6 Career Changes I'd Make if I had a Time Machine

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my younger self. Mostly I've been thinking about all the mistakes I made early on in my career. Check out this slide-share and see the 6 pieces of advice I'd give the 25 year old version of me if I had a time machine.


New Boss? Company Acquired? 3 Tips to Take Advantage of Change

In my experience, the greatest moments for career advancement come in times of uncertainty and disruption. I know this sounds counter intuitive but its very true and something most of us overlook or won't admit. During highly tumultuous periods, like in an acquisition or management shake-up, the opportunities are actually at their greatest and your competition are at their worst. In these chaotic times, roles change, departments get reorganized and objectives and power shift. If you execute strategically you can find many career advancing opportunities. If you operate emotionally (like most people) you can lose out on your best chance to get ahead. While your peers are rebelling to change and worrying what the future may hold, you need to be executing your advancement strategy. Here are some tips for how to embrace change from the book Stealing the Corner Office:

A very important first step is to create a Change Playbook so you can take advantage of these moments when they present themselves. I find it helpful to document my game plan when I see big changes coming. The process of actually writing my plan down helps to remind me how important it is to be consciously executing purposeful tactics during these periods versus reacting emotionally.

I recently met with a business partner who confided in me within an hour of meeting him that he had a new boss he couldn't stand. He just couldn't figure out how to deal with him and he and the rest of the team missed their old boss immensely. As much as he delivered the polite version of his plight, it was pretty obvious that he and his peers were not handling this change scenario well.  A management change is almost universally mishandled by staff who fight against what has already taken place in some naive hope their discontent can actually reverse time. In this case, when your peers are all gossiping and griping about the evil new boss, you should be actively networking with him or her and finding ways to be helpful in the transition. Getting on the winning side of change is as much about choosing to play on the winning team as it is about any specific strategy. Having a positive attitude and aligning yourself with the eventual winners are your keys to success.

So when change is afoot, I jot down a few key notes in three basic areas to guide my behaviors. It reminds me that my goal is to get ahead in the company and not to vent my emotions or misgivings about the situation. Here is a sample of what that might look like:

Figure 1: Sample Change Playbook

Figure 1: Sample Change Playbook

The first area I focus on is my Influencer List. It has most likely evolved as a result of the change that has occurred. I make a quick list of who the key players are and who can most profoundly influence my success or failure in the new environment. My only caution is not to let any personal misgivings cloud your assessment of who actually has power and influence. Sometimes we can convince ourselves power hasn’t shifted when in fact it has.

The second thing I take note of is what key transition projects are likely to take place or have been scheduled already. I want to be a part of these and will do whatever I can to participate. These will come in the form of process alignment meetings, systems integrations, best practice sharing and a variety of other events. They all have the goal of smoothing the transition from the old way to the new way. You will participate on these committees and in these meetings ostensibly to help in the transition most importantly you’re tactically demonstrating leadership and networking with the winning team.

The final area I make note of is how I can advance my position during the change period. Specifically, what actions I will take to proactively improve my status. This can include things like booking a meeting with the new boss to understand her priorities and challenges. It might be taking one or two new people out for lunch or dinner after an acquisition. It can be the small things and conversations that reveal the best opportunities for career advancements in a highly dynamic environment. If you see yourself doing the same old routine, or trying to ignore the chaos around you – you should stop and get involved.

The most important thing in taking advantage of change scenarios is your attitude. Get on the winning team. Do the opposite of what the masses are doing. Find opportunities to demonstrate leadership in the face of disruption which will often be present during this times. Get strategic during turmoil and you will rise to the top.

Here are three quick tips that will make sure you embrace the changes everyone else hates and ultimately end up on top:

  • Make a change plan. You need to actually write down what your plan is or your emotions will likely get the best of you. Jot down some tactics when a major transition occurs to force yourself to act strategically and not emotionally.
  • Pick the winner with your mind not your heart. Make an objective assessment of which side is likely to come out on top and join that team. If someone has just bought your company or has just taken over your department – choose that team. Don’t fight against the winning side.
  •  Leave your ego at the door. If you execute the correct change playbook, people will make fun of you and tease you for being a suck up. Ignore them. Your career is not about making friends, it’s about advancement. 

Memorial Day Management Musings – 3 Questions to Ponder Over the Weekend

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We’re mere hours away from the long weekend. The last thing you want to be thinking about is your career. In fact, if you’re anything like me, as we speak you’re searching for creative ways to sweep a few last minute tasks under the rug and hope nobody notices. You’re deliberating over whether or not it’s too obvious if you cancel your afternoon meetings on account of an “urgent family matter” (it is btw). Career strategy aside, I fully support this. It’s time to relax.

But as much as the long weekend is your time to let it all go, to dump the stresses of work behind you, and trade in your power suit for your swim suit, it’s also a great chance to reset and get your mind right for when you return to work on Tuesday. I’ve always found that when I get back to work from a vacation or a long weekend it’s like a chance to start fresh again, to right the ship and make sure I’m headed in the best direction possible.

Here are a few questions to ponder while you’re swirling cocktails or working in your garden this weekend.

What image am I portraying: Aggressive or objective?

For decades now, holding people accountable and being passionate about your work have been universally accepted management best practices. And while on the surface they seem sensible, in practice they can stop your career dead in its tracks. You should never forget that human beings make up the decision making engine in your company. Your upward mobility will be decided entirely by the people you work with. So if you’re too passionate, too demanding, or too aggressive, people will not root for your success, they won’t want you on their teams. In my experience an image of objectivity and mentorship is much more useful to advance your career than an image as a task master or passion player. When you get back to work on Tuesday, try being a bit more objective in how you present ideas and find opportunities to help people when you might otherwise hold them accountable.

Am I differentiating myself or am I part of the herd?

It can be very therapeutic to gripe and gossip with your peers at work. We all have a difficult boss or unrealistic objectives or incompetent co-workers, and it feels good vocalize our discontent to our colleagues. You should never do this. It’s also way easier to hang out and network with peers or subordinates rather than put the effort in to network with superiors and executives in the company. This is also a mistake. As tough as this may be to accept, you can’t treat your peers at work like your friends – in reality they’re your competition. There are a limited number of promotions available to you at any given time. For most of us there are one or two chances for a promotion every few years. To get it, you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Gossiping and griping with your peers at work does the opposite – it makes you indistinguishable from the herd and can eliminate your chances if you’re observed doing it. When you come back to work on Tuesday, start being more positive, stop gossiping and complaining at work, and seek out opportunities to network up the corporate ladder instead of just with your peers.

What points am I putting up on the board: Career field goals or career touch downs?

When it comes to career advancement, small wins and reliable performance do not put a winning score on the board. It can take as many as five small victories to equal one big win. Managers who play a game based on reliability tend to become known only for their mistakes. Mistakes, unlike small wins, reverberate across the company and garner lots of attention. It makes much more sense to pursue a big win strategy even at the expense of making more small mistakes. Big wins are memorable, they build attention outside your department and they ultimately lead to promotions. When you get back to work next week, try to find some bigger projects to participate in. Find a process to improve or a task force to join. It’s the big stuff people will remember when promotion time comes around.

You certainly can’t spend your long weekend obsessing about your career, but while you’re searching for you tee shot in the woods or waiting in line for a hot dog and a beer, give these questions some thought and make sure you’re on the right track to advance your career when you get back to work.

Happy Memorial Day!

For some light long weekend reading, check out Stealing the Corner Office – The Winning Career Strategies They’ll Never Teach You in Business School