Thursday, 22 October 2009

Career planning

Following my post earlier today, I thought I should write some lines about career planning.

I just 'kind of' (i.e. not officially) accepted a new job which is slightly out of my comfort zone. It's within my own company, it's a sideways move to another department.

Whilst I am not completely sure (in my mind) that I am doing the right thing, it just feels right.

And I think I just figured out why.

You see, a manager in my past used to insist that we keep our own personal career planning document. At the time it felt like a massive waste of time. After all, what did I know 10 years ago what I'd like to do today. But somehow I got into the habit of doing this.

I kept a mind map where I wrote down for each job what I liked and didn't like about it. I also wrote down what I still wanted to get better in and what I wanted to learn.

I just had a look through it. I always marked my creativity and ability to come up with fancy designs and ideas as a weakness. And as an area I'm not really that interested in. But I always put 'marketing' as a strong area of interest. And better understanding of data, analysis etc. I often came across a note 'should learn some SAS or other data programming' and 'really enjoy data; good with numbers' or 'can read numbers'.

I never considered a role in Business Intelligence. Not really. In my review I wrote down about 6 months ago I noted 'maybe I would want to move into BI at some point'. But I put that thought aside. After all, I'm not a BI person. I am a marketer. A Chartered Marketer even. But BI is marketing as well, isn't it? And with my weakness in creativity, I'll never become Head of Marketing, so why not move try to move forward in a slightly parallel area.

But I am moving off topic - this is not supposed to be about me, but about career planning. I really think this is something all of us should do on a regular basis. I do it once a year. You can use a mind map, or simply a notepad. It doesn't have to take a lot of time. But it is important that you are honest with yourself. Nobody else will ever have to see the document. It's just for you.

Step 1: Current job
What is it you currently do? What do you enjoy about it, what don't you like about it? What are your strengths in the current job, what are your weaknesses in it? What others strengths do you have that are not currently utilised in the role?

Step 2: Ambitions
Were you are standing right now, where do you see your future? Do you want to do what you do now? Or work in a different field? Do you want to stay on the same level or progress? How high up the career ladder do you want to go?

Remember, this is your document. It's not a binding agreement that this is what you will do. You have the right to change your mind. So think about it - in 1 years time, in 5 years time, in 10 years time. Where do you want to be.

Step 3: Next steps
Now you know where you are and where you want to be. But how will you get there? Look at your future targets and review your strengths and weaknesses. What's standing in your way in the moment to get that job you might want to have in 1 years time?

This review will highlight what you need to focus on, where you need to gain knowledge, experience or guidance. What can you do today to make sure you can fulfill your dreams tomorrow?

Yes, you might change your mind over time. If you think that my ambitions for the next 10 years I drafted 5 years ago are the same that my ambitions for the next 5 years are now, you are badly mistaken. But a career plan ensures 2 things:

1. You prepare yourself for what you think now that you want to do
2. You don't stand still, keep learning and developing

The more you learn, the more you might realise that you misjudged yourself, that you don't actually enjoy a certain area that you focused on. But at least you find that out. Without a career plan you run the risk to just keep prodding along, thinking 'someday I might'. And you'll never get there and you'll never know if that was good or bad!

1/2 hour once a year can help you to make sure your career gives you what you want from it. I think it's a worthwhile investment.

Internal job move

I think I just accepted a job. Have I?

I was an odd situation. My current job will change and will be split into 2 roles sitting in 2 different departments. I like both sides of the job. In either job I will earn the same - even though I think the new job has more potential for this to increase.

The manager of the new job approached me with his proposal and that he really wants me for that job. I kept my options open. He discussed it with my current manager who subsequently discussed it with me.

My current manager said he'd fully support me if that's the way I want to go. He said that he thinks some of my key strenghts are in the area of the new job and there would be a lot of opportunity to learn new things for me. He said that he is looking to move my current role into a role doing very different things, such as tactical campaigns.

He nearly sounded as if he wanted me to move - but I know he is very satisfied with my work, just is a very positive person who wouldn't want me to miss out on an opportunity.

But he thinks, if that new role looks at a more strategic level, i.e. data and insight and how to approach the market (which is the area I love most, but don't have time to focus on), then he will need the person in my current role to be more on the creative side as far as I understood (which is the area I least enjoy).

So I went back to the other manager. Clarified my concerns and the areas I think I would miss and we came to a pretty good agreement. You see, the role doesn't exist yet and would pretty much be defined around me. So a few of the areas I really don't want to give up because I have put so much into getting them were they are now and am still working so hard on them - they could move with me.

It is a dilemma, isn't it? My job splits in 2 halves and I enjoy both. Which half should I take?

The concern that my current job would become much more creative and the fact that the new role would be defined around me kind of made up my mind.

I guess my only fear is that I am moving sideways without earning more money. But I can win so much more knowledge and would get a lot of training.

I also would lose my staff though - I wouldn't have a direct report anymore. But then again, I did manage staff now in 2 jobs, that's enough for the CV, isn't it?

And once the new roles come up, I would need to apply for either. I know the new manager really, really wants me. I am not sure about the old job or what it will become - would I still be the right candidate for it and get the job? I wouldn't be the first not getting her old job back in the internal restructuring we are currently going through.

So when the new manager said - is that a "yes, I'll go for it" or a "okay, I'll think about it." I said "It's a 'Yes, that sounds really good, but I obviously will need to see the job description'" He then smiled, shook my hand and said "Fantastic, welcome in the team."

So I guess, I just accepted a new job.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

What's more important for a good manager - talking or listening?

There are many skills a good manager needs to possess. The ability to communicate is often listen quite high within these. But sometimes it does not seem that all managers understand what communication actually means.

Communication skills are often mistaken for the ability to communicate something to someone, e.g. to tell someone what to do. And that's part of the job. A good manager needs to be able to communicate the company strategy, the daily requirements and the expectations to their staff. He also needs to be able to delegate, to tell people what they are supposed to do and to ensure they do it.

But if this is all that is required for communication, then communication would be a one-way street: I say, you do.

This understanding might be correct in a military dictatorship where you are simply expected to do as you are being told. But it is not a good way to manage a team in a democracy and this attitude is one of the easiest way to alienate and finally lose good staff.

The key to the understanding of good communication skills is that you need to be able to tell and to listen. You have to be able to get your message across.

But then you need to be able to listen, to hear what your staff says, how the react, how they feel. They might come up with objections as to why they can't fulfill your request. Or they might have even better ideas. They might also try to understand your brief correctly and by listening, you will be able to find out if they really understood correctly what is needed, thus avoiding misunderstandings.

At the same time it is pointless if you understand exactly what your team feels, wants and needs. You might be a good listener and maybe even a friend, but you can't guide the team successfully if you can't communicate the requirements for the team and can't ensure that they know everything important for them to do their job.

Talking and listening need to be utilised side-by-side to make you a good manager as one without the other is useless. You need to be able to hear feedback and you need to be able to pass information and feedback on.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Why senior managers should communicate directly with the team

Communication is one of the key skills for managers. Every manager who disagrees with this comment should have a long, hard look in the mirror and think again.

I always rated communication very highly and disliked those kind of senior managers who like to play Chinese Whispers in there attempt to follow protocol and only speak to their direct reports. Of course this is fine, after all this person is in charge of their department and therefore need to be aware of the workload and demands to the team. However, what's the point in telling a manager that a certain piece of information is required, when you know exactly that this will be passed on to a specific member of team. Wouldn't it be more sensible to talk directly to the person with direct responsibility for the topic in question?

The reason I am currently considering this issue is easy - it's based on recent experience. In the last few weeks:

- Our Marketing Director mentioned to a colleague who is slightly senior than me that he wants me to provide a full report on a specific topic. This colleague forgot to mention it to me - and I got a telling off a couple of weeks later directly from our Director that 'not delivering without even giving a reason' just wasn't good enough.

- Our Head of Marketing told our senior marketing manager that the team is to prepared a tactical plan of marketing activities for 2010 by the end of the week. The manager told us, but had misunderstood the brief - it wasn't an area where he usually got involved and therefore didn't ask the right questions - and we prepared only half the work. When we submitted the work on Friday a big panic set in and we had to work until late at night to complete the remaining work.

In both of above examples it would have been so much better if the brief or the request would have given directly to the employees who were expected to do the work. It would have saved a lot of stress and panic and it would have filled us - the team - with much more confidence in the ability of our senior management to work efficiently.

As it was we felt left out of the loop and badly done to. That senior management apologised to us on both occasions didn't really make up as it was still us who suffered the consequences.

My advice to senior managers would always be to speak to the direct report (may it be the senior manager, manager or team leader) if it is not clear who is expected to do the work. But if the message is 'Can you ask Mrs. X to do Y' - advise your direct report that you will request this (either beforehand or copy them in on the email), but speak directly to the person. It will make the staff feel more respected and important, limits the risk of misunderstandings and miscommunication and will get you the expected results much quicker!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Should high heels be forbidden in the office?

If there is a weakness that most women share it is without a doubt our love for shoes. This passion usually embraces us when we turn into teenagers and never leaves us again. My grandmother still tried to wear her beloved heels when she was arguing with my father if she needs a hip replacement or can cope with the pain!

But high heels in the office are again and again at the forefront of discussions as well.

Not long ago a female colleague fell down the stairs and broke her leg. She couldn't remember why she fell, but that didn't stop our health and safety department to send out a memo with the warning that "High Heels Are A Serious Safety Risk". All female staff (well, nobody expected the guys to come in with their heels!) should seriously consider putting themselves at risk for vanity. If they could not resist wearing heels they should please use the lift or use both hands to hold on to the railings when walking down the stairs.

You think that's patronising? Well, we thought. A large number of complaints about this memo were sent to the health and safety department, but we were told that the memo was sent out for our safety and that the company can't be held liable if we don't follow this guidance.

Well, I can't blame the company for trying to protect themselves, but as a woman it is quite difficult not to wear heels at work. You need to look smart - and heels help you to do that. And to progress without looking the part is certainly more difficult than it already is!

The Trade Union Congress - and its mainly male members - have now advised that 'high heels should be banned from the workplace' as they pose a risk to health and safety.

I think this is health and safety gone mad. I can understand that there is a risk involved with wearing very high heels. And I appreciate the concern of the "Mr. Bosses". But we women wear high heels day in, day out - whilst going shopping, going for a walk with the children, driving cars... I even know women who are so used to wearing heels that they find it difficult to balance without them - they say their feet have adjusted to the heels.

But more to the point, it is the women's choice. It is no more dangerous to wear heels at work than at home. We don't tell men what to wear, so women should have to right to choose themselves.

Heath and Safety can go too far at times and I am sure there are more important things to discus than if a woman should be allowed to wear heels when entering the office, or if she needs to leave them outside in the car.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

How to prepare a CV that gets your foot into the door

If you are looking for a new job, you should spend a reasonable amount of time on writing your CV. A good CV won't get you the job, but it can get you in front of the employer. If your CV lets you down, you won't even get that far and miss your opportunity.

What do you need to consider to make sure your CV is standing out in a good way and gets you noticed?

Spelling mistakes are so easy to avoid. After all, there is an in-built spell checker in word. So even if your spelling isn't top notch, there is no reason for your potential future employer to know this. And a CV with spelling mistakes indicates that you are not really interested - otherwise you would have taken the time to check.

The same is valid for grammatical errors. We often try to impress in our CV - and this means using complex sentence structures and difficult words, we would never use in real life. But being out of our comfort zone we make mistakes. And if the sentence is not grammatically correct, it might be difficult for the recruitment manager to understand it. And he won't waster a lot of time on trying to figure out what you tried to say.

When reviewing CVs you often find CVs with gaps in them. If you haven't been employed for some time, please say so in your CV, ideally with an explanation as to why this was. This shows the employer that you are open and honest and don't try to hide something dark in your past. It will make it less important and saves the employer from the annoying task of having to find out what you've done during those gaps.

Your CV is the first thing a potential employer sees from you. You therefore should try to make a good impression. If they'd see you in person, you'd dress smartly, make sure you look professional. You need to apply the same logic to your CV. Make it look clean, ideally get all the relevant information onto 2 pages (there is no need to go into too much detail, just state the most relevant points and give more information in the actual interview) and make it easy to read. By cramming too much information into the document and applying a complicated layout, you won't get the employers interest, but rather get them annoyed and bored.

And finally, be honest without false modesty. The CV is there to get your foot in the door, to sell you as a promising candidate. If you exaggerate to the extreme the employer will know that you try to come across as someone you are not - and they won't believe a word of your painstakingly written CV. But there is no need to put your light under the shovel neither - after all, you want to impress, so make sure you state your achievements and successes.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Commuters who drive to work 'face workplace parking levy'

Have you heard the news that councils will be able to start charging businesses up to £350 for providing car park spaces for their staff from 2012? Well, I understand that councils need more money to cover their increasing running costs and debts. But for us employees or business owners this is simply a ridiculous demand.

Let's look at this from our point of view:

We are in the middle of a recession. Small, medium and even large businesses (who will ever forget the collapse of Woolworth) are fighting bankruptcy, lack of liquidity and are finally forced to close down. Countless companies are struggling and are reducing their head count to be able to keep their business going. Mass redundancy, crisis on the housing market, lack in consumer spending and an ongoing reluctance by banks to start lending all play their part in making this a very hard time to live in.

If councils will start to charge businesses for providing car parking spaces to their staff this will result in one of the three consequences depending on the business:

- The business absorbs the cost
For employees that's the best solution. But it will have a further negative impact on the business' liquidity and ability to survive these hard times. There are likely to be no pay increases or there even will be pay cuts. Potential recruitment of new staff will be further delayed. This certainly won't help to improve market conditions.

- The business passes the cost on to staff
With many people already struggling to pay their bills and mortgages and often no reasonably easy accessible public transport available this will have a major impact on staff. Employees might have to find parking spaces outside the office block, double parking residential areas or walking a long way to work from alternative car parking or public transport. This will increase stress levels and productivity. And there also will be staff - in particular young mothers working part-time - who will have to quit their jobs as this additional levy doesn't make it profitable any more to go to work and pay for childcare in the meantime. Again, this will do our struggling economy no favours.

- Companies stop providing car parking spaces
I worked in city centres before where only limited car parking was available - and this was reserved to senior management. The 'normal' staff like me had to find their own way to work. In my case there was the option of using public transport (which would have taken me 2 hours each way and would have resulted in me having to leave work early to avoid missing my last bus home), paying for car parking in the close vicinity of my office (which would have cost me nearly as much as my net salary per day was) or to find a car parking space in residential areas and walk 30 minutes from there. I chose the last option and was often terrified walking through isolated parks in the dark on my way to and back from work. This stress didn't improve productivity by any means. Do we really want to get to a point where this is the norm?

I believe that businesses should rather be rewarded for providing car parking spaces for their employees by taking the cars off the public roads than being penalised. Motorists are already charged a lot of money for roads that often leave a lot to be desired. Isn't it time we start looking at how to get public spending under control rather than putting more strain on businesses and motorists who already struggling to make ends meet in the middle of a recession? I really think there must be better ways to solve the financial issues faced by councils.

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Essential Manager's Manual

It's Saturday afternoon and I have nothing better to do than tidying up. But whilst doing this, I just came across a book I bought when I was first made a manager. It's called Essential Manager's Manual.

It's quite a big book with well over 800 pages and when I bought it I thought that I'd probably never read more than a few pages. But during my first few months as a manager it became quite an invaluable tool. It covers the most important areas a good manager should consider such as:

- Communicating clearly
- Managing time
- Making decisions
- Delegating successfully
- Motivating people
- Managing teams
- Managing meetings
- Presenting successfully
- Negotiating successfully
- Interviewing people
- Managing change
- Minimizing stress

I must admit that most of the areas covered are common sense. But when you are under pressure to deliver as a manager (possibly for the first time) it is easy to oversee the logical little things you should remember.

The book is so easily written, that you can read it either in full to prepare yourself for your new job as manager or can use it as a reference guide if you'd like to improve in certain areas or refresh your knowledge.

I'd recommend this book strongly to any manager - new or experienced. We all can learn more!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Working and studying

As it is in business, my role is constantly changing and evolving. More recently I started getting much more involved with a wide range of projects and project management techniques. Whilst I am experienced in managing projects as part of my job role, it is quite a different thing to follow the official Six Sigma rules and to make sure the follow that no step is missed and the documentation is complete.

Who knows me, knows that I hate not to be perfect or not knowing what I am doing - even though it is known to have happened! :-) So I looked into some training courses, considered doing some further education. After all, it would help me doing a better job and also increase my market value in case I am ever looking for a new job.

I nearly went to ask my manager if they'd be prepared to sponsor the course - if you feel your career would benefit from some further education, you absolutely should do this as most companies will give you some kind of support - but then I had a few 12 hour days and all I wanted to do after I came home was falling asleep! So I changed my mind.

You see, I love learning. I have finished university and started working. But I did quite a few seminars and short courses to enhance my knowledge in special areas such as Excel, Presentations or Online Media. I also spent 3 years of my professional life studying in the evening - both at the local college and through distance study. The effort I put in gave me some nice qualifications and a lot of additional knowledge which helped me to progress my career and to increase my salary.

But after 3 years I was ready to put my graduation gown away and enjoy my evenings with a nice dinner and TV rather than a pile of books.

If you are working and know certain areas you'd like to develop more knowledge in, I'd always recommend you go for it. It gives you a competitive advantage over your competition when you are looking for a promotion or a new job. Your committment is likely to pay up with better pay and career opportunities. But at the same time make sure that you are able to complete the further education. Working and studying at the same time is really tough. There's no doubt about it. You spend hours working, then rush to university, sit through classes whilst your stomach is rumbling and go home - tired and exhausted to face the household that needs looking after.

If you think, it will be easy to juggle both work and study - think again.

If you think, further education won't benefit your career - think again.

The question is if you are prepared to accept some busy and hard months for the potential lifelong benefit. And be honest with yourself - there is little point paying a lot of money for a course you'll never complete.

Here is a good website to compare courses available throughout the UK:

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Saturday, 25 July 2009

The new boss…

A few weeks ago my department had a major shock and it still pretty much dominates our mind and our discussions. We knew that some organisational reviews took place and that the logical consequence would be that our department was likely to be restructured.

What we didn’t consider was how quickly these things can move and how much they can actually affect you. Well, we were surprised. One day we knew what we were supposed to do and what our boss expected. The next day we were told that our boss had not been successful when reapplying for his job, was on garden leave and someone we vaguely knew from a different part of the business was now our new boss.

You can imagine that this was rather a shock especially as we rated our old manager very highly. Within a week every rule we had been working to had been changed. And again. And again. The new boss didn’t really know our area of business. He was too busy to spend time with the top management to sit down with us and find out who we are and what we do. And this lack of communication automatically led to confusion, fear and frustration. Very quickly we didn’t know anymore what we were responsible for and what was expected from us. With rules and guidelines changing on a daily basis any work we did yesterday was ready for the bin tomorrow. And rumours that ‘we are the next’ to get restructured became ripe.

Initially the department was split between those thinking that ‘keeping our head down and just accepting that things are going to be a bit crazy for a while’ and those thinking that ‘we should show the new boss that we resent our old boss losing his job and don’t rate him coming in knowing nothing and telling us what to do’.

We also differed on the discussion if we should offer the new boss help and try to set our own ground rules, or if we should just wait what he’s going to do and if he asks for help.

I personally don’t think that blaming the new boss for what happened will do anyone any good. It will make it more difficult for him to identify what’s really going on, what the issues are and how he can improve the departments’ performance and our professional life. At the same time it can result in serious issues for the ‘rebels’ – your attitude won’t scare the new boss away (and even if, he’d be replaced with someone else you don’t know) and once he’s settled and reviews his department, he is unlikely to reward you for your negativity and unsupportive approach. I know that some people do this out of loyalty to their old boss, but I think, it’s false loyalty – it won’t help the old boss and will harm you. Accepting that things changed, doesn’t mean you are disloyal to the old boss, just that you accept reality and make the best out of it.

Keeping your head down and pretending the negativity and fear surrounding you is normal, isn’t much better though. It makes your life a misery and you don’t know how long it will take until normality returns.

The best approach is to come to terms with the changes as quickly as possible. Then stop mourning the old boss, approach the new boss and talk to him. With that I don’t mean sucking up to him, but try to get to know him. Make him understand that you are not the enemy (and neither is he) but that you want to work with him for the greater good of the department and company and try to establish your own ground rules. Maybe you can turn the new situation to your best?

Things have started to settle down a bit now. After some short-lived rebellions we have come to terms with the fact that the old boss is gone, the new is here to stay, that life will change irrevocably and all we can do is get on with it, give him a chance and understand that it is not his fault that he was chosen above someone else.

Here are some interesting links I found about the topic:

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