strategy

Recommended Reading – Networking

There are a number of books that I find myself regularly recommending to clients, friends, acquaintances and so on…I just find them so universally of value that I end up mentioning them quite frequently.  As such, I realized that I really should share them with you. In this post, I’ll start with my top two on networking:

 
The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine

This book is a must for people who are terrified of networking.  In addition to the play on words in its title, the content is quite engaging.  I love this book for two reasons: first, because it is practical – full of specific, tangible examples of what one might say in various situations; and second, because it is written from the point of view of someone who is not a natural at all of this networking stuff but learned.  Because she had to learn it step-by-step, she can, and does, explain it clearly.  Not all the examples will fit for all people, but there are so many, you are sure to find some that work for you.  This book, I have actually mentioned in a previous blog but it bears repeating.

Click to see this book on Amazon:
The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills — and Leave a Positive Impression!

Make Your Contacts Count by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon

Looking at networking from a different angle, this book illustrates the strategy around networking. With no strategy behind it, your networking may be enjoyable but could result in many wasted opportunities. That was my situation several years back, before this book was recommended to me by a colleague whose networking skills I admire. Now, I love being in a position to help others and I love it when they ask me. In return, I don’t hesitate to ask for what I need because I know we are in it together. Don’t look back with regret at what you “could have” done – apply these concepts and enjoy the effects of building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.

Click to see this book on Amazon:
Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-how for Business And Career Success

Both of these books are relatively short, easy reads. If you add at least one business book to your summer reading list, consider these.  What are some of your most recommended business books?  Comment on this post to share your recommendations with other readers!

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Career resolutions 2011

As promised, I am making some career resolutions this year.  To be honest, I reassess and make new goals throughout each year, and usually ignore the January 1 milestone.  This year, though, it provides a needed opportunity to reflect and plan.  So, here are my resolutions for 2011:

  • To consciously connect – it’s essential in my work to stay connected with a wide variety of people, from business leaders to job seekers to thought partners and mentors; I will consciously guide my outreach during the year to ensure I connect with those that I should
  • To write more – because it’s something I love, a skill I want to keep building, and it allows me to connect with people more, which, besides providing enjoyment, provides more work opportunity
  • To give myself a pay raise – yes, that’s right, only not in the way you think.  I’m not on salary, but I can influence my pay in a number of ways.  Though I will work to increase my overall revenue this year, my primary focus here is on what I make per unit of time.  So, I can do a number of things including: raise my rates, schedule more efficiently so that I have less “downtime” in between paid work, work faster on fee-based projects, and focus on higher rate work.  I will actually employ all of these to some degree
  • To maintain balance – I know, “balance” has almost become a dirty word it’s so cliche’, but one of the reasons I love what I do is that it provides an opportunity for balance that was almost impossible in my former life.  Looking back over last year, I did pretty well.  I need to keep it on my radar and I know I can do it again this year.  My key tools are: aggressive prioritization and the willingness to say “no” at the right times

Sounds like a pretty heavy load, huh?  Not really.  All these are essential to my continued career and personal well-being, so I need to be doing them anyway. 

Now, to be really effective, resolutions must have some detail or they lose their bite.  Though I haven’t laid out the details here, I am doing this for myself.  I hope you are too, and I wish you the very best in achieving all that you resolve to this year!

Strategic Self-Presentation

In the last post, I discussed ways to develop a more strategic view in business. Now, what if you already think strategically but you still have an image that says you don’t?

One of my colleagues had this issue in a previous role. When told by a trusted leader, “You need to be more strategic,” she was flabbergasted. When she started telling this person all the work she was doing that was truly strategic and affecting the direction of her division, the realization hit that nobody outside of a few people in her division knew about it. She had to start thinking strategically about who knew what she was doing.

I mentor through a fantastic leadership development program called WOMEN Unlimited. There’s a saying they use: it’s not what you know, it’s who knows you know. This is so true. Too many people hide their light under a bushel. Women in particular do this a lot, though in my career I’ve known plenty of men who do it too.

Let’s say you are thinking strategically, or adding strategic value to the business. Who knows it? Do your leaders one or two levels up know? Do people in other divisions know?

Some of you are starting to cringe and think “office politics–ewww.” I don’t call it office politics. It’s not empty glad- handing. It’s taking the time to think about and having the confidence to do something about sharing information with those who want to know and who may likely benefit by it. Your leadership team benefits by knowing what fantastic work you do. It may be something they want to implement elsewhere. It may be something that can help them highlight the value of your team (and that’s pretty important in today’s world of job cuts and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?)

Is one of those people who will benefit by it You? Yessiree, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. Each of us must take responsibility for the part we play in creating our own professional brand. That means thinking strategically about how and to whom we are presenting ourselves.

What are you doing strategically to create yours?

Being Strategic – The “It” Factor

I have often worked with professionals who are on their way, climbing the corporate ladder.   They’ve done everything right – taken the right jobs, worked harder than the people around them, developed good relationships with their leaders, and so on.   And then…they hit a wall. 

“You need to be more strategic,” they’re told. 

“But what does that mean?!” they cry.  And, often, they get very few specific answers. 

Being Strategic seems to be like the It factor for a performer.  People know it when they see it, but it is hard to pin down and put into words. 

If you are struggling with this, consider:

Strategy – deals with  the longer term,  asks “where are we going and why?” and perhaps most importantly “where should we be going?”

Tactics – deal with the details of how to get there

To use another analogy. think of driving a car.  

You can drive a car and reach a specific destination, even if you don’t know what that destination is, as long as someone navigates for you.  You make tactical decisions and take action to brake, turn, and accelerate in the right places.   Your ‘strategic partner’ is your navigator.  They know where are you are going – literally ‘seeing the bigger picture’.  If you do not know where you are are going, are you going to be able to add anything of value to a discussion about what route to take?  No.

But, if you do know the destination, and have a broader knowledge of the world around you, you can say, “It would be better to take the 108 because there’s construction on the beltway.”  Or, “There’s a better place that’s closer.  Let’s go there instead.”

So, in the business world, if a key factor is having a broader view, how do you gain it?  Here are some tips:

#1:   Get to know more about the business world outside your company. 

You have no excuse for not doing this.  There are innumerable free or cheap resources.  You have instant, online access to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the BBC.  A  forward-thinking periodical I absolutely love is Fast Company, and they have online access as well.   There are a bazillion blogs and websites out there.  Do you have an iPod?  Go to iTunesU.  You can download presentations from pre-eminent business leaders – for free.

#2:   Pay attention to what is going on in your business community.

Again, there are many free or low-cost, easy-to-access resources.  BizJournals operates Business Journals in 40 cities in the US, and have online resources, some free.  I get a daily email blast of headlines and selected stories for my local area.  It takes me probably less than 10 minutes a day to stay on top of what’s happening.   If you have an Economic Development Commission or similar entity, they are usually excellent sources of information on what’s growing and changing in the area.

#3:  Keep up with leading research in your field.   

I’m not talking about the re-hashed stuff you see in most professional association journals. (Sorry, but it’s true, unless you’re in a medical/research/academic field.  I do think they have their use, but it’s not in this arena.)  Subscribe to a peer-reviewed academic journal or just search them online and buy copies of only the articles that interest you.  Or, see the note above about iTunesU.  Researchers from leading schools, including MIT, Stanford and Cambridge openly discuss their research – for free!

#4:  Talk to others in your company outside of your department.

It sounds simplistic, but it’s astonishing how narrow most people’s views are!  You know what I’m talking about – the silo effect.  You’ve probably complained about it before.   But, if you take the initiative to learn how your actions affect other departments, or what they are working on that might affect you, how do you think that will affect your decisions? Your actions?

When you implement the above practices, you are in a much better position to be a ‘navigator’, to get your head out of the day-to-day ‘how do we get there’, to speak up and influence the direction of your team or your company.  Then, you are on your way to being Strategic. 

Coming next…Strategic Self-Presentation

Parallel careers

Is the idea of a career path dead?  Not yet, but for some of us who talk with people in transition every day, it sometimes seems so. 

There are still people who will begin their career in a carefully chosen field or profession and slowly work their way up the ranks, earning promotions, greater responsibility and higher pay.  The difference today vs. yesteryear is that you can no longer count on this certain future.  To many people, having to veer off the predictable path is a scary prospect.  But there are some to whom the idea of staying on one path their whole lives is less appealing than snacking on a handful of crushed glass.

A colleague of mine recently spoke on the topic of generations in the workplace.  She described a concept on the rise in the employment market being led by Gen Y: parallel careers.  As a part of Gen X, I always expected to have multiple employers and multiple jobs, but in succession, not at the same time.  Simply put, parallel careers means having more than one job at a time.  

Now, there have always been people who have more than one job at a time out of necessity.  What we’re talking about here are most often young professionals who also run businesses on the side.  In many cases these are busineses made possible by the Internet.  The barriers to entry for microbusiness are lower than ever now thanks to the web, smartphones, social networking tools and other advances that did not exist a decade ago.  This generation is a creative, entreprenerial generation that sees no advantage in putting all their eggs in one basket just to have the basket taken away suddenly in a corporate reorg.   My friend Jason Alba blogs about the idea of personal income security instead of job security on his website JibberJobber.com.  Check it out on my blogroll.  It’s a perfect example of the way the younger generation is thinking now (though I confess I don’t know if he’s Gen Y or Gen X.)

The cool thing is that Gen Y may be leading the way but they are not alone.  Other generations are getting on the bandwagon.  More Baby Boomers are taking advantage of the financial freedom that comes with having a liveable nest egg, cutting back on big corporate jobs, and starting businesses.  They are finding they value the same things the younger generations do – quality of worklife and more freedom and control over their future.  

Imagine that – together the youngest workers and the oldest workers are changing the face of the employment landscape and the idea of career path as we know it.