Dear Coach Joan: Career Advice
I keep getting the question of how to advance on the job. Many people seem to feel frustrated that their work is not appreciated enough, and they see others getting promotions before them. They often complain that these other people are not working as hard or producing as much as they are, yet for some reason these other folks are advancing.
Why? That’s the big question.
Yes, sometimes it’s because they are the bosses son or daughter. That is called nepotism!
But often it is because those getting ahead have been strategic in their research, planning and communications. They position themselves for advancement.
How does this work?
Say you are in a sales support position and want to move into sales. You perceive a sales career as having more independence, higher earning potential and a springboard to get further into management. That is a reasonable goal.
How to make that happen:
- Do your Research: Get to know a couple of successful sales people in your company. Ask them for a 20 minute meeting where you can do an informational interview to find out more about their jobs. Prepare good questions including the scope of their position, the skills they need for success, the challenges and opportunities they see. Listen carefully and make a list of the skills you already have and a list of the skills you can develop. Perhaps your company offers in-house training or you can take classes online or at a local college. Listen too, to see if you feel you identify with these successful sales people. So you have the same motivation and style they have? Can you take rejection? Can you take the risk of a commission based job? Learn all you can in preparation for meeting with your manager about your goal. If you are establishing good rapport with a sales person, ask if they would be your mentor and meeting with you from time to time and provide guidance, feedback and input. Maybe they’ll take you on a sales call or two and let you show your support and sales skills! Demonstrate competency!
- Communicate Your Intention and Your Plan: Tell your boss, manager or supervisor that you’ve been observing and meeting with successful members of the sales team, and you feel that you would be a great fit for the job! Show them the list of attributes you’ve learned are important in that job (several of which you may have already demonstrated in your sales support role) and the skills you’ve learned are needed that you plan to develop. Listen carefully to your manager’s response. If he/she is supportive, then go the next step and see if they will work with you on your development to achieve those skills. Also, develop a timeline for your intentions. Go to the company web site or HR to find out if there are plans to expand the sales force. If not, you may want to look outside the company once you have developed the necessary skills. Make sure to let your boss know that you are ambitious, and you are looking to advance in your career. Talk about your commitment to lifetime learning and growing and that you really are ready to expand and grow!
- Execute on Your Plan: Show your plan to your manager and get input and buy-in. Then, act on that plan. Take the courses, read the books, take the online webinars. Really do the work. This is where some people fall down, they just don’t follow through. Be a person who is willing to do the work and follow through! It’s wise to also look for mentors who will give you feedback and direction. If one of the successful sales people have offered to be mentor, make sure to set up appointments and do all the things they suggest. They might see your commitment and skills and refer you to the next open sales position. Create your connections and opportunities !
- More Communication: Plan weekly, bi-weekly or monthly meetings or status updates in email where you show and tell your manager how you are progressing on your plan. Ask for feedback and input. Set specific milestones with dates attached. Set your goal perhaps at a new job or promotion in six months. Once you put that stake in the ground you can work backward to planning the step by step journey toward reaching success!
You can take control of planning for a promotion and career development. Just think through where you want to go, meet with people who are in that role, establish support, get information and advice, develop an action plan, and most importantly, FOLLOW THROUGH.
Onward to your career advancement and success.
This is a sticky topic and one that most people prefer to stay away from: Errors at Work. We all make errors; they are part of normal human functioning. We are not error-free beings.
But the magnitude of the mistake and how it is perceived and responded to by our bosses, managers or supervisors, can vary tremendously. So too can our inner reaction to our error.
Let’s take a close look at one example:
This one is quite personal and still has an initial sting in my memory, followed by a soothing conclusion.
I was the senior training specialist at a large high tech corporation, responsible for the design, development and implementation of sales and system engineer training. We based future training plans on the results of exams that students took at the end of their three week program. The numerical results were calibrated, compared and analyzed.
For this particular sales training group of about 100 students, it added up to hundreds of exams to correct, with data to tally.
I did the calibrations and gave the results and recommendations to my manager, the department head, Dr. Lowe.
My recommendations were sound, based on the test results, and the next six months of training programs were in the process of being designed.
Until. Until my manager called me into his office with a stacks of tests. (Yes, this was before we did it all online.) He showed me that I had made a glarring error in my math. And that error led to incorrect assumptions, which led to erroneous training recommendations. Ugh!
I was appalled, embarrassed and ashamed. I had earned a promotion to senior training development specialist just three months prior. I felt like melting into the floor, disappearing, or at least pushing back the hands of time and re-doing my work. I’m embarrassed to say that I burst into tears, excused myself, and ran to the restroom.
This was the first time I had ever made what I thought of as a major, horrendous mistake. It was a mistake with significant implications, too. I started doubting my professional capabilities and thinking that perhaps I should quit my job. I finally pulled myself together, walked into the hallway, and my boss found me. Dr. Lowe was an extraordinary man. He had left a prestigious professorship at a university for a corporate position. Yet, he still looked and dressed as a professor. He was a well respected professional in the world of training, and I was so embarrassed to have made a mistake, especially to fail Dr. Lowe. He walked me to his office and closed the door so we could talk privately. He looked at me deeply and said, ‘Joan, how many decisions do you think you make each day at work?” I thought hard and said I probably make a few hundred decisions each day. He nodded and said he had known me for over ayear and noticed that I made many, many excellent decisions. He reminded me that he was the person who saw my work closely, had granted me a major job promotion, and he was still sure I was worthy of it.
He went on to explain that as professionals we really do make hundreds if not thousands of decisions, large and small, each day. And the day that I had calibrated the training exams I clearly made an error. One error, a pretty big one. But actually, our training plans could still be changed and no real damage had been done.
He told me that the real damage could be to my sense of professionalism. And he did not want that to happen. He wanted to make sure that I still felt good with myself, and could hold my head high, and not have self doubt. This man, Dr. Lowe, remains a tremendous role model to me.
As I continued in my career and moved into management, and later coaching, I always used that approach: We are fallible beings who will, from time to time, make mistakes.
I always told my team, and later my clients: You will make errors, everyone does. Learn from them, try not repeat them, and try not make too many. But we cannot allow a mistake now and then to hold us back from being the best we can be in our jobs — 0r in our lives, for that matter.
Onward to bringing the best of you to work and not having a dangerous thing called ‘perfectionism’. We humans are not perfect.
Best regards and hoping that whatever mistakes you do make are found by gentle souls.
Like you, I probably get over 50 emails a day. And after years and year of receiving and writing emails and hearing feedback from clients, I see a pattern of what works and what doesn’t work with emails. Here goes:
- Make it Short – If it is a long, complicated message, consider a phone call or in person talk, if possible. When people open an email and see paragraphs and paragraphs of stuff, honestly, they are not happy. In the context of having many emails to open each day, they want the messages as short and sweet as possible. And they want the subject line to let them know what to expect. If it’s an email about a current project, name the specific project, and put the word ‘update’ in front of it. This is called a kindness to the reader. It focuses them on what the topic will be, and gets properly directed to the subject. The other reason to make emails short is to avoid misinterpretation. The more information you put in, the more a chance of misunderstandings. If you are telling them that you are not able to make certain deadlines and you keep adding reasons for the delay, they might have reasons to doubt you or question you. Yes, keep in mind that the email you are writing will most probably be considered in the context of more than 50 other emails. Make it short, to the point and actionable.
- No blaming, no shaming.– Remember that emails come without any facial expressions, tonal qualities or the ability to take back what’s written. Emails are not the place to discuss anything that could be construed as hurtful, accusatory or embarrassing. People are very sensitive when they see that their personal information included, especially in a group email. I had an client who was very hurt that her colleague wrote that she was not going to be at a meeting because she had a dental appointment and was getting a root canal. I didn’t think anything of it, other than feeling bad for her needing that procedure, but she was embarrassed and hurt that her colleagues would be discussing what she considered her very private business. This situation escalated and ended up resulting in a long term poor relationship between the writer of that email and the woman who had the root canal. Always think twice before writing anything in an email that could be perceived as personal or private information. Another time a client was pregnant and she was going to take some extra vacation time off during her maternity leave. Her manager wrote a group email about her departure and it turned out she was very angry that people knew she was taking extra time off! In this case, the manager should have discussed going public with the information before putting it in an email. And with work projects, you might not think that a chart of roles, responsibilities and deadlines could be troublesome in an email, but it can be. If you see your name and a task you were to do and you see that it is not completed by the deadline date, you could be upset that the team could construe it as your tardiness and your lack of work completion. But you might have extenuating circumstances that your task was dependent on another task not in your control. so before you ever put in an email that someone’s work is late, talk to them and find out what’s happening.
- Who to include. Who not to include. -This is vital. There have been so many workplace hurt feelings, arguments and disagreements based on inclusion or exclusion from an email distribution list. Spend time to make sure you have included the right people. Check with your manager if you are unsure. Sometimes your manager wants to make sure their boss is copied. Other times they emphatically do not want you to copy their boss. This could be for many reasons. They might want to take credit for your work! They might not want their boss to know the details or the projects. There could be many reasons. And make sure to include all of your relevant colleagues and partners. One client of mine got in a lot of trouble when she included vendors from outside the company on a project email. Turns out the company did not want the vendors to know too much about their products, services and processes. Always ask about including individuals or groups from outside your organization in your emails.
Remember that emails are just one form of communication. You typically can also pick up the phone, perhaps see the person live, text them or discuss the item in a group meeting.
When you do choose to write an email, think it through strategically. Consider the other modes of communication before you settle on writing an email. Who should and shouldn’t be included. If you included the right people and if you said anything that could be misinterpreted. Read your email over at least twice. Listen for anything that could possibly be misinterpreted and edit accordingly. An ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure. This saying applies perfectly to the dos and don’ts of writing emails.
Onward to the best of your communications at work!
Coach JoanRead more
today I got a call from a reader asking if I could help her figure out her next career step. She is 55, facing job loss,
and after decades in the financial sector, would like to start in a whole new kind of work.
The funny part was when she asked if I could recommend an ‘intuitive’ who could point her in the right career direction!
Perhaps to her surprise, I told her that good intuition, and the ability to read people well, is an important tool in the toolbox every career coach should have, but that career direction is not based on magical thinking, fortune-telling, or sensing one’s aura. It is based on asking probing, thoughtful and reflective questions that help the client see themselves clearly and make sound decisions going forward. The process involves assignments where clients are asked to identify their strengths, skills and preferences. They are asked describe times they were at their best and felt great about their work. They are asked to write out specific projects or job parameters, the goals, the team (or solo work) the challenges, the tasks, the required skills, outcomes, types of rewards and compensation and how they prefer to be managed. Together, we develop a profile of what they bring to work, what they enjoy at work, aspects to stay away from and new areas they might want to explore and develop. We also construct a profile of the kind of management, culture and colleagues that they prefer and an environment that suits their style and preferences.
Next, we research to identify the work environments, industries and kinds of work that will result in a win-win for them as employees and for their prospective employers.
Career coaching work is not voodoo or magic, but a carefully designed process. In the case of looking for a new career direction, it’s based on going from the inside-out and back in time to reflect back to you your best work profile. Then, it involves a process of seeing there that work profile can best fit into the market place; what kinds of industries, companies, organizations and job descriptions best match.
Self Awareness as a Key Differentiator
The other benefit of this process is that self-awareness if an extremely attractive feature to a employers. Employers like to know that you know who you are and what you bring to their team. Self realized individuals are typically more mature, easier to get along with and understand how they can best support the goals of a group. Self aware people also raise their hand to participate in projects that truly meet their strengths and skills. And they stay away from projects that do not align with their best selves.
When you interview for jobs, I encourage you to write out what brings the best of you to work. Give examples and show how your proven skills and abilities have helped to drive business forward; or helped to achieve the goals of the organization.
Every year it’s good to do a personal check-in. Reflect to see what you’ve enjoyed at work this last year. Where you made your impact. Think about how you responded to challenges, how you worked with your colleagues, what kind of compensation and reward were meaningful to you. Are you enjoying more solo or group work? The more you understand your own motivations and preferences, the better you will align yourself with success..on your terms in your unique way.
Onward to your career success in all ways, always.