The Employee Development Bait and Switch—Perpetrator or Victim?

It is a downer when we discover that there are few growth opportunities offered at our jobs. 

When we’re hired, there’s usually someone who talks about how the company is committed to developing employees. For sure there will be a fine orientation program and skills training. Then there may be tuition refund offerings, a chance to go to conferences, those wonderful stretch assignments, and mentoring. 

So we eagerly dig into our jobs to discover that: 

  • Work demands leave no time for development
  • Orientation and training are sporadic and informal at best
  • There are major restrictions on tuition refund
  • No one really mentors or even supervises, for that matter 

In other words, when it comes to our development, we’re often on our own. 

Who’s to blame? 

There’s plenty of blame to go around, and the blame game rarely fixes anything. The problem is: 

  • Many supervisors don’t have the will, ability, and/or time to develop anyone because day-to-day demands don’t enable it
  • Human resource personnel/departments are stretched and employee development initiatives are a low company priority
  • The company’s business strategy doesn’t recognize the bottom-line value of increasing employee capabilities
  • Employees aren’t taking the initiative to develop their capabilities on their own 

In a business setting, growth is about expanding our knowledge, skills, and experiences so we can: 

  • Perform in broader arenas and take on more responsibility
  • Contribute new and better ideas to increase product/service value
  • Be ready to rise in the organization 

Employee development is an advantage to the company and to us personally. 

What to do? 

The economy today is a major challenge to most businesses. The chances of our bosses, HR, or the company looking out for our development are slim, in spite of what’s said. 

So we can sit around and complain or we can take our development into our own hands. 

Your development starts with an awareness of what you want from your career: So, 

  • Write one-sentence describing your career aspirations. (If you can’t write it in one sentence, you’re not truly clear about what you want.)
  • Then write a list of the skills, knowledge or experiences that you want to add or expand.
  • Identify no or low cost actions that you can initiate and manage. List other development activities that you will propose to your boss.
  • Put together your own development plan for the next year, stating which activities you will complete each quarter and their value to the company. 

Coming up with initiatives is the challenging part, so here are some suggestions: 

In-house book club: Offer to organize and lead a book club of coworkers around specific books on topics like leadership, project management, and communication that will meet at specific times on or off the clock.

Free on-line webinars: Identify well-known experts on the behaviors you need for career success, attend their free on-line webinars, or ask your boss if the company will cover the cost.

Twitter chats: Find opportunities on Twitter to participate in topical chats at places like #careerchat, #hrchat, or #leadershipchat. Capture key ideas and input; summarize them and share/discuss them with your boss.

Mentors: Seek out mentors within and outside your company. Be clear about the kind of advice and feedback you’re seeking. Maintain a positive relationship.

Blogs: Follow expert bloggers in the growth areas important to you. Comment, ask questions, and build connections with them.

Courses and conferences: Identify coursework or conferences that are relevant to your work and your growth. Ask to attend and offer to share your knowledge when you return through a staff meeting report, white paper, training session, or presentation. 

Add value. 

Your development has the greatest value when it serves both the company and your career. The more you do to expand what you learn to bring better results, teach others, and add to the capabilities of the company, the more support you’ll get for your initiatives. Please don’t wait to be developed. It’s your career, so own it

Photo from opensourceway via Flickr

Going It Alone? Then Don’t Expect Much. | The Essential Career Support Team

Career success is a ladder, right? If we do our jobs well, take advantage of training, and follow the rules, we’ll get promoted again and again. 

So why doesn’t it work out that way? We see under-performing coworkers get ahead instead of us. We submit our best ideas and they don’t get implemented. We keep our noses to the grindstone but don’t get noticed. 

Get help. 

A job is one thing. A career is something else: It’s bigger. 

Careers are about progress, growth, and ever-expanding success. We build careers by moving from the bottom rungs to as high as we have the desire and courage to climb. We may each start on different rungs, but we’re all on the ladder. 

Our success is a function of our skills and abilities, our personal/professional style, relationships, vitality, and ability to navigate the political waters. This means we need to be acutely aware of each factor, weighing them before acting. 

The problem: Most of us don’t have full awareness or understanding of the implications and impacts of our next moves. 

The solution: Support from a team of experienced people who want you to succeed. 

Follow the winners 

Professional athletes, actors, and musicians set career paths for themselves with clear measures of success—on-field performance stats, movie ticket or album sales. Every day they’re making business decisions, expanding relationships, and improving their performance so they can rise. 

They’re just like us, only their platform is the public. Ours is our company and/or industry. 

But they’re also different from most of us because they realize they can’t become successful by themselves. They need a support team to help them, people who care about them and whose advice they will listen to even if the message stings. 

Individual sports like golf showcase what support teams mean to professional success. Take this year’s Masters Golf Tournament. Each golfer had a story about what it took to get there—a story of his support team, including several or all of the following: 

  • A caddy—who helped him navigate the course, validated club selection, and calmed his nerves
  • A swing coach—who helped him improve his game, prepare for the tournament, and gave him pointers between rounds
  • A sports psychologist—who helped him overcome self-doubt, stay in the moment, and manage his nerves
  • A nutritionist—who helped him eat well to maintain energy, lose or maintain weight, and deal with health issues
  • A strength coach—who helped him build the right muscle groups, stay flexible, and develop endurance
  • A publicist and/or administrator—who helped him handle the press, the off-course appearances, and tour schedule
  • Family and friends—who cheered for him, win or lose, and loved him in ways that kept him going 

As standout athletes climb their ladders, their support teams get larger. That’s what it takes to win. 

Who’s helping you? 

We need people around us who know what our career goals are and the kind of success we want. 

It’s not about who you can periodically call on for help. It’s about who’s consciously, continuously, and consistently committed to helping you. There’s a difference. 

It starts with family, friends and even your boss and/or a mentor. Explain as clearly as you can what kind of help you want and need from them.  

You may need an experienced career coach you can rely on, someone who has successfully mastered the kind of growth you’re after. This is someone who is objective about your strengths and weaknesses, your performance and drive, and able to help you overcome obstacles in ways that build you up. 

Then you need to invest in yourself by expanding your knowledge and practicing.Yes, practicing! You need to use your skills in situations that test you. 

Going it alone is not a winning career strategy. In fact it takes the joy out of the process. Helping hands turn our uncertain and arduous climb into an adventure where everyone shares in the outcome. Onward! 

Photo from ▲Bonard▼via Flickr

Your Generation’s Workplace Brand—Fair or Foul? |Taking Issue

Isn’t it actually stereotyping? A kind of “when you were born” profiling? I’m talking about those labels—Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (aka the Millenials, Generation Next, Net Generation, Echo Boomers).

These labels, initially designating our birth era, have become cultural brands, creating either positive or negative perceptions, depending on who’s watching, especially at work. We even use them to categorize ourselves. 

Stories can spawn truth or myth. 

On her morning talk show this week, NBC’s Hoda Kotb and guest co-host, Willie Geist, an MSNBC TV commentator, swapped stories about interns they’d hired. 

Hoda needed to locate a J. Smith in NJ for a segment, so she said to her intern, “I’ll start calling this half of the names in the phone book and you can take the other half.” 

The intern replied, “Oh, I don’t make cold calls.” 

Geist’s story was similar. When given a weekend assignment, his intern informed him, “I don’t work Saturdays.” 

Both Kotb and Geist called these reactions signs of “narcissism,” reflective of that generation nineteen-year-olds. Fair or foul? 

I suspect that you know plenty of entry level professionals who would have walked through fire for KotB and Geist. But stories like these feed the brands of whole generations. 

The perils of painting with a broad brush 

Why do we find it unacceptable to attach sweeping labels to the styles of our coworkers by ethnicity or race but find it acceptable to use the era in which we’re born? 

We’ve become pidgeon-holed: 

  • Baby Boomer—a person born during the Post-World War II baby boom
  • Generation X—a person born after the Western post-World War II baby boom, from the 1960s to the early 1980s  
  • Generation Y (Millenials, et al)—a person born after the Gen Xers, from about the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.   

(Some people refer to Millenials as their own generational group.) 

These labels have been allowed to represent our work ethic and the ways we interact. For some reason, as managers and employees, we’ve become comfortable categorizing each other and ourselves using these labels. 

Here’s what several career-minded professionals posted on a site I follow: 

  • “Generation X and Baby Boomer managers complain about poor performance.
  • Generation Y whines about a lack of responsibility and/or high demands in the workplace.
  • Millenials pick up important cues because they are native technology users; Boomers sometimes miss those cues because they’re not.” 

People write statements like these and everyone nods. But are they true about everyone in these groups? About you? They sure aren’t true about me. 

Why aren’t we angry about this? 

I’ve been frustrated by these labels for a long time. There’s a danger in them when they’re perceived as truths.

Every time we refer to ourselves as a Boomer, a Gen Xer, or a Millenial, we agree to be defined in the context of others we don’t even know. We accept the stories that went with them, rather than creating stories that showcase ourselves  and what we have to offer.

When we accept those labels, we foster division. Each person, not generation, brings something important to the party. It’s our job to figure out what that is and grow from it. 

Please stay out of the boxes!

Success is about YOU. There’s no value thinking in labels. Instead, find people where you work you who are considered the best contributors, the standout leaders, and the examples to follow. 

Find mentors with varied experiences and knowledge. Don’t just hang around with your own clan. Bridge every generation and engage all the talent you can. Defy the labels. Be your own person. Then see how your career takes off!

Try this: List the people in your company who have distinguished themselves. Find a way to talk to them about something related to your work in the next 30 days. See what happens. You’ll be amazed.

Outgrown Your Britches? Check With Your Tailor. | Advancing Your Career in Good Style

Remember “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story by Hans Christian Andersen? Two weavers promise to make the Emperor a suit of clothes invisible to people unfit or incompetent for their positions. The Emperor slips into his new outfit and while parading before his subjects, a child yells out, “He isn’t wearing anything at all!”

It’s a classic story of being afraid to confront the truth, even when it makes us look stupid or compromises our brand. The more we want something to be true, the harder try we try to make it so.

This happens in our careers. 

If the shoe fits, wear it! Just don’t wear it out! 

A job that fits us is like fuzzy slippers. We don’t want to give it up. But a career isn’t about just one job. It’s about a family of them, one job after another that keeps stretching us, building our skills, and testing our abilities.

It’s a problem when we get so comfy in those slippers that we don’t want to take them off. After all, we can’t wear slippers in the snow or rain. We eventually need shoes and boots.

We can outgrow our footwear and our jobs. When we do, we need to make a change, even when it means an uncomfortable or imperfect fit at the start.

I once worked with a group of people I loved. They were like family. Coming to work everyday was really fun. After I’d spent five years with them, my boss told me there was position open that was perfect for me, a promotion. I adored my boss too and didn’t want to leave him or my colleagues. I told him so.

“There’s nothing left for me to teach you,” he said. “You’ve outgrown me and need to work for someone who will take you to the next step in your career.”

That advice always stuck with me. Even though it was hard to accept, he was right. It wasn’t that he was out of knowledge to impart. He just didn’t have enough organizational leverage, position power, or influence to help my growth.

You don’t have to have a generous boss like him to make that next step. You just need to remember his message and put it to work when the time is right for you.

Keep a mirror handy and check your reflection. 

We aren’t always lucky enough to have someone helping us see when we are or are not ready to make a smart career move.

Shakespeare wrote that seeming is not reality. Most of us have little real understanding of what is required to be successful in the jobs we’re after, especially ones with leadership requirements.

All we really know is what we think we see the incumbent doing. But that’s an illusion just like the Emperor’s new clothes.

That’s why you need trusted people to give you the straight scoop about your own capabilities. People like:

  • Mentors
  • Your boss, if you’re lucky enough to have a good one
  • Colleagues in your own and other departments
  • Friends outside of work who know your skills 

Then you have to be brave enough to ask them to tell you the truth…the naked truth!

In time you will also outgrow the insights these people can offer as you advance in your career. So you need to constantly seek others who can fill their role.

Be smart. Develop a winning style. 

Business fitness is about being prepared and ready for the challenges and opportunities that will help you attain the kind of success you want. Part of that readiness is having good people at hand to give you the right cues when it’s time to take center stage. So keep your britches up, your shoes tied, and your shirt on as you take on your next big role!

Have you ever been in a position where you outgrew your job? What were your next steps? How did it all work out?