Your Swiss Army Knife Skills
Categories: Career Management, Leadership, New Job
The Message: Over the years, the Swiss army knife has become a figure of speech for having the right tool for the right situation. The tools, which can include a nail file, large blade, wood saw, scissors, and screwdriver, are designed to solve a range of problems. Similarly, a well-balanced professional will have the right mix of skills to fit the needs of their current (and future) jobs. Those who understand and intentionally pursue the skills needed to advance their career know exactly the tools needed in their career Swiss army knife. They understand which tools are well-defined, those that don’t exist, and those that need to be sharpened to function well. A Swiss army knife that only has a screwdriver won’t do well when a saw is needed; similarly, skills that are applicable to a specific function (like the typewriter repair skill), may not be applicable to more pressing problems (like computer repair). Your job is to know what your Swiss army knife needs to contain and how to build the skills to complete your own Swiss army knife.
Give these eight tips a look to see how you can intentionally build your Swiss army knife skills:
The Consequences: By not being mindful of the skills you need in your Swiss army knife you risk the following:
The Next Steps:
Stresspensation: Evaluating the Impact of Stress in Career Decision Making
Categories: Career Management, Leadership, New Job
Brad was an incredibly bright young executive with a very promising future. Ever since graduating college, he seemed to take on increased responsibilities in his company like a duck to water. He married his college sweetheart, Nancy, right after graduation and has two small children.
Brad's talent didn't go unnoticed in the industry, with several competitors approaching Brad about his willingness to join another firm. He steadfastly resisted, that is until the offer of all offers came his way.
ACME Corp, a larger and more prominent competitor to his current company, wined and dined Brad and ultimately offered him a VP position with a higher salary and better benefits. The offer was too good to pass up so Brad talked with Nancy about the job and they both became enamored with how this was going to advance Brad's career and what they would be able to do with the extra money. Brad joyfully accepted ACME's offer, gave his current company two weeks' notice, and started in his new VP role.
Within a year of joining ACME, he noticed some unexpected side effects of his new position. He was required to be in weekly global executive virtual meetings which could happen at any time of the day or night. He was routinely working 60+ hours a week, missing dinner with Nancy and the kids.
He traveled at least once a week, many times to put out fires at clients. His eating habits were horrendous and he wasn't exercising due to his schedule. He began putting on weight. Nancy was frustrated with him not being around and his kids missed their daddy. The stress was unbearable and led to Brad one day grabbing his chest and collapsing during a customer meeting.
While the above story about Brad is fictional, each one of us knows of a Brad (or perhaps is Brad) who made a career choice without considering the effects of the extra stress. The American Institute of Stress (yes there is such an organization) has quantified the cost of stress to employers at $300 billion annually due to things such as absenteeism, accidents, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical costs.
Add to that the personal costs of stress (i.e., poor health, weight gain/loss, sleep deprivation) and the relationship costs of stress (i.e., fractured relationships, friends or loved ones alienation, missed school plays), and you have a perfect storm of negative factors which make any kind of work-life balance virtually impossible to attain.
In my 30 years of working with career professionals, stress typically takes a back seat to compensation and when considered, it is usually only a slice of the true stress level that the professional will endure. In the first ten years of my own career I saw stress as a given and gave it no consideration when evaluating career alternatives.
This was a big mistake and a lesson I learned the hard way. Fortunately I learned it early in my career and was able to make some positive changes. However, some professionals never get it.
To help the professional evaluate the impact of stress when deciding on a career change, I've defined a comparative increase/decrease method to evaluate the impact of stress, based on three stress types:
For each stress type, a qualitative degree of stress is defined as follows:
In evaluating the impact of stress, each of the three stress types is assigned a value for the current and new job alternatives, then a comparative increase/decrease assessment is derived for each stress type. Let's put this to an example.
Lets say that a systems analyst (I'll call her Ann) is currently in a job paying $90,000/year and she's been offered a new position paying $100,000/year. On the surface, Ann likes the idea of a $10k raise and looks at the three stress types for each job, as follows:
When you look at the three stress types the following pops out about the new position:
Ann is now faced with the following decision: Is the salary bump of $10k worth the incremental relationship, personal and work stress she'll endure? Depending on whatever other decision criteria Ann factors into her decision, the answer could be yes or no. Whether or not she takes the job is still her decision; what the process has done is forced her to consider the three stress types and derive data points in which she can use in her overall decision-making.
There are a number of important considerations for you to digest in using this methodology:
Remember, the real benefit in utilizing the impact of stress methodology is in the discovery process you'll go through to understand relationship, personal, and work stress drivers for different career choices. Be real with yourself as to how a career choice will affect you and those you love.
Retirement Redefined: Eight Tips to Creating a Sustained Lifestyle
Work Life Balance
Categories: Career Management, Leadership, New Job, Work Life Balance
In 2004, I left Microsoft so Patty and I could homeschool our son Trevor. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age five, and we decided as he was entering seventh grade that he would need more help than what his public school could offer. I was his math and science teacher for two years until he re-entered public school in ninth grade. After my homeschooling stint, I decided to focus on writing and consulting, and later Patty and I starting a publishing business. From that point until now, I have regularly been asked if I’m “retired.” At first, I would respond with a strong “no” due to my opinion that retirees spend their days on the golf course or playing bridge. Over time, though, I recognized I had to come up with a better description of what I do as a profession. It’s not a choice of either the golf course or the 8-to-5 grind. For me, it’s something I call sustained lifestyle.
So, what’s sustained lifestyle? Here’s the definition, then we’ll unpack it:
Sustained lifestyle is when you have a high sense of achievement accompanied by a low degree of stress, making it something you can sustain for a long time.
First let’s talk about achievement. This is about doing something meaningful that accomplishes a desired result which gives you joy. It could be delivering a project on time, helping people in need, or coaching lesser experienced professionals. It’s about getting something done that matters to you and seeing the fruits of your labor.
Next is stress. This is the degree of mental, physical or emotional strain undertaken to achieve a desired result. Delivering a project on time with high-pressure executive meetings, project team infighting, and an unreasonable customer is much more taxing than one with cooperative execs, project team members, and customers. The end result is a completed project, but the execution was like pedaling uphill in tenth gear.
When stress and achievement are combined in the context of lifestyle, one of the four results are realized:
A frustration lifestyle is the result of high stress accompanied by low achievement. Think burning the midnight oil on projects that get cancelled last-minute or never used.
A boredom lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by low achievement. Think getting up every morning with nothing to do.
A burnout lifestyle is the result of high stress accompanied by high achievement. Think successive strategic projects with demanding customers, a dysfunctional team, and irrational management.
A sustained lifestyle is the result of low stress accompanied by high achievement. Think volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about on your work terms.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m in no way saying that a sustained lifestyle means no stress. There are certainly things in life that crop up and cause great stress. However, a sustained lifestyle gives you margin to handle unexpected stress more effectively than if your stress bucket were already full.
Here are eight tips to create a sustained lifestyle that’s enjoyable and fulfilling for you:
Whether you’re at retirement age, close to it, or merely thinking about it, keep the concept of a sustained lifestyle front and center. Think high achievement and low stress.
New job, now what? Create a practical 100-day plan to start your new gig on the right foot
Categories: Career Management, Leadership, New Job, project execution, Project Management
So after you've celebrated that new job or promotion, the reality of what you've gotten into sets in. Now what? Where do I start? Who do I talk to? What are the most important things I need to address? Who can I impact if I do something wrong? Who can impact me if they do something wrong? The question list goes on, adding to the stress of taking the new job. Random execution not only translates to focusing on the wrong things, but also dramatically impacts your credibility with your manager, team, and stakeholders. The answer is not to arrogantly come into the job with all the answers, but to come in with a plan to understand the environment, draw conclusions on the most important things to focus on, and develop an execution plan to act on those conclusions. The answer is a 100-day plan.
First things first, your plan may not take exactly 100 days to complete. Depending on your situation it may take fewer days, or, if you are stepping into a major crisis, you may have to expedite the plan or do it concurrently with addressing the crisis. Generally speaking, your plan should not take more than 100 days to complete. The rationale is simple; you want to be viewed as someone who takes deliberate, thoughtful action, not someone who takes forever to figure out what needs to be done. If you can get it done faster and do quality work then by all means do so; just be deliberate in your action.
Note: click on each graphic to see a larger, easier to read picture
The 100-day plan's purpose is designed to help you do the following:
Step 1: Develop 100 Day What/ Who/ When/ Asks Plan
Step 1 is articulate your 100-day plan tasks, who will be performing those tasks, and when you anticipate the tasks being complete. Being "aggressively realistic" is important here; meaning you move the work forward as quickly as you reasonably can while ensuring a quality end product. Once you've determined the what, who, and when of your tasks, articulate any specific requests to your management to help you get the plan executed. Does your plan require travel which requires expense approval? Do you need your manager to provide an introductory email to some stakeholders informing them of your new position and that you'll be contacting them? Think through what those "asks" are then do a plan review with your manager for concurrence and approval.
Step 2: Identify Who Informs, Concurs, and Decides
Step 2 is the development of an internal and external list of stakeholders who you want to interview as part of your current-state understanding. Internal stakeholders are those who are within your direct organization including direct reports, extended team members, and other people who impact or are impacted by the work your organization does. External stakeholders are those outside your organization who may or may not be impacted by your work but can provide good information on the current state. External stakeholders also can include experts outside of your company who provide information on industry trends, best practices, or other data points which could help give information about your future direction. For each stakeholder you should identify whether the stakeholder informs you (provides advice but is not directly impacted by your execution plan), concurs with you (doesn't formally approve your execution plan but you want/need their buy-in), or is a decision maker (formally approves your execution plan). I also think it's important to do a checkpoint with your manager as she/he may have additional stakeholders who are functionally or politically important to include, along with their appropriate inform/concur/decide status.
Step 3: Understand What Works, Is Broken, and Could Be Better
Step 3 is about interviewing your stakeholders to understand what is currently working, what's broken, and what might be working but could work better. This step is vital to not only understanding the current state but to establish a reputation with team members and stakeholders as someone who listens prior to taking action. I've found it helpful to focus on four areas in your works/broken/better discussion: organization strategy, people, processes, and technology. Depending on your situation these areas may be different. The last question I like to ask is, "If you were sitting in my chair, what are the top three things you would you do?" This is particularly effective not only in understanding items stakeholders think are important, but the priority they place on those things they identify. You may customize what you talk about depending on your stakeholder, but it's better to have a structure to work from then alter as needed, rather than totally winging it. Remember to interview your manager to understand his/her top priorities and perspectives.
Step 4: Develop What I Learned Summary
Step 4 is about taking what you've learned through your discussions and documenting trends and important facts that will influence execution plan actions. This is not an audit trail of everything you heard in every discussion; if you do that then you're likely to come out of the exercise with an unwieldy an non-actionable list. Conciseness and clarity are important here as this sets the stage for what you will focus on in your execution plan. You'll also want to do a checkpoint with your concur stakeholders to confirm you are focused on the right working/broken/better items and underscore that you've listened to what others have told you. Again, this is a crucial credibility builder with those you will be working with.
Step 5: Create What Actions Do We Need to Take? List
Step 5 begins the translation of what you've learned into what needs to be done to fix what's broken, improve upon what can be done better, and not disturb things that are working well. Each action includes three descriptive pieces of information: why it needs to be done, what the consequence if it isn't done, and when it needs to be done. Through articulating these factors you begin to develop a prioritized list of actions that comprise your execution plan. Do a checkpoint with your concur stakeholders prior to completing your execution plan.
Step 6: Develop Execution What/ Who/ When/ Asks Plan
Step 6 is about taking the actions in step 5 and creating a what/who/when plan which facilitates you working on the most important actions and getting them done first. It's totally reasonable to divide your actions up into phases, with your first phase of actions having a more detailed plan and subsequent phases being done once the first phase is complete. I can't stress enough the importance of focusing on the most important items from step 5 first and not getting distracted with trying to plan out all of your actions. In this step you'll do a concur checkpoint to ensure their buy-in prior to doing a decision maker checkpoint. You want to make best efforts to secure concur stakeholder buy-in and avoid having dissenting stakeholders discredit your conclusions and plan.
As mentioned throughout, your situation may require compression or expansion of the above steps. What doesn't change is the understand/conclude/act cycle that you'll need to go through to understand what you're getting into and determine what you need to address, while building trust and credibility with your stakeholders and management. Next time you take on a new job, use this model as a framework to help you execute a practical 100-day plan to get you off to a good start.