Monthly Blogs 2012
Transition, transformation and comebacks can often be fueled by unexpected sources. Remember the New Coke failure/comeback story? Below are three great lessons from three different sources: one of my clients, a former Twin Cities business legend, and a December, 2012 Harvard Business Blog.
“Adults learn by doing, failing and stories.” One of my clients shared this quote with me a few months ago, naming her mentor as the source. I have thought often about this pearl. I can personally (and painfully) attest to this theory. Some of my most lasting lessons about how not to run my practice have come from mistakes in 2006 and 2007 when I was experimenting part-time with private practice. One such misstep had to do with a bad pricing decision that was unfortunately amplified in the New York Times.
A 2007 article referencing me and one of my clients was complimentary overall, but my “bargain basement” fee was revealed. As you read on in that article, it becomes obvious that I was way out of sync with my competition and the market. See for yourself: www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/business/yourmoney/13search.html?_r=0. I learned about pricing the hard way. That article turned out to be a clinic on how to price services to align with market positioning, target market expectations, and the competition.
For the most part, prospective clients who sought me out after reading that article were not my preferred client profile (not executive level). Too often they wanted cheap magic, hoping for a career solution in a few sessions. This became an indelible lesson, learned though failure. When I began my full-time private practice in November, 2010, I knew how to price and package my services, thanks in good part to that story and the lessons that followed.
Several years ago I heard a presentation by Larry Wilson, founder of the Twin Cities based training and organizational consulting company Wilson Learning. Larry told the audience that there is actually a mathematical formula for change readiness: Vision + Dissatisfaction + Process > Cost. In other words, our vision plus our dissatisfaction plus our process of change needs to be more powerful, more compelling, than the cost of change (most often this cost includes time, effort, risk, money, emotion). One need only look at how health clubs fill up in January and empty in May to see how costs can overpower two of the most popular New Years visions and sources of dissatisfaction each year; losing weight and getting fit. Amplifying dissatisfaction can be a great engine for change, and when combined with a powerful vision and a sustainable change process, we are much more likely to create change that will last, overcoming the costs of change.
This month there is a great Harvard Business Review blog on this topic. Below is the author’s summary of the top 5 career regrets. This article does a nice job of revealing how these regrets can inform and inspire better career choices in the future. Here are the top 5 regrets based on the author’s recent interviews:
I wish I hadn’t taken the job for the money.
had quit earlier.
had the confidence to start my own business.
had used my time at school more productively.
had acted on my career hunches.
If you are a subscriber, or wish to become one, you can see this entire blog and all subsequent responses by clicking here: blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/12/the_top_five_career_regrets.html
Failure, dissatisfaction and regret……..while painful or even devastating, can provide great learning, and a powerful springboard for future success. The best to you in 2013!
Several years ago organizational effectiveness consultant Bernie Saunders presented his change model at a class I was attending. What I remember all these years later (at least 15) is that structure, support and creativity were the three key elements of Bernie’s optimal problem solving model. I have thought often about this model and have shared it with many clients and audiences over the years. It works well as is, but I have come to realize that one more element is needed to make it an even more complete formula for change: courage.
Faced with the necessity and/or opportunity for change, we each need to start with a structure, a process that makes sense to us and will work over time to move us ahead. We also benefit from the support of others to help us move forward and not get too discouraged or lost along the way. Structure and support by themselves are not necessarily enough to get us past all the challenges, however, and we often need to be creative as well. A less obvious, more clever solution is often what we need. The ability to color outside the lines and creatively reset the strategy can pay big dividends when our path is blocked.
Now add to all this one more catalytic ingredient: courage. All the structure, support and creativity will not get us where we want to go if we don’t have the courage to act. We need to take that step, that leap of faith, to get to the other side. Can you picture the trapeze artist getting so close to letting go of the bar, but she just can’t do it? How close that other bar comes, but it is too difficult to let go of the secure, familiar bar even when she knows she needs to do so to succeed, to get to the other side. Courage is the critical element that enables us to let go of the familiar and safe, and reach out for the other side. To hold on only gets us to the edge of change, not to the other side of change. Back we slide if we don’t let go.
I recently reconnected with Bernie Saunders. In his latest broadcast message, Bernie offered the following observations and suggestions about transition:
“During the past few months I’ve had more then the usual number of conversations with friends, colleagues, and clients about transitions they are going through. What has surfaced is the desire to know what could be, if they would dare to let themselves find out.
A flower blooms by letting go of holding itself tightly in a bud. The transition times of our lives are an adventure of crossing into the unknown. It’s the unexpected calling on our pioneer spirit to shine. An invitation to trust, and believe in ourselves”
I want to thank Bernie Saunders for his change model and for offering his thoughts on courage in this November entry.
Happy trails to you all.
This is an excellent book. If you don’t already own it, seriously consider buying a copy for yourself. While you are at it, buy one for someone else who needs it. I have spent twenty-three years as an executive career transition consultant, have read a good many books on this subject, and can say without hesitation that this one is my favorite. It is practical, concise and very well written, especially for executive level networking. One of the authors, Marcia Ballinger, is a highly regarded local retained executive recruiter who really understands this subject.
After all these years, one thing remains unchanged. Networking is the number one means for discovering and pursuing your next opportunity. Mastery and maintenance of this skill is imperative. If you are not now in transition, remember the axiom; “Make friends before you need them”. Recommit to giving and receiving networking help and advice. Use this book to take your networking to the next level, then pay it forward.
Here is how it works
Step 1: Great First Impression
2-3 minutes of thanks, connecting and setting an agenda
Step 2: Great Overview
1 minute for giving an overview of experience
Step 3: Great Discussion
12-15 minutes discussing five key questions:
Three unique questions using a Statement->Question model
One asking for other contacts
One asking how you can help the person you are meeting with
Step 4: Great ending
2 minutes for thanks and wrap-up
Step 5: Great Follow-up
Meaningful follow-up, right after the meeting
Each of us has our “one day” dreams, our personal milestone achievements we hope to experience and then happily check off our “list” before we kick the proverbial bucket. Skydiving, for instance, is one of mine. Beyond this personal bucket list, do you also want to pursue a future of significance and contribution? How about a future that balances learning, leisure and adventure (how you will serve yourself), with personal, professional and community contributions and purpose (how you will serve others)? On Monday, October 1 I conducted a workshop that helped participants envision and pursue the contribution, purpose and significance parts of their future, the counterbalance to that personal bucket list.
One of the topics I discussed at this workshop was how the second half of life contrasts with the first half. I proposed that life can be divided roughly into four stages, with the first twenty-five years associated with broad mastery. Between ages twenty-five and fifty we tend to drive towards professional and personal achievement. Out second half, starting sometime between ages forty and fifty, gradually evolves to broader personal, professional and community possibilities. If we live to age seventy-five, we enter our final stage where health and legacy come more sharply into focus.
Here are two of my favorite quotes about the second half of life:
“We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” Psychiatrist Carl Jung
Describing the transition from a first half of life focused more on success to a second half committed to significance, author Bob Buford proposes:
“Success means using your knowledge and experience to satisfy yourself.
Significance means using your knowledge and experience to change the lives of others.”
How would you like to shape your second half?
In the 1989 Steve Martin film, Parenthood, Grandma (Helen Shaw) uses the roller-coaster as a metaphor: “…that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited and so thrilled all together. Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around… nothing… I like the roller-coaster. You get more out of it.”
So you made the commitment to join a non-profit board/volunteer committee/ community project. Someone likely caught you at a generous moment, set the hook, got you started, and you are well into the process. Now the wheels are starting to fall off the roller-coaster. Challenges are mounting, your blood pressure is rising. You say to yourself, “Remind me again, why did I agree to do this?”
Isn’t it inevitable? In so many projects, after the forming comes the storming and then the questioning. Even when you can name a dozen good reasons why you joined this particular cause, you are now having serious doubts.
“Everything can look like a failure in the middle”, says Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. And, from Richard Brown, captain of the schooner America, to Prince Albert of England, 1851, “No one would ever have crossed the ocean if he could have gotten off the ship in a storm.”
Abandon ship, or stay the course? Read on.
Random thoughts on the ride to the meeting: “Why did I sign up to be on this non-profit board/committee/you name it? I have way too much work to do. I’m over committed. This ______ is in the middle of another disaster, and I just don’t have the time or the energy for all that’s on my plate now.”
And on the ride home…. “This organization really does need me, and I guess I need what it gives to me. I think we can get through this challenge. I’m tired, a bit frazzled, but I’m still feeling optimistic and emotionally connected to both the cause and the people. When all is said and done, I’m glad I chose to do this. This work matters.”
Does this sound vaguely familiar? Could this be you, frustrated and impatient before the meeting, more at peace afterwards (not just relieved that it is over)? Two years ago Charlie Maxwell, CEO of Meristem, a Multifamily Office, shared this insight with me: “Why not think about the ride home during the ride in to those meetings?”
At the time, I was groping for a strategy for coping with the “messy middle” of a project I had committed to. I decided to try Charlie’s suggestion, and remembered his words on the way in to a particularly challenging meeting. Speeding along in my car, just ten minutes from the start of the meeting, I imagined, and I felt, the ride home.
At the stoplight I closed my eyes and started looking into the faces of each member of the group. Soon I was smiling. We were thanking each other for what we had just accomplished, for the generosity, for the commitment. I was amazed at how good I felt on that ride in, and the next. When the meeting began, my blood pressure was lower, my optimism and patience higher.
I hope this bit of advice can help you hang in there when you face a similar challenge. The next time you find yourself cursing your way to that volunteer engagement, think about the ride home. It may seem simplistic, and it won’t work all the time, but it is worth a try if you are pulling your hair out and need to see with different eyes.
Community service of all kinds is good for the spirit, good for the soul, good for making connections, good for finding purpose and contribution both when you are gainfully employed and when you are not (most of my clients are executives in transition, and I always encourage volunteerism).
How do you keep the seat belt tight during your volunteer roller-coaster rides? If you would like to offer your reaction/suggestions, here is the link to this blog:
“We each need something to do, and something to look forward to.”
Richard Leider, author of numerous books on repacking your bags and the power of purpose
These days many of my career transition clients are interested in what I call the career “two-step.” They tell me, “I want to pursue my next job, and I also want to figure out what comes after that.” They need to shape the immediate future, and at the same time flesh out the bigger picture– a longer term plan for the next chapter of their life.
What is emerging as a top choice in part two of this career two-step is a portfolio life.
Scroll down to learn more about what this looks like. Consider picking up an excellent book on the subject, Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose and Passion After 50, by David Corbett.
Financial health and future income needs will always be major considerations in determining our readiness for changing our work/life mix. There are many good books and advisors to help us address those questions. This book offers great stories and strategies for diversifying and reshaping our second half when the time is right to start that plan (better sooner than later). Here is what a portfolio life might look like:
Five Elements of a Portfolio Life
Working in the form you want
Learning and self-development
Making time for personal pursuits and recreation
Enjoying family and friends
Giving back to society
A portfolio life might or might not be right for your immediate future, but it helps to have something like this to look forward to, and some helpful ideas for making it happen one day. Wouldn’t you agree?
My father-in-law, Jack Hill, began his career as an engineer. He eventually rose to Vice President of Research and Development at a Twin Cities manufacturing company. At age 57 , for a variety of reasons, Jack suggested a move to half time, at half his salary, into a new role as a technical trouble shooter. His company accepted Jack’s proposal. This turned out to be the perfect job for the next 10 years. It also became a great bridge to a portfolio life.
During this time, Jack began to volunteer more, and started doing more non-work related activities. At 67 he officially retired from his job, but not from his volunteer work and portfolio life. He responded to a newspaper advertisement recruiting readers for the blind, and he joined SCORE (the Service Corp of Retired Executives) as an entrepreneurial coach. Two to three days a week were committed to these volunteer roles (for the next 25 years!). A growing percentage of his time was also devoted to traveling, home projects, reading, attending lectures and the theater, family and friends, and philanthropy. He lived a textbook portfolio life that took Jack to age 99.
At his memorial service, our minister was kind enough to incorporate a favorite quote from American author Edith Wharton. It explained beautifully why Jack managed to live so long, “In spite of illness, in spite of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, has an insatiable intellectual curiosity, is interested in big things, and happy in small ways”. Add to these words the five elements of a portfolio life described above, and odds are good that a long and fulfilling life like Jack’s can be yours. Happy trails!
“Life is lived forward, but understood backwards.”
Soren Kierkegaard, Danish Philosopher
What have your life’s peak experiences taught you about when you are at your best? What have been your recurring talents and callings, and how might these past lessons shape your future direction? It might take several hours to complete the exercise below, but if you are hoping to learn more about yourself and what you might be best suited to do in the future, begin by looking backwards. I ask each of my career transition clients to do this exercise. They sometimes protest that it took too much time, then afterwards smile with the satisfaction of knowing themselves much better as a result.
Here is the assignment. Take a look back at your top eight work and life achievements. Name each, then create a spreadsheet that includes the items below for each of these achievements. What do you see? What are the recurring themes? What skills, interests and values do you hope to connect to the future needs of the market and/or community? Aristotle once wrote, “Our calling is the intersection of our talents and the needs of the world.” What are you called to do now? How can your historical achievements and talents inform your future? It’s time to look ahead by first looking back.
After you have taken the time to do the exercise above, you will then be ready to insert your recurring skills, interests and values into the graphic below. If you view this as a target, note the implications of the center hits and the side misses. To the left of center you see “necessity jobs”. This choice might serve to pay the bills, but the passion for the work is not what it might have once been. Perhaps you are thinking it’s not time for a big change yet.
Hitting the right side of the target would suggest that you may need more training or skills if your interests and values match, but your skills and knowledge just aren’t where they need to be to compete successfully in the market. Note too that I labeled the “bullseye” as a fit, but not necessarily a great fit. There are usually a few other qualifiers if you desire a great fit. Consider the following three points as you pursue that “great fit.”
What a Great Fit Looks Like
When you can use develop and stretch your talents
In a purposeful way
Within a place that values you and shares your values
If you start to dream of a big shift in your career and/or life direction, I have the perfect book for you: Working Identity, by Herminia Ibarra. This book begins by offering great advice and case studies that illustrate how one makes a big shift by starting with small experiments, shifting to new connections and then eventually making sense of what has been learned.
When the book came out in 2003, it was a game changer in the career transition industry. It has the credibility of the Harvard Business Press, and has been universally praised for its simple, straightforward and effective model and its great stories. I highly recommend the book, and encourage you to consider how you might benefit from Ibarra’s three step process if a big change is in your future.
Trying out new activities and professional roles on a small scale before making a major commitment to a different path. This might include: volunteering, pro bono work, board membership, committee work, freelance work, taking a class, new readings, job shadowing, moonlighting, joining a new organization, etc.
Developing contacts who can open doors to new worlds: finding role models and new peer groups to guide and benchmark our progress.
Developing stories that explain who you’re becoming in light of these new activities and new relationships. Deciding to sharpen your focus and commit or circle back and regroup.
Is it too late for you to run away and join the circus? Herminia Ibarra would say probably not, but she would also suggest proceeding with caution by starting with small steps, having lots of conversations with successful “circus” performers, and then decide later, after enough experiments, conversations and reflection have taken place. If you are interested in expanding your options, read on to the next section below about career alternatives. More satisfying possibilities might be just around the corner. Is the circus calling?
A few years ago I created the model below to help my career transition clients see and name more options than the two most common; a new job much like the last one, or entrepreneurship. I also thought it would be helpful to show the economic factors and degree of difficulty for each option. Take a look. What option(s) are you considering? We all need a plan A, plan B, and why not an additional seven, just in case we need them too?
Intentional time off for personal reasons, professional renewal and/or development.
Very similar or identical work, environment and employment terms.
Change industries, work culture, size or type of firm, but continue in a similar function.
Change in compensation terms, including contract work, part-time, and/or flexible schedule.
Starting a consulting practice, buying or starting a business or buying a franchise.
To move from your most recent role to a lower level of responsibility and/or lower title.
Redistribution of time committed to work, community and personal activities.
Significant change in the nature of work, using different skills and/or expertise.
Strategically moving from one option to another over time, establishing timelines and personal, work and financial benchmarks. Building bridges to the next step, while engaged in the current path.
“A satisfying career — and a satisfying life — is found through actively creating your own luck and making the most of new and unforeseen experiences.”
From Luck Is No Accident, John Krumboltz
I am finding myself offering this quote quite often these days. When one of my clients is busy networking, the planned part is their answers to the questions: “Why did you leave (or are you considering leaving) your job? What do you want to do next? Where do you want to do that work? How can I help you?”
What comes next is the happenstance part. You just don’t know what will come your way when you network for information, advice, referrals and opportunities. You also have to be cautious with what lands in your net. Is that opportunity looking like a good catch or an Asian Carp? Happenstance can be good, can be bad. Take good care of yourself, keep tying your knots, casting your net, creating your luck!