe higher–in your career than viewing yourself as an employee, with a limited perspective on what you can and should be able to contribute.
How to Combine Entrepreneurial and Employee Attitudes
For some of you, entrepreneur and employee might actually be mutually exclusive. For instance, if you’re what would be considered a dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur, some of the generally expected aspects of functioning as an employee might strike you as too confining–like wearing an invisible straight-jacket. On the other hand, if you crave the relative comfort of a defined structure that enables you to clearly envision what your days at work should look like, being expected to act like an entrepreneur in any way might start you looking for a place to hide.
Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” An employee, on the other hand, is defined as “one employed by another, usually for wages or salary and in a position below the executive level.” These seem like polar opposites, so how can you combine them?
It might help if you consider the concept of risk somewhat differently than many people do. If you think of it in terms of calculated risks, you might be able to see ways to make the entrepreneur-employee combination work. Merriam-Webster describes a calculated risk as “an undertaking or the actual or possible product of an undertaking whose chance of failure has been previously estimated.”
In other words, you look before you leap and don’t leap unless the odds seem reasonably favorable. I see that as one way to find a middle ground between being an entrepreneur and an employee.
What about Executives & Senior Managers?
The references to employee above might seem to suggest that senior-level individuals fall outside of this situation, but you can have risk-taking and risk-averse individuals at all levels of an organization. That indicates that senior-level people can be entrepreneurial in some respects or have a more employee-oriented mindset. In and of itself, that’s neither good nor bad.
Every now and then, we hear about the large number of employed people who are on the verge of retiring and the risk to their employers of having irreplaceable knowledge walk out the door with them. Yet it seems to me that not enough companies are taking positive steps to meet this challenge before it becomes an epidemic.
It does occur to me that I might not know everything that’s going on “out there,” so I could easily be missing actions that companies are taking. I’m certainly willing to be educated on this subject, so I appreciate it when I read articles that discuss it. Today I read an article in TalentMagazine.com, titled “Managing Knowledge Transfer When Older Workers Leave,” that addresses the subject from the perspective of corporate talent managers–that is, what those individuals need to be aware of.
Because some of the article’s information might well be of interest to those of you who don’t happen to be corporate talent managers, I decided to share a couple of its points briefly.
Lack of Preparation
“Without a consistent, effective way to transfer and share this knowledge, critical people leave and take this critical knowledge with them, resulting in business disruption and potential customer dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, most organizations have no consistent method of dealing with such a crisis when it occurs. Instead, managers and co-workers are left to “deal with it,” often perpetuating problems, while the business suffers.”
Broadly speaking, then, the author, Roy Strauss, describes a situation that indicates not many companies are prepared–or preparing–for the knowledge-drain. The result is all too likely to be a major challenge.
Need for a Process and a Plan
Strauss provides a multi-step process that includes creating a knowledge-transfer plan and training employees on use of the tools required to execute the plan effectively. Presumably, there are other experts that are taking on this difficult subject and might have their own views on what’s required, but the important point is that some kind of action plan must be developed and applied if anything consistent is going to happen to remedy the situation.
I don’t know how much traction Strauss’ process has gained, but he indicates that he has used it with a number of companies successfully.
Are You a Critical Knowledge Holder?
The other thing that struck me about this subject has to do with individuals who are themselves critical knowledge holders and possibly approaching retirement. If you’re one of them, have you given any thought to what happens after you leave? Maybe not, because it won’t be your “problem” then. However, someone in your organization–such as your immediate boss–certainly should be thinking about it…and maybe worrying a little if nothing is being done to conserve your knowledge for future use.
Along similar lines, if you manage one or more employees who are critical-knowledge holders and might be retiring in the not-too-distant future, I suspect you’re the one who should be worrying! If your company doesn’t have a plan and process in place, can you do anything to promote one? If that’s an uphill battle because senior management isn’t buying into the need, can you implement something in your own department? At the very least, that could put you ahead of the game in terms of helping to avoid disaster.
One last point: Documenting critical knowledge should be a non-negotiable part of the process. I once worked at a company whose VP of Product Engineering left unexpectedly. It turned out that a lot of the work being done came from knowledge that was mostly in his head. That was not a happy time!