2011 – More of the Same, or New Horizons for Career?

I have no idea what 2011 will bring in terms of career direction or opportunities. Really – no idea. If you’d asked me in December of 2010 what I’d be doing today, I’d have answered with a fair degree of confidence that I’d be at the same firm doing some interesting things with web marketing, social media and helping my former firm continue moving into up-to-date technology and communications. But – things changed – a lot, and I’m onto a totally new organization in a wonderful, exciting and challenging role.

So – what’s next? For any of us actively managing a career and/or career transition, I’d recommend one crucial thing (okay – maybe two).

First – I plan to embrace many more new things. The world – all of it – is changing so fast, to do otherwise is to risk being obsolete really fast. The best way to ensure yourself of as close to a recession-proof career is to make continuous learning a skill and CORE personal competency.

Second – I will stay connected to people – lots of them! A vibrant, professional network is not a luxury. It is an absolutely essential professional resource.

So – what’s it going to be for you? More of the same? Or, are you ready and willing to try some new things in 2011?

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Reflections on 2010, The Career

This has been another interesting year in my rather winding and non-linear career path. The year started out at BPI group (yes – they confuse everyone with a lower case “g”). That ended June 30, and I started with my current employer BizLibrary on August 2nd in a new role – VP of Marketing. So – what have I learned, and more importantly, what might I do better going forward?

What I Learned

Networking really is king. At BPI, I offered a lot of coaching and advice to people, and I emphasized the power and importance of networking. I told people you need to build a brand. Be seen. Meet people – in person and in virtual spaces. Get out there. Share ideas and be active. Well – it works. Just like every single career stop along the way, my new role came to be as a result of networking.

It’s also important to remember – it’s not all about “me” in the networking process. I can’t tell you how turned off I get with some of the shameless self-promotion I see in blogs, at Twitter, Linked In and Facebook. You really can promote yourself by offering to help others, solve problems for others and share good information with your network. I am no magician, but it’s worked for me, so I know it can work for you, too.

The third thing I learned – or at least had reenforced is the power of social media. I am not the most knowledgeable, most active, most followed person on the net. But even my efforts yield some activity and results. So – it doesn’t take a lot. But it does take some effort.

What I Might Do Better

Improve my technical skills! Wow. My new role has been a great learning experience for me, and I find myself really needing to dial up my basic knowledge of a wide range of technical tools – Google Analytics, Google WebMaster, DNN, GoldMine, PhotoShop are just a few of the new – to me – technical tools I need to be better at using. And that’s just for starters.

The market today requires a much deeper and broader set of technical tools for most of us than ever before. Start exposing your self to new things in your space NOW! Don’t wait.

The next thing I need to to better is research and explore some of the great new thinking on strategic business success. We are in a rapidly changing world. No use looking back, because that world is long gone! I’ve been so immersed in my new role that I’m not doing as much reading about broader market issues in HR, training and development and just basic strategic issues facing small businesses today. That WILL change – it must!

Conclusion

I’m concluding by – well – not really concluding. Probably the most important lesson I can take from my own career is the need to continually reinvent myself. In my new role in the marketing world, I am on a steep learning curve. I enjoy the challenge, and I have no idea where this will eventually lead me. But – I know for certain I’m still on a journey, and the next part of it will be interesting.

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4 More Tips for Success in a New Job

First – thanks to everyone who’s visited and read my post about 4 Tips for Success in a New Job. I am now starting my third week, and I thought this might be a good time to revisit those tips and add a couple more.

4 More Tips

  1. Don’t panic or freak out about the learning curve. Every new role has a learning curve, and some curves are steeper than others. It’s a fact, and you can’t change that.
  2. Find and maintain a focus on a few short-term, immediate successes.
  3. Be visible, but not too visible.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Don’t Fight the Learning Curve

I knew there would be a steep learning curve – new organization, new people (names and faces), new industry, etc. I knew that. Really. But I was not really sure just how steep the curve would actually be. For me – it’s been pretty steep. So a daily challenge for me remains some careful selection between things to learn and things to do. I could spend my entire day just reading and trying to figure things out. Well – that won’t work (see Tip #2), so I am making sure to spend SOME time learning, reading and absorbing. The trick is to find that balance between learning and doing. So – far, with the great help of my new boss, I am close to a good balance.

Deliver a Few Quick Wins

Nobody expects the new person to make a big sale, have a brilliant idea or do much of anything for a while. So – take a deep breath, and realize you aren’t expected to deliver big time results right away. But – do not sit back and just train, learn and watch. Find something – even a small something – you can deliver quickly. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a big something – just something. For me, it’s been two things – one an actual deliverable (a new template for proposals), and trying (and hopefully succeeding) to lay the foundation for a view towards marketing that we are true business partners for the sales and account management teams.

Be Visible

This is pretty easy for me. I tend to be fairly social, and I cannot just sit still all day. I NEED to get up, walk, think and interact to charge and recharge my batteries. So, I make sure my new team sees me and talks to me at least once each 2-3 hour block of time. And we are in regular, daily meetings (quick huddles) so we all know what each other is doing. It’s a great way to quickly build a sense of team identity and unity. As for the rest of the organization, I try to be visible to help foster an attitude that marketing is present, able and willing to be partners. Plus – it’s just good fun to get to know my new colleagues!

Ask Questions

This ought to be a “d’oh” sort of moment for everyone starting a new job, but I have always been surprised by how some people are afraid to ask questions. I guess it’s a fear of looking like they don’t know what they are doing. Trust me on this – if you don’t ask questions, you will PROVE sooner, rather than later, that you REALLY don’t know what you are doing. Of course, there is a limit to the questions that make sense to ask, but if you are in doubt – ASK.

The types of questions you ought to ask in week one should be different than the questions that remain in week three. For instance, my early round of questions were mostly about where I can locate learning and education resources – user guides to key systems and applications, for instance. I am NO LONGER asking questions of others about my personal learning curve. I own that, and my colleagues aren’t there – after a point – to help me get started. They have their own jobs to do. So now my questions are tied to how their role intersects with mine, and what they need from marketing. I am also moving into a more productive mode, so there are questions that will (hopefully) help establish a working rhythm for the team with other groups within the organization. An example was going to the account management team to gather customer quotes for the proposal template. Asking questions tied to a deliverable – hopefully, a long-term trend – are legitimate and appropriate for any stage of your job, but early on, these questions help build momentum towards success and establish credibility.

So – as for my 4 prior tips, I think they were pretty good. My research and preparation really helped reduce the learning curve in places, and that’s in turn helped make me feel more like a contributing partner a little bit quicker. I am offering a little in the way of ideas, but I am still in major LISTEN mode, and I really am going to work hard to STAY there anyway! But that tip was solid. Also, I just weighed myself, and I’ve dropped several pounds – WOOHOO! My effort to up my energy level helped, and that was a good idea.

So far – so good. But – it’s really early in my new role. That said, I think I’m starting off okay, and I think I’m setting the stage for bigger successes in the future. Stay tuned!


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4 Tips for Success at a New Job

I am starting my new job Monday (8/2/10).

I left my prior employer at the end of June to accept this new role – VP of Marketing at Business Training Library (www.bizlibrary.com – and stay tuned for the launch of our new web site soon!) As I am preparing to start my new job and move my career in yet another direction, I thought I’d record how these first weeks go and what I’ve been doing to get ready to step into this role and be productive right away. So – for what it’s worth, here are my tips for success in a new job.

  1. Research. I am spending a lot of time reading and researching in two distinct areas that look like they will be critical to my success – or not – in this role. First, I am reading as much material as I can on marketing practices and best practices in the current web 2.0 world we inhabit. Second, I’m reading as much material and information as I can absorb on the e-learning, training and LMS worlds.
  2. Communicating & connecting. I’m stepping into a really exciting and cool role, so that’s really great. But – I am also going to be the new “kid” on the block on the leadership team. So I am working hard now to establish the foundations for effective working relationships with my peers and members of the team I will lead.
  3. Paying attention to myself. I am working out more and eating better than I was in the final several months of my prior job. Frankly, I didn’t even realize just how fired and burned out I’d gotten until I left. I needed the time away to decompress and reenergize myself. So I’ve tried to use this time wisely to prepare my mind but also to get my energy level elevated a bit and just feel better generally.
  4. Preparing to listen. This may be the single most important part of my on going preparation efforts.

I may fall flat on my can in my new role. I don’t think I’m going to do that, but it’s certainly no sure thing that I am going to succeed. The second fact I am confronting is that this new role is an amazing gift and great career opportunity. I am determined to make the most of it. But rather than leaving my success up to chance, hard work and a little luck, I am trying to get my mind and body wrapped around the things I need to do to make a positive impact.

Which gets me to my last point for and tip #4 above. I have a tendency to fire, shoot and THEN aim. Big mistake in a new role, and I know that. I am making a lengthy list of the things I DON’T know going into this new organization and new leadership team. And trust me – I know a whole lot LESS than I do know. I am getting prepared to listen and learn – a lot. My peers and my team know a ton more about what they’re doing than me, and I have to make sure I foster relationships that will lead to their willingness to help me by sharing what they know and reducing – hopefully at a rapid rate – my level of ignorance about the organization.

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how my first few weeks go.

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Leadership Under Pressure – 3 Lessons Learned the Hard Way

It’s hard to miss the furor over Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture official from Georgia who was unceremoniously sacked – okay – “asked” to resign – after a doctored video appeared on a political blog. The doctored video was picked up by a news organization and splashed all over the place. The Department of Agriculture caved, the NAACP over reacted, the news organization in question over reacted – it was  a mess. And what’s most troubling – none of the actors even bothered to try and get the whole story. And the whole story is amazing, wonderful and very moving.

So – what can we take away from this sorry episode as we try and direct and lead organizations forward? There are several great lessons the be learned.

  1. Get the facts before you act. Well – do’h! But – ask yourself. How many times have you seen leaders in an organization jump to conclusions and act before knowing the facts? I’d bet the answer is “lots.” (I know – not very scientific.)
  2. Act decisively and equitably. You’d think this one is easy. Well – not so much as it turns out. In my experience, I’ve seen leadership do some amazingly inequitable things. How about changing a bonus plan in midstream? Or – how about moving the “end of the fiscal year” forward by several months so none of the sales team can meet goals? These represent decisive acts, but not very equitable acts. These types of decisions sow the seeds of discontent and poor morale. And – good grief – don’t offer a job back to someone you mistakenly sacked! Ever hear of dignity? Pride? Not so much . . . .
  3. Don’t believe everything you are “told.” Yep – people have agendas. (The crowd gasps!) While this sounds a lot like #1, I am trying to communicate a different issue. Before making decisions – step back and cool off. If you act in the heat of the moment based upon what people are telling you, the decision you will make will almost always blow up in your face.

President Obama called the whole mess a “teachable moment.” I agree. Let’s see if any of us learn anything.

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Motivate to Innovate

I’ve been thinking about innovation and motivation a lot lately. I delivered a presentation at UHY Advisors in St. Louis to their senior executive networking group on “Sparking Creativity and Fostering Innovation.” You can look at the presentation at SlideShare. The topic is always a lot of fun to present, and it have many layers of complexity.

Great Ideas Require Nurturing, Motivation and Leadership

One aspect of the innovation piece that I don’t get to talk a lot about in speeches in the need to motivate people, and that’s too bad. Because as I think, write and speak on the topic more frequently, I am more convinced than ever that motivation is one of the central elements that MUST be present in organizations for innovation and creativity to take off.

Innovative organizations share some common traits, and among them is great leadership, or to use Sarah Miller Caldicott and Michael Gelb’s term – charismatic leadership. See Innovate Like Edison. I agree. Leadership is crucial to fostering an innovative environment. And I think the single most important thing leaders can do is simply to motivate. Motivation comes from some pretty basic concepts – autonomy, mastery and purpose, according to Daniel Pink.  These critical ingredients to motivation will never be present when leaders exert too much control, or keep us hemmed in by boring or rote tasks and fail to provide the vision and direction needed for us to feel that connection to our work that leads to a feeling of purpose. So – absent motivated people, innovation simply will not – cannot – occur.

Here are a few simple things leaders ought to be doing to motivate people and pull that creativity out of them and guide that creativity to result in innovation:

  • Get out of the way. Hire good people. Hire the right people for fit and culture, and then trust their talent to deliver results.
  • Give people challenges that push them to be better. Do NOT expect people to be thrilled by boring, repetitive tasks. Of course those things have to be done, too. But make sure the core of people’s work is devoted to things they can learn and get batter at doing.
  • Offer a clear vision of the future and the reasons that future is desirable. This is not the same as saying, “We will make X millions in Y years.” That’s not a vision. That’s not a strategy. That’s a metric. Instead offer employees a REASON to work together to make the organization and its customers and  clients a little bit more successful in the future. It’s the “why” that really is that “vision” thing, and that vision thing is what provides purpose.

Hopefully, you and your organization can find a way to motivate to innovate as a pathway to a brighter and more fulfilling future.

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Motivation – What’s So Hard?

Why do organizations of every size shape and description routinely fail to motivate and engage their employees? It’s not like there are mysteries or tightly kept secrets to motivating people. In fact, one of the best business and leadership books published in the past year or so is ALL about motivation – Drive, by Daniel Pink. So – with all of this information, data and research out there, why is this so hard for so many leaders to get right?

Take a minute to watch this very cool video based upon Daniel Pink’s presentation at RSA in London this January.

Now – what’s so hard about this? It’s different, and it represents change, and it does NOT capture the prevailing dogma of traditional business motivation. And sadly – it’s killing many organizations that once had wonderful potential.

Leaders fail to motivate - why?

Speaking purely from personal experience, I can say with 100% certainty that Daniel Pink is spot on when he says the three primary motivators for me are autonomy, mastery and purpose. I can point to numerous examples in my professional and personal life that more than validate the actual science of human motivation around these three concepts. But simply being motivated isn’t the end of it –not for me anyway. What happens when I am motivated?

Well – I get closer to greatness than at any other time. Now I’m not trying to suggest I’ve ever done a thing that anyone else might call “great.” I am speaking in relative terms here. A gerbil is a gerbil and can’t be a tiger. I’m a lot closer to a gerbil than anything as majestic and truly great as a tiger. But in my own little gerbil way, I’ve found some ways to make contributions to the people around me (purpose), when I’ve been left to my own devices (autonomy) and given a chance to learn some new stuff (mastery).

And this leads straight to the contributions people – like me – can make to the organization’s bottom line when we are truly motivated. This is the place where creativity and innovation flourish. This is the place where good ideas germinate and are nurtured. This is the place where greatness – in context – happens. And this begs a truly fundamental question many of us currently confront each and every day as we trudge to our office or cubicle. If we can achieve some measure of greatness when we are actually motivated, why do our “leaders” (and I use that term only to denote a hierarchy) sap the very life out of our work and kill those things that might motivate us?

Next Post – Motivate to Innovate. If innovation is critical to long-term vitality in this market, organizations that want to succeed have no choice but to come to grips with the realities of true human motivation.

Chris Osborn

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