It adds up in a hurry. As a professional, you have to put your best foot forward, and spend on the conveniences that make life feasible (heck, maybe even enjoyable), all while juggling your health and sanity. But where does your career figure in all of that?
Take a second to raise your nose from the grindstone (or the yoga mat, or the keyboard) for this reality check.
These things cost MORE than this (simple, wise, accessible) career investment:
The average American worker spends over $1,000 annually on our coffee fix. For most of us, it’s worth every drop, er… penny. Just try prying that paper mug from your colleague’s hands at 3:15 in the afternoon - we dare you!
2. Your professional wardrobe
Your appearance is make-it or break-it when it comes to professional success. And with a single custom tailored suit ringing up between $400-$10,000, you can bet your bottom dollar your wardrobe expenses are among the highest of your career-related costs.
3. Organic foods
When’s the last time your Whole Foods receipt didn’t make you shake your head? The high cost of organic foods (though understandable) can leave you wondering if a professional chef is included in the price.
4. Tech gadgets and services
Most of us get twitchy if deprived of a decent wireless signal for too long. (Or maybe it’s time for that coffee fix?) There are 5.7 devices in the average American household. And operating successfully in a wired workplace means we routinely spend a lot of dough on the latest-and-greatest in the tech world.
5. Dry cleaning
It’s a subset of Murphy’s Law, apparently, that the most attractive clothing is always labeled “dry clean only”. Add that to the convenience of having someone else launder and press your (aforementioned, expensive) clothing, and they’ve got you on the hook (or is it hangar?) for more than $500 a year.
6. Your exercise routine
Staying healthy and in peak condition doesn’t come cheap! A glorious physical specimen like you needs equipment. And a place to keep it. And a person to yell at you teach you to get you to use it. Namaste!
The relative necessity of these expenses aside, shouldn’t your career rank somewhere in this mix?
The Career Acceleration Academy is an online offering that helps you identify and treat your professional “blind spots” so you can move forward to the next big thing. Go ahead! You deserve it.
(Pssst! For a limited time, you can save over $200. That's a lotta java!)
Last month, I had the privilege of delivering a keynote speech to 500 incredibly talented professionals at Working Mother Media’s annual Multicultural Women’s National Conference in New York City. As I took the stage on the first morning and began to share my story, I was struck by the remarkable vibe in the room. These women (and a few brave men) weren’t just present; they were fully engaged. I was surrounded by current and emerging leaders representing a wide range of industries, ages and cultures, and they were all totally plugged in. The message was genuinely resonating with them.
The theme of the conference was “Vision & Impact: Charting What’s Next.” My work in the area of leadership and development has always focused on the importance of our impact in the workplace. Credentials and years of experience aside, our real career success is driven by how we work with and through other people – how we lead them, collaborate with them, interact with them, and react to them. When we manage that impact and ensure that others experience us in the way we intend, we can accelerate the pace of our professional trajectories.
Here’s the problem… Many times, there’s a hidden gap between what we see and what those around us see. When there’s an impact disconnect (even a very subtle one), our careers can be inadvertently derailed while we are left wondering what went wrong. I call those disconnects professional blind spots. Despite our best intentions, these blind spots may be holding us back or preventing us from reaching our full potential.
Think about your co-workers. Do you know someone who is generally smart, hard working and well intentioned, but still manages to rub people the wrong way? There’s a fine line between decisive and abrupt. Between passionate and overzealous. Between meticulous and annoyingly nit-picky. Between innovative and rebellious. These people might have great resumes, but blind spots are likely the reason they are getting overlooked for promotions or high-visibility assignments. Their intended impact on others doesn’t match up with the actual impact they deliver. Subtle behaviors and unconscious habits are sabotaging their success, and they simply can’t see it.
Quite a few attendees approached me after my presentation to recount fascinating stories about people in their organizations who were clearly struggling with professional blind spots. Surprisingly, quite a few of these people were bold enough to describe their own “a-ha! moments,” identifying blind spots they never before acknowledged but now see as the culprit behind some of their past career missteps. These professionals all seemed to understand that everyone suffers from blind spots, but those who end up in the boardroom or the corner office have just learned how to manage them better.
I challenged the conference attendees that day to move beyond their resumes as they thought about achieving their professional goals. I asked them to focus on the impact they have on others, ensuring their intentions were translating into reality. I gave them three ways to do that, and I’d like to share those with you as well.
First, increase your self-awareness. Be honest about your natural tendencies and habits when you interact with others. How do your colleagues feel about working with you? Ideally, how would you like them to feel? Eliminating blind spots certainly isn’t about changing who you are, but about understanding yourself and making conscious adjustments to improve your impact on others.
Second, get specific feedback from your co-workers to find out how you are really perceived. This process might be a bit uncomfortable, but it’s absolutely critical to help uncover any blind spots that could be slowing down your career progress. Besides that, getting feedback will also point out your strengths and the distinguishing qualities that set you apart. If you’ve had trouble defining your value proposition, this exercise can give you amazing clarity.
You can gather feedback using a wide range of methods, from formal reviews with your manager to casual conversations with peers. Online surveys are another excellent option. For corporate clients and students in my virtual Career Acceleration Academy, I provide access to my Brand 360 Survey. This easy, online tool allows them to gather rich, anonymous feedback from a select group of colleagues.
Third, compare your ideal impact with the actual impact you discovered by gathering feedback. Look closely at the areas where you are right on target for strengths you can further leverage. Any areas with gaps represent your own professional blind spots. Armed with that knowledge, you can work to close those gaps and actively improve the impact you have on others. Simply being aware of your blind spots and unique differentiators will help you make the small changes that can make a big difference in your career success.
Wondering exactly how to implement this strategy? I often help my clients get started on the process with some impact measurement tools – reflective questions that help in setting personal impact goals and feedback questions that guide the process of approaching others to determine their perceptions. If you’d like to receive a free copy of this resource, just send me an email at Sara@SaraCanaday.com.
For a limited time, I also want to offer you a special discount for my online course, the Career Acceleration Academy. Sign up here and use Code NLS001 to save $210.
Joanne handed me an envelope.
Inside was a single page. I unfolded the paper with its neat creases and found a letter, typed (typed!) in three succinct paragraphs.
“David, thank you for the opportunity to volunteer, however, I would like to reevaluate my service at your school…”
I was twenty-four years old and Joanne was one of several volunteers on a team I led. Together we served students in an after-school program. Joanne’s letter basically told me (in very diplomatic language) that I was wasting her time.
Then, in those sparse paragraphs, she gave me a blueprint. A blueprint that would transform my leadership, a key to release team members’ energy and motivation, and a secret weapon to attract top performers. The blueprint will work for you too.
Every member of your team is a volunteer – whether you like it or not. You can’t force people to work. You can’t compel creativity. You can’t push problem-solving.
Your employees choose (sometimes unconsciously) how they'll show up each day, how much energy they will expend, and whether or not they will solve problems or ignore them. Wages and salary don’t directly affect these choices, but leadership, culture, and internal motivations do.
But here is where many leaders fall into a trap.
It’s the same trap I’d fallen into and that Joanne highlighted in her letter. You see, I believed that since everyone on the team was a literal volunteer, I should not set my expectations too high or hassle them about their performance. After all, I needed bodies to help, and if I was hard on them, they’d leave, right?
As a manager you might have found yourself reluctant to hold an employee accountable because you were worried that they’d leave. I’ve even seen nonprofit leaders tolerate abusive board members for fear they’d lose the influence or money that the volunteer provided.
Beware! It’s a trap.
When you let expectations slide, when you tolerate poor performance, when you allow abuse, you are telling everyone on your team that you don’t care.
Imagine a volunteer who contributes their time and energy, works diligently, and always strives to do their best, working alongside someone who is no more than half-hearted in their efforts. What will happen to your hard-working volunteer?
Hint: the same thing happens to a paid employee – they will lose heart, shut down, and possibly leave altogether. And why not? You’ve told them you don’t care about them. Their work doesn’t matter. The mission isn’t important. Not exactly the inspiring leadership you hoped to provide, is it?
Joanne’s Blueprint for Motivation and Success
In her simple, plain-spoken letter, Joanne shared some ideas I could use to set clear expectations for the volunteers and how those expectations would serve the children.
In short, we needed accountability. If nothing changed, she explained, she would find better uses for her time. Can your team find a better use for their time? Or…are expectations clear, everyone holds each other accountable, and together you accomplish results beyond what any of you could do individually?
Joanne’s letter was a lesson in tough love. It didn’t feel good at the time. But her message changed everything for me. It made me realize that everyone has a choice. That people’s time is precious. That it’s up to me to make their time on my team worthwhile.
When you fail to practice accountability, you devalue the mission, the work, and disrespect your staff. When you hold people accountable for their work and behavior, you communicate that what they're doing matters. You demonstrate respect and value for your mission, for your work, and for your employees.
Leave us a comment and let us know:
How do you reinforce clear expectations? How do you communicate the value of your team’s time?
I love this saying because it conjures up images of a highly charged, “just do it” kind of person who is making things happen. On the other hand, I must admit that sometimes this phrase stops me cold in my tracks. I know the value of giving it your all, and I can intellectualize the idea of pushing through my fears and letting go of my aversion to risk. However, I also have a keen sense of my tolerance for a “burn the ships” mentality.
Some would argue that a Go Big strategy is essential for entrepreneurs. Every day we hear stories about another 20-something who lived out of his car while working 24/7 to launch the latest and greatest new software product. Inspiring? Yes. But my reaction is a little different. Why aren’t there more stories about those who make it big, even when they occasionally make the decision to Go Home? I know they exist, and I know colleagues who have scaled their businesses without storming through every challenge using a Go Big approach. The long, conservative road to success certainly isn’t as sexy, but it can be just as effective.
As I’ve worked to grow my own business over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to consider both sides of the equation. I have made some Go Big decisions that worked out great and a few that left me with anxiety and regrets. I’ve also had some Go Home decisions that kept me wondering what opportunities I potentially lost, but those choices also protected me from undue stress and a diminishing business account. I can say, however, that my ability to discern the right time to Go Big or Go Home has gotten progressively more on target over the years. Plus, I’ve noticed an overriding pattern that has emerged. I know my proclivity to “go for it” is more prevalent when I’m in a confident mood or just landed a big contract. And, you guessed it, my propensity to lay low usually comes after losing a bid, when a scarcity mentality can creep in and make me doubt my ability to tackle the biggest challenges.
At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, can’t we use some kind of decision tree or ROI analysis before deciding to Go Big or Go Home? When speed to market is so critical today, won’t we lose money with too many Go Home decisions? Personally I think our society is far too quick to admire and espouse the Go Big mentality. For me, it’s all about perspective.
Here are three lessons I’ve learned along my own “Go Big or Go Home” journey:
We can benefit from paying close attention to the experiences (both immediate and lasting) that come with each and every Go Big or Go Home decision we make. I tend to get the best results from my decisions when I combine the objective points of growing my business with the subjective impacts they will have on me (and my family).
Regardless of which way a decision falls, try not to dwell on it. No second-guessing or slamming yourself with “what if” questions. That time and energy could be much better spent elsewhere. I’m absolutely a work in progress here, but that’s still my goal.
Remember that not all decisions are at the Go Big or Go Home level. Many land somewhere in the middle. I’m certainly more comfortable with those, since they allow me to dip my toe in the water without getting completely wet. Try not to instantly escalate your decision-making stress when you really have potential options between “all in” and “all out.”
When deciding whether to act or pass on a big opportunity, we draw from our innate skills. For some, that’s a good sense of judgment, a discerning eye, and a healthy dose of caution. Others face challenges with a hearty appetite for risk, a bold temperament, and a high stress tolerance. Those who are most successful learn to blend those natural instincts with the wisdom of hindsight -- past experiences and previous results. But keep in mind that not all of that wisdom is tangible. After I analyze the facts and consider the strategy for a Go Big or Go Home decision, I also pay attention to the overwhelming gut feeling that comes with the choice. Excited and full of anticipation? Or anxious and stressed? I’ve learned to listen for the difference.
How do you decide whether to Go Big or Go Home? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I was still working at Microsoft a couple years back when I heard about the developer division winning the most prestigious marketing award presented by CEO Steve Ballmer. The award was being presented to a team I had once led for a project that I launched together with my friend Federico.
"Don't worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition."
-- Abraham Lincoln
It was an uneasy feeling because, while I felt really good that my ideas were being recognized as transformational for the company, I also felt bad for not getting credit and recognition for those ideas. That's when Federico shared one of his great insights: “Leadership is invisible," he said. Since then, I have been thinking more about this concept of invisible leadership.
"Avoid getting credit for your ideas. It’s easier to accomplish things if you don't worry about getting the credit. Eventually people will learn about you and respect you even more."
-- Benjamin Franklin
True leadership is about what you leave behind, about the change you have made in people and in organizations. The best kind of leadership is invisible leadership, because it eliminates any trace of ego or self-centered interest that the leader may have and focuses on truly leading. Many people say they want to be leaders, although what they really want is power. Power is getting people to do things because of position, money or fear. Leadership is inspiring people, sharing a vision of a better future, changing mindsets, and ultimately getting people to do things differently.
“A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves.”
-- Lao Tzu
A key difference is in the intentions of a leader. You can seek a leadership position because you are looking for power and recognition or lead because you want to guide people to a better place and to make a difference in people's lives. Some time after leaving Microsoft, I spent two years at Bazaarvoice, the company that manages online ratings and reviews for most Internet stores. Last month, the company announced their Trust Mark, a set of principles that aims to give consumers confidence in the reviews they manage. It was an idea I championed while working at the company. It was a concept I tried to sell and, for whatever reason, it was not possible at that time. Now, it gives me great satisfaction to see that the idea did not die. Almost three years after I left the company, a vision I planted is becoming a reality.
"Good leaders, therefore, learn from God to be invisible. They are known only from their work, their speeches and their ideologies."
-- Awdhesh K. Singh
In my stories above, I did not get credit, but I felt a sense of pride because my vision became the standard for launching products and an idea I championed is now a reality. Leaders are driven by pride, not by ego.
“Credit is infinitely divisible. Give it away every chance you get, and there’s always plenty left for you.”
-- Don Berwick
I hate company politics and am not good at “playing the game,” which I suspect has slowed my forward progress. However, I’m OK with this notion. Not only do I sleep better at night, but also I get tremendous satisfaction from helping people around me grow. Invisible leadership is not a concept that will necessarily move you forward in your career. I am not even sure it is entirely compatible with Corporate America. This is not a post on career advice, nor is it a post on how to get the next leadership title. This is a post about aspiring to be a “true” and “egoless” leader.
“The final test of leadership is: Did you leave things better than you found them? Will your employees be promoted, have a better career, even have a better life because they spent a few seasons with you? Have they learned and grown as a result of your influence? The real question is: Will people be glad you were there? “
-– James Hunter
Leadership is about what you leave behind. In this New Year, perhaps a good resolution could be to embrace “invisibility,” get out of the way, and let your team get the credit.
Somewhat annoyed, I asked my wife of only 18 months, “If you wanted it done that way then why didn’t you just ask me to put it over there from the start?” The resulting expression on her face told me I said something wrong. “What is that supposed to mean?” she shot back to me. “I just meant you could have told me that before I started.” I replied. “Well, you didn’t have to say it like that.” “Say it like what?” I asked. Then came the response I can’t forget. My wife played back what she heard from me and it sounded completely rude and hurtful. Is that what my wife heard when I made my first comment? When I think about it, I know I didn’t actually say it like that! I wish we had instant replay cameras so I could roll the tape and show her what I really said! Then I realized something… it doesn’t matter what I think I said to her. I don’t get to vote in this election, only she does. At this point, I could argue how I said something to her and how she was just exaggerating my tone to make her point, but that wouldn’t help our communication. It didn’t really matter what I said or even how I said it. I should have put the focus where it should have been all along, on her, my audience. It’s not what or how I say something to her that matters most, it’s what she hears that is most important.
When we speak to an audience of one or an audience of many, we tend to focus most of our preparation time on what we are going to say. As we gain more experience in public speaking and we receive more training and coaching, we begin to spend more time on how we are going to say something. We do this by working on our skills in word choice and well-constructed arguments, along with using the tone in our voice, pauses, and vocal inflections. These tools all provide powerful methods for the speaker to inform, inspire, and entertain audiences. But, these skills will not achieve your purpose for speaking if they are misplaced, misused, or misguided.
So how can you ensure the audience always gets what they came for? Don’t just focus on why you’re speaking; focus on why the audience is listening. You can do this by answering four simple questions before you begin the development of your message.
Question number one: Why is the audience listening? Sure the speaker speaks for a reason, a goal, a purpose, but the more important question is, “Why did the audience show up?” What is the audience expecting from the speaker? What do they expect to gain or learn from attending? What do they want? The audience came for a reason. Give them what they came for and you will satisfy them every time. Know their expectation, then meet it or beat it.
Question number two: What do you want the audience to know when you are done? What is the audience expecting to learn from attending your presentation? While it is true that some speakers speak to an audience to purely entertain them, in most cases, the audience expects to learn something from attending. Know what the audience wants to learn and then make certain you deliver the information with interpretations, explanations, and applications to develop their full understanding.
Question number three: What do you want the audience to feel about your topic? In business we don’t often focus on feelings because this is business! We stay focused on the bottom line and making well-informed, logical decisions based on research. While you will get no disagreement from me on making informed decisions in business, we cannot discount the fact that we are speaking to humans. All humans have feelings, yes, even you. That is what makes us human. Do you want the audience to feel excited, proud, confident, humbled, appreciative, inspired? When you know the feelings you hope to generate, you can develop your message to align with those emotions.
Question number four: What do you expect the audience to do after attending? If you give them what they came for, you have informed them thoroughly, and you have generated the desired feeling, the audience will want to know the next step. What do they need to do once they leave your meeting or presentation? What do you want them to do? When an audience can logically agree with your information and they have a feeling associated with it, they are much more likely to take the next step as long as they know what that is. Make sure you define that next step for them. The easier you make the next step, the more likely they are to take it.
The next time you are watching television, don’t step into the kitchen during the commercials. Instead, take note of the three elements all good marketers place into their 30-second presentations. Ask yourself these questions as you watch the commercial. What does this company want me to know about their company/product/service? What do they want me to feel about the product / service? What do they want me to do? When speaking to your audiences, never forget that your audience came for a reason. Give them what they came for! The speaker doesn’t speak for the speaker; the speaker speaks for the audience!
The New Year can be a time of renewal. Each January we are presented with the opportunity of a “fresh start” and the chance to look back on our victories and stumbles along the way. Creating goals for the upcoming year is a great way to customize a detailed road map of where we want to go in our personal and professional lives. Without a plan we can drift around without a clear purpose.
Yet many shy away from goals. Some fear that setting goals is just a set up for failure, but I think the opposite is true. If you were to board a plane from Los Angeles to Honolulu you would most likely want your pilot to have a flight plan. If he took the plan into the air and pointed “west” you chances for a safe landing in Hawaii might be at risk. The Pacific Ocean is big, and simply flying west into the Trade Winds would not be wise. Pilots are always making adjustments along the way to keep a plane on course for its destination, and your life should not be any different.
I have long been a goal setter, but this does not mean that I always reach them, or that I always do the right things when faced with choices. But if I did not have goals I would probably never have achieved very much. It is too easy to drift along. We need to be challenged and goals are simply a way to challenge ourselves.
5 Tips To Setting Goals For 2014
Set aside the time to create a plan. When setting your goals for 2014 you must think about the realities of your personal situation. Be realistic in assessing your current situations and figure out what you desire in the New Year. Too often people make a fast list without giving real thought to what they want. Set aside an hour a day the week between Christmas and New Years to create your list. Make notes, and tweak your goals every day until you are happy with the list. You must own your goals.
Be realistic. Goals are not "wishes". Do not list things that are equal to winning a lottery, but instead make your list contain the right things. I like to use "writing a book" as an example of a realistic goal. Anyone can write a book, but to do this you must dedicate time and do the work. A book cannot write itself, and if you continuously put off doing the writing, there will never be an actual book. But if you write for an hour every day, you can (and will) have a draft in about 40 days. All goals should be able to be broken down into steps.
Don't have too many goals, (or too few). I like to have three main goals each year (although a few more is okay, too). I like to have a business goal, a personal goal, and a "soul" goal. For me, having three each year gives me the inspiration to work toward my success. I do not always achieve all of my goals(I still have 9 lbs to lose from last year, and weigh the same as I did on January 1st).... but I have achieved more in my life than I ever would have without the focus of having written goals. You can have more things that you are working towards than the goals on your list, but having a realistic number of goals will help keep you moving the right direction.
Create a goal page (and review it often). After you have identified the goal targets that will excite you to achieve in 2014, you must write them down in a way that you can review them regularly. I have a friend who uses 8.5" x 11" and laminates three copies. One for his office, one in his car, and the other in his SHOWER! Another friend has her goals as the wall paper on her computer. I shrink the list down to fit in my wallet so that I see my goals each time I reach for money. No matter what works for you, find a way to make your goals visible all year long.
Tell others about your goals. If you have big goals that you are trying to achieve, you will have more success if you share these targets with other people. The important people in your life want to support and help you reach your goals, and they can only do this if they know what you want to achieve. Get the people in your life to be part of your support team. Success seems to come easier when you are not alone.If you have never set goals before, try it this year. Be dedicated to your efforts and review your goals constantly. You have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain from working on a goal list.
In Part 1 of this blog (“Corporate Blind Spots”), I discussed the link between a company’s success and its reputation (perceptions held by customers, partners, vendors and even employees). Many organizations don’t have a clear picture of how they are perceived, and these blind spots are often holding them back. Uncovering that true reputation and working to improve it are the keys to accelerating corporate success. In this blog, I’ll provide some steps that companies can take to help eliminate those blind spots.
According to a recent survey by global PR firm Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, 70% of consumers avoid buying a product if they don’t like the company behind it. That should be a big wake-up call for corporate executives. Leaders can sit in meetings for days to discuss brand-building goals, but none of that matters if the conversation isn’t based on the reality of how the company is actually perceived. We can’t map out the journey if we don’t know the starting point.
For larger companies, the solution involves doing market research and listening closely to focus groups. But what about small or mid-sized companies with little or no budget for research? Thankfully, this process doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars, and informal feedback can play a big role in keeping your brand on track.
Make a list of your top 10-20 customers. Call them. Meet them for coffee or lunch. Ask them for a “business report card.” How are we doing? What do you like? What could we do better? Encourage them to be candid. Many companies today also use a simple service like Survey Monkey to gather regular feedback from customers. A few specific questions might include:
Whatever knowledge you uncover will guide you in the right direction as you look to make improvements for the future.
Monitoring social media is another critical step in understanding how your company is perceived. The greatest marketing campaign in the world can’t compensate for bad online buzz. When you consider the popularity of online sources like Trip Advisor and Angie’s List, it’s clear that consumers today depend heavily on the opinions of companies’ existing customers to make their buying decisions. Your business can’t resolve issues (real or perceived) if you don’t know they exist. Log on regularly and look for red flags. No matter how you gather customer feedback, just make sure it’s an ongoing process.
Once you have a realistic view of your company’s perceived strengths and weaknesses, you can use that baseline to make meaningful changes moving forward. Knowing your corporate reputation gives you a big advantage as you try to shift customers’ perceptions to more closely match the brand image you ideally want to convey. Your tactics will certainly change over time, but they’ll be infinitely more successful if your strategy is based on customer feedback that is real and current.
Yes, identifying corporate blind spots takes time and effort. But it works! Simply asking for feedback shows customers that you value the relationship, and the knowledge you uncover will direct and strengthen your brand-building efforts in surprising ways.
Has your company reached out for customer feedback in an innovative way? What were the results? I’d love to hear your success stories.
Just like our personal reputations have an enormous impact on the success of our careers, a company’s reputation ultimately determines its profitability. That concept has never been more critical than it is now in our always-online, über-connected world.
Companies today are faced with a competitive playing field that has expanded exponentially. Consumers are no longer limited to product choices in their immediate areas or regions. With a click of the mouse, they can buy chocolates from Switzerland or furniture from Denmark. Twenty years ago, these options would have seemed mind-boggling.
Price comparisons are almost effortless, too. Shopping around for the best deal is, again, a mouse-click away. With fast shipping options and overnight delivery, accessing the global market is easier than ever. Even strong brands run the risk of being perceived as a commodity with the colossal increase in competition made possible by the Internet. Sometimes the only significant differentiating feature about a company or a brand is its reputation.
So how can companies create a brand personality so strong that a customer wants to do business with them despite plenty of product alternatives and cheaper prices? The key is in building a relationship and sense of loyalty with consumers. Do your customers think of your company as a source or a partner? Do they understand what your company stands for beyond the products or services you sell?
It all comes back to the idea of perceptions. We need to know exactly how our customers perceive our company today. We need to have a clear vision of what we’d ideally like that perception to be. And we need to take action to move toward that goal to compete more effectively in the market. This is the same concept I apply to individuals in my book, “You – According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career.” Companies can (and often do) have blind spots, as well. The most successful organizations know how to identify those blind spots and move past them.
In my next blog, I’ll talk about innovative ways that companies can measure their corporate reputations and take action to improve them.
As I travel across the country speaking to management groups and meeting with operations leaders, I am consistently seeing a common problem. While companies fully recognize that reaching their goals and being successful is dependent on quality leadership, the vast majority of them struggle to make that a priority. They simply don’t have the time, energy and budget required to grow and develop their leaders in a meaningful way.
Many times these organizations make well-intentioned and valiant attempts to offer leadership development, but their efforts are often watered down to a non-customized “training in a box” with little or no emphasis on the specific needs related to a particular job or industry. To make matters worse, the training that is available only filters down to a select few.
I certainly understand the intense pressures these organizations are facing. Companies are shifting and expanding their business models to keep pace with global demand. Employees are spread across the U.S. and beyond. Expectations are higher, and teams are stretched to the limits. But while they are frantically focused on the overwhelming details of day-to-day business, they are left to skimp on what is arguably the most important thing they can do to differentiate themselves from their competitors: maximizing the value of their leaders (current and future).
So what does this trend mean for professionals at every level who aspire to increase their leadership skills and take on more responsibility? In short, it’s a bold reminder for all of us to take ownership of our own career progressions. Seek out tools that can boost your job performance. Take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow through online conferences, Internet research or specialized apps. Keep pace with industry trends and use that knowledge to anticipate the implications for the future. Build your network, and take deliberate steps to communicate your value more effectively. Identify a career coach or mentor. In 2013, we can’t wait for employers to shepherd us through some type of formal training program. It’s all up to us.
The good news is, some companies do offer resources to employees who are willing to take the initiative on their own.
• Ask whether your company offers self-development courses or will supplement enrollment fees for those who participate in independent training.
• Seek honest performance and behavioral feedback from your workplace team, whether that means having informal discussions or using a robust multi-rater assessment tool that can gather detailed data about your business impact.
• Find out if you have options to broaden the spectrum of your career choices by moving laterally or into different functional areas (“job families”) to diversify your skill set. If your company has started an enterprise-wide career path initiative, this may provide you with additional alternatives for growth.
• Determine what programs your organization offers that are specifically designed to groom high-potential talent. Should you be lucky enough to work for one of the more progressive companies, you may also have options to participate in job rotation opportunities to broaden the breadth of your own knowledge and experience. If not, take the lead and propose that type of program.
• Proactively nurture and cultivate key business relationships, and pay keen attention to how you connect people and information. Doing so will provide you with a robust and productive network of professionals who can offer you career guidance and advice.
Whether you have development choices in-house or not, the point is to find them and take advantage of them. Don’t wait. Take charge of your own personal growth. When you drive your own professional development, you’ll be in the best position long-term to maximize your potential and accelerate your career.