Lockdown & The Search For Meaningful Work

Recent research in the UK appears to show that “meaningful” work is going to become more important post-coronavirus. This research chimes with my own experience as a coach, which strongly suggests to me that many people are taking the opportunity provided by lockdown to consider the contribution that work makes to their lives and the lives of others.

The research found that many people have taken the opportunity of lockdown to re-evaluate their work-life balance, to question whether they have made the right career choices and to reconsider what work means to them.

These findings seem to be completely aligned with earlier, smaller scale research, undertaken by Professor Catherine Bailey, of the University of Sussex and Adrian Madden, of the University of Greenwich in 2016 .

They found that our sense of the “meaningfulness” of our work is intensely personal and individual. The work we believe to have meaning seems to arise from personal reflection and to be connected with the contribution it makes to society. It may be associated with fulfilled potential and our finding the work creative and absorbing. It doesn’t, however, necessarily arise from a positive or happy experience: people find meaning in their work during times of sadness, such as when helping someone through a bereavement, an all too common experience today.

I am not surprised to find that a period of lockdown should have encouraged many people to considerable personal introspection.

The coronavirus crisis, the research in 2020 finds, has drawn many people to think more about the role work plays in their lives, including its usefulness to society and its importance to the economy. The opportunity for extended reflection on these concerns is perhaps rarely given to an entire generation – but 2020 has provided it in spades.

Whether the re-evaluations of career direction will result in real change only time will tell but the scope and radical nature of people’s thinking is notable. The extended lockdown seems to have created a “COVID 19 life crisis” for many British people with nearly half (41 per cent) considering quitting their jobs for more fulfilling work when the pandemic is over. Inspired by the many heroic efforts shown by individuals during the crisis, one in five of those surveyed are looking for a career change, and have set their sights on joining the medical front line.

Evidence about how employers will respond to the individual musings of their staff after lockdown ends is not yet available. However, the related debate about how the economy “builds back” is growing. The growth in the public’s perception of the need to build back more sustainably could well become associated with employer’s concerns about staff engagement, productivity and job satisfaction. One thing is certain: employee’s evaluation of the value and the meaning of their work can have a significant impact on their productivity and wellbeing.

As the “build back better” movement gains pace and the case for redeveloping the British economy on a foundation of green sustainability grows, it is not surprising to find that recent research discovered that one in five people are predicting an end to commuting five days a week and the idea that you must be seen at your desk to be working (24 per cent).

The 2020 research, commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon, surveyed 2,000 working Brits and also revealed that the COVID 19 pandemic has prompted many to question the traditional office-based 9-5 culture and the reality of their work-life balance. It found that a third (34 per cent) of those surveyed experienced and were moved to combat a feeling of helplessness during the crisis (34 per cent) or a desire to be a more valuable member of the community (47 per cent), with 22 per cent labelling their current role as pointless.

As lockdown measures have forced working from home, nearly half of workers (48 per cent) plan to request some remote working once the restrictions on movement are reduced. If only a minority of these requests were to be agreed the impact upon office planning, travel to and from work patterns and family life would be considerable.


Sources:

https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/what-makes-work-meaningful-or-meaningless/#article-authors, accessed 10 May 2020. https://www.slatergordon.co.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2020/05/pride-and-pointless-workplaces-could-cause-nhs-staff-surge/, accessed 10 May 2020

Virtual Selection Interviews

The number of staff around the globe working from home has increased each day as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions on travel and social distancing regulations have combined to force recruiters and managers to conduct a greater proportion of their selection interviews online.

Much of the content of an online interview will mirror an “in person” interview but the use of video changes a great deal. Preparation remains a key to success …

Your research

Your preliminary research before the online interview remains as important as ever. Check the role profile or job description carefully to determine whether a competency based or behavioural event interview is likely. Find out about the organisation, the reason for the vacancy arising, whether you will be expected to work remotely, how the job will be different as a result of current global conditions, who the interview panelists will be and prepare some scenario-based answers to questions using the STAR method, if appropriate.

The STAR interview question response method allows you to provide concrete examples or proof that you possess the experience and skills for the job at hand. 

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Using this approach, you first set the scene, outlining the situation. Then you describe your task or purpose. Thirdly, you outline the action you took, what you actually did. Finally, you highlight the result.

This answer framework is particularly helpful in responding to competency-focused questions, which typically start out with phrases such as, “Describe a time when…” and “Share an example of a situation where….”

Your space

You will want your personal space, the background to your interview, to be clean, uncluttered and business like. A plain neutral wall is good and a background of appropriate shelved books can be helpful in certain circumstances. Zoom allows you to combine lighting, a green screen and an artificial background and that may be useful if applying for certain, more creative, roles. Select clothing that does not feature checks or stripes and that contrasts with your background colour scheme.

Check and recheck your camera positioning. A laptop with built in camera can produce an unflattering angle that is best avoided in a selection interview. A separate, stable camera, with integral microphone, positioned at eye level generally works much better.

You will not be offered a tea or coffee during a virtual interview so should always anticipate the need for a sip of water and have a glass (not a bottle) of water on your desk. A short, stable glass is better than a tall, thin one as a taller glass can be knocked over far too easily. Keep fluids away from computers, microphones and cameras.

The most natural looking interviewees use an off-screen microphone. This may be part of your camera set up and is to be preferred to a headset. If you must use a headset ensure that the integral microphone does not transmit your breathing as this can be very off putting.

Managing your opportunity

With video interviews you can grab the opportunity to position notes in front of you, beyond the camera, and on the wall. Your interviewer does not need to know they are there if you arrange your space effectively.

You are likely to have the opportunity to practice your engagement with the camera before your interview.

You will want to become comfortable looking directly at the camera and to avoid speaking to your notes or to anything else in your room. Looking away, briefly, as you think about your response to a question is natural and engaging but your gaze should thoughtfully return to the camera as you talk. Good eye contact, through the camera “window” remains as important as ever.

Try to speak “through the camera” to the other human being. Allow your facial expression to complement and underline the meaning you are seeking to convey. The hint of a smile can soften your expression and is very engaging.

Always make eye contact with your interviewer when they are speaking to you.

In your enthusiasm to engage try to avoid “over talking”. Get into a conversational pattern by allowing your interviewer to talk first: they invited you to the meeting and will want to set it up for you. If you hold back initially, you should find a natural pattern of listening and responding develops between you.

Check that you have set your microphone volume to a pleasant audible level and that you are not broadcasting breathing noises. These can be of putting and slightly sinister and may arise if a headset is poorly positioned.

To ensure that your interview opportunity isn’t wasted, disconnect any device that does not need to be online throughout the period of the interview. This will stop them ringing or buzzing during the meeting and maximise the bandwidth you will be needing for the video interview. Turn off any pop ups you normally have running in the background on your computer for the same reason.

Let other people in your house know what you are doing when you are being interviewed, ask them to answer the door to callers and respond to the telephone calls that will, almost certainly, come in during your meeting.

Turn off or remove any telephone that you have in your space before starting the interview.

Close the door of your space but only after you have put an appropriate sign on the outside of the door!

Work out, in advance, how you will respond to a power cut.

Arrival time

You should practice arriving on time for a call beforehand. Clearly, you don’t want to be late but, online, you may not want to be overly early either. It is not uncommon for an interviewer to use their personal online meeting room for all their interviews. Whilst this isn’t particularly good practice on their part, you do not want to crash into another candidate’s interview, so be very careful about “arriving” early.

Set up a couple of test meetings, with a friend, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the technology, to work out how long the connection and arrival process takes. Use your experience to gauge your arrival arrangements.

Prepare for dialogue

Too often candidates make little valuable use of the interview opportunity to ask their own questions. Your research should equip you with pertinent questions that demonstrate engaged, intelligent interest in the organisation and the role itself. Don’t be afraid to ask about the organisation’s hiring timeline and whether the role will be located remotely until the pandemic has passed – or forever.

Aim to express your questions so that they convey real interest in the role. You can underline your interest and engagement in the process by gently leaning forward in your chair at times during the conversation. Avoid over doing this as it can come across as aggressive.

Humanitarian Development Opportunities

In the course of humanitarian development career related coaching I find that I am often asked two questions that are essentially about either “widening” or, alternatively, “focusing” the search for suitable opportunities.

Here is my initial raft or “go to” list of search suggestions with some evaluative commentary.

Going deeper or broadening your search

  • DevelopmentAid:This is a very large database with a reasonable search function but be aware that many of the opportunities found here will also feature on the Impactpool database where the search facility is easier to use. Many opportunities are not actually visible unless a fee is paid.
  • Human rights funders:As the name suggests this vacancy board is focused on selected jobs at major philanthropic foundations and charities that are working on human rights.
  • Devex:This very broad source of opportunities claims to cover the whole international development industry and the number of opportunities listed would suggest this may well be accurate. It offers the chance to create alerts in a way similar to Impactpool but less than half of the jobs are actually visible unless a fee is paid.
  • ReliefWeb:This broad source of humanitarian, relief and conflict jobs has a good search function.
  • Devnetjobs:This broad source of opportunities also claims to cover the whole development industry through a vast online database but, again, most functions are only available on payment of a fee.
  • UN Jobs:This covers mostly UN roles and some consultancy opportunities, as the name suggests, but also some other roles within the humanitarian and development sector. The scattered adverts make the experience of using this less than pleasant and the search function is difficult to use effectively.

Focusing your search more narrowly

For altruists wanting to address the world’s most pressing problems through their work

  • 80000 Hours:This is a very focused and well curated set of (mainly) job opportunities geared to meeting the career development needs of highly skilled and well-educated altruists. It mostly features roles in the US or the UK. The vacancies advertised are refreshed regularly. All the opportunities offer the chance to make a contribution to the resolution of some of the world’s most challenging problems.
  • Bridgespan:This advertises US philanthropic and charitable foundation roles, both paid and volunteer. It has an excellent search facility.
  • EA Work Club:This includes vacancies, projects and consultancy opportunities in the US. It is focused on effective altruism cause areas.
  • Social Enterprise Google Group:A collaborative, extensive and ever-growing list of roles in social enterprise and related fields. Well worth keeping up to date with. There is no search facility.

For procurement and supply chain opportunities

  • Procurement iNet: This website is an interface between career opportunities in procurement, supply chain management and related fields and employers/contracting organisations and clients. It publishes opportunities from multilateral and bilateral agencies, international consulting firms, etc.

For communications and behavioural/organisational change specialists

  • Social Enterprise Google Group:A collaborative and extensive list of roles in social enterprise and related fields. Worth keeping up to date with. No search facility.
  • C4D network:Provides a good weekly email for members of highlighting jobs and consultancy opportunities in the communications and behaviour change arena. This is a searchable online job board available to all.
  • W4MP:This started out with the title “Work for (an) MP” and now has a strong focus on Westminster, UK, roles and roles associated with UK politics. Also serves as a credible source of UK thinktank jobs but has no search ability.

For accountants and auditors

  • AFID: AfID offers every type of accountant or auditor, from anywhere in the world, the opportunity to use their skills to support a broad range of non-profit organisations globally. Volunteer assignments of between 2 weeks and 12 months are advertised alongside permanent roles.

Focus on Africa

  • NGOJobsinAfrica:Quite a large number of jobs, some at junior level. A fairly limited searching ability.
  • CoordinationSud:A website with a good search function. A more limited selection of opportunities focused on disaster relief, populations at war, or development (including economics, education, health and agriculture). Especially strong on opportunities in Francophone countries and with French NGOs.
  • AFID: AfID offers every type of accountant or auditor, from anywhere in the world, the opportunity to use their skills to support a broad range of non-profit organisations in Africa. Volunteer assignments of between 2 weeks and 12 months are advertised alongside permanent roles, particularly in Africa. Good search facility.

For French speakers

  • CoordinationSud:A website with a good search function. A more limited selection of opportunities focused on disaster relief, populations at war, or development (including economics, education, health and agriculture). Especially strong on opportunities in Francophone countries and with French NGOs.

For environmentalists

  • Environment Jobs in the UK: This source carries typically 250 or more job vacancies in the UK environment sector and is beginning to cover international environmental roles, contracts and consultancies.
  • Green Job List:A monthly climate change and social purpose focused jobs newsletter. Almost all are US based. About 60 opportunities per issue.
  • CharityJob:the UK’s largest and most specialised job board carrying non-profit, NGO, social enterprise, community interest company and voluntary jobs including numbers in the environmental sector.

For UK-based job hunters

  • ACF: A select, usually small, list of UK charity jobs. Usually senior and frequently board or trustee roles.
  • CharityJob:  The UK’s largest and most specialised job board carrying non-profit, NGO, social enterprise, community interest company and voluntary jobs
  • Bond: A UK-based vacancy database providing access to more senior vacancies in programming, fundraising, advocacy, communications, research, leadership or monitoring and evaluation.

IT and Technical roles in the US

  • Tech Jobs for Good:Here you will find tech jobs at social impact companies, foundations, and innovative non-profits within the US. An impressively large number of roles but a surprisingly limited search facility.

Looking fo Volunteering opportunities or Internships?

Many of the job boards listed here provide access to volunteer roles and internships but here are some that typically offer a wider range of both.

  • Idealist:This has good searchability and includes many non-paid opportunities.
  • Bridgespan:Covers US philanthropic and charitable foundation roles, both paid and volunteer. There is an excellent search facility.
  • AFID: AfID offers every type of accountant or auditor, from anywhere in the world, the opportunity to use their skills to support a broad range of non-profit organisations globally. Volunteer assignments of between 2 weeks and 12 months are advertised alongside permanent roles, particularly in Africa. Good search facility.”
  • VSO: VSO have been sending volunteers to Africa and Asia for over 60 years. Their preparation and support arrangements are excellent and their opportunity search engine for experienced professionals is well regarded.

 

Five Practical Steps Towards Career Success

Career development planning is the process of career review and decision-making – a cyclical process that we may come back to at several stages in our lives. The process of career development is not just for those beginning their careers and making initial choices or negotiating mid-life career change. It is equally applicable to the task of career maintenance – of gaining a progressively better fit between our needs and the work we do.

Having and using our career development competence can encourage us to:

  • review how far our work is using our skills and satisfying our needs and interests;
  • identify our own development needs and what is required for effective performance;
  • learn from coaches, from the experience of mentors, and others; and
  • anticipate future change and prepare for opportunities that might arise.

Career planning tools have, however, become very elaborate and sometimes serve only to confuse the user. They often give the impression that the career development planning process is more complicated than it needs to be. In response to this trend I have created a simple tool designed especially for those planning a career change.

“My Career Development Plan: Five Practical Steps Towards Career Success” is available from Lulu’s online bookstore

Inside this book you will find, first, a guided introduction to the content of the planning tool and some suggestions about the process of career planning. This takes the form of the first five chapters of the book.

Then, in part two, there is a copy of the “Career Development Plan” tool that you can use yourself. The tool has five sections within which you can organise your own personal content. Once you have completed all five sections you will have your own career development plan for the future.

The five key areas that are explored through the use of the tool are:

  1. The essentials about me as a person
  2. What shapes me and makes me who I have become
  3. My core capabilities
  4. My goals
  5. The development I need and will plan for

The flow of these five chapters is progressive. Each will require considerable thought and reflection on your part. As you complete chapters three to five you will also need to do some personal research about labour market requirements and opportunities. This work will help you to create a “gap analysis” consisting of career, job or role requirements on the one hand and what you can currently offer on the other.

How to make tough career decisions

“Should I quit my job? Which of my offers should I take? Which long-term options should I explore?

These decisions will affect how you spend years of your time, so the stakes are high. But they’re also an area where you shouldn’t expect your intuition to be a reliable guide. This means it’s worth taking a more systematic approach.

What might a good career decision process look like? A common approach is to make a pro and con list, but it’s possible to do a lot better. Pro and con lists make it easy to put too much weight on an unimportant factor. More importantly, they don’t encourage you to make use of the most powerful decision-making methods discovered in the literature.

In this article, we present a step-by-step process for making your next career decision, drawing on our impression of the most useful discoveries in decision-making research1 and our experience advising hundreds of people one-on-one.

Career decisions usually involve a huge amount of uncertainty. If you sometimes feel stressed or anxious, don’t worry – this is normal. We can’t make your next decision easy, but if you work through this process, we think you’ll be more likely to avoid common mistakes and take the best next step you can.

You can work through the article below, or use a simplified version in our tool.

First, make sure you have a clear idea of exactly what decision you want to make. Are you choosing where to apply, between two specific offers, which medium-term options to focus on, or something else? When do you need to decide by?

Also note that this process is geared towards choosing between a list of specific options. If you want to do big picture career planning, see our career plan page.

Write out your most important priorities

Once you’re clear about the next decision you need to make, write out your 4-7 most important priorities in making the decision. When making decisions, people usually focus on too narrow a set of goals. Writing out your list of factors will help you stay focused on what most matters.

We typically recommend that people focus on the factors in our framework, which we think capture most of the key elements in high-impact careers. They include the following:

  • Impact potential – how pressing is the problem addressed and how large a contribution might the typical person in this career make to the problem (in expectation)?
  • Personal fit – compared to the typical person in this career in the long-term, how productive do you expect to be?
  • Personal satisfaction – how would this path satisfy other important personal priorities that aren’t already covered?
  • Career capital — does this option significantly accelerate you in a long-term path, or otherwise open up better long-term options?
  • Option value — if you pursue this option, how good are your back-up plans?
  • Value of information — might this path be an outstanding long-term option that you’re uncertain about and can test out?

If working with a community, you might also consider:

  • Relative fit – how do your strengths compare to other community members focusing on these issues (which determines your comparative advantage)?
  • Community capital — does this increase the influence of the community and its ability to coordinate?

Read more description of these factors in the full articles.

This list of factors needs to be adapted depending on the decision you’re making. For instance, if you’re thinking about your long-term options, then focus on impact, personal fit and satisfaction. If you’re considering which job to take next year, then also consider value of information, career capital and option value.

Also try to make the factors more specific based on your situation. What type of career capital is most valuable? What signals best predict impact in the areas you’re focused on? What exactly are your priorities in personal satisfaction? On the latter, it’s important to try to be honest, even about your least noble motivations, or otherwise the path won’t be sustainable.

See a list of all the factors in our framework and a worksheet here.

There are also some other filters to consider:

  • Do a significant number of people think this option is likely to have a negative impact in a top area? If so, can you modify the option to avoid the risk? If not, eliminate it. Read more about accidental harm.
  • Does this option pose a significant risk of a long-term negative impact on your happiness or career capital? If so, modify it or eliminate it.

One of the most important mistakes when making career decisions is to consider too few options. Some research suggests that even just making sure you consider one extra option improves satisfaction with outcomes.

You can generate options for long-term career paths using our article on high-impact careers.

If you’re focusing on your next step, then also consider questions like:

  • Which jobs / courses / projects will best help you get into your top long-term options?
  • Which options will best help you test out your long-term options?
  • What ‘open doors’ are available right now?

Check out the jobs listed on our job board

Here are some other ways to come up with more options. Pick and choose whichever seem most useful to think about:

  • Career capital – What’s the most valuable career capital you have right now? What are your greatest strengths? How could these be applied to having an impact?
  • Ideal world – What would you do if money were no object? What is your dream job?
  • Ask your friends and connections – Do they know of any open positions or types of jobs that might suit you?
  • Priorities – For each of your key career goals, which options might be best? For instance, in which career do you have the best chance of excelling? Which career do you think is highest-impact? Which would most increase your career capital? Which would make you happiest?
  • Combinations – are there any ways your top options could be combined to get the best of all worlds?
  • Elimination – if you couldn’t do any of your top options, what would you do instead?

Now you’ve got your options on the table, put them in a rough order according to how well they satisfy the factors you wrote down at step two. Don’t worry too much about accuracy – we just want to get a rough idea at this stage to make it easier to do the next couple of steps. Now is also a good time to capture some outcomes in your career plan.

List your key uncertainties

Try to identify the information that is most likely to change your ranking.

The questions people most commonly ask us are often not actually decision relevant. Frequently, people focus on big picture questions that are too hard to settle, so thinking about them is unlikely to change their ranking. It’s also easy to get lost ruminating about the huge variety of issues that can be relevant. Try to focus on the questions that are most relevant.

Some useful questions to consider include:

  • How could you most easily rule out your top option?
  • If you had to decide your career tomorrow for the rest of your life, what would you do today?
  • What were you most uncertain about in making your ranking? Do any of those uncertainties seem easy to resolve?

Some of the most common questions are things like:

  • Would I enjoy this job?
  • Could I get this job?
  • What skills are required to get this job?
  • How pressing is this problem compared to other issues you could work on?
  • How much influence would you really have in this position?

Try to make the questions as specific as possible.

Not every decision in life deserves serious research, but career decisions do.

We often find people get stuck analysing their options, when it would be better to go and gather information or test out their options. For instance, we encountered an academic who wanted to take a year long sabbatical, but wasn’t sure where to go. They’d thought about the decision for a while, but hadn’t considered going to visit their top choice for a week, which would have likely made the decision a lot easier.

Here are some common ways to learn about your options (in ascending order of effort):

  • Often the most useful step now is to go and ask people about your key uncertainties. Once you’ve identified your key uncertainties as in the previous section, you should be able to ask pointed, specific questions that can reveal a lot about what’s best.
  • Is there something you could read?
  • Can you simply apply to the job (or course) and see how you do? In our experience, people should often make more applications.
  • Is there a cheap way to try out the work? (e.g. shadow someone, do an internship, a part-time project, online course). Trying things out is the most reliable way to work out what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
  • See our career reviews and list of priority paths for specific ways to learn about and test the paths we’ve reviewed.

Aim to do the cheaper tests before you do those that are more involved. We sometimes encounter people who decide to quit their job so they can work full time on their job search, sometimes without even having a specific plan in mind, but it usually seems better to us investigate in cheaper ways on the side first.

The higher the stakes of a decision, the more uncertain you are, and the cheaper it is to learn more, the more research it’s worth doing.

Keep investigating until you run out of time, or don’t expect to learn much without investing lots more time (technically, when the value of information is less than the cost of the test).

The aim is not confidence. You will likely always be uncertain about many aspects of your career. Instead, the aim is to find the best possible ranking using cheap tests and basic research. Once you’ve done that, the most efficient way to learn more is probably to pick an option and try it out.

Make your final assessment

When you’ve finished investigating, it’s time to make a decision. Here are some more decision-making tips to help make your ranking more accurate.

It can be useful to score your short-list of options on each of the factors listed in your second step from one to ten. There’s some evidence that making a structured decision like this can improve accuracy. It can be useful to add all your scores together and see what ranks highest. Don’t blindly use the score to determine your decision — it’s mainly a means of probing your thinking.

When it comes to assessing each factor, there are more tips on what to look for in our career framework article.

If you want to go into more detail in making your assessment, then also consider working out the following for each of your options:

  • The upside scenario – what happens in a plausible best case scenario? (To be more precise, the top 5% of outcomes.)
  • The downside scenario – what happens in a plausible worst case scenario? (Worst 5% of outcomes.)
  • The median – what’s most likely to happen?

This exercise helps to make sure you consider the full range of possibilities. Moreover, if you weight each scenario by their probability, you can make a rough estimate of the expected value of each option — this will probably be dominated by the value of the upside scenario.

If you’re trying to decide your next step for the next couple of years, then value of information should be a significant part of your decision. This can mean it’s best to simply focus on the paths with the best upside scenario rather than the best expected value (provided the downsides are similar).

After you’ve finished your assessments, take a break, and re-rank your options.

Once you’ve made a ranking, notice if your gut feels uneasy about something. You can’t simply go with your gut to make good career decisions, but you shouldn’t ignore your gut either. As we cover, your intuition is good at aspects of the decision where you’ve had lots of opportunity to practice with relatively quick feedback, such as whether the other people involved are trustworthy.

If your gut feels uneasy, try to pinpoint why you’re having that reaction, and whether it makes sense to go with your gut or not in this instance. The ideal of good decision-making is to combine intuitive and systematic methods, and use the best aspects of each.

It’s also a good idea to sleep on it. This may help you process the information. It also reduces the chance that you’ll be unduly influenced by your mood at that moment.

If you want to go further, here are some other techniques to help reduce bias in your thinking:

  • Ask yourself why you’re most likely to be wrong about your ranking.This is one of the most useful tips to reduce bias.
  • Pre-mortem and pre-party: Imagine that you take an option, but two years later you’ve failed and regret the decision — what went wrong? Then imagine that instead the option was way better than you expected — what happened? This helps to expand your views about what’s possible, which tend to be too narrow.
  • Change the frame. Imagine you’ve already made the decision, how do you feel? How do you expect to feel one year later? What about 10 years later? What would you advise a friend to do?
  • Ask other people. Having to justify your reasoning to someone else can quickly uncover holes. You can also ask people where they think you’re most likely to be wrong.

More advanced decision-making techniques

There is much more to say about how to make good decisions. For instance, often decisions come down to predictions, especially about your likely chances of success in area, and the expected impact of different interventions.

For instance, to make better predictions, you can make base-rate forecasts from many angles, combining them based on their predictive power. You should try to update on your evidence in a ‘bayesian’ way. You can break down the prediction into multiple components as a ‘fermi estimate’. And you can try to improve your calibration through training.

Here is some further reading we recommend on decision-making:

Here is some more advanced reading:

Make your best guess, and then prepare to adapt

At some point, you’ll need to make a decision. If you’re lucky, one of your options will be clearly better than the others. Otherwise, the decision will be tough.

Don’t be too hard on yourself: the aim is to make the best choice you can given the evidence available. If you’ve been through the process above then you have put yourself in a position to make a well-considered decision.

What’s more, there are some further steps you can take to reduce downsides.

First, create a backup plan if your top choice doesn’t work out.

  • Why is your top option most likely not to work out?
  • What will you do in this situation? List any promising nearby alternatives to plan A, and call them your ‘plan B’. For instance, if you’re already in a job and applying to a masters programme, one possibility is that you don’t get into the programmes you want. In that case, your Plan B might be to stay in your job another year.
  • We often cover nearby alternatives and ‘exit options’ in our career reviewsand profiles on priority paths.

You may face even more setbacks, so it’s also useful to figure out a ‘Plan Z’. Here are some questions to help you do that.

  • If you take your top option, what might the worst case scenario be? Many risks are not as bad as they first seem, but pay attention to anything that could permanently reduce your happiness or career capital.
  • How can you reduce the chances of the worst case happening? It’s difficult to give general advice, but there are often ways to mitigate the risks.
  • If the worst case scenario does happen, what will you do to cope? Call this your ‘Plan Z’. Some common options include: taking a temporary job to pay the bills (see some ideas here), moving back in with your parents, or living off savings. What makes most sense will again depend a lot on your situation.
  • Is your Plan Z tolerable? If not, then you should probably modify your plan A to build more career capital so that you’re in a better position to take risks (e.g. take a job that lets you save more money). If it is, great – hopefully this exercise will make it easier to commit to your Plan A.

A final point to bear in mind is that your next career step is probably only a commitment for 1-4 years — building a career is a step-by-step process, not a one-off decision — and if you plan ahead to that next revision point, you’ll be better able to focus on your top option in the meantime, as well as be more prepared when it arrives. Here are some extra steps to consider:

  1. Schedule in a time to review your career in six months or a year. We made a career review tool to make it easier.
  2. Set check-in points. Make a list of signs that would tell you you’re on the wrong path, and commit to reassessing if those occur. For example, publishing lots of papers in top journals is key to success in academic careers, so you could commit to reassessing the academic path if you don’t publish at least one paper in a top journal before the end of your PhD.

Once your plan is set, it’s time to focus on execution. How to execute is not the main focus of this article, but here are some further resources.

First, translate your plan into very concrete next steps. Write out what you’re going to do and when you’ll do it. Setting ‘implementation intentions’ makes it significantly more likely you’ll follow through.

To get more ideas on how to increase your chances of success in a path:

One of the most useful steps you can take is to team up with others who want to have an impact. There are many great communities out there, often focused around specific problems. Your first step should probably be to try to meet people in the communities most relevant to you.

We also helped to found the effective altruism community, which is a group of people who use evidence and reason to work out the best ways to have a positive impact. This community is not for everyone, but through it we’ve met some of the most impressive people we know. Find out more about how to get involved.

Notes and references

Some of the sources we drew upon include the following, as well as those listed above:

Ariely, Dan. Predictably irrational. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Arkes, Hal R., and Catherine Blumer. “The psychology of sunk cost.” Organizational behavior and human decision processes 35.1 (1985): 124-140.

Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work. Random House, 2013.

Hubbard, Douglas W. “How to measure anything.” Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business (2007).

Keeney, Ralph L., and Ralph L. Keeney. Value-focused thinking: A path to creative decisionmaking. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.

Larrick, Richard P. “Broaden the decision frame to make effective decisions.” Handbook of principles of organizational behavior (2009): 461-480.

Tversky, Amos, and Daniel Kahneman. “Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases.” Science 185.4157 (1974): 1124-1131.

  1. If you assess your options in terms of what would happen in a plausible best case scenario, rather than just in terms of expected value, then value of information will already be somewhat captured. This is the ‘upper confidence interval’ algorithm discussed in our podcast with Brian Christian
  • Vitas Consult are grateful to Robert Wiblin of 80000 Hours for granting permission to publish this article here.

Passion – and Mid-Career Changes

In my role as a coach it is a special privilege to work with people, typically in mid-career, who have been highly successful in establishing and developing their professional standing in the private sector and who now are seeking ways to apply their skills in the development field. People in this situation typically find it very helpful to explore what it takes to make the transition: to evaluate and sometimes re-express their transferable skills before considering at what level they might change sectors; to become acquainted with the variety of routes in and the common strategies that are used to secure the development sector role they are seeking.

I have had a career spanning public and private sector education, financial services and organisational and leadership consultancy before becoming a coach in a global talent leadership role within the world’s largest child focused humanitarian development organisation. I find I can readily empathise with motivations for mid-career change.

I particularly appreciate the importance that passion plays in mid-career change. A growing conviction about the need to make a difference through their career is a common motivation for those seeking entry to the development sector in their thirties and later. Passion is, of course, not enough to make the change that some of my clients seek. Occasionally, to illustrate this point I might suggest that a client watch Larry Smith’s sobering TED talk entitled “Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career”. Professor Smith teaches economics at University of Waterloo. He is a well-known storyteller and advocate for youth leadership and has also mentored many of his students on start-up business management and career development. The most notable start-up he advised in its infancy is Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

Discussion about this blunt and challenging TED talk tends to centre on what passion really means and costs but, as Carmine Gallo wrote in Forbes, what you will see here “in this TED Talk is essentially thirty years of Smith’s frustrations reaching a boiling point.” “Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand,” and this talk is Smith’s response.

It’s challenging and – possibly – motivating too. At the heart of Smith’s talk and central to some of the work I do with mid-career changers is an assessment of the part passion plays in career decision making. If you are searching for your calling in life or what you most care about – here are five digested, and up to the minute, research findings worth thinking through:

  1. Types of passion A career path or a goal that fires you up is likely to lead to success and happiness. That much the research confirms. However, Robert Vallerandet al found, in 2003, that there is a real difference between a harmonious passion and an obsessive one. An out of control passion that upsets your mood and shapes your self-esteem can be referred to as an obsessive passion. Vallerand found that such obsessions, whilst energising, are also associated with burnout and anxiety. By contrast, if your passion feels in control, reflects qualities that you like about yourself, and complements other important activities in your life, then this is the harmonious version, and these are associated with positive outcomes such as vitality, better work performance, experiencing flow, and positive mood.
  2. An unanswered calling in life is worse than having no calling at all If you already have a burning ambition or purpose, do not leave it to languish. Recent research at the University of South Florida surveyed hundreds of people  found that work engagement, career commitment, life satisfaction, health and stress were all negatively impacted by having a calling that had not been responded to. The researchers concluded: “having a calling is only a benefit if it is met, but can be a detriment when it is not as compared to having no calling at all.”
  3. Invest enough effort and you may find that your work becomes your passion It’s all very well reading about the benefits of having a passion or calling in life, but if you haven’t got one, where can you find it? Duckworth says that it’s a mistake to think that in a moment of revelation one will land in your lap, or simply occur to you through quiet contemplation, what’s needed is to explore different activities and pursuits, and expose yourself to the different challenges and needs confronting society. This is where organisations like 80000 Hours can be helpful to the really talented individual. This Oxford, UK, based group conducts research on which careers have the largest positive social impact and provide career information based on that research. Many clients have found their website invaluable.
  1. Reverse the flow, perhaps It is also worth considering the advice of those who say that it is not always the case that energy and determination flow from finding your passion: sometimes it can be the other way around. Consider, for example, an eight-week repeated survey of German entrepreneurs published a few years ago. This found a clear pattern – their passion for their ventures increased after they had invested more effort into the ventures the week before. A follow-up study qualified this, suggesting the energising effect of investing effort only arises when the project is freely chosen and there is a sense of progress. “Entrepreneurs increase their passion when they make significant progress in their venture and when they invest effort out of their own free choice,” the researchers found.
  1. If you think passion comes from doing a job you enjoy, you’re likely to be disappointed
    Another issue to consider is where you think passion comes from. In a paper released as a preprint at PsyArXiv, Jon Jachimowicz and his team draw a distinction between people who believe that passion comes from doing what you enjoy, and those who see it as arising from doing what you believe in or value in life. The researchers found that people believing that passion comes from pleasurable work were less likely to feel like they had found their passion as compared with people who believe that passion comes from doing what you feel matters. This may be because there is a superficiality to working for sheer pleasure – which may not last in any case – whereas working towards what you care about is timeless and likely to stretch and sustain you indefinitely.

Introducing Vitas Consult Ltd

Growing English Capability


Across the globe, international humanitarian organisations and non governmental organisations are increasingly expecting managers and leaders to be able to write, speak and negotiate in modern business English. In this article we share some valuable resources that are being used to grow these increasingly important capabilities. This post also recommends some questions that managers who are coaching staff can use to encourage discussion.

Icebreakers & Introductory Level Learning

  • THE POWER OF TALK

https://youtu.be/zX7D1XincMA This very short video, from the BBC, shows how talk can be used to help people hold their leaders to account and influence the decisions that affect their lives. The language used is simple and straightforward and this video can be used as a discussion starter about the power of talk in development as well as a language learning tool.

Managerial coaching discussion questions, to support learning, arising from this material might include:

Did you find the speaker’s accent easy to understand?

How were words and visuals used to communicate?

What interested you about this video?

  • THE MOBILE PHONE AND REFUGEE’S EXPERIENCES

This six-minute film, designed to be watched vertically on a mobile ‘phone, helps the viewer to experience the confusion and fear facing refugees making a perilous journey by boat. It looks at how mobile ‘phones have become a vitally important part of the refugee’s toolbox. Managerial coaching discussion questions, to support learning, arising from this material might include:

What was the message of this short video?

How was the message communicated?

How were pictures and language combined to create impact?

What could you learn to use, at work, as a result of watching this?

  • CREATING CLARITY

https://essentialcomm.com/podcast/creating-clarity/ The big idea behind this very short podcast is this: speak simply. Do this by getting to the end of sentences quickly; using simple words; pausing between sentences; eliminating connecting words and ending sentences with downward inflections. Encourage others to do the same.

  • LISTENING TO ENGLISH SPEAKERS

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/listening Here you can find activities that will help you or your team members to practise their listening skills. Listening will help them to improve their understanding of the language and their pronunciation.

The free, self-study lessons are written and organised according to the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR). There are recordings of different situations and interactive exercises that practise the listening skills needed to do well at work, to get ahead and to communicate in English outside of work. The speakers in these videos are of different nationalities and the recordings are designed to show how English is being used in the world today.

Vitas Recommendation: Ask staff planning to use British Council resources to take the free online English test to find out which level to choose. Then they can select their own level, from beginner (CEFR level A1) to advanced (CEFR level C1), and improve their listening skills at their own speed, whenever it’s convenient for them.

  • SPEAKING ENGLISH

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/speaking Here learners can find activities to practise speaking skills. They can watch and listen to videos that show how English is used in different types of conversations. As they listen and speak aloud, they will also improve their pronunciation.

See the Vitas Recommendation, above, about taking the test to work out which level to choose.

More Advanced and Longer Development Tools/Resources

  • EXPLORE THE 3 ROUTES TO GOOD COMMUNICATION

https://kayaconnect.org/course/info.php?id=412  This free, online, self-directed course – aimed at managers – will teach learners to communicate better. They will learn how to tune their non-verbal communication, communicate openly and understand the 5 levels of listening.

  • DEVELOPING AN INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

https://kayaconnect.org/course/info.php?id=317 This free, online, self-directed course – also aimed at managers – will teach learners to use simple and concrete models to cultivate successful professional relationships. It also teaches the learner how to adapt their level of influence and to define precise objectives for communication. It will take between 30 minutes and one hour to complete.

  • LEARN ENGLISH SELECT

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/online-english-courses This page and the embedded video introduce the “Learn English Select” online courses from the British Council. These, highly commended courses, require a small subscription. The courses are designed to help individuals improve their ability to find and apply for the right jobs, develop their interview skills and learn how to perform in the workplace with confidence.

At each level, tutor videos and workplace scenarios guide participants through the materials, explain key language and grammar points and give the learner vocabulary that they can use in everyday business life.

Career Change To Make A Change

In the course of my work as a career and executive coach I have the pleasure of working with many people who have reached a point in their careers where they are re-evaluating the contribution that they make to society through the work they do. The way that clients express their aspiration varies considerably, as you would expect, and their goals are, of course, very diverse. However, it is not uncommon for clients to express a desire to want to maximise their chance of having a big positive impact with the rest of their career, often in areas which would be considered to be part of a global problem.

At the heart of their aspiration they are often seeking high-impact careers where their additional contribution could help towards solving one of these pressing global problems. This aspiration may be expressed with more or less certainty, clarity and conviction. Indeed, part of my role as a coach is sometimes to help my client refine their goal and their understanding and expression of it.

For some clients an enormously valuable resource is the work that’s been undertaken by 80,000 Hours. This non-profit has been analysing global problems for a number of years, working in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oxford’s Global Priorities Institute and the Open Philanthropy Project. In particular, they have been scanning global dilemmas to find problems that are large in scale, solvable and neglected.

One outcome of this research focuses on providing preliminary ideas about career change with a purpose. It is aimed at those who already have pre-existing experience or qualifications, or are unusually good at a certain type of work.

The resource starts with three “strengths” (quantitative, verbal & social, and visual). Then the writers go on to give advice for people with existing experience in fifteen specific fields. The resource was written before the Canadian research we discussed in “Humans Required”  became widely available. It doesn’t benefit, therefore, from an understanding of the Royal Bank of Canada’s research into six fundamental occupational clusters and their skills emphasis, their susceptibility to automation, and examples of career transitions that can occur within each.

80,000 Hours work in this area is, they admit, preliminary. They anticipate possibly changing their minds over the coming years concerning both the content and the advice associated with their work. It is also true that, from the outset, the career development pathways that 80,000 hours plot are contested by some with personal experience of career change making with a purpose. Indeed, this is one area of thinking and practice where the comments attached to the original work do add value and are well worth considering.

Lying behind the work there is a methodology that anyone can use when thinking about this type of career direction setting. The outcome of the work would be to generate a list of roles that would have high impact on pressing problems and then to narrow this list down. 80,000 Hours demonstrate their application of the methodology – given their own, research-based, view of global priorities – to come up with a list of five key categories of high impact careers. My clients may disagree with 80,000 Hours perspectives on pressing global priorities and can tailor their use of the methodology to align with their own views. Indeed, the originators of the method recognise that:

 

“The best career path for you will depend on your values, strengths and situation, so the ideal approach is to generate your own list of promising options, rather than use a generic list.”

 

Furthermore, the method can be applied no matter what your career stage – whether you’re an undergraduate or nearing retirement. What’s particularly interesting about this method is the way in which qualitative and quantitative decision making are combined into a relatively strong research-driven approach. At each twist and turn of the method the user will find that the underpinning rationale, exceptions and further research is available.

Would this method appeal to all? No. In my view the user would need to have a commitment to an evidence-based decision-making approach combined with a willingness to accept that a complete purity of process is impossible. It is also true that all of 80,000 Hours work is aimed at academically gifted and/or highly successful people who face a wide range of choices and options for making a difference through their work.

Humans required

In our “Dying Professions” article, published 30 August 2018, we commented on the impact of automation on a variety of employment roles. In this complementary article we share the outcomes of Royal Bank of Canada research undertaken in 2017/18 and highlight some really useful conclusions RBC came to. Rather typically, for an advanced developed economy, RBC found that:

  • More than 25% of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the coming decade. Fully half will go through a significant overhaul of the skills required.
  • Despite projected heavy job displacement in many sectors and occupations, the Canadian economy is expected to add 2.4 million jobs over the next four years, all of which will require this new mix of skills.
  • Canada’s education system, training programmes and labour market initiatives are inadequately designed to help Canadian youth navigate this new skills economy.
  • Canadian employers are generally not prepared, through hiring, training or retraining, to recruit and develop the skills needed to make their organisations more competitive in a digital economy.
  • RBC’s researchers identified a new way of grouping jobs into six “clusters,” based on essential skills by occupation rather than by industry. By focusing on the foundational skills required within each of these clusters, a high degree of mobility is possible between jobs.
  • Digital fluency will be essential to all new jobs. This does not mean we all need to become coders, but we do all need to be digitally literate.
  • Global competencies like cultural awareness, language, and adaptability will be in demand.
  • Virtually all job openings will place significant importance on judgment and decision-making and more than two thirds will value an ability to manage people and resources.

These findings are likely be repeated across many economies of similar size and complexity, but we wish to highlight just one finding: the clustering of occupations, not by industry, but by skills clusters.

This approach has real, practical value for those making career development decisions … wherever they are.

RBC’s comprehensive data project looked past the standard economic data to dig into the work Canadians actually do. It shows that these occupations are increasingly connected by the skills required to do them. Skills that range from reading and critical thinking to systems analysis and technology design, each bearing its own importance in any given line of work.

The occupations can be grouped into six broad “clusters,” which RBC called Solvers, Providers, Facilitators, Technicians, Crafters and Doers.


The clusters aren’t grouped by industry, educational attainment, collar colour or income; they’re grouped by the skills required to do the work. This allows us to see how skills apply across a wide range of jobs, and how young people might be able to move from one profession or role to another by upgrading just a small number of skills. Out of 35 foundational workplace skills, it takes upgrading just four skills, for example, for someone in the Facilitator cluster to transition from dental assistant to graphic designer.

These findings are not likely to be relevant only in Canada. They point to career development strategies with much wider application.

Of course some transitions between professions will require time, money and a personal commitment to bridging certain knowledge gaps — and it’s no small thing to be constantly upgrading skills.

Career changers will have to find the transitions that work for them. Not every dental assistant has the aptitude or desire to become a graphic designer.

RBC’s report shows the six clusters and their skills emphasis, their susceptibility to automation, and examples of career transitions that can occur within each. This paves the way to a new understanding of how job changers can discover career paths, acquire skills and upgrade them. RBC also used market forecasting to show which clusters stack up well against labour demand, and automation projections to show which clusters face the most risk of disruption. This part of the report may be of less value outside Canada though the general labour market themes are almost certainly applicable way beyond the land of the maple leaf.


Download the full report here.

Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership

Leadership books can be turgid, full of unsupported assertions, difficult to read and extremely dull. Too few really engage with the daily messiness of leading, the acute uncertainty many leaders experience or the fragile loyalty offered by  team members. It is a real pleasure, therefore, to recommend Dr Eve Poole’s creative and encouraging book “Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership” (published, March 2017, by Bloomsbury Business. ISBN: 9781472941237).

Poole’s conviction is that real leaders learn their craft the hard way: through “critical incidents” that test their mettle. This conviction is based upon 2003 research undertaken to develop the simulation-based Ashridge future leaders programme. Eve Poole, on the way to explaining what she means by “leadersmithing”, contends that the seventeen critical incidents are the apprentice-pieces of the leader’s craft. Having engagingly introduced and argued the case for each of these apprentice experiences, Poole then explains how capable leaders really learn before defining and exploring the contribution of the leader’s character.

The second part of this immensely readable, good humoured and literary book provides a whole year’s worth of support for any leader who is really serious about their own development. As a leadership coach who often supports organisation’s rising talent, part two of Poole’s book has rapidly become my reference source of choice. Truth to tell, part two is too rich to be fully savoured in one short year: this is a playbook for a lifetime’s apprenticeship.

Naturally, Dr Eve Poole recognises that some of her readers may be drawn to the first part of the book where the theory is beautifully and succinctly explored whilst others will gain most from the more practical part two. Whatever your preference, I would urge you to read both parts because, developing leader, experienced leader, leadership facilitator or coach, the pearls of wisdom to be found here are well worth savouring.

Producing Your Curriculum Vitae or Your Resume

Introduction

Having a professional curriculum vitae or a resume, with a clean design and well-ordered relevant information, is essential. However, changes to the ways in which recruiters view these documents mean that almost every part of the former sentence is questionable!

Actually, today, having just one CV or resume is not reasonable. If you have only one then – for the reasons explored below – you will be hampering your job search. The idea of a “clean design” may well be attractive and there are certainly some situations where design will be of considerable value. However, due to the increasing use of applicant tracking systems, which will be discussed later, there are many situation where any kind of design flourish could be real barrier to getting hired! As for the question of the ordering of the various sections of your CV/resume even there the correct answer may take you by surprise. Perhaps the only part of that first sentence that stands scrutiny is the idea that a CV/resume needs to contain relevant information. What is relevant and what is not goes to the heart of the idea that one CV/resume is all you need … and it isn’t!

Many recruiters spend very little time scanning a CV, so it really is essential that yours makes a great first impression. Moreover, an increasing number of large organisations now rely on applicant tracking systems – a form of artificial intelligence – to help pre-filter resumes or CVs. These systems work by scanning CVs/resumes for contextual keywords and key phrases, mathematically scoring them for relevance, and sending only the most qualified ones through for human review.

So what?

It has always been true that the best places to highlight your individuality and fit for the role you are applying for are in the covering letter or statement, but the widespread use of applicant tracking systems means that sticking to this rule is now more important than ever.

Applicant tracking systems require simplicity. They do not positively score those extra touches you may have added to your resume, like logos, pictures, symbols, and shadings. Worse than that, these embellishments may actually work to your disadvantage by ‘confusing’ the system. It has now become even more important to stick to conservative resume formatting using one of three common fonts: Arial, Courier, or Times New Roman. Tracking systems have a rather limited facility to make sense of other fonts so they are best avoided.

The increasing use of applicant tracking systems also means that it is essential that a CV or resume must be presented in the form specified. If yours is not, then you do genuinely face the prospect of no living human being reading it! Generally, it is best to supply a Word doc or a rich text format CV/resume instead of a PDF. Though some applicant tracking systems can now ‘read’ PDFs others cannot and yet more have rather limited capabilities. So, unless a PDF format is specifically requested, do not supply your CV/resume in this form.

Words and phrases

Within any profession, there will be words and phrases, responsibilities, skills, licenses and certificates that are strongly associated with performing the job well. Applicant tracking systems will typically have been programmed to look for these words and phrases together with contextual information related to appropriate qualifications. To ensure that the software recognises that you are a good fit for the job, use these tips when writing your CV/resume:

  • Look for important phrases and skills written into the job description. If your experience matches these, then include exactly the same phrases and skills in your own CV/resume – but don’t overdo it. This is simply because the hiring manager will have arranged for the applicant tracking system to search your text for these all important phrases and skills.
  • Use an online word frequency assessor such as Wordle to help you to work out the most frequently occurring words, phrases, names and qualifications in the job description. Make sure you pay attention to the spelled out version of any phrases and any commonly used acronyms: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, CIPD, C.I.P.D. all count as one.

You should not overegg your CV/Resume with repetitive use of the key words and phrases. There are at least two main reasons for this: First, many applicant tracking systems use algorithms that are clever enough to spot excessive repetition and, second, if a human being does get to read your CV/resume the overuse of these words will look contrived.

The main goal is to stand out from other participants and to let recruiters quickly get an idea of who you are, what your skills are and why you are the right person for the job you are applying for.

You should aim for a CV/resume that contains a working history that makes sense and demonstrates some employment/professional progression if at all possible. The document should include details of relevant qualifications and statements of competences and it should bea brief description of your achievements all within a clean, easily readable format.

Your CV/resume should relate to your LinkedIn profile, through the CV/resume itself may be shorter. In many cases it is now acceptable to include a hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile but only do this if your LinkedIn entry adds value and is thoroughly up to date. Your LinkedIn profile must include a professional photograph that is relatively formal rather than being excessively informal!

International considerations

There have traditionally been differences between CV expectations in different countries. In general, a German Curriculum Vitae, for example, consists of 1 or 2 pages, no more. There’s always a photograph at the top and the layout follows a strict chronological order (with exact dates, for example 12/93) and uses a clear, professional style. CVs are signed at the bottom.

A CV should include personal information, about studies and working experience, as well as knowledge of foreign languages and other activities.

In Italy brief texts are preferred and photographs aren’t usually included. A good CV should consist of, in chronological order, personal information (including telephone numbers), as well as information related to studies, and working experience. Hobbies aren’t mentioned but candidates should clearly mention if they have served in the military.

A British CV should be no more than two pages long and there should be a strong emphasis on facts and numbers. The reasons for applying and the candidate’s related experience and demonstrated skills are highlighted in the covering email or letter. Typically, the following information is expected in the CV:

  1. Personal information.
  2. Studies (mentioning centres, dates and places, and grades).
  3. Languages spoken.
  4. Work experience (with dates, starting with the most recent job).
  5. Hobbies and personal achievements.
  6. References.

Almost all UK employers will follow up references so it is important that the two referees have given their permission to act in this way. The typical CV will mention the names, position, addresses and contact details of at least 2 people.

Whilst many British enterprises prefer a CV with an American-style resume format (elevating the work experience section above the studies and languages spoken sections), the document should always be formatted to print on A4 paper and not the North American equivalent.

Europass CV

Partly as a response to the variety of CV forms in use throughout Europe, in December 2012the European Union launched a new CV template and online editor. The “Europass CV” is a part of the European Skills Passport (ESP), a user-friendly electronic folder to help students, workers or job-seekers build up a personal, modular inventory of personal skills and qualifications acquired throughout life.

The ESP can contain a range of documents (language skills evidence, copies of degrees, attestations of employment, etc.). When attached to a Europass CV, the European Skills Passport will reinforce the CV by adding to it evidence of the skills and qualifications listed.

The European Union recommend that people use their online editor (https://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/editors/en/cv/compose) to create a CV:

  1. Concentrate on the essentials
  • Employers generally spend less than one minute reading a CV before deciding to reject it.
  • If applying for an advertised vacancy, always ensure that you comply with any application process entirely.
  • Be brief: two A4 pages are usually more than enough, irrespective of your education or experience.
  • Is your work experience limited? Describe your education and training first; highlight volunteering activities and placements or traineeships.
  1. Be clear and concise
  • Use short sentences. Avoid clichés. Concentrate on the relevant aspects of your training and work experience.
  • Give specific examples. Quantify your achievements.
  • Update your CV as your experience develops.
  1. Always adapt your CV to suit the post you are applying for
  • Highlight your strengths according to the needs of the employer and focus on the skills that match the job.
  • Explain any breaks in your studies or career giving examples of any transferable skills you might have learned during your break.
  • Before sending your CV to an employer, check again that it corresponds to the required profile.
  • Do not artificially inflate your CV; if you do, you are likely to be found out at the interview
  1. Pay attention to the presentation of your CV
  • Present your skills and competences clearly and logically, so that your advantages stand out.
  • Put the most relevant information first.
  • Pay attention to spelling and punctuation.
  • Retain the suggested font and layout.
  1. Check your CV once you have filled it in
  • Do not forget to write a cover letter.
  • Correct any spelling mistakes, and ensure the layout is clear and logical.
  • Have someone else re-read your CV so that you are sure the content is clear and easy to understand.

Organisational preferences

As the guidance above states, it is really important, when applying for any advertised vacancy, to always ensure that you comply with the requirements of the application process entirely.

For example, The United Nation’s Office of HR Management have published, online (at: http://www.un.org/Depts/OHRM/guidenew.htm, accessed on 27 September 2018), very specific guidance about CVs and it would be seriously unwise to not follow this type of employer guidance, which is intended to be helpful to applicants.

Clearly, any specific alternative employer guidance posted with a vacancy notice should always be followed.

 

 

 

Building the Kingdom Through Business

Your Twitter feed, like mine possibly, is increasingly shaped by business driven themes. No doubt this is to be expected as many claim that businesses – rather more powerfully than any other institutions – shape the world today. Aware of this impact and the expectations of society, many business people are increasingly engaging with a question that starts with the nature of business: “how can we shape businesses to have positive impact in the world?” People of faith add to this question, for they want to know “how can we shape businesses to impact the world for good and for God?”

This is the underpinning question addressed in a short book, by the late Bridget Adams and Manoj Raithatha, entitled Building the Kingdom Through Business. The writers take the view – rather the norm at the time of St Paul; then re-emergent in medieval England at the time of the birth of trade guilds and livery companies and highly influential in the seventeenth to twentieth centuries in Britain – that business should pay attention to four “bottom lines”. When business decisions pay attention to economic, social, environmental and spiritual impacts the foundation for business as mission is being laid. When the four bottom lines are in view businesses have some chance of serving people, aligning with God’s purposes, being good stewards of the planet and making a profit.

“Building the Kingdom Through Business”is an important, yet short, eighty-page, booklet. It is profoundly Biblical, historically reflective, and immensely practical.

In his book “Screw Business as Usual”, Sir Richard Branson asked, ‘Can we bring more meaning to our lives and help change the world at the same time… a whole new way of doing things, solving major problems and turning our working into something we both love and are proud of?” His proposed solution? A new way of doing business. ‘It is time to … shift our values, to switch from a profit focus to caring for people, communities and the planet.’

If it is business that shapes the world, then why can’t the Church work in and through business to shape the world for good and for God? Shaping it for good brings wealth creation in communities, with greater justice and relief from poverty for the world’s poor, with the dignity of useful labour. Shaping it for God brings ‘life in its fullness’, a life reconnected with the One who made us and loves us, bringing hope and meaning and purpose. That is the motivation for Kingdom building businesses. And yet, as Mark Greene, Malcolm Grundy and many others have written, we are today living in the shadow of a more apparent than real, separation of Church and industry.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury, this week, addressed the landmark 150thTrades Union Congress, some of the UK’s popular Press attempted to reinforce this division of Church and business as though the two inhabit entirely separate spheres and should never talk to each other. Just how inaccurate this perceived separation of Church and industry is became clear when, two days later, more informed debate began to consider whether the Church of England Commissioners should actually have a very substantial investment – and significant investor’s leverage – in one of the global brands that the Archbishop roundly criticised in his TUC speech.

“Building the Kingdom Through Business” clearly demonstrates a God perspective on work and business, and points out the need for wealth creation – for the common good and God’s glory. The writers align with the Business as Mission movement, though they prefer the term “Kingdom Building Business”. They illustrate the transformational nature of the concept by reminding their readers of the story of the Quakers, whose guiding light was “spiritual and solvent”. Not for them – or, indeed, many others – a God who is interested in what happens in church but not in what happens in His world!

No, God is the original entrepreneur, and throughout His-story, from Paul of Tarsuson, we’ve seen men and women who have made a positive difference through business. Building the Kingdom through Business may provoke some, and it should inspire, educate and equip a new generation of Kingdom building business people.

This book is compact and easy to read. If you’re thinking of starting up a business then it provides some good background. If you’re one of those who think that church and business should never mix, then this book is also ideal for you.

“Building the Kingdom Through Business: A Mission Strategy for the 21st Century World” by Bridget Adams, Manoj Raithatha. ISBN: 9780955913518. Published Apr 2012. Paperback £7.99. Kindle £2.39.

Dying Professions

The OECD Employment Outlook 2019 found that: “The world of work is changing in response to technological progress, globalisation and ageing populations. In addition, new organisational business models and evolving worker preferences are contributing to the emergence of new forms of work. Despite widespread anxiety about potential job destruction driven by technological change and globalisation, a sharp decline in overall employment seems unlikely. While certain jobs and tasks are disappearing, others are emerging and employment has been growing. As these transformations occur, a key challenge lies in managing the transition of workers in declining industries and regions towards new job opportunities. There are also concerns about job quality. While diversity in employment contracts can provide welcome flexibility for many firms and workers, important challenges remain in ensuring the quality of non‑standard work. Moreover, labour market disparities could increase further unless determined policy action is taken to ensure a more equal sharing of the costs of structural adjustment in the world of work. While there are risks, there are also many opportunities – and the future of work is not set in stone. With the right policies and institutions, the future of work can be one of more and better jobs for all.” In this article we will be examining the impact on employment of the rise in automation.

One of the most striking themes to emerge from the OECD’s 2019 research is that, over the past decade, labour market conditions have deteriorated for young people with less than tertiary education in many countries, with a rising proportion out of work or, under‑employed or low paid if in work. These changes are unlikely to be the short‑lived product of the economic downturn, which raises significant policy challenges for the years to come. From a gender perspective, in a number of countries, men have seen an increase in joblessness and under‑employment. Nevertheless, the latter remain more widespread among women, who are also more likely to be in low‑paid jobs.

The rise of automation continues to put pressure on occupations that are susceptible to replacement by algorithms and robotics. Naturally, working out what occupational groups are likely to decline in the years ahead is of most concern to young people entering the employment market. They really do not want to invest in training for a role that will likely disappear during the course of their working lives. Such thinking does, however, tend to overlook the fact that career flexibility and the willingness to transform your offer to the employment market to respond to changing needs has been one of the most powerful themes in the general advice given by career counsellors for decades. That said, there is evidence to suggest that it is of some value to look at what we currently know about declining job opportunities and to factor that into career decision making.

A survey of the gaps in many High Streets would suggest that the rise in online travel  booking sites has put paid to many retail travel agencies. Where once people shied away form booking direct there are now many more travellers willing to put together their own holidays, arrange their own accommodation and generally make life difficult for the High Street travel agent. There may be a future niche for those who specialise in particular countries, sectors of the travel market or who can develop an offer that is superior or more secure than anything the individual can arrange themselves.

Mortgage brokers have faced significant competition from generations well able to use the internet to find financial solutions. The rise of online “money saving expert” services has not only contributed to general consumer education but has also enabled the mortgage hunter to access online tools arguably more powerful than a mortgage broker could find thirty years ago. The decline in the number of mortgage brokers is particularly well documented by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and, as ever, where the US employment goes there is tendency for other Western markets to follow. Mortgage brokers are, of course, part of the wider financial services industry and the opportunities for career development through change within that wider economy have been pursued with enthusiasm by those noting the trends.

John Pugliano, author of “The Robots are Coming: A Human’s Survival Guide to Profiting in the Age of Automation,” sees plenty of white collar jobs that will be threatened by automation. “Bottom line, any routine job that can easily be defined by a mathematical or logic equation will be at risk,” Pugliano says. “Opportunity will be [there] for those that can create new produces/services or solve/fix unexpected problems.”

Sometimes the changes are unexpected. For example, the legal ancillary professions face challenges that might not be straightforward. A lot of the work once done by legal case researchers can now be done with increasingly sophisticated algorithms. Pugliano’s recommendation for aspiring legal eagles – in the light of this challenge – is to focus on specialising in non-routine human emotion intense areas, like jury selection or witness profiling.

The UK really does not have an equivalent to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics but we can note developments in the US employment market as potential indicators of change in many Western labour markets. “Across the pond”, one of the groups of workers expected to be the hardest hit by an overall decline in opportunities are office and administrative workers. The rise of technology is to blame for word processing, voicemail and the internet replacing work that was once completed by a now dying breed of administrative assistant. The most recent recession saw an acceleration in the collapse of this employment market sector which started several decades ago.

Opportunities in farming have declined over several decades and the pressure on farmers to increase efficiency and effectiveness will continue to fuel this trend. There may well be a demand for seasonal staff to operate semi-  and fully automated harvesting machines and even to pick fruit where an automated solution has yet to be found but the numbers are in long term decline.

The decline in the number of local newspapers continues in the face of competition from other media outlets. Correspondingly, the opportunities for trainee reporters look likely to continue to fall.

The skills of the print binder and finisher are still sought out for specialist and high end publications but the demand for these professionals is expected to diminish – though at a slower pace in the coming decade than it did in the past decade. The problem is essentially that most books can now be bound and finished, without the intervention of a craftsperson, by machine and we are now reading more books on screen.

Your personal learning from all of this? Don’t assume that a craft, trade or profession currently in demand will continue to be so over your lifetime. Do your own research in your own employment market and overseas and look for trends that could reshape demand in the years ahead. If you notice signs of declining demand for your own skills look out for opportunities to move sideways into related occupations or to retrain in occupational areas connected to your established expertise.

 

 

Managing Two Careers At Once

Why do organisations manage their talent in ways that fail to take account of spousal careers? What happens as a result? What additional thinking and practices could assist organisations to manage talent located within a dual career relationship better? What do findings about what is valued in mid-life career counselling have to say to those involved in career coaching?

Spousal Careers

Writing in the May – June 2018 edition of The Harvard Business Review (“Talent Management and the Dual-Career Couple”) Jennifer Petriglieri, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD, shows how companies invest significantly in grooming their star talent — but then fail to take account of marital situations and responsibilities.

This failure, which involves seeing the high performing employee “one dimensionally”and not appreciating their familial context is surprisingly common. Many corporations with relatively enlightened talent management programmes haven’t, according to Petriglieri, “figured out how to manage the growing population of employees who care deeply about their partners’ or spouses’ careers at the same time that they want to advance their own. As a result, many high potentials are heading for the nearest exit.”

Outdated Ideas About Career Progression

Jennifer Petriglieri has seen this happen time and again across a range of sectors and says the crux of the problem is that companies “tend to have fixed paths to leadership roles, with set tours of duty and rigid ideas about what ambition looks like. That creates flexibility and mobility challenges for employees—and recruitment and retention headaches for employers.”

In referring to these “fixed paths to leadership roles” Petriglieri signals that the companies concerned are likely to be practicing that, rather exclusive, form of talent management that Victoria Campbell and Wendy Hirsh (in their Institute of Employment Studies report “Talent Management: A Four-Step Approach”, 2013) dubbed “accelerated skill development for high potentials” (type A). An alternative, and more inclusive, form of talent management, based upon the conviction that every employee has talent, usually drives anemphasis onorganisational capability building throughout the workforce” (type B).   

That some corporations still use models for talent development that are based on fixed paths, set tours of duty and rigid ideas about what ambition looks like might be thought remarkable. That they often struggle with last minute realisations about the importance of spousal careers is perhaps predictable. It does not need to be so.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

As Global Practice Leader for Integrated Talent Management at World Vision International I was constantly reminded that talent management is but “one side of a coin”. The coin’s “two faces” are talent management and the individual’s career. Talent management is that side of the coin seen from the corporation’s perspective. The other side of the coin is built progressively through the career – and other – decisions made by individual employees. Where they are in a relationship with another person also managing career decisions the two people will characteristically, and increasingly, take these decisions together.

Campbell and Hirsh found, through their case studies of 23 organisations, drawn almost equally from the private and the public sector, that between the “type A” and the “type B” approaches to talent management, there was “a more career‐oriented definition of talent management.”This “places more emphasis on establishing career direction (relating to individuals’ interests and ambitions), as well as deploying and mobilising talent across the organisation, by offering different career experiences and using talent populations to fill key roles.” I will call this approach “type C”. It is important to our current discussion because it has the potential to allow talent managers to understand “the other side of the coin”.

Understanding this important symbiotic relationship between the two sides of the coin has taken some organisations a while. If type C practices were more commonly used this might not be true but experience in the disparate financial services and humanitarian development sectors suggests this is not the case: the type A approach predominates. Predictably, organisations are in a comfortable place, for them, when it is clear that their decisions have impact on individual’s careers. It is less comfortable when the organisation becomes aware that individual’s career decisions can – and do – have organisational effects. When the conditions are right these organisational effects can be very significant indeed. Two examples from my financial services sector experience illustrate this point.

Example 1: In the ten years from 2000, there was considerable actuarial and insurance consulting firm consolidation resulting in the emergence of a smaller number of global organisations with considerably enlarged headcounts. This led to some professionals in this sector becoming more and more specialist and, consequently, their roles being ever more narrowly conceived. For the organisations concerned the opportunity was created to build teams of dedicated experts with niche consulting expertise. By the end of the decade however, employers and specialist recruiters were recognising that the individual career decisions of these business critical experts were having a determinant and sometimes limiting impact on organisation’s business strategy.

Example 2: Merger or acquisition based growth also created opportunities for individuals and teams that employers may not initially have anticipated. A range of firms lost talented specialists to their rivals as the result of a legal loophole meaning they were technically unemployed at the point of M&A transaction. In some cases, individuals or even intact teams were changing jobs and being recruited without serving their notice periods. Remedies were, of course, found (sometimes known as “golden handcuffs”) but constraining career choice often proved both complicated and expensive.

Petriglieri’s work highlights a further complication for corporations that have not got used to flipping the talent/career coin and appreciating, as we have seen, that in dual career partnerships, career related decisions are commonly made by the couple thinking and acting together. The decisions the couple jointly make address career choices in the wider context of family values and goals and give expression to their views about the overall well-being of the couple and the family. In doing so their decisions, taken for the good of the couple and/or the family, are at least as subtle as those taken by the employing organisations. My experience in talent management and coaching would suggest that these familial decisions are often much more nuanced than corporate talent managers contemplate.

Simply put, when managing their talent, organisations need to match the levels of subtlety found in spousal decision making. Expressed this way, that may appear to be a “corporate nice to have”: unfortunately the associated risks can have big price tags attached. Indeed, failing to recognise the relational aspects of career decision can be as expensive as not considering the talent aspects of a merger or an acquisition. The “golden handcuffs” mentioned above were, for example, sometimes resorted to precisely because the level of corporate talent risk management had earlier been inappropriate.

The challenges associated with having these types of career development conversations are significant. Creating the environment of trust, establishing the agreed ground rules, preparing the agreed summary of the discussions, taking time to plan and hold the conversations at the appropriate frequency all require significant maturity, planfulness, sophisticated data management, excellent communication and commitment to coaching behaviours.

Today’s Dual Career/Talent Management Context

The context for both corporate talent management and individual career choice is shaped by the hugely important ways in which our working lives are changing. These changes are well known: people are living longer, the labour market is shifting as a result of technological change and globalisation, employees may be caring for children and parents simultaneously whilst they manage and evaluate their paid work and consider their own second-half-of-life options.

As a consequence of this, people may see the need to change jobs and retrain; they may be having debates about their own and their partner’s careers; portfolio working lives are now a reality for many and retirement is being experienced as a more flexible reality with less of a ‘cliff edge’ between working and not working.

These changes indicate that organisations should approach the relationship they have with their key talent in much more subtle and responsive ways than in the past. “Indicate” seems the appropriate word here because, of course, employers have choices to make. Enlightened employers that operate talent and succession management processes that respond to these significant technological and socioeconomic changes – and recognise the importance of spousal career decisions – are more likely to retain their high performers. Those that don’t, increasingly will not.

Career Coaching Agendas

Employers may or may not invest in coaching for leadership and emerging talent. The extent to which career development looms large in that relationship will vary. My executive coaching experience suggests that career planning and development are increasingly important issues for coachees. Corporations purchasing developmental executive coaching variously recognise – and often support through other initiatives and programmes within which coaching may be located – the fundamental notion that the coachee is the captain of their own life and learning[1].

This recognition creates the context within which the coachee’s goals “are the foundation of the work, although in executive coaching the line manager’s and organisation’s goals are also fed into the agenda” as Jenny Rogers deftly expresses the situation (in “Coaching skills: The Definitive Guide To Being A Coach”, May 2016). Many coaches, including myself, influenced by the cognitive behavioural coaching school and the work of Carl Rogers, approach this type of development coaching with the belief that the coachee is infinitely resourceful and that their work is necessarily holistic in nature and scope. The individual has choices.

Outside of paid coaching, support for the making of those choices, some of which may relate to what Cadbury has dubbed the individual’s “crazy paving” will vary. In many countries individual adults do not have ready access to advice on what to do to make the most of their opportunities. The results can include premature retirement for some, a lack of fulfilling work for others, and insufficient saving for retirement for many.

However, evidence from a UK study (“Mid Life Career Review”, July 2015) evaluated by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) showed that valuable mid-life career review opportunities helped people take stock of where they were and who they are, and what they wanted to achieve for the rest of their lives. The pilot projects not only helped to determine the variety of possible agendas for such a career review but they also illustrated the range of career-related topics that a coachee may be considering.  The study showed that some or all of the following might feature in a well-regarded review:

  • Understanding life expectancy, and its implications for work, leisure, finance and health: many people underestimate life expectancy.
  • Reviewing changing aspirations for work and life over coming decades.
  • Making informed decisions about retirement timing and phasing (since working longer is likely to improve the quality of life of most people, as well as being good for employers and the economy).
  • Undertaking training likely to sustain the individual longer in rewarding activity, including paid work.
  • Reviewing the implications of working longer for personal health.
  • Reviewing the individual’s long-term financial situation including saving for retirement.
  • Developing strategies for overcoming age discrimination.
  • Understanding rights in relation to retirement timing, flexible working, and caring responsibilities, and developing strategies for negotiating adjustments to the individual’s and the working patterns of any spouse.
  • Realistically assessing options for job change and self-employment.

This NIACE research points to the level of sophistication that an informed mid-career review may need to achieve. Looking “around” and “behind” the bullet points above it is also possible to see the work/life considerations that dual-career couples are, increasingly, managing. This provides an indicator of what excellence in career coaching will increasingly look like and it should act as a wake up call and a compass to organisations whose talent management is as sadly one-dimensional as Jennifer Petriglieri found. Talent management should be aiming at least to understand the questions that are being asked by “the growing population of employees who care deeply about their partners’ or spouses’ careers at the same time that they want to advance their own.” This understanding can help to minimise something that talent managers are often said to want to avoid: unpleasant surprises.

[1]Sir Nicholas Cadbury expressed this well: “There is no such thing as a career path.  It is like crazy paving and you have to lay it yourself.”

References

Petriglieri, J. (May – June, 2018), ‘Talent Management and the Dual-Career Couple’, in Harvard Business Review, pp.106–113. Harvard University Press, USA.

Watts, J. et al. (July 2015), ‘Mid Life Career Review Pilot Project Outcomes: Phases 1, 2, and 3 (2013 – 2015): Final report to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’. National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, Leicester, UK.

Rogers, J. (May 2106), ‘Coaching skills: The Definitive Guide To Being A Coach.’ Open University Press, Milton Keynes, UK.

Campbell, V. and Hirsh, W. (2013), ‘Talent Management: A Four Step Approach.’ Institute of Employment Studies, Brighton, UK.

Envisioning The Future

Writing in July’s TD Beverley Kaye and Linda Williams say, “Individuals need the encouragement, resources, tools, and support to envision their futures. They don’t need every possible new app or program, but they do need conversations with managers, coaches, or mentors. They need to take action, be open to learning, be willing to change behaviors, and be introspective enough to clarify their career needs, wants, and aspirations.”

When the world’s largest child focused humanitarian organisation began to embrace online learning and created its own e-Campus I was not surprised to find that the online “Career Development Centre” gained eager followers across the globe at a faster pace than any other development offer.

Based on personal experience as a mature career changer, as a qualified career development practitioner, coach and a former global practice talent leader in the diverse fields of financial services and humanitarian development I so agree with Beverley Kaye and Linda Williams.

My practical guide to career development for those considering a change of career direction is designed to help people who would benefit from some help being, as Beverley and Linda express it, “introspective enough to clarify their career needs, wants, and aspirations”.  It is now available from Lulu publishers.

Performance Management Case Study 1

In recent years there has been much debate about performance review or annual appraisal processes. Some of the debate was influenced by changes in practice within large corporations.

This is the first in a new series of case studies examining performance management. Our aim is to find out what really spurred change and what actually happened behind the headline announcements.

CEB research has found that more than 9 in 10 managers are dissatisfied with how their companies conduct annual performance reviews, and almost 9 in 10 HR leaders say the process doesn’t yield accurate information.

In addition, the CEB (formerly the Corporate Executive Board), found that performance management is time-consuming. A CEB survey discovered that managers estimate that they spend an average of 210 hours a year on performance management activities. Managers said their employees, in turn, each spend 40 hours a year. This might be time well spent but it appears that it is not: seventy-seven percent of HR executives report to the CEB that performance reviews don’t accurately reflect employee contributions.

In August 2015, GE decided to do away with annual reviews for its 300,000 employees entirely, replacing these evaluations with more frequent conversations between employees and managers. Senior managers had begun questioning the value of the GE Employee Management System, which had been in place for almost 40 years. The key question posed was: Is it delivering what is needed for the future? An internal review suggested that the EMS was not in practice encouraging continuous and fluid processes of performance development. It wasn’t providing feedback in real time nor helping GE respond to change and prepare for the future.

GE’s existing method of performance review was rather formal, it took place once, sometimes twice, a year and the focus was on a review of the past. The most notable features were its formality, a strong sense of looking backwards and that the system itself drove the process from the top down.

GE’s new system changed the language and the technology of performance management. The focus became development rather than a rear view mirror examination and the name was changed to signal a new intention: Performance Development at GE or PD@GE for short. The aim was to encourage forward-thinking, actionable conversations as a daily priority. These conversations between managers and employees were to consider performance in terms of insights and fuel for coaching, and to have a strong forward focus on delivering impact and outcomes. A strong emphasis was placed on developing employees and delivering business outcomes, focusing on work that matters most, and accelerating an employee’s growth through continuous discussion.

The process is supported through the use of an app: the PD@GE app. This provides a single place where employees can set priorities, organise discussions with managers, and share insights with fellow team members. It was created to encourage a more nimble approach to professional development to ensure maximum efficiency and best serve the company’s customers.

The process allows for occasions where a manager and their team member may take stock and plan development and future work priorities. As GE rolled out the PD@GE approach they experimented with an integrated ratings system, and without. They noticed that, when piloting the no-ratings system, compensation and bonus planning still took place and the overall quality of the conversations were better. GE’s expectations are that managers know their employees so well that they can articulate their impact and behaviours, and then rewards are aligned to both, rather than merely relying on a performance rating.

Who am I?

Changing career in mid-life becomes easier if you have done some work on your values and your passions. Doing so helps many people to understand and to talk about who they are. Regardless of your career to date, your future decisions about career will be easier and more valid if you have a clear understanding of your own orientation toward work, your motives, your values and your self-perceived talents. Being clear about these  helps in focusing career development tactics and enables people to talk confidently about what you will bring to a particular role. My experience as a coach suggests that most people have several passions and that as they get older they make decisions about the passion – or the small number of passions – that are so strongly aligned with their values that they will not give them up easily.

Some people are very clear about their career related values. Others find it helpful to take one of many career assessments. These assessments will help you explore your career interests, skills, your values, and personality. In this post I would like to introduce Edgar Schein’s “Career Anchors”.

Edgar Schein and Thomas De Long developed “career anchors” in the 1970s. They described career anchors as that combination of perceived areas of competence, motives and values that you would not give up: it represents your real self.

Schein’s “Career Anchors” can help you think through your career options and give you a clear understanding of:

  • Your own orientations toward work
  • Your motives
  • Your values
  • Your talents

Use of “Career Anchors” also helps people:

  • Define the themes and patterns dominant in their life
  • Understand their own approach to work and a career
  • Provide reasons for choices
  • Take steps to fulfil their own self-image

As you accumulate work experience, you have the opportunity to make choices; from these choices you begin to ascertain what you really find important. Dominant themes emerge—critical skills or abilities that you want to exercise or crucial needs or values that dominate your orientation toward life. You may have had a sense of these elements but, until now, you may not have assessed them in a thorough way. However, when changing careers in mid-life this self-awareness becomes vital. Knowing how important these aspects of yourself are and how any given talent, motive, or value relates to other elements of your total personality becomes an important “lens” through which to plan and talk about your career change journey. It is often only when we are confronted with difficult choices that we begin to evaluate and decide what is really important to us.

With accumulation of work experience and feedback comes clarification and insight, providing a basis for making more rational and empowered career decisions. Notice the importance of feedback especially if you have participated in work-based feedback processes and have a recent report that you can re-examine.

Through self-assessment the self-concept begins to function more and more as a personal “guidance system” and as an “anchor” that shapes career choice. Out of this process people begin to talk about careers saying that this role is something they identify with whilst that occupation is not something they could ever see themselves doing. This knowledge keeps us on course or in a “safe harbour”.

As people recount their career choices, they increasingly refer to “being pulled back” to things they have strayed from or, looking ahead, “figuring out what they really want to do” or “finding themselves.” This process leads people to gradually move from having broad goals to a sense of knowing better what it is that they would not give up if forced to make a choice. The career anchor, as defined by Schein and his co-authors, is that one element in a person’s self-concept that he or she will not give up, even in the face of difficult choices. And if their work does not permit expression of the anchor, people find ways of expressing it in their hobbies, in second jobs, or in leisure activities.

Schein and his colleague developed the career anchor concept at MIT. An empirical investigation conducted by Catherine Steele and others and reported to the British Psychological Society’s 2007 Occupational Psychology Conference, concluded that the eight career anchors, as measured through use of Edgar Schein’s “Career Anchors: Discovering Your Real Values” is a valid model with satisfactory internal reliability results.

This tested reliability is important to know because there are many forms of assessment available and not all of them are reliable. I recommend that mid-life career changers make use of the “Career Anchors” approach and find that people do find it beneficial. It is recommended for use in  “My Career Development Plan”  which you can purchase here

Schein’s approach to Career Anchors included the use of a Career Anchor Interview to be used after completion of the Career Orientations Inventory. I am pleased to advise about the use of the Interview: it is a particularly helpful process that mid-life career changers have found valuable.

“Career Anchors: The Changing Nature of Careers: Self Assessment”, 4th Edition by Edgar H. Schein and John Van Maanen, published in May 2013 contains the “Career Anchors Self-Assessment” or “Career Orientations Inventory”,  the simple “Scoring Instructions” and the “Descriptions of the Career Anchor Categories”. Guidance on the user’s “Next Steps” and “Choices” are also included.

Mid-Life Career Change?

As people look back over their working lives it is not uncommon to find them asking questions about service, achievement and satisfaction. Some may be in positions where the opportunities for development through work are limited and they may increasingly identify with the view that there’s a considerable difference between twenty years of experience, and one year of experience relived twenty times! Unsurprisingly, this feeling can be expressed in employee’s engagement with their work. Gallup, for example, has found that the percentage of actively disengaged workers tends to be highest among those aged 40-49. Workers in this age group were almost 1.5 times as likely as those aged 18-29 or those aged 60 and older to be actively disengaged (15% for both the youngest and oldest age groups).

Faced with the evidence, Gallup concluded that, once employees are past early adulthood – the years when many are learning their chosen profession – they become significantly less likely to strongly agree that their workplace is a source of personal development.

Evidence from psychological research confirms what shared experience would suggest: that life goals and motivation tend to shift, as people grow older. As many coaches would confirm, mid-life is a time when people re-evaluate their goals and make changes accordingly.

Sometimes the incentive to make these career changes may be fuelled by a sense of dashed expectations. Hannes Schwandt, an economist at the University of Zurich found that young people overestimate their future happiness, and so feel disappointed as life goes on. But as people approach 60, they start underestimating their future happiness, and then are pleasantly surprised by reality.

For many, accumulated wealth, relative security and a desire to really make a difference or to “give something back” propels individuals in mid-life toward something of a career crisis. E B White captured their quandary: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

“My Career Development Plan” is a practical guide to career development for those considering a change of career direction. It was written by John Evans, a qualified career development practitioner, executive coach and former global practice leader for the world’s largest child focused humanitarian development agency. John was previously head of Hewitt Associates’ European Organisational Development practice. Your copy is available here.

“Cubing” Career Goals

“Cubing” is a way of brainstorming outlined in the book “Writing”, by Gregory Cowan and Elizabeth Cowan (New York: Wiley, 1980). With cubing, as with other brainstorming methods, you start with one topic, challenge or issue. Then, you apply six points of view (like the six sides of a cube) to the issue. Here, we have adapted the method so it can be used as a tool for initial career goal development. To use the cubing method …

Click “Present” in the visual above. Use the forward and back arrows beneath the presentation to page through the process.

First, write down your career development goal.

Second, examine your goal closely and describe it in as much detail as you want.

Third, compare this goal with other goals in your life. Is is significantly different from them or related to them in some way?

Fourth, ask yourself what this goal makes you think of?

Fifth, analyse your goal. Break it into parts that you find relevant and helpful.

Sixth, now describe what achieving you goal would mean to you and to other people.

Finally, debate with yourself – or someone you trust – what might stop you from achieving your goal and what might work in your favour?

A Career With Impact?

Impactpool is a unique career platform aiming to provide the best possible support to people who want to pursue a career within mission-driven organisations. Impactpool (previously UNjobfinder) was founded in 2015 and is a social enterprise with headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. Its founders were aware of the need for a qualified, customer oriented and user-friendly service covering the global employment sector of mission driven organisations.

Impactpool’s own mission is to support highly qualified and motivated individuals by helping them grow professionally and to develop successful careers within organisations that contribute to a sustainable world. In just three years Impactpool has become the world’s fastest growing career website with a focus on talents and organisations who are striving for and contributing to a sustainable world. The service gathers opportunities from hundreds of international organisations around the world including all UN organisations, international financial institutions, the European Union and the most influential intergovernmental and Non-Governmental Organisations.

For talent seeking to break into this niche global marketplace, Impactpool provides a “shop window” on approaching 2500 daily-updated entry, mid-career and executive level appointments across (currently, and growing) 156 organisations. A single portal provides unique job search functionality. This is complemented by a dedicated and independent career coaching service provided by coaches with successful career records in the industry; I am honoured to be a part of this network. The organisational coverage is impressive covering an ever-expanding range of international, governmental, medical, justice, faith based, peacekeeping, and humanitarian and development organisations with current vacancies across the globe.

Alongside this dynamic slate of opportunities those who sign up to Impactpool have access to invaluable career guides. “Start Making a Difference” is a must-read providing an introduction to a career in international development. Experienced recruiters and HR specialists explain how to start your career in the sector, including what you need to know about educational requirements, relevant skills and experience, the differing organisation types, career tracks, and remuneration. The Impactpool authors share concrete, honest advice on how to approach your career strategically—from choosing the right jobs to apply for to positioning yourself in the best possible way for growth and advancement.

For experienced talent, “The Senior Assessment Guide” is an invaluable “preparation kit” to use when facing a UN assessment centre.  The eBook describes the different UN pools, how you get into them, how you are assessed, and how you finally get selected. These pools primarily target senior internal staff at the UN, but the Guide also describes how external leaders have successfully gained access to pools in the past.

Complementing this targeted Guide, Impactpool also publish general interview guides and question banks for those applying for international organisation careers, humanitarian and development sector roles. Regular summary articles highlight the beginning and flag up the closure of recruitment campaigns. Click for further information.

(The writer is an Impactpool Fellow).

Learning with Kaya

Kaya is the online learning platform of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy.

50,000 people from nearly 200 countries across the world are using Kaya to learn about humanitarian issues and action. On Kaya you will find online elearning and in-person workshops that will help you learn what you need to take you where you want to go, whether you are a professional humanitarian looking for career development, or a community member supporting the response to a crisis in your own country.

Kaya’s courses are grouped into learning pathways – combinations of online and in-person learning opportunities – that mean at the beginning of your learning journey you do not need to know exactly what you want to learn.

Within Kaya you will find:

  • Online elearning content
  • Videos
  • Documents and files

Information and registration for in-person events:

  • Workshops
  • Talks
  • Webinars (streamed film of events that you can access from your phone or computer)

Kaya is designed to be accessed from phones, tablets, laptops and PCs, so you can use it whenever and wherever you want.

You can search for a course through the Catalogue. This will show you individual courses as well as whole pathways of learning you can take part in. You can use the filters at the side to change the results you are shown.

Click on the result you are interested in to be taken to its page.  Join the course by clicking on the ‘Join’ button. On a mobile phone, this box will be underneath the course description. On a larger screen, it will be at the right of the page.

How much do the courses on Kaya cost?

All courses are entirely free, unless a course description specifically says otherwise – you will be able to find any cost information on the summary page of each course.

Investing In Transitions

Any bar room discussion where the word “transition” recurs is likely to be focused on the UK’s transition period due to kick in as the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. There are other, and we would say, equally complicated and life determining transitions that need to be made. As a former global talent leader with experience managing talent in over one hundred countries I consider that the education to work and training transition experiences offered to young people in the UK are letting down a generation. I am not alone in this.

A House of Lords select committee found, in February, that the apprenticeship system was “woefully inadequate”. The levy system, designed to ensure that three million people start an apprenticeship by 2020, is – on the evidence of new starts – actively repelling rather than encouraging employers to invest in apprenticeships.

Ofsted inspects the support system for apprenticeships: the colleges and training providers that offer the vocational training. They have concluded that 51% are either inadequate or needing improvement. Meantime, a January 2018 CIPD survey found that employers were actively engaged in “rebadging” training for existing employees as an apprenticeship in order to recoup the costs of the levy. The need for some agreed “red lines” here is clear.

Ethical trade addresses the ethical aspects of organisations including worker welfare. Many multinational organisations have adopted ethical trade policies that are policed by auditors monitoring the conditions of workers in their supply chains. Coherent with this good practice you might expect to find that, within the UK, there are no unpaid internships: you would be wrong. Between 70,000 and 100,000 unpaid internships are estimated to take place in the UK every year. Many of these young people work in London and certain industries have now established career entry routes that customarily rely on “serving an internship” as part of a threshold experience. Curious that, in years past, the commonplace phrase would have been “serving an apprenticeship” and yet today the legal status and, therefore, the remuneration – if any – due to an intern is a matter for the courts. When is an intern not an employee? Perhaps when they are a volunteer? Are they entitled to the National Minimum Wage: it depends.

Given all of this complexity, the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility report “Overlooked and left behind” (April 2016) was surely correct in concluding that: “Every young person should have access to independent, impartial careers advice.” Careers education and guidance are important for social mobility. This is because knowing about the options available, and the skills needed to navigate those options, are a key part of a successful transition to work. The Education Act 2011, which made schools responsible for providing independent and impartial careers advice and guidance, also defined “independent” as “provided other than by a teacher employed or engaged at the school, or any other person employed at the school”. Impartial was defined as “showing no bias towards any education or work option”. Whilst these definitions are helpful, schools could be forgiven for being confused given that the same Act also removed their statutory duty to provide careers education!

Realistically, the funding and performance table system does not incentivise schools to give independent careers advice. It is hardly surprising that the House of Lords heard repeated testimony confirming what The Prince’s Trust told Peers, that: “schools have become increasingly focused on preparing for exams and less focused on preparing young people for the world of work.”

On the evidence so far cited, I would contend that the need for excellent, independent career advice based on a strong foundation of careers education is now more important than it has been for decades. For economic, social, mobility, skills, health and moral reasons we should be investing in helping young people make their transition from school to work because the dilemmas they face are huge.

How To Find Work You Love

Scott Dinsmore quit a job that made him miserable, and spent the next four years wondering how to find work that was joyful and meaningful. He shares what he learned in this deceptively simple talk about finding out what matters to you — and then getting started doing it.

Why you should listen

According to a Deloitte research study, over 80 per cent of people don’t enjoy their work.  Scott wanted to find out what it is that sets the twenty per cent apart: the people who do the passionate, world-changing work, that wake up inspired every day. Discover what he found out!

Sadly, in September 2015, three years after recording this TED talk, Scott was struck by a boulder as it tumbled down the 19,000-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro peak he was climbing  with his wife of five years as part of their adventure around the world. Scott was 33 when he died.

Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career

In this funny and blunt talk, Larry Smith pulls no punches when he calls out the absurd excuses people invent when they fail to pursue their passions.

Why you should listen

Larry Smith is a professor of economics at University of Waterloo. A well-known storyteller and advocate for youth leadership, he has also mentored many of his students on start-up business management and career development. The most notable start-up he advised in its infancy is Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

Discussion about this blunt and challenging TED talk centres on what passion really means and costs but, as Carmine Gallo wrote in Forbes, what you will see here “in this TED Talk is essentially thirty years of Smith’s frustrations reaching a boiling point.” “Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand,” and this talk is Smith’s response.

Challenging and – possibly – motivating too.

Career Development With Devex

Devex describes itself as the media platform for the global development community. For those in – or seeking entry to – that community Devex is a source of information of growing importance. Devex claims to have an audience of more than one million people engaged in the development sector, to have placed thousands of people into jobs through its important recruitment marketplace and to have contributed significantly to the sector’s business development through its role as an informed source of grant and contract opportunities.

Devex casts its net wide: it considers the development, health, humanitarian, and sustainability sector and professionals working within these fields to be part of its global network. There are now more than 900,000 registered members within this international development community – including development organisations, donor agencies, suppliers and aid workers. In all, Devex claims more than 1 million active users.

Using a range of tools Devex enables its user community to access a searchable database of over 700,000 professionals and a directory of more than 12,000 development organisations. It has become a leading source of information about projects being funded by agencies across the globe.

This is remarkable growth over a period of the 18 or so years since Raj Kumar, then a student at Harvard’s School of Government, converted the ideas behind Devex into a workable precursor as part of a student project. Kumar, now editor in chief of Devex, aims to provide for the development sector what Bloomberg and The Financial Times have for the financial markets: accurate, plentiful and searchable information.

For the professional engaged in their own career development Devex is a virtual ‘honey pot’. The clearing house of information on development projects provides the intelligence needed to anticipate where opportunities may exist in a few months time. Real time vacancy information pulls in the active job seeker, those coming to the end of existing contracts and aid professionals whose careers have stalled with their existing employers. Webinars on a range of career development topics (including networking, charting a global health career, STEM careers in the aid sector, etc.) provide added value for the serious career professional. A continually updated tender notification service offers leads for business development specialists, contractors and consultants.

Investment in international aid remains strong – the money in USAID’s budget was $15.4billion in 2018 rising to $39.3billion for fiscal 2019. Devex occupies a key role in staff sourcing and career development in this sector. Admittedly, Devex charges for certain premium services and prices access to more senior vacancies but, if you are in the aid sector or seeking to break into it your curriculum vitae should feature there and Devex should be a part of your career development toolkit.

Towards Digital Literacy?

Paul Gilster, in his 1997 book “Digital Literacydescribed digital literacy as the use and comprehension of information in the digital age. He also emphasised the importance of digital technologies as an “essential life skill”. Digital literacy is one of the core elements of digital citizenship. Digital literacy includes knowledge, skills, and behaviours involving the effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy.

The growth in digital literacy needs to keep pace with the rapid acceleration in the population’s access to digital media. Recent research from Hootsuite and We Are Social tracks the explosive growth in Internet access and uptake to January 2017:

In “Headline” terms, the most startling findings of this collaborative, global research are that:

  • More than half the world’s population now uses a smartphone.
  • Almost two-thirds of the world’s population now has a mobile phone.
  • More than half of the world’s web traffic now comes from mobile phones.
  • More than half of all mobile connections around the world are now ‘broadband’.
  • More than one in five of the world’s population shopped online in the past 30 days

Internet use in Asia is poised to overtake the rest of the world. Asia has an estimated population of 4,148,177,672: 55.2% of the world’s population based on 2017 mid-year estimates[1]. Internet use data from  CNNIC[2], ITU[3], Facebook, and other trustworthy sources indicates that 1,938,075,631 Asians (or 46.7% of the population of Asia) were users at the end of June 2017.

It is no longer the case that the poorest countries will necessarily have populations without access to the Internet. If we take a deeper dive into the available data for just one country in Asia we can see the phenomenal rise in Internet access by comparison with other indicators. The nation of Cambodia was recently ranked[4] 106th in the world by reference to Gross Domestic Product. It is one of the poorest countries in Asia and long-term economic development remains a daunting challenge, inhibited by endemic corruption, limited human resources, high levels of income inequality, and poor job prospects. In 2012, approximately 2.66 million people lived on less than $1.20 per day, and 37% of Cambodian children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. More than 50% of the population is less than 25 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the impoverished countryside, which also lacks basic infrastructure. However, notwithstanding all these challenges, 25.6% of the population of Cambodia have Internet access[5] and one quarter of the population of the country’s population are Facebook subscribers[6]. However,such figures serve only to obscure widespread variations in access: in the capital city, Phnom Penh, Internet upload speeds are commonly faster than those available in most of the UK whilst in much of rural Cambodia, by comparison, Internet access is simply an unmet aspiration. The danger of Cambodia remaining a country with deep digital access chasms is clear.

Whilst digital technologies have spread rapidly in much of the world, “digital dividends”— that is, the broader development benefits obtained from using these technologies — have lagged behind[7]. In many instances, digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Yet their aggregate impact has fallen short and is unevenly distributed. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere requires closing the remaining digital divide, especially in Internet access. But greater digital adoption will not be enough. To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on the “analogue complements”. One of the three most important of these complements concerns adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy.

The non-profit sector was, arguably, first in the field of digital literacy education. The ECDL Foundation is a well-established[8] international, non-profit organisation dedicated to raising digital competence standards in the workforce, education and society. The Foundation’s Certification programmes, delivered through an active network in more than 100 countries, enable individuals and organisations to assess, build and certify their competence in the use of computers and digital tools to the globally recognised European Computer Driving Licence standard, known as the International Computer Driving Licence outside Europe. The ICDL is the world’s leading computer skills certification. To date more than 15 million people have engaged with the programme, about 2.5 million ICDL tests are taken annually in over 100 countries, in more than 40 languages worldwide, through a network of over 24,000 ECDL Accredited Test Centres (ATCs). The Foundation’s certification programmes are designed, validated, and approved by academics and industry experts from around the world. There is a continual development programme in place to ensure that the range of certification programmes remain in line with market needs and technological advancements. An Online Essentials Base Module[9] sets out essential concepts and skills relating to web browsing, effective information search, online communication and e-mail.

ECDL Foundation has also endorsed 14 targeted programmes[10], which are designed and created by other organisations for specific groups. These programmes often address specific digital literacy requirements or demands in a particular country, while still adhering to the high standard of quality in content and operation set by the Foundation. The Foundation also encourages and supports their national partners to provide digital literacy education to meet humanitarian and social needs. Here are two examples:

  • In autumn 2016, the Austrian Computer Society (OCG) realised that the refugee crisis demanded quick and un-bureaucratic action to help refugees and asylum seekers. Therefore, it launched the project, ‘OCG Cares’, aiming at providing those who had to leave their homes with ICT and language skills. After a strategic meeting of all stakeholders in December 2015, 22 refugees started their crossover courses in IT & German, with the aim to prepare for the ECDL Base certification tests by summer.
  • The Dzikwa Trust Fund, or simply Dzikwa for short, was established as a legal entity and began operations in Zimbabwe in September 2002. The underlying purpose of the society is to empower Zimbabwean orphans and give them a chance to lead a fulfilling life. It seeks to give the children long-term help, in their own community, in order to guarantee their basic education and general welfare. The ICDL project started in April 2015 and in August 2015, the first ICDL lessons and exams were taken.

The Mozilla Foundation, a Californian not-for-profit enterprise, is also committed to developing the ability of all to make use of the Internet. To that end they have developed and published, in English, a range of free learning activities[11] created by teachers, educators and technologists for individuals and groups of adults and teenagers. These include short, activity based, off line teaching and learning resources covering topics such as Internet Health, Web Literacy Basics, Privacy Basics: Protect Your Data at beginner level.

The importance of digital literacy is, of course, increasingly recognised by national governments. As Nagy K Hanna has written[12]: “Digital technologies have been transforming the global economy. Yet many countries have yet to experience the full developmental benefits of digital technologies, such as inclusive and sustainable growth, improved governance, and responsive service delivery. Given the magnitude of change in competitive advantage that digital technologies can confer on adopters, the risks of slow or poor adoption of these innovations can be dire for industries, governments, individuals, and nations.” Drawing on his significant humanitarian development experience, Hanna argues that one of the most important “analogue support mechanisms” that must be put in place to secure the benefits of digital transformation is “substantial investment in organisational capabilities, process innovation, and institutional learning. Best practice suggests that every dollar invested in ICT should be matched with a $4 or $5 investment in process improvement, training, change management, etc.”

In research undertaken for the Indian government, KPMG found that the number of Indian net surfers would rise by at least 50 million annually from 2014 to 2019. This equates to almost the entire population of South Africa gaining Internet access in each of these six years. On this basis KPMG confidently predict that India will have at least 560 million Internet users by the end of 2019. Without suitable training there is little likelihood that new users will be able to gain most benefit from access to the digital age so the government is funding specialist educational programmes through gram panchayats[13] (local elder councils).

The private sector is also active in education for digital literacy. Google’s “Digital Skills Programme for Africa” offers 89 courses through an online portal, and Google works with 14 training partners covering more than 20 African countries to offer face-to-face training. In March 2017, Google disclosed that it had trained one million Africans in digital skills in just eleven months. Recognising that digital literacy can drive economic development; Google has set itself new targets in 2017 including the provision of offline versions of its online training materials, increasingly in Hausa, Swahili and IsiZulu, to better reach individuals and businesses in low access areas where it is unable to hold physical training sessions.

The private sector is, of course, keenly aware that the growth in Internet access creates multiple potential markets. Microsoft’s digital literacy programme[14] aims to help the learner develop a fundamental understanding of computers. The courses equip the new user with the essential skills needed to begin computing with confidence, be more productive at home and at work, stay safe online, use technology to complement their lifestyle, and consider careers where they can put their skills to work. The five courses within the programme use examples and simulations from Windows 8 and Microsoft Office 2013.

Microsoft provides an Instructor’s Manual including ideas for adapting the digital literacy programme to different learning environments and for different learner needs. It includes sample syllabi, practice problems and exercises, and information to guide classroom discussions. It also covers classroom setup details including hardware, software, and Internet connection requirements and recommendations. The programme is certificated[15] on “an honour basis”, but without verification.

References

[1] Using figures from the United Nations – Population Division and local official sources.

[2] China Internet Network Information Center

[3] International Telecommunication Union

[4] CIA’s “World Factbook”

[5] According to the ITU (June 2017)

[6] Facebook

[7] According to the World Bank’s “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends” published in May 2016. See: http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2016

[8] In 1995, the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (CEPIS) created a task force, supported by the European Commission through the ESPRIT research programme, to examine how to raise the levels of digital literacy throughout Europe. The new certification programme was launched as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) in Sweden in August 1996.

[9] See: http://ecdl.org/about-ecdl/online-essentials

[10] See: http://ecdl.org/about-ecdl/endorsed-programmes

[11] See: https://learning.mozilla.org/en-US/activities

[12] See: http://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/how-can-developing-countries-make-most-digital-revolution and “Mastering Digital Transformation” (Emerald, 2016)

[13] Gram panchayats are the cornerstone of local self-government organisation in India.

[14] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/DigitalLiteracy This is available currently in 13 languages including Arabic, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Vietnamese.

[15] There is a 30-question multiple-choice assessment for each course that provides students with a personalised Learning Plan. Certification is intended for the learner alone and not as a verified attestation of competence for employment selection purposes.

Leadership: What We Know – Part 2

The world of job analysis was overturned in the 1970s when McClelland began using a competency focus to understand the requirements of a particular role or job. It wasn’t McClelland’s intention to generalise but the publication of a 1982 book by his colleague, Richard Boyatzis, led to an explosion of interest in managerial competency frameworks. In the UK, particularly, this facilitated the growth of the Management Charter Initiative and competency-based learning and development. Over decades these approaches have progressively influenced practice in, particularly, Australia, New Zealand and the development of craft, technical, apprenticeship and managerial development internationally.

In the management domain, a strong argument can be made that most competency frameworks have identified four clusters of capability. The first of these is concerned with intrapersonal skills and includes growing awareness of and the application of emotional intelligence, as we now know it. The second focus is on the interpersonal skills of relationship building and the third is concerned with business skills. Finally, it has become widely accepted that there is a fourth leadership skillset that concerns vision, strategy (both allied to and using the business skills mentioned earlier) and building and motivating an engaged, high-performing team of people. It is helpful to consider that this four-stage model is developmental. The development of intrapersonal skills typically takes place during the pre-teen years and may be followed by the application of these capabilities interpersonally in the late teens and beyond. Business understanding and competency may be more amenable to formal teaching and coaching, action learning and other experiential methods of development can be used, powerfully, to enable the association of the first, second and third focus areas. Finally, leadership skills may or may not be added to the individual’s toolkit. It has generally become accepted that this developmental model also represents a trainability continuum. The first cluster of intrapersonal capabilities is not highly trainable – their very nature often warrants highly individualised approaches to learning. The second cluster is also less easily trained and may require considerable investment in experiential learning, feedback and coaching. The third cluster certainly includes a body of knowledge that can be relatively easily defined and may include core professional understanding plus organisational and wider business expertise that can be sector-specific or related to the maturity, complexity, type and/or scale of the business. Here we see the curriculum of the typical MBA. Applied leadership skills frequently develop later and the design of appropriately engaging developmental experiences provides the opportunity for great innovation and creativity.

Organisations may apply important nuances to the four clusters. One recent global client wanted to highlight the importance of leaders demonstrating, in their early careers, that they are ‘personally well-functioning’ and able to ‘operate effectively and to adapt to challenge, ambiguity and change’. The second cluster may be expressed in terms of the individual’s ability to make things happen through others by applying their interpersonal capabilities: outcomes rather than latent behavioural skills may be most evident in the descriptions of these competences.

Business skills need to be expressed in terms that are easily understood in the leader’s sector and, whilst there is some ongoing public and private sector business practice convergence, these two organisational spheres are clearly not the same in every respect. Similarities and differences need to be captured in descriptions of competences that resonate with the users of any framework of competences.

The extent to which the fourth cluster will have a strong future orientation will depend upon a number of factors including the maturity of the sector and the various changing and challenging opportunities and constraints the organisation faces.

Whilst the nuances are important, there is little evidence to suggest that the fourfold taxonomy of competences is less than comprehensive or has been superseded. When,  in 2001, Jim Collins published his groundbreaking book, “Good To Great”, a rare example of a business book based on actual research, Collins –  and his team – were able to conclude that leaders that took charge and improved organisational performance scored well on the four competences outlined above and had two other qualities. First, they were modest and humble, as opposed to self-dramatizing and self-promoting and, second, they were phenomenally persistent.

A question arises concerning the way in which leaders influence organisational performance. (They certainly do so: Joyce, Nohria and Roberson (2003) showed that CEOs account for about 14% of the variance in firm performance.) Leaders appear, through their personality, to influence the culture and the dynamics of their senior teams.

It was long thought that managerial incompetence was largely about managers not having the “right stuff”. Recent research shows that it is more to do with managers having the “wrong stuff”: some kind of “personality defect”. Leslie and Van Velsor (1996) summarised the results of reputable research and found that failed managers typically had poor interpersonal skills (they were insensitive, arrogant, cold, aloof and overly ambitious); they were unable to get work done (because they betrayed trust or didn’t follow through, for example); they were unable to build a team and they were unable to make a transition following a promotion. The associations with the four clusters are very clear.

References

Boyatzis, Richard E., “The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance” Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-471-09031-1

Collins, Jim C, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t”, William Collins, October 2001, ISBN: 978-0-06-662099-2

Nohria, Nitin, William F. Joyce, and Bruce Roberson. “What Really Works.” Harvard Business Review 81, no. 7 (July 2003).

Leslie, J.B. and Van Velsor, E. (1996). A look at derailment today: North America and Europe. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Leadership: What We Know – Part 1


The British General Election campaign in May 2017 was dominated by discussion about the character of the leadership ‘offer’ being made by party leaders May and Corbyn. May’s commitment was to provide “strong and stable leadership”, whilst Corbyn was widely associated with a more collegiate style of leadership. This projection of a promised brand of leadership is not uncommon in election campaigns but it tends to beg the question: “what exactly do we know about leadership?

The reality is that, despite the importance of the subject, we securely know relatively little about it and many opposing positions can be honestly taken on leadership effectiveness. This is problematic for at least two reasons. First, because leadership is the key to organisational effectiveness, with good leadership, organisations effectively and efficiently deliver what is needed and those within them enjoy well being and a sense of aligned engagement. Second, and more importantly from a moral and ethical perspective, bad leaders create havoc and misery that sometimes blights generations and entire countries for years.

The complexity of the relationship between leaders and their followers is certainly one reason for our general lack of secure knowledge. It is also true that mountains of paper have been piled up and many writers have drained deep wells of ink with scant regard for evidence and, sometimes, an overwhelming  desire to sell yet another “airport book”. Even where evidence-based studies have been completed with rigour, over a period that warrants our attention, it has often been perfectly possible to draw divergent conclusions about what was really happening in the research!

Leadership does not, of course, occur in a vacuum. There are those who would argue that leadership in society generally is of less consequence than other forces of greater magnitude and influence than human control. Opposing this view would be those who would argue that, at important junctures in history, human leadership emerges and does indeed result in critical change.

Taking this second view as a starting point we can begin to understand the likely importance of two aspects of human personality. The first concerns how the individual sees themselves (their ‘identity’) and the second how others see the individual. Various tools commonly used in leadership development have these twin perceptions at their heart. 360° feedback, done well, effectively brings together these perceptions; a well managed Development Centre achieves more with greater reliability and the Johari window is a tool that brings together these twin perceptions.

A person’s ‘identity’ is hard to identify and work with. Recent reports suggest that the analysis of social media data combined with other aspects of the ‘electronic fingerprint’ being left by many people can provide clues to how a person sees themselves. The potential misuse of accumulated data of this type is clearly evident.

Reputation, on the other hand, can be examined in a range of ways. Generally, assessments will distinguish between impressions created when an individual is at their best and an alternative and related impression created when that same individual is at their worst. Leaders with well-developed social skills will frequently be adept at masking the dark side impressions. However, the ability to keep the mask on over a sustained period is rare and our ‘dark side’ tendencies typically emerge over time. Trust is often eroded in line with the mask slipping and people becoming more aware of the darker side of an individual. The gateway to many opportunities in life is reputation, as many leaders explicitly or implicitly recognise.

Simple frequency analysis has gradually allowed us to understand which leadership characteristics (we might dub them ‘leadership virtues’) are most important to the led. In order of importance they are: integrity, decisiveness, competence and vision. Because integrity is the most important virtue it follows that the single most important question we can ask of potential leaders is this: “Can we trust you not to abuse the privilege of authority?”

A significant meta-analysis shows that from trust in leadership there springs improved job performance; job satisfaction and organisational commitment (Dirks and Ferrin, 2002).

As a counterweight to the focus on the individual leader and their personality, we also need to be aware of the context within which leadership is exercised. Those people that rise to the top of a university are likely to be characterised by a different cluster of talents, capabilities and personality traits than those that are in charge of a major league football club, for example. They may or may not have a talent for leadership. However, whilst leadership is circumstantial, Alberto Silva (2014) has asserted that “… groups choose as leaders only those people who they believe to have leadership skills, and people that do not possess leadership qualities will not be considered as leaders by any group in any circumstance.” It seems to be true that the characteristics associated with effective leadership are actually surprisingly similar across industries and cultures.

Hogan and Kaiser noted, in 2005, that leadership has tended to be defined in terms of influence exerted or in relation to the ratings given by more senior leaders. Hogan and Kaiser take the view that the litmus test of leadership should be this: does this person demonstrate that they build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition?

So, two key leadership questions emerging are these:

Can we trust this person not to abuse the privilege of authority?

Has this this person demonstrated that they will build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition? Alternatively*: Do we have enough evidence to show that they will build and maintain a group that will perform well relative to its competition?

*The second alternative question above may appear difficult to use. If this is the case, and the person being considered has no evident track record in this area, a good replacement question is this: “Does this person have basic knowledge about how to take a group of people and turn them into a high performing team?” Surprisingly, perhaps, this turns out to be a very effective differentiator!

Does talent management and leadership development where you are pay attention to these key questions?

 

References

Dirks KT, Ferrin DL., ” Trust in leadership: meta-analytic findings and implications for research and practice”. Journal of Appl Psychol. August 2002, 87(4): 611-28.

Hogan, Robert; Kaiser, Robert B. “What We Know About Leadership”, Review of General Psychology, Vol 9(2), Jun 2005, 169-180.

Silva A, “What Do We Really Know About Leadership?”. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly 2014, Volume 5, Number 4.

Information sharing, pathos and apologies

It is widely believed that leaders should share information with those they lead. The arguments to support this as ‘best practice’ draw widely on studies of staff engagement. These repeatedly show that, by explaining the connection between employees’ individual jobs and the organisation, leaders and managers can greatly increase employee satisfaction with their day-to-day work. The commitment to communication also rests on the belief that, whilst trust evolves, ebbs and flows it is essential to staff engagement and motivation. For leaders and managers, the evidence shows that employees who trust them are most likely to follow through on goals set. Trustworthy leaders and managers are also more likely to get a flow of honest feedback on the challenges their staff face: which is invaluable.

At the strategic level, as Alkhafaji stated (1997), “no matter how brilliant the strategy may be, unless the business team understands and accepts it, performance will suffer.”

The “terms” of understanding and acceptance depend on leaders being able to communicate relevant information credibly. Leaders typically base their own judgements on both hard data and softer information. Many will take the view that the data is easier to communicate than the softer information. Of course, what is easier for one leader to accomplish may be more challenging for another and track records certainly play a part in creating the foundations for each call to action. Agreeing, perhaps instinctively, with Aristotle, many leaders I have worked with know that credibility depends upon a rather subtle demonstration of competence, good intention and empathy.

Modern business communication has tended to elevate the attention paid to what Aristotle terms “logos”. This is often, and to a great extent rightly, associated with logic, the hard data and the apparent proofs of our case. Business leaders, perhaps because they are business leaders, will often avoid paying attention to “pathos” in their communication. However, as we will see, this failure to consider the emotional impact of communication can have catastrophic impact on how it is received and responded to. More generally,  and perhaps through a fear of being seen to be overly emotional, much business communication appears leaden, stilted and impassive: not the tinder that lights fires of commitment as Henry V did on the Feast of St Crispian. (As Richard Olivier explains so eloquently in his book “Inspirational Leadership”, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 905879 00 7).

The dangers of a failure to attend to engage emotionally with people are well illustrated by the response of the CEO of United Airlines to an airline-overbooking situation on April 9, 2017. This resulted in a fare-paying passenger being dragged bodily off an internal US flight. When the gruesome video footage went viral and the CEO, who had previously been named U.S. Communicator of the Year, failed to apologise he was widely criticised. In avoiding emotional response and failing to give a profound and heartfelt apology for the terrible manner in which the passenger had been treated on a United plane the CEO stoked fear. He did not appear to understand or to respond to the fact that relationships between United, its public, investors and actual and potential passengers were breaking down. His initial communication did not include an effective apology that would right these collapsing relationships. He did appreciate that passengers felt unsafe at the hands of United. Later attempts to correct the impression given were seen as too little and too late.

An example of a generally well-judged communication style that combined logic and emotional intelligence comes from Steve Jobs. Jobs appeared to completely understand the need to marry logos and pathos when sharing information with Apple’s market. His style was typically as calm, enthusiastic, and confident when launching high stake products as others might be in their living room. The author and Associate Professor of Management Garr Reynolds put it this way: “His style is conversational and his visuals are in perfect sync with his words. […] He is friendly, comfortable and confident (which makes others feel relaxed), and he exudes a level of passion and enthusiasm that is engaging without going over the top.” Sometimes this was no mean feat when the subject matter might have been a little dry!

In making the judgement call about the use of the hard data and the soft information, Blanes I Vidal and Moller (2007), call attention to the importance of the leader’s belief about the accuracy of the soft information available. When a leader strongly believes (and is self-confident about) her/his judgement about the available soft information she/he is more likely to share it and this, Vidal and Moller show, can increase the organisation’s surplus.

Conversely, Blanes I Vidal and Moller’s work suggests that information sharing can help to reduce the autocratic predisposition of self-confident leaders. Information sharing can help organisations to avoid overconfidence-driven courses of action. This happens because, when workers have access to information, for example about a possible merger, they are able to form opinions about its potential viability. Because this opinion affects their motivation, the leader can find themselves effectively constrained from pursuing courses of action that are unduly based on her/his ‘gut feeling’ or instincts.

This is not what is generally thought of when “the flow of honest feedback to the CEO” is being discussed but it can certainly be powerful.

References

Alkhafaji, A.F., 1997, Strategic Management: Formulation, Implementation and Control in a Dynamic Environment, New York: Haworth Press.

Blanes I Vidal, J., and M. Moller. 2007. “When Should Leaders Share Information with their Subordinates?” Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, 16, pp. 251-283.

“Post-truth”: Word Of The Year

The FT reports that Oxford Dictionaries has made “post-truth” its word of the year for 2016, citing a surge in the frequency of its use in the context of Britain’s EU referendum and the USA’s presidential election.

Dictionary compilers say that the word was probably first used in 1992 – though then it was used to mark the time when the truth was known – “post-truth” was the “after the truth was known” situation. In 2016 the word is coming to denote “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Truth is a comprehensive term that, in most of its nuances, implies accuracy and honesty. Truth is also the currency of our analytical mind. A tension has however been created both through our frequent use of “truth” to refer to the idea of being authentic (or “true to oneself”) and the now widely accepted qualifications that truth may be subjective or objective, relative or absolute. Thus, “truth” involves both the quality of faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, sincerity, and veracity and that of “agreement with fact or reality”. We are increasingly confronted by the living reality that an individual may be sincere – and yet wrong – at the same time.

Trust is, however, an emotive “currency” of the heart. In organisational life it may be part of the foundations for the individual’s faith or belief in a mission or the value of the common good. Trust has both a prior evidential aspect (in that it is developed over times past) and yet it is also closely associated with expectations about the future (particularly the behaviour of another person). It may deliver an accompanying feeling of confidence and security depending on the degree of trust and the extent of the associated risk.

Without truth and trust built into the gears of the organisation it may grind to a halt. There is much discussion about the individual leader’s and manager’s trustworthiness. This is sometimes fuelled by the results of employee engagement surveys and, of course, a trustworthy leader/manager is of great value. Yet it is also true that employees want to be able to trust the whole managerial system. They want to believe in the organisation as a result of the quality of its leadership, its consistent application of sound managerial practices and the equity of its people systems. This type of systemic trust arises when all managers use the same management framework and are held accountable to and act consistently within the values, systems and practices of the organisation. It does not therefore rely exclusively on personalities or on individuals, who may be here today and gone tomorrow.

Organisational action planning to address poor trust scores identified through an employee survey sometimes focus too narrowly on the behaviours of leaders and managers and may overlook organisational design and work processes. This is shortsighted because each of these impact on the working environment for all employees.

Effective organisational design engenders trust by creating the conditions where there can be work clarity and relationship clarity. This good design passes the test of being easily and consistently explained and understood. It fundamentally enables managers and staff to be clear about how work is organised and delivered.

Systems of work are the organisation’s policies, procedures, forms and information and communication technologies. They operate all day, every day. They never take holidays – unlike managers. Some work processes may rankle initially and require improvement but when they are sound, known and repeated employees will eventually get used to them and follow them. There is rare skill in designing and implementing light systems that reinforce legislation, policies and what is valued in the organisation and embed required behaviours in processes. Almost anyone can create a heavy system that wastes time, creates confusion and burns money!

The recurring challenge in volatile, uncertain and complex environments is to hold to truth, build trust, grow leadership and use effective organisational design and work systems to engender engagement.

Distributed Leadership

Leadership teams in any organisation today typically face a volatile and uncertain operating environment and, consequently, need to be both high performing and adaptable. In this new √itas Consult series we will be exploring those characteristics of top teams that lead to high performance and adaptability.

In 2011 Roselinde Torres and Nneka Rimmer wrote[1]: “Top teams … must be more than just high performing. They also need to adapt and thrive, regardless of the turbulence they face.”

Roselinde Torres and her team at the Boston Consulting Group had undertaken research examining a possible association between a company’s performance versus its peers and the adaptive capacity of its senior-leadership team. They found a correlation between the two factors. They also found that employees enjoy a more emotionally rich and engaging experience when they are part of adaptive teams. Torres and Rimmer found that adaptive top leadership teams adhere to four operating principles (and these will form the focus of this short series of articles).

  1. Distributed Leadership. Torres and her team found that successful adaptive team leaders believe in the value of sharing leadership at the top and developing leaders at every level.

There may, of course, be a considerable gap between believing in the value of shared leadership and actually practicing it! In coaching I have noticed the importance of listening for indications that team members have similar understandings of their team’s main objectives and that they actually take steps to ensure a focus on collective goals. This can be demonstrated through their approach to managing the performance of their own team members.

It is frequently clear when team members are actively providing emotional and psychological strength to one another. This may occur through acts of encouragement or expressed recognition of other team members’ contributions and accomplishments. If this social support isn’t evident then a significant support for shared leadership is absent.

A third powerful support for shared leadership is in place when a team’s members have input into how the team carries out its purpose.

Carson et al. noted[2] that “When team members are able to speak up and get involved (they have voice), the likelihood that many of them will exercise leadership increases greatly. The opportunity for voice also facilitates shared leadership by strengthening both a common sense of direction and the potential for positive interpersonal support in a team. When teams are focused on collective goals (having a shared purpose), there is a greater sense of meaning and increased motivation for team members to both speak up and invest themselves in providing leadership to the team and to respond to the leadership of others. The motivation to participate and provide input toward achieving common goals and a common purpose can also be reinforced by an encouraging and supportive climate. When team members feel recognized and supported within their team (social support exists) they are more willing to share responsibility, cooperate, and commit to the team’s collective goals. Thus, these three dimensions work together to create an internal team environment that is characterised by a shared understanding about purpose and goals, a sense of recognition and importance, and high levels of involvement, challenge, and cooperation.”

104px-king_henry_v_from_npgRichard Olivier, writing about Shakespeare’s great leader, Henry V, notes that a 15th century king might be expected to move his Lords towards the achievement of a vision by laying that vision out, then announcing that he will sort out the strategy and only then telling his Lords what to do. Such a leader, thinking that their only way of maintaining their identification with a great project is not to share ownership, invariably cuts themselves off from the very support they need. For Henry V the temptation not to share leadership must have been strong: in Elizabethan times the monarch was considered to be touched by the divine. However, Henry V shares leadership generously and Olivier is able to write: “Henry V is wise enough to know that if he wants others to invest themselves in the project he has to share it with them. There is no more effective way of doing this than to get them involved in planning the next steps.”[3]

Sharing leadership at the top and developing leaders frequently go hand in hand. Not only so, but the most challenging decisions, programmes and changes often create exactly the opportunities needed to foster distributed leadership. When the U.S. pharmaceutical company, SmithKline Beckman, and the U.K. consumer products company, the Beecham Group, were engaged in merger planning, the leader of the Merger Management Committee, Robert Bauman, recognised this. “The best way to achieve management alignment was to have the Executive Management Committee work on a task together. The harder and more important the task, and the more integral its members felt the EMC was in accomplishing that task, the better the chances of them coming together.”[4]

As Jon R Katzenbach puts it: “team performance at the top is all about doing real work together”. “Real work”, as Katzenbach defines it, is not the same as open discussion, debate and the delegation of authority. Real work undertaken together is about the members of a leadership group applying different skills to produce a performance improvement that could not be achieved by any one member alone.

At the very highest level of team engagement I would expect to find participants using language that suggests an interdependent community. This is what Todd Hybels discovers as a young leader and later discusses with his father, Bill:

“Community is more than just working with other people. It’s doing life deeply with one another as we serve together. And there’s a huge difference between the two.”[5]

That’s highly distributed leadership.


[1] “The Five Traits of Highly Adaptive Leadership Teams”, Boston Consulting Group: https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/leadership_organization_design_five_traits_of_highly_adaptive_leadership_teams/ Sourced 2 November 2016. In this article the authors discuss “The Value of Adaptive Advantage” research undertaken by the BCG Strategy Institute. The research showed that the more adaptive companies are, the more financial gains that company generates. They also consistently outperform their industry peers and sustain superior performance over time.

[2] Carson, J. B, Tesluk, P. E., & Marrone, J. A. (2007). Shared leadership in team: An investigation of antecedent conditions and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 5, 1217-1234.

[3] Olivier, R., (2002) “Inspirational Leadership: Henry V and the Muse of Fire – Timeless Insights from Shakespeare’s Greatest Leader, p.47

[4] Bauman, R. P. et al., (1997) “From Promise to Performance: Journey of Transformation at SmithKline Beecham”, p. 35

[5] Hybels, B., (2002) “Courageous Leadership”, p.74

Development Planning & Snakes

In this article we explore some factors that may help to explain why some people create and then actively work on development plans and others don’t! In the course of the discussion we will be looking at the role of snakes in shaping our understanding of the topic!

Generally, the aims of personal development planning are, first, to document a process of self-analysis, personal reflection and honest appraisal of strengths and weaknesses and then to help the individual to “take charge” of their own learning and development. The process of taking charge is usually encouraged through documenting a plan that typically lays out goals, timelines, interim achievements and the methods of goal achievement. 

Commonly a plan will outline areas of learning and development activity that are reasonably considered likely to enable the individual to either acquire new or develop existing skills and behavioural attributes. The end goal may, helpfully, be rather precisely identified and the whole process is often aiming at enhancing performance, addressing anticipated changes in a current role or laying out a developmental pathway towards a future role.

What is considered relevant content in the planning process – and the content of the plan itself – will clearly be influenced by the purpose to which the plan will be put. Development planning of this type is now, of course, widely used in educational, relationship, leadership and career contexts.

When the purpose of the plan is personal, an individual may want to retain to himself or herself the function of assessor of improvement or of regression. Where some validation of objective improvement is needed that will require assessment using standard criteria. These might include goals or benchmarks that define the end-points, strategies or plans for reaching goals, measurement, and assessment of progress, levels or stages that define milestones along a development path, and a feedback system to provide information on changes.

Much practice in this area has been influenced by psychologist Albert Bandura’s work – and here come the snakes! Bandura, investigating the fear and behaviours of people afraid of snakes, found that those who believed that the snake would not hurt them and/or that they would be able to manage the situation with the snake and to control their own rising fear would, in fact, succeed. This self-efficacy belief enabled the phobic individual to manage both their fear and their own behaviour.

According to Bandura, self-efficacy, or the individual’s belief in his or her own abilities to deal with various situations, can play a role not only in how people feel about themselves – but also whether or not an individual successfully achieves their goals in life. Indeed, since Bandura published his seminal 1977 paper, “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change[i],” the subject has become one of the most studied topics in psychology.

But why has self-efficacy become such an important topic? As Bandura and other researchers have demonstrated, self-efficacy can have an impact on everything from psychological states to behaviour to motivation.

Bandura’s research on success in reaching goals suggested that self-efficacy best explains why people with the same level of knowledge and skills get very different results. According to Bandura this self-confidence functions as a powerful predictor of success because it enables those who have it to expect to succeed; it allows these people to take risks and set themselves challenging goals; it motivates them to keep trying if at first they don’t succeed, and, it helps them control emotions and fears when the going gets tough.

Coaches will be familiar with such people and also with those who lack this self-confidence. It is in the context of working with this second group that it can be helpful considering the four major sources of self-efficacy, according to Bandura. Each source provides an inventive coach with an indication of ways in which self-efficacy might be strengthened:

  1. Mastery Experiences

“The most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences,” Bandura explained. Performing a task successfully strengthens our sense of self-efficacy. However, failing to adequately deal with a task or challenge can undermine and weaken self-efficacy. Bandura’s perspective underlines the importance of providing clients with opportunities to practice in a “safe” and reasonably supportive environment and not necessarily “biting off” too much at the beginning of the development process.

  1. Social Modeling

Witnessing other people successfully completing a task is another important source of self-efficacy. According to Bandura, “Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers’ beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed.” The key features of this observation relate, of course, to the phrases “similar to oneself” and “sustained effort”.

  1. Social Persuasion

Bandura also asserted that people could be persuaded to believe that they have the skills and capabilities to succeed. Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and instead focus on giving their best effort to the task at hand. Whilst this is by no means universally true, it is my experience as a coach that many leaders rarely receive encouragement and that this, where appropriate, can be a very valuable coaching input.

  1. Psychological Responses

Our own responses and emotional reactions to situations also play an important role in self-efficacy. Moods, emotional states, physical reactions, and stress levels can all impact how a person feels about their personal abilities in a particular situation. A person who becomes extremely nervous before speaking in public may develop a weak sense of self-efficacy in these situations. The coach can serve to assist a client really understand particular situations through sensitive questioning and by helping their client to put a single experience into an appropriate context. Doing so can help the individual pay attention to the totality of their experience and prepare for subsequent opportunities in a more rounded and holistic way.

As Bandura notes “it is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted.” A coach who helps to bring these perceptions to the surface and to understand what truly was happening on that prior occasion can facilitate invaluable learning for the next time.

[i] Bandura A. Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review. 1977; 84, 191-215.

Coach Selection

Selecting and appointing an executive coach is an important task. It involves the commitment of significant resources (time and money) to meet a given developmental requirement. The relationship between the business leader and the coach will be a vital factor contributing to or degrading the return on the investment made. So, in order to achieve the best “chemistry” and levels of coaching effectiveness the following aspects of potential coaches should be carefully considered:

Appropriate level of coaching experience. Different levels of coaching experience may be required, depending on the complexity of the issues being addressed, as well as the seniority of the individual. For example, the level of experience and skill-set of a coach needed to provide career coaching for a junior manager would be different from those needed when a business leader is being coached. To ascertain their level of experience, it is often helpful to ask prospective coaches about how many hours of coaching they have delivered, how many coaching assignments they have delivered, what kinds of issues they have coached individuals concerning, and at what level of seniority they usually work.

Relevant business/industry experience. An interesting, and debatable, criterion when selecting a coach is whether to look for candidates with relevant business experience (for example of a particular job, organisation or an industry sector). Opinions differ as to whether this is a necessary requirement. Most people would agree that coaches do need strong understanding of organisational dynamics and business. However, direct experience of a particular industry or organisation is unlikely to be a necessary requirement for a person to be an effective coach. (It might be if a mentor is being sought). It is important to remember that, while the coach should have a sound knowledge of business, their real contribution is their ability to help individuals learn and develop. Relevant experience can be useful in establishing credibility with the individual(s) being coached. The competence and credibility of the coach is a major part in the process of winning over the individual and creating a good working relationship.

Others argue that hiring a coach on the basis of specific experience can be counterproductive. This argument states that one of the main benefits of using external coaches is their neutrality and objectivity. They can uncover limiting beliefs, values and assumptions that may be obstructing the strategic objectives of the individual and of the organisation. Coaches should be hired for their ability to help someone see opportunities for improvements in performance as well as practical ways to help them make changes.

References. Talking to previous clients of the coach is a good way of finding out about their style and skills, as well as how effective they were in producing the desired results. A good coach should always be able to supply references and it’s important to check them early on in the process to accurately establish their credentials, experience and ability to deliver.

Background of the coach. Coaches come from a variety of different professional backgrounds. Examples include HR, occupational psychology, training and development, sports psychology and management development. Naturally, these different backgrounds will mean that the coaches may bring some very different experience and skills to the coaching relationship.

Supervision. Supervision is a formal, independent process of reflection and review to enable the practitioner to increase their self-awareness, develop their competence and critique their work with their client (Lane 2002) [1]. Professor Mike van Oudtshoorn and Professor David Lane from the International Centre for the Study of Coaching (ICSC)/ Professional Development Foundation suggest a number of benefits that supervision can deliver. The CIPD and Bath Consulting, in an extensive study of supervision summarised in Arney (2006) [2], explained the context for supervision. As investment in coaching has grown, so too has the need to find ways of quality assuring the services being provided, to develop and sustain the coaches who are delivering them, and to find ways of drawing out the organisational learning from the many coaching conversations taking place in the organisation.

As Hawkins and Schwenk (2006) [3] explain, supervision is critical to effective coaching:

  • It offers protection to clients – cases are discussed with trained professionals who are able to identify areas of potential concern and offer advice or referral to specialist support if appropriate.
  • It offers coaches the opportunity to reflect on their work and gain insights to improve their interventions.
  • It offers coaches the opportunity to identify their own personal strengths and weaknesses as a coach in order to realistically judge what limitations to set with respect to the type of work they undertake.
  • It offers coaches the opportunity to learn from peers who have had similar cases and experiences to further develop their skills as a coach.
  • It offers coaches the opportunity to keep up to date with professional developments in the field and to continually work to increase their competency as a coach.

Breadth of tools, techniques, models. Coaches should have an extensive ‘kit bag’ of tools and techniques that they use in different situations and with different clients. Coaches should be able to clearly describe their favoured approaches, but it is worth being cautious about coaches who push particular models and are unable or unwilling to flex their approach to suit a particular individual/organisation. Good coaches will use models, techniques and frameworks from a wide range of theoretical backgrounds, including organisational theory, occupational psychology, psychometrics, learning and counselling.

Coaches should be able to encourage reflective learning and change, and they should be able to describe how they do this during the selection process.

Understanding of boundaries and approach to referral. Good coaches understand the boundaries of their expertise. This means that a coach should not knowingly accept an individual into a coaching programme if they need specialist support beyond the competence of the coach or the resources available. If this situation does arise, the coach should encourage the individual to seek appropriate support from a qualified professional. It is essential that coaches understand their own limitations and can see when their methods/techniques are not able to address an individual’s needs. Buckley has advised and consulted extensively on this sensitive topic. For a summary of his approach, see Buckley (2006) [4].

Relevant training. Coaches should be able to demonstrate that they are competent in the provision of coaching services.

The training of coaches should be fit for purpose. There is definitely a place for short introductory courses, but, as with any discipline, expertise will vary depending on the length of the course, level of qualification, depth of study, practical experience of delivery and extent of supervision and support received while studying.

There are now a number of different training routes for coaches, and new professionals have a wide range of options to choose from. Specific coaching qualifications, ranging from master’s level to short courses, are being offered by institutions right across the world. Understandably, a qualification that is specific to ‘coaching’ would seem like the most relevant qualification for a coach to have. However, remember that these qualifications have only been available relatively recently and therefore the majority of professionals delivering coaching services may not possess one of these newer qualifications. In such cases it’s important to consider other formal qualifications and experience.

It is also worth noting that if a coach is being employed for the specific transfer of skills (for example skills-based coaching on presentation skills), they should be able to demonstrate that they have those skills and have the ability to impart them.

Other qualities/personal characteristics. The best coaches are those who give honest, realistic, challenging feedback, are good listeners and suggest good ideas for action. Beyond looking for specific qualifications, experience and knowledge, it is important to look for coaches who have certain qualities, skills or personal characteristics that are critical to successful coaching. Different qualities may be needed depending on the specific individual, the problems being tackled and the organisational context. However, it is widely agreed that there are some general skills that characterise effective coaches. These include:

  • self-awareness and self-knowledge
  • clear and effective communication skills (verbal and non-verbal)
  • relationship-building skills (including ability to establish rapport)
  • flexibility of approach
  • listening and questioning skills
  • ability to design an effective coaching process
  • ability to assist goal development and setting, including giving feedback
  • ability to motivate
  • ability to encourage new perspectives
  • ability to assist in making sense of a situation
  • ability to identify significant patterns of thinking and behaving
  • ability to challenge and give feedback
  • ability to establish trust and respect
  • ability to facilitate depth of understanding
  • ability to promote action
  • ability to build resilience

Danger signs. The following characteristics may identify a coach that could prove a problem. It is worth being very cautious about selecting any coach that:

  • can’t explain the model or models they use
  • names individual clients
  • can’t say what they can do, and what they can’t
  • does not know who they would not coach
  • has no experience in organisational settings (for example only has a therapeutic background)
  • has only done outplacement work
  • takes credit for past coaching results – ‘I fixed this guy’
  • sees coaching as a ‘power trip’
  • uses a strictly counselling approach (coaching is not counselling)

[1] LANE, D. (2002) The emergent coaching models. European Mentoring and Coaching Council Conference EMCC9.

[2] ARNEY, E. (2006) Guiding vision. Coaching at Work. Vol 1, No 7, November/December. pp 34–36.

[3] HAWKINS, P. and SCHWENK, G. (2006) Coaching supervision: maximising the potential of coaching [online]. Change agenda. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

[4] BUCKLEY, A. (2006) How to recognise when a client is mentally unwell. Coaching at Work. Vol 1, No 7, November/December. pp 54–55.

[5] BERGLAS, S. (2002) The very real dangers of executive coaching. Harvard Business Review. June. pp 86–92.

Third Sector Managerial Coaching

“Coaching managers” are managers who coach their team members in a work context. The person being coached is sometimes referred to as the coachee. Effective coaching, according to Hunt and Weintraub, ‘is much more powerful and useful than merely providing feedback to someone with a performance problem’ (2002:2).

Yet the role of the coaching manager is, according to Cox et al., Bachkirova and Clutterbuck, ‘the most difficult and controversial coaching role’ (2010) and the most problematic according to Bresser (2011). Managers may be reluctant or sceptical about the coaching manager role if they have not been coached themselves (Ladyshewsky, 2010). On the other hand, if a manager has had a positive experience of being coached, they are more likely to want their team members to experience coaching and to want to develop their own coaching skills (Knights and Poppleton, 2007).

Given that the relationship between coach and coachee is not just of significant importance but is actually the critical success factor in coaching (according to Bluckert 2005), where a manager has an existing strong relationship that enhances the prospect of success if they progressively adopt a coaching style.

In the Third Sector there are numerous tools that can help a manager take more of a managerial coaching approach. Bridgespan, for example, have a free on-line diagnostic survey that helps managers and leaders to identify those leadership development activities already in place and to think about how to step up to the next level.

The results from this survey frequently kick-start the flywheel and can help bolster a a culture of development. To keep things moving forward managers can then:

Meet with each of their direct reports during the year to discuss progress against their goals. Managers may not want to create something new: in which case they might use existing review meetings within which they are used to discussing progress against other goals. This existing framework can easily absorb a “progress against development goals” topic.

Development of people can sometimes be seen as an optional, “nice to do” process. If that’s the case managers may need an accountability framework. A coaching manager will want to ensure that they multiply their time investment by ensuring that their direct reports have development goals in their annual performance agreements. Then, at key points in the year, these will need effective review and an end year evaluation. This business-like approach is a powerful way for a leader to make clear that development is part of a leader’s and a manager’s job.

Of course, the coaching manager should expect to be ready to coach and counsel those struggling with developing their staff. The well timed follow up after managers have had discussions with their team members to see how it went and to provide advice for the future is often key to setting expectations. (You might bring in an outside coach to run a session for the entire leadership team on this topic).

Having established these accountabilities discussing the performance and potential of staff members becomes an easier conversation to have and, if a 9 Box Performance/Potential Matrix is used, the provides a great framework.

This annual review is helpfully put into context if it is possible to start the discussion with a perspective on where the organisation is going and what the likely leadership and other capability requirements will be in three years or so. This meeting may also help the top team to develop a common view of the key positions that will probably become vacant in that timescale.

The Nine Box Performance/Potential Grid or Matrix

The Nine Box Performance/Potential Grid or Matrix

The coaching manager will need to ensure that the top team using the 9 Box Performance/Potential Matrix agree on what constitutes “high potential,” for example. It’s good to calibrate judgements by first discussing a few individuals whom the top team know really well. Once you’ve established a rough set of standards and benchmarks, the senior team can plot their direct reports on the performance-potential matrix. Time spent in focused discussion on the outliers is invariably a good investment. Who stand out clearly as future leaders? Where do you face problems? Who are the excellent individual contributors that you need to retain and develop? Pick a small number of future leaders to focus on for development discussions, and charge each senior leader with the collaborative development of a plan with the individuals and for them.

Leadership teams get better at this each time they do it. Before long, your top team will be talking about more staff and about how to move individuals from the upper left to the upper right of the performance-potential matrix. You’ll soon increase the number of individuals whom your top team should focus on from a few to many.

THenschelTom Henschel grooms senior leaders and executive teams. An internationally recognised expert in the field of workplace communications and self-presentation, he has helped hundreds of executives achieve The Look & Sound of Leadership™. He provides excellent 15 minute case study-based podcasts of huge value to any manager wanting to adopt a coaching approach. √itas Consult recommend these for starters:

  • Coaching your people: A fifteen minute crash course in managerial (or leadership) coaching, tutored by one of the world’s most respected coaches.
  • Leading through delegation: Learn the three steps of effective delegation (in under 15 minutes) and discover how to inject coaching into the mix, for greater success in getting the job done and developing your people.
  • Coaching versus therapy: Both interventions share certain features and yet also differ. An experienced, professional coach explains how and why.
  • Thinking errors: A thinking error is a pattern of thoughts that aren’t true. But we believe them. And since it’s a pattern, it repeats itself. Usually for years. Thinking errors tend to lead to bad outcomes. The coach explains how a thinking error was handicapping a client’s work.
  • Assertion: Rosa’s main coaching goal was to become more assertive. Her boss, her teammates and her direct reports all wanted her to manage more boldly, share her wisdom sooner, and speak up when she saw things going awry. But Rosa was very uncomfortable asserting herself. Find out how her coach helped Rosa speak her truth.

Need advice about managerial coaching? Contact √itas Consult.

 

What Should Leaders Do To Build Talent Quality & Depth?

Why do some companies always seem to have more than their fair share of talent? Why do these same companies seem to build better talent faster?

Recently Marc Effron, President of The Talent Strategy Group and Jim Shanley, President of The Shanley Group wrote up their* answers to these two critical questions.

Their combined experience, research and interview data tells them that companies stumble in this effort because they haven’t answered the fundamental question: What should leaders do to build talent quality and depth? Their answer is to emphasise six critical roles that leaders can play …

  • Drawing from “The war for talent” research (by Michaels, Ed, Helen Handfield-Jones, and Beth Axelrod published by Harvard Business Press in 2001) Effron and Shanley note that high performing companies have a shared talent mindset: “They have a consistent company approach to managing talent and managers are clearly accountable to execute that approach”. At the individual manager level this means that managers make finding and growing great talent the core of their business agenda: they are “talent evangelists”. These “managers make finding and growing great talent the core of their business agenda. They speak up, down and across the organization about talent and the importance of having superior talent.”
  • An “active investor” approach to talent involves the manager reviewing his portfolio frequently and making choices about where to increase and decrease investment – just as he would with every other asset in the company. “They don’t keep production equipment because it’s been around for 20 years and they have warm feelings towards it. They don’t allocate their marketing budget evenly across all campaigns to be “fair.””
  • Effron and Shanley know that the “talent accelerating manager” “builds better talent faster than other leaders inside and outside your company. She understands that talent grows fastest using big, challenging assignments and meaningful experiences. Because of this, her highest potential talent are in roles where their capabilities are tested and stretched on a daily basis.”
  • The “performance driver”, according to Effron and Shanley, “ensure[s] that their direct reports are performing at the “top quintile” of performance for their compensation level as compared to their peers globally. He is not shy about communicating that 80th percentile performance is the expected performance standard.”
  • The “talent scout” is characterised by constantly scanning their “own organisations and others for superior talent. They meet with the company’s highest potential leaders across departments and geographies to get to know them and to calibrate them against their current team.” As a result “talent scouts” have a pipeline of talent available internally and externally and they seldom have “empty seats”.
  • The “transparent coach” is blunt, direct or candid. They know that in the moment, accurate and honest feedback accelerates development by reducing the cycle time for learning. They may use feedforward** or feedback but they ensure that the messages are received.

Effron and Shanley recognise that these capabilities may seem aspirational. Two or three of these roles can, however,  be learned by every leader in any company.

Vitas Consult can provide tailored development through which your leaders and managers can learn, role play and develop the two or three roles they feel most comfortable with. Together with suitable accountability arrangements this can enable your organisation to build better talent faster than your competitors.


* Formerly Global Practice Leader, Leadership Consulting at Hewitt Associates, Marc now consults using his “One Page Talent Management” approach, which emphasises science-based simplicity, transparency and accountability. Jim Shanley was formerly lead executive for talent and learning at the Bank of America.
** Feedforward as a management term has been used by Avraham Kluger since 2006 and by Marshall Goldsmith in one of his prominent management articles.

 

The Rise Of Badges

Blue-Peter-badge-002Many people have gained a formal academic or professional qualification of some sort during their lives. But informal skills acquisition doesn’t usually attract proper recognition. This is why ‘badges’ to accredit this kind of learning are gaining in popularity. Traditionally seen as indicators of quality, badges are generally used to demonstrate a person’s affiliation with a scheme, association or professional body. In education, however, they can be used to reward learners for achieving a certain level of knowledge, acquiring a new skill, demonstrating a level of competency, or displaying a desired standard of behaviour.

As people become more comfortable with learning online, this has created an opportunity to design “digital badges” to accredit completion of informal courses. Demand from learners has partly ignited this trend, as badges provide demonstrable credit in return for effort. Accrediting informal learning drives user engagement and motivation, as recognition and reward is gained through sharing the success with others online. Learners can broadcast achievements to colleagues and friends across social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. It’s this aspect that is driving increased participation. We expect to see badged learning increase in popularity. Badge schemes in mainstream online environments are gathering momentum and have been successfully applied within World Vision’s global, corporate university. Initiatives like Mozilla OpenBadges and Moodle, a virtual learning environment are easily combined to enable learners to display their Badges on their profiles.

Badged learning has a useful role to play in achieving important objectives like fostering a learning culture, encouraging self-directed learning and improving employees’ digital skills – as the Open University have recently recognised. Learning and development specialists are increasingly acknowledging their benefit in the workplace. Badges can form an integral part of individuals’ continuing professional development (CPD) programmes and help to structure learning pathways by allowing prior achievement to be recognised and advanced learning to become an appropriate starting point. Simply put, badges allow staff to earn verification as they acquire new skills and improve their competency levels. And they enable learners to display an icon on their online professional profiles, and list on their CVs the courses they’ve completed and certificates they’ve gained.

 

“Incidental” Learning

JournalAs the Open University Institute of Educational Technology has recently reminded us, we live in an age of rich information. Sometimes the sheer quantity may become overwhelming! However, with unprecedented amounts of knowledge available to us at the touch of a button, we are provided with unlimited opportunities to learn just by going about our everyday lives. This is what’s known as ‘incidental’ learning: learning without needing to be taught, in ways that are instinctive, unplanned, immersive and, at times, unintentional. Incidental learning happens as we go about our daily lives, interacting with others, carrying out activities and using technology. As the OU point out, this learning goes on throughout our lives, in many forms: play, exploration and discovery in childhood; teamwork, collaboration and problem solving in adult life; immersion in another culture when learning a foreign language; and so on. These are all examples of how we learn incidentally, and build a rich bank of knowledge over our lifetimes.

The richness and sheer variety of opportunity creates both challenge and opportunity for any organisation’s learning and development specialists.

Three Knows_Fotor 1Incidental learning happens every day in the workplace, in a myriad of ways: induction processes for new staff; cross-functional teams working together; junior employees shadowing senior colleagues; and more. In such scenarios, workers investigate challenges, solve problems, and identify resources to help them do their jobs. They learn by being immersed in the workplace experience. Though it is potentially all around us, incidental learning tends not to be seen or valued by employers, as it’s not structured, tutor-led or certified.

Businesses will increasingly become aware of how staff learn incidentally and the potential value it holds. They’ll recognise the important role it plays in building management capability, through knowledge-sharing, networking and negotiating activities. And they’ll increasingly seek to capture and share this knowledge, in order to improve organisational productivity, performance and growth. This is an area where learning and development and organisational learning/knowledge management overlap – at least potentially.

There’s now a host of workplace applications designed to drive the sort of experiences that prompt incidental learning. These include internal social media platform Yammer, cloud-based collaboration tool Slack, and crowd sourced innovation and partnering management software IdeaScale.

As so much of the UK economy generates value through “knowledge work” and so many of the UK’s working population are knowledge workers it becomes vital that organisations pool the collective knowledge and expertise of their staff. Very few organisations can now be sustainable unless they pool knowledge through some kind of organisational ‘learning bank’, almost certainly crowd-authored by the workforce itself — but, critically, retained after staff leave.

Planning Your First Three Months In A New Role

Congratulations on the new role!

This posting outlines our criteria for a quality new role transition plan. (We draw from “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins: a recommended read).

In this book Michael Watkins sets out five fundamental propositions:

1. Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them.
2. There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure, and to ensure that they reach the break-even point faster.
3. The over-riding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility, and avoid getting caught in the vicious cycles that damage credibility. As a vicious cycle takes hold, the organisation’s immune system gets activated and the new leader is attacked by clumps of ‘killer cells’, encapsulated, and finally expelled; it’s not nice, and it can get messy.
4. Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly. They are an indispensable development experience for every company’s high-potential leaders.
5. Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organisations.

In planning your transition and your first three months (100 days or so) in role the aim is to avoid the “triple dip effect” where the appointment of a new leader results in a decline in direct report’s performance, engagement and intention to stay. Corporate Leadership Council research dating back a number of years shows that, where a new appointee is transitioned smoothly into their new role this can be avoided and that where this does not happen the negative impacts on staff performance, engagement and intention to stay are both clear and damaging.

A well balanced transition plan should assist you in five main areas:

1. To gain deeper knowledge of the new portfolio – most especially to gain a realistic and informed appreciation about any present gap between the stated strategies of the new teams you will be responsible for and the current operational realities or de facto strategies. This will involve you in getting to grips with both initial perceptions and the underlying reality – which is, as you know, usually more complex and subtle than you might at first imagine!

At the end of your first one hundred days or three months, you will want to be able to answer the following questions with some confidence:

  • What are the long and the short term goals, plans and budgets associated with your new role?
  • How are business goals and strategies and individual manager’s goals aligned?
  • How do current performance levels compare against these plans? (Pay particular attention to who knows and who does not know the answer to this type of question).
  • Why are the time-frames for achievement set in the way they are? Who set them?
  • What are the relationships with internal clients and external partners like? How do we know?

2. To accept and deal with the real capabilities of the organisation and the people. Like all organisations, your new people’s capabilities will, indeed, vary. As a leader you have probably been brought in to change something. Some of your managers may relish change – but this is not universally true.

Within those first three months you will want to be able to answer the following questions with some confidence:

  • What are the key success factors for all the operations in my new role?
  • How much time will I need to understand [fill in the gap here] before I make change plans?
  • What are the stated and un-stated processes, accountabilities and systems?
  • Were there any “landmines” built into prior decisions and why?
  • What is the true depth of difficulty in [any under-performing] group?
  • What individuals hold real power?
  • What are the real lines of authority?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership and/or management team? Are both acknowledged by the members?
  • What is the actual role of [high profile leadership teams]?
  • What is the actual experience and professionalism of my people and people over whom I now have influence?
  • Do formal job responsibilities exist? Why? Why not?
  • What are the management philosophies here?
  • Is there real (or simply imagined!) alignment between these philosophies and the way that leaders/managers are rewarded?
  • How much emphasis is placed on managerial consensus? Why? Why not?
  • What resources are there outside the formal network that are contributing to the goals? How can they be brought into the network?
  • How will I strengthen and secure the leadership of my team to achieve agreed goals?

3. To discover and prioritise multiple expectations. Deeper investigation of many complex organisations tends to leave the impression that they are not adept at prioritising and often appear to wear out their key resources – often including, but not just, people – because the difficult choices have not been made. New-in-post leaders frequently “see” this very clearly. It is a very valuable “newcomer’s insight” but it can negatively impact your morale if you are not prepared for this experience. This is an area where a competent coach, mentor or buddy can make a real difference to your experience.

4. To navigate political waters and establish alliances with the right people. This is often seen as the most difficult challenge. An experienced mentor can help you to make sense of the subtle power plays that really are at work, often just under the surface. A key question for you may be: Do I have enough of the support I need?

5. To set an agenda for action that has buy in and generates a sense of urgency. In this area you need to first make use of your people skills. Your transition plan should enable you to make substantial connections with key people and from there to begin building out your network. Sources within this network will provide the data, information and commentary that you need to begin constructing an agenda for action.

Stakeholders In Your Transition (or “behind every successful transition lies an effective support network”)
The individuals surrounding you can serve as powerful sources of support and development during the transition process (and beyond). HR, with the support of your manager/s and, sometimes, the outgoing leader have an enormous opportunity to get even greater leverage out of these often overlooked existing assets.

From Flexible, Reactive Guidance to Intense, Focused Assistance
Many leaders succeed, in large part, to the extent that their support networks become active participants, rather than passive observers in their transition process. Each group in the leaders’ support networks plays a unique, yet complementary role in ensuring their transitions are as smooth as possible. An implication of this is that HR need to provide stakeholders with the transition support tools and resources that enable them to shift from reactive, passive observers to proactive, focused participants.

Fast Starts Do Not Happen in the Absence of Gentle Exits
High performing new-to-role leaders hit the ground running when their previous managers and their new managers work together to prepare leaders for their new roles and carefully orchestrate a smooth hand-off of responsibilities. This will be critical for you.

Need tailored support to plan your own or another leader’s transition? Contact √itas Consult.

Engagement And Performance

Do you manage or lead a team? Do you know – and use! – the two simple questions that engage people in your team?

No?

If you don’t, then I highly recommend a recent short, podcast from “The Look & Sound of Leadership”. It’s on “Engagement & Performance” and you will find it by clicking on this link: Engagement and Performance

THenschelThis podcast is by Tom Henschel, an executive coach to senior leaders and executive teams. Originally trained as a classical actor, Tom received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from The Juilliard School, Drama Division. He was a professional actor for more than twenty years before becoming a trainer, leadership team dynamics specialist and coach. His practical, pithy and popular “Look & Sound of Leadership”™ series of podcasts – never more than 15 minutes long – are an excellent source of development and come highly recommended.

Tools For Talent Assessment

Moon_FotorResearch indicates that the most reliable approaches to the assessment of people use a variety of methods to learn about competences and potential derailers. When you use a range of complementary methods to assess leadership potential (for example), you are  better placed to come to some working hypotheses about potential, how to target development and concerning placement decisions.

The main types of tool available are:

Simulations: Where people are asked to work together or alone on the resolution of challenges that relate to the known demands of the future role. Simulations can include simple “in box” exercises where people have to assess email/mail and make a succession of decisions about how they will prioritise their time, delegate responsibility and deal with risks. There are more complex and extended simulations which evolve over a period and may attempt to replicate the challenge of a particular role or a team in the organisation.

360 Degree or Multi-Rater Assessments: These provide comparisons of an individual’s self perception with the perceptions of their behaviour that are held by “significant others” – invariably including the individual’s manager(s); their peers; their team members and possibly people they supply services to/partner with or have contractual relationships with. Results are provided on an anonymous basis. These assessments are normally conducted on-line.

360 (or 180) Degree Interviews: These are standardised interviews that may be undertaken by the individual or their coach or mentor and which provide data not dissimilar to the on-line multi-rater assessments but are usually conducted face to face or, sometimes, “virtually” using the telephone/Skype, etc.

Personality Inventories: These provide objective measurements of underlying personality characteristics – usually based on a self report basis. Access to these tools (and often to the more sophisticated and reliable forms of simulation) is usually restricted to those who have been thoroughly trained in their use.

Cognitive Ability Tests: These measure intelligence – a component part of some competencies.

Behavioural Event Interviews: Though strongly associated with job selection these can also be used to investigate how a person’s work experience relates to future role requirements.

Development Centres: Typically residential events where a number of the methods above are used to gather information that is then discussed in considerable detail with the individual in a feedback meeting or meetings.

Performance Assessments: Manager’s assessments of performance are useful particularly where a number of years of assessment data exists and that data has been “moderated” (or calibrated) to ensure that the ratings given by different managers carry the same value.

Need advice about assessment? Contact √itas Consult.

Talent Assessment

The objective of a talent assessment process is to reach a conclusion about each potential member of the talent pool in the following terms. Are they:

  • Ready Now for their next role
  • Will they be Ready Soon for their next role, typically meaning in two/three years
  • Will they be Ready in the Future, typically in around five years time
  • A Key Contributor – someone whom the organisation would find great difficulty replacing if they resigned
  • A person that should be included in the pool for Developmental purposes

(The words in italics are usually employed as the category heading in talent pools).

Notice that this approach sorts on the basis of time to readiness. However, the mere passing of time does not necessarily result in any person becoming better qualified for a given target role! More focused approaches to accelerating talent development have, therefore, begun to consider the critical experiences and learning support services that need to be made available to people in the talent pool.

Critical experiences

Art_FotorThe critical experiences may be particular postings, secondments or job moves that are known to be highly correlated with success in a given, future role. These experiences might be broadly defined (“living and working in a francophone country”) and be quite specific (“has managed a revenue account and grown income by a factor of x over a period of y”). Where this approach is taken the emphasis on “time to readiness” is often progressively overtaken and more attention is paid to “paving the way” to a given, future role (or roles) with suitable experiences.

Learning support services

It is well known that two people can experience what appears to be the same occurrence and one will learn a tremendous amount from the experience whilst another very little. It is also evident that people learn in different ways and may be more or less active, pragmatic, and reflective or articulate about what they have learnt. Given this variety of approaches to learning it not surprising that a range of learning support services are now used to accelerate development. These services include mentoring, coaching, good management practices, journaling, action learning (for groups in a talent pool), assignments and so on.

Assessment for what?

Assessment serves three fundamental purposes in talent and succession management:

  • It helps to confirm potential by indicating what kind of talent has been nominated into the pool.
  • It helps target development by allowing you to understand the relationship between individual capabilities and business objectives. This enables you to select highly targeted development solutions for each individual and for them to be captured in a motivational (leadership) development plan.
  • It helps in making placement decisions. This facilitates the selection of just the right experiences, job challenges and assignments and in providing the most appropriate support to the individual.

Need advice about any aspect of talent and succession management? Contact √itas Consult.

Flight Risk In Changing Times

During times of significant organisational change the group of staff that employers most fear losing are the highest performing, high potentials that have been earmarked for accelerated succession. (The research evidence supporting this is available and reliable but I will not repeat it here).

Organisations that are sensitive to the dangers of arriving at the new and much heralded destination without the “right people on the bus” typically make use of what I will describe as differential communication with the “hate to lose” target group. This communication, typically one on one, needs to be very carefully managed, of course. Arriving at the new destination with very little of the needed outstanding human capital on the bus and having to recruit that capability (at significant expense) is not an attractive prospect.

Periods of transformational change invariably result in some redundancies as roles no longer needed are deleted. Throughout the workforce there may arise a sense of “survivor guilt”. “Why have I been retained and others, trusted colleagues, have been let go?”

To retain and re-engage survivors it is important to have the best quality conversations with each of the, now smaller, team. Trusted managers may be able to hold these or the business leader may feel it appropriate to step in. With the most able and talented a good deal of the focus will be on rebuilding trust in the organisation and seeking to gauge, understand and respond to perceptions of flight risk. Clearly, how the leader responds will be tempered according to your estimation of the performance and potential of the individual concerned and the needs of the organisation.

Out of these conversations – especially in respect to the senior leadership team – can emerge the beginnings of a realistic forward capabilities plan. This will naturally need to take into account the developing business road-map and, obviously, the new capabilities needed for success in the planned business future.

Need to manage flight risk during a major change programme? Contact √itas Consult.

 

What Is Talent? What Can Be Learnt Through An MBA?

The term talent (Latin: talentum, from Ancient Greek: τάλαντον, talanton ‘scale, balance, sum’) was one of several ancient units of mass dates back to the Ancient Greeks and Biblical times, starting out as measure of weight, then becoming a unit of money, and later meaning a person’s value or natural abilities (Michaels, et al.,, 2001). The talent as a unit of value is mentioned in the New Testament in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). This parable is the origin of the use of the word “talent” to mean “gift or skill” in English and other languages. (The Hebrew term for “talent” was kikkār, meaning a round gold or silver disk, or disk-shaped loaf).

We sometimes make a reasonable distinction between individuals who have natural abilities in an area (who some might called gifted) and those who have learned their skills and knowledge. Of course individuals are a mix of both natural abilities and learned skills.

Recently DDI undertook extensive research to investigate two associated questions:

  • Do particular degrees translate into developed leadership skills that can be rigorously assessed? Or, to express that a different way, do leader skill profiles vary by educational degree? And,
  • What skill advantages do MBA graduates exhibit?

DDI evaluated assessment data from 15,000 leaders across 300 companies and 18 countries and compared the performance of those with undergraduate business degrees and MBA degree-holders against a set of critical leader skills.

butterfly_FotorGiven that MBA programmes commonly give centre stage to the development of financial acumen, becoming business savvy, and establishing strategic direction it came as no surprise to learn that MBA degree-holders did better than undergraduate business graduates. However, MBAs performed worse than undergraduate degree-holders in coaching and developing others, driving for results, and selling the vision. DDI’s conclusion was that while an MBA programme “can strengthen many important leadership skills, it won’t necessarily produce strength in all of the skills leaders need to be successful”.

Thankfully, the skills where business degree-holders weren’t strong—compelling communication, driving for results, and inspiring excellence—are all closely aligned with the highly develop-able interaction skills imparted by leadership development programmes, such as those created by √itas Consult.


Michaels, E., Handfield-Jones, H. & Axelrod, B. (2001). The War for Talent. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Develop Your Career With Branding Practices

Brand differentiation is usually taken to mean ‘setting your product apart from its competitors as a basis for preference’. In career development it is certainly useful to know about overall leadership strengths and weaknesses as this influences the access the individual has to career opportunities. However, at leadership level access to career opportunities may be somewhat determined by a subtle combination of leadership capabilities with certain significant career competences that we may dub the “three knows”:Three Knows

Know how competences concern job related knowledge and work related skills that are reflected in employee, team or business unit performance. Know why competences are seen in the way in which leaders (and others) understand their own motivation and are able to identify with organisational goals. Know whom competences are about networking both within and outside the organisation.

Leaders with these “three knows” stashed in their toolkit are unlikely – especially in today’s changing organisations – to rely over much on career pathways. They are more likely to see career development as a network of ‘crazy paving’ that they lay themselves. They are also likely to recognise that career paths are increasingly likely to be diverted and interrupted and that their own career development may be facilitated by lateral and other moves. Leaders who are adept at managing their own careers also tend to recognise that learning and career development can occur at any age and career stage and that access to opportunities is influenced by family, personal and community roles and can be facilitated by work outside paid employment.

The way you present yourself to your employers, both current and future, plays a crucial part in career success and satisfaction. If you get it right, it can enhance your profile at work, helping you to win interesting projects, promotions and the respect of your colleagues. It will also increase your chances of being the successful candidate at job interviews or attracting clients to your business if you’re self-employed.

Open Learn provides free online learning from the Open University and their course, Personal branding for career success, will help you to pick your way through the concept of personal branding, developing and refining your own brand, and choosing tools and tactics that allow you to present yourself to current and future employers in an authentic and effective way.

You’ll consider your own values and strengths, identify the key skills employers’ look for and learn how to present and evidence those skills appropriately, whether you want to raise your profile with your current employer or are looking for something new. Presenting yourself online and in person brings different challenges and you’ll look at a variety of platforms and approaches in more detail.

 

Avoiding the “Contribution Deficit”

Succession management has always belonged on the Board’s agenda. Today’s leader shoulders a great responsibility for identifying and raising successors. Yet succession planning can appear, because it shapes the organisation’s mid-term future, to be a little ethereal. Just how wrong that view really is can be underscored by a rapid scan of the four year period from 2012 to 2015. In that span of years, 74 percent of the new CEOs appointed to Standard & Poor’s 500 companies were promoted from within. No surprise there because, since Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras published “Built to Last”, it has become widely (though not universally) accepted that there is absolutely no inconsistency between promoting from within and stimulating significant change. What might be surprising is that the 74 percent of internally promoted CEOs represents an increase from 63 percent during the 2004-2007 period. And 91 percent of those internally promoted CEOs had no prior CEO experience.

Succession planning is vital and must be done well. The risks of doing it badly are too well known to discuss: let’s take an overview, realistically, of a major challenge and a related calculated risk that organisations need to contemplate today.

Avoiding the “Contribution Deficit”

Over promotion is a well-known phenomenon with its own dangers but promoting a functional specialist into a senior leadership role before they are ready can create different risks. Many of these risks are directly connected to the “contribution deficit”. This is often seen in the new leader’s lack of confidence when engaging in debate about critical issues or their inability to hold competing options in dynamic tension. The results: significant limitations on the newly promoted leader’s ability to be a compelling adviser to the Board, CEO and wider leadership teams. Frequently, what’s missing is a combination of sufficiently broad knowledge about business drivers, understanding the actual and potential contributions of other functional areas, limited influencing skills or a failure to build and empower a strong team.

Taking Early Action: Whilst the Window’s Open

cropped-Window.pngThose organisations most skilled at developing succession-ready leaders identify high potentials early, so they have the most options for crafting developmentally focused assignments across the business. A failure to do so delivers problems that are often compounded by other features of organisational life.

A progressive narrowing of the window of opportunity typically plays an increasing part. The time to qualification and establishment in many professions has progressively lengthened as the need for a first degree plus a professional qualification has frequently been replaced by the requirement for a postgraduate qualification, plus a professional accreditation and, possibly, an MBA. Naturally, the accredited professional then needs time to soundly establish their performance within their function. Significant life choices are made at about this time, creating future responsibilities that will factor into mobility decisions later. Reduced employee willingness to accept global movements at the invitation of their employer also serve to restrict the organisation’s scope for manoeuvre, whilst familial senior care responsibilities can limit options in the last decade of working life.

Taken together, these – and related – pressures conspire to quite narrowly define the individual’s and the organisation’s opportunity to identify, assess and work with together to prepare for future organisational leadership. The calculated risk is critical, the quality of the evidence base available frequently needs to be significantly enhanced, but doing nothing is usually the worst possible option.

Need to plan, implement or evaluate succession planning and talent management? Contact √itas Consult.

The Risks of Not Managing Talent

Bronze Face_FotorThe unwanted loss of even one leader can be costly, given that 46% of replacements fail within 18 months (according to a study by Leadership IQ) and, among senior ranks, the cost of this failure to the organisation can exceed twenty times salary.

Imagine that cost being multiplied by your annual churn rate for managers. The truth is that managing this risk is complex – for it isn’t technical skills that result in new hires failing – it’s most commonly down to poor interpersonal skills.

Coach-ability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament – sometimes still collectively referred to as “character” – are much more predictive of a new hire’s success or failure than technical competence. Understanding technical competence remains a popular subject amongst interviewers simply because it’s easy to assess – yet it doesn’t contribute significantly to reducing the critical leadership appointment risk. So do some selection interviewing methods (e.g., behavioural, chronological, case study, etc.) reduce the risks of new hire failures?

Apparently not, according to the Leadership IQ study. No significant difference in failure rates was found across a range of different interviewing approaches. However, 812 managers experienced significantly more hiring success than their peers. What differentiated their job interviewing approach was their emphasis on interpersonal and motivational issues and their willingness to back their insights. Those managers that asked about and looked/listened for evidence of candidates coach-ability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament, saw vast improvements in their hiring success rates.


The three-year study by Leadership IQ, a global leadership training and research company, compiled these results after studying 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business and healthcare organizations. Collectively these managers hired more than 20,000 employees during the study period.