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

Putting (Even Undiscovered) Passion to Work…Your Way!

Do “follow your passion” career messages rattle your nerves? 

Oprah’s life coach guests expound on it. Gary Vaynerchuk evangelizes about it in his book, Crush It. Every successful rags-to-riches actor, musician, entrepreneur, and social change agent testifies to it. Halleluiah! 

They make passion sound so BIG and all-consuming, like something they can barely contain.  For them, it must be. 

But what about us? We’ve made commitments and set a course that, for now, may not be about our passions. Do we even know what our passions are? Maybe not for sure. Ugh, what do we do? 

Putting your finger on it 

My favorite definition of passion is “boundless enthusiasm.” But even that sounds pretty BIG, but something that we can control. 

Enthusiasm can be contagious and “boundless enthusiasm” irresistible. When we’ve got some to share, it’ll become magnetic. 

Clearly, not everyone wants to turn a passion into riches or fame. At the very least, most of us would like a reasonable outlet for it. (If we get some perks too, all the better!) First, we have to find our niche. 

Look outside your door 

Work can be isolating without our knowing it, causing us to table interests that we enjoy. It happened to me. 

I love the arts—theater, music, fine art, dance, literature, the whole gamut. For 20 years I was so consumed by my corporate job that I spent less and less time enriching myself through arts experiences. 

When I left that life to start my coaching/consulting practice, I decided to find my way back to the arts. 

I’m simply an arts patron. The arts always gave me a way see into myself, helping me make sense out of life. I knew that the arts could also make a tangible difference in the quality of life in a community. So, I looked for an organization in my area dedicated to arts advocacy. 

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council, with its regional reach, filled the bill. I became a member, offered to help, was asked to serve on an event committee, and voila, I found an outlet for my then “quiet” enthusiasm. 

One step leads to another.  

I started meeting wonderful people—patrons, gallery owners, artists, collectors, corporate and education leaders. The executive director, Randall Forte, hooked me with his passion for how the Arts Council’s work was making a difference in the community. He took my enthusiasm up notch. 

Then one day I realized what was happening. My love of the arts and my affiliation with the Arts Council had enabled me to (re)discover my passion for being a voice for the good the arts brings to individuals and the community. Being invited to serve on their board took me to that “boundless” state. 

I saw that my gifts of time and money to the Arts Council were providing: 

  • Teachers with workshops by national experts on ways to use the arts to help students learn and cope with life problems
  • Business and local government leaders with data on the impact of the arts on the local economy, promoting better decision-making and planning
  • Artists with professional development programs and government grant awards for arts projects
  • Arts organizations with cooperative advertising opportunities, an on-line box office, and market research information
  • Arts Council members with networking events and a sense of community

 So much good was being done. So many lives made richer. 

(If you’d like to join or donate to the Arts Council, here are the two links. They would be over-the-top grateful!) 

Who knew? 

The trickle-down effect of our flickering or raging passions teaches us much about their power. So please revisit your passion whether big or small. Discover its other layers and invest your energies. 

When we put our passions to work, we take what we gain to our jobs— leadership experiences, community relationships, insights, and experiences. All of this makes us more interesting, more engaged, and more likely to be seen at work in a fresh and even more positive light. Now let’s get “boundless!” Enjoy! 

Do you have a passion nibbling away at you? Or one that’s full-blown? I’d love to hear about it!

Did You Know? Career Skill-Building Begins at Home.

Got a life? Then you’ve got a gold mine. Why? Because your life is crammed with opportunities to build the skills you need for a successful career. 

Don’t believe me? 

Think of a “crazy time” in your life when you had to contend with challenging situations like starting college, moving into a house or apartment, getting a divorce or out of debt. 

Those situations require real management skills although that may not be what you’re thinking in the heat of the moment. 

Every life challenge teaches us something important about ourselves, other people, and the way the world works. When we don’t learn from our experiences, we squander an opportunity to expand the arsenal of skills and insights our career growth depends on. 

Life lessons build skills. 

In my late 20’s, I, a country-loving girl, convinced my then husband, a Brooklyn, New York native, to rent an old farmhouse which had been the family home of an elderly, reclusive woman, recently deceased.  Prior to being rented, this remote homestead on 15 acres had been cleaned and painted from top to bottom. 

We fell in love with the place immediately, committed to a one-year lease, and moved in with our two show dogs and a cat. 

Let the adventure and skill-building lessons begin: 

Learned Lesson #1: Due diligence minimizes surprises. 

On moving day, I went into the basement and noticed that the concrete walls were almost completely black. So I looked closer and to my horror discovered that they were covered with tens of thousands of millipedes, little wormy creatures with lots of legs. Dial, Terminix, asap! So much for a pre-rental inspection. 

Next, during the early onset of winter, I noticed that there was scrap-able frost on the inside of the bathroom windows. Awaken one brutal awareness: There was no insulation anywhere in this house and no storm windows. Bad news! 

It’s important to check things out before sealing any deal! 

Learned Lesson #2: Risk management reduces calamity.

At one point, the realtor/superintendent sent his freelance, furnace serviceman to maintain the oil burner. This guy spent about a half-hour noodling around in the basement, pushing the reset button back and forth, and still the furnace wouldn’t start. So he touched a match to it and started an oil fire. 

He calmly asked, “Do you know the number of your fire company?” Answer, “No.” “Well, you should call them,” he replied. 

It took the fire company three hours to find the place. By then the house was filled with black smoke, but nothing worse. After several hours of huge fans sucking the smoke out, the calamity was over. 

Having people in the ready, who can bail you out of trouble, is smart business. 

Learned Lesson #3: Problem-solving requires initiative. 

As the winter wore on, so did the miseries of being cold while not wanting to go broke heating an un-insulated house. Something had to be done. 

We made a deal with the realtor/superintendent to share the cost of making operational a fireplace in the dining room where we would live for four months, sleeping in a trundle bed with our pets. Lovely, eh? 

It became my job to start the early morning fires in that freezing cold room. The fire wood, stored in the adjacent summer kitchen, was damp and hard to light. 

I was teaching high school at the time and a kid in my class worked at a bowling alley. When I explained my plight, he asked if I’d like him to bring me discarded bowling pins to use as kindling. You betcha! Compressed sawdust covered with lacquer starts in a flash. 

Engagement of resources and timely decision-making create good results 

And so it goes…. 

Our lives provide endless experiences that let us develop management skills away from the office’s watchful eyes. Through those life experiences, we build our skills, insights, resilience, tolerance for stress, and courage. Experiential learning bolsters our confidence and enhances our credibility. The skills you develop at home and bring to the job will enrich your career. Seize the day! 

Do you have a story to tell about skills you learned from your life experiences? Thanks.

Self-Confidence in the Tank? Step on the Gas!

I remember sitting in a high school faculty meeting years ago and listening to an intriguing discussion about grades. 

The issue was the potential impact of failing grades on student self-confidence and self-esteem. The arguments about the (in)validity of grades and their psychological effect on kids were fascinating. 

What I felt about the issue then is what I feel about it now—but applied to all of us: Self-confidence comes from knowing you’re doing something well. 

We aren’t stupid as kids or adults. We get it when we’re good at something. Sure, we can get all caught up in perfectionism—and many of us do. But when we look around, in the environment where we’ve landed, there are signs that we have some know-how or skills that really belong to us. 

Beware of self-confidence thieves. 

Our self-confidence needs serious protection and we’re in charge of that. Here’s how we let ourselves get robbed: 

  • We don’t keep our skills up, alllowing self-doubt to move in.
  • We compare ourselves with others in unrealistic ways.
  • We hold ourselves to standards impossible to meet.
  • We let bits and pieces of negative feedback undermine us.
  • We make the approval of others the measuring stick of our success. 

Even though the right feedback can help us get better, it’s the doing that’s the secret sauce of success. Just ask Nike! 

Over-thinking is immobilizing.

I’m a huge fan of planning but not of delaying. Trying to plan for every contingency to avoid a mistake is an exercise in futility. At some point, we have to swallow hard and go for it. 

Planning too long can drain the self-confidence right out of you. Action and the momentum it brings are the juice you need to go forward. 

Years ago, I found myself down and out, on my own, and in a world of debt. I had just started doing practice management audits for veterinarians as a side business to stay afloat. 

I had to produce documents quickly, so I needed to buy a computer and learn fast! This was in the days of MS-DOS when I had no computer skills. My self-confidence about this was about as low as my bank account, but I needed the capability. 

So I dug deep and bought one of the first portable computers—a metal-cased Kaypro, its actual portability a matter of opinion.   

No lie, learning that program was torture. The whole thing made me so nervous that my hands would shake just logging on. But in time I figured it out, and even though I was no whiz kid using it, I proved to myself that I could learn to do something that was foreign to almost everyone I knew. 

Self-confidence is built in steps. 

No one wakes up one morning and discovers that the Tooth Fairy put everlasting self-confidence under the pillow. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows. It’s our job to keep a grip on it by continuing to learn and practice.

 I have clients who’ve said to me: 

  • There is so much dissention among my new employees. I’ll never be able to turn it around.
  • I haven’t had to look for a job in over twenty years. No one will hire me.
  • I keep trying to build up my business but nothing ever works.
  • I always wanted to work for myself, but I just can’t see how that can happen.

 They don’t say that anymore and it shows in their self-confidence! 

It all comes back to learning. 

Learning is a process packaged many ways. We learn by reading, listening, and doing, in any order. Our self-confidence expands as we acknowledge the things we’re doing better and better, until we have to admit that we do them well!   

Please don’t stand in the way of your self-confidence. Get out there and take a shot at things you need and want to do. Remember, it’s your life. Live it with confidence. 

Do you have a building self-confidence story to share? Can’t wait!

Dullard or Dynamo? A Case for Change! | Your Life Is Your Business

“You just don’t get it.” Ouch! That’s a pretty damning phrase these days. It’s also a reminder that we need to keep up or be left behind with no one waiting for us to catch up.

The more you know the more options you have.

Do you know dull people? I do. Are you dull? I hope not. We’re all susceptible to becoming stuck in a rut or irrelevant if we aren’t careful. So ask yourself:

  • Do I hang around with the same people all the time?
  • Am I doing the same things in my free time?
  • Do I avoid new challenges at work?
  • Am I doing my work the same old way? 

If you answered “yes” or “unsure,” oops!  

When a company answers “yes” to those questions, it’s saying, we

  • Don’t want new employees or customers either
  • Don’t invest in performance improvements
  • Don’t take risks to become more competitive
  • Don’t adopt new industry best practices 

Would you buy stock in that company? Me neither! Would you buy stock in yourself? Hummmm!

You can’t go forward when you’re stopped or in reverse. 

Your life is your business and you’re the only one driving. You can either go forward, park, or back up.

Business survival depends on the ability to grow and remain relevant in the marketplace. That’s why companies engage in research and development, exploration of new work methods, and employee training.

You need to do that too…for yourself. If your life is one dimensional, you limit yourself. Too many people expect the company they work for to provide learning and growth opportunities instead of finding those outlets themselves. Hey, it’s your life. Learn what you need to learn. Accept experiences that will enrich you. Do it yourself!

A casual comment may be all you need. 

A friend of mine invited me to attend a local horseman’s expo that featured vendors who sold tack, clothing, supplies, and services for people like us who were into horses.

During our wanderings, we met a woman who was selling equine art, signed prints featuring everything from cowboys to race horses. We loved what we saw.

As we were leaving the venue, my friend asked, “Would you like to do that?”

“What?” I asked.

“Become an equine art dealer,” she replied.

That’s all it took.

Now you may be wondering why I’d want to take that on. After all, I was already a commercial horse breeder and had a major corporate job.

The answer: “Because I knew nothing about retailing. I’d never been a waitress or a clerk. Never took money—cash, check, or credit cards—from anyone. I knew nothing about inventory management or sales for that matter.

Here was a chance for me to learn how all this works with products that I was passionate about and for customers who were horse enthusiasts like I was.

The business involved contracting with equine artists willing to provide copies of their work, prints and originals, on consignment. We would sell their art at major horse shows in PA and NJ where we set up as vendors. We also sold art on line.

I did this for 10 years. Here’s a partial list of what I learned how to do:

  • Procure and merchandize products
  • Market through cooperative advertising
  • Attract and retain customers
  • Manage inventory, pricing, and on-line sales
  • Package, transport, and ship
  • Manage the legal and accounting aspect of a partnership 

This wasn’t a very profitable business but it was a highly enriching experience.  

Nothing beats an ace-in-the-hole. 

We all sleep better at night when we have the right skills and experiences to maximize our career and job options. It’s like having a business fitness 401K. So fight the good fight against dullness and irrelevance by taking advantage of opportunities to learn and do. It’s all money in the bank.

Care to share an experience where you tried something new? What did you learn and how did it feel? Your story may spark a change!


Unemployment Got You Down? | Build Up Your Skills

Being unemployed is your big break. Why? Because you can finally focus all your time on yourself—your future. Most people squander that time. Please don’t let that be you. 

Stress makes people stupid. 

Think about it. In the face of the unexpected, fear, or hard criticism, we become confused, befuddled, even frantic. When we reach our stress threshold, our decision-making ability implodes. 

Not having a job, for whatever reason, can deliver high doses of stress. In knee-jerk fashion, we frantically try to find a replacement job which often looks like the old one. At the height of our stress, we forget to ask ourselves important questions: 

  • Did I really like that job? Was it a good fit for my interests?
  • Did I have the skills to be really successful at it?
  • Could I have made a career of it?
  • Did I like the industry that was home to that job?
  • Was I working with the kind of people who were good for me? 

A deep breath and serious introspection can ease the panic. 

Start with a reality check. You’re out of work now, but

  • Do you seriously think that you’ll be out work forever? The answer for most is, “No.”
  • Do you need to replace the job you had or is there something else just as good or better out there? The answer: ”Most likely”
  • Is the job you want going to fall into your lap? “No.”
  • Are you going to have to work hard to figure out your options, how to present yourself, and where the leads are? “Yes.”
  • Do you care enough about yourself to commit to finding a job that will deliver what you need? Only you know this answer. 

Start thinking. Keep thinking. Take smart actions.  

Thinking puts your mind to work discovering information, insights, opportunities, and solutions that you can act on. It needs to replace worrying, brooding, procrastinating, and nay-saying. 

Right action reduces the stress. While unemployed, you have, at least, a week’s worth of eight-hour days to develop and implement your plan for finding the right job.  

For starters, use part of each day looking for openings and opportunities through your personal and professional networks, posted positions, and career fairs.   

Then, invest time filling in the skill, knowledge, and experience gaps in your resume. 

Spend time figuring out how to stand out as a candidate. Avoid accumulating certificates, courses, or community work without clear purpose.   

Do things that will build skills essential to the jobs you want. Try these ideas on for size:

  • Identify a local non-profit looking for board members. Express interest. Volunteer or serve on committees. Say “yes” to a board seat offer. (Showcases  your leadership, talents, commitment, and energy; Builds your network) 
  • Become a blogger. Post articles on subjects related to the kind of work you’re interested in. Include evidence of research done on each subject. Invite followers and comments. Reference your blog on your resume. (Showcases subject matter knowledge, communication skills, social media savvy; Expands visibility) 
  • Offer specialized skills/services as an independent contractor. Target companies/individuals in industries where you want to work. Do some work pro bono in exchange for a testimonial. Mention this work on your resume. (Showcases entrepreneurial spirit, motivation, relationship building, skills; Adds references; May lead to an offer.) 
  • Seek out public speaking opportunities. Too scary? Enroll in Toastmasters and get over that. Speak to groups of any size.  Mention relevant topics and audiences on your job applications. (Showcases self-confidence, public presence, courage; Expands visibility) 

The right effort delivers the right job at the right time. 

Patience, a steady pace, disciplined action, and your network are your best job search assets. This work is about YOU, no one else. If you spend half your time focused on the marketplace and the other half expanding your capabilities and your reach, you’ll have a full workday every day and a great job as your reward. This is how you’ll get business fit. I’m pulling for you! 

Can you add other ideas for building skills while out of work? Are there any traps to avoid? Got a success story to share? I love those!