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Career Change Observations
I’ve been supporting a number of people with career changes recently and I’ve noticed less concern about economic uncertainty and financial insecurity than I was expecting to find.
Maybe there’s something about a global pandemic creating a career pause for millions at the same time that ensures things can’t feel personal? But when I listen to people talk I’m not hearing self doubt and the dip in confidence that can often accompany redundancy or a big change in work circumstances.
The cost of living crisis is definitely leading people to think carefully about what they spend each month. But having made some cuts, it can be quite liberating to know they can survive on less disposable income if they need to and don’t have to keep chasing the best paying jobs just because that’s what they’ve always done.
Few of the people I’m supporting through redundancy appear to want what they were doing before. Many are actively completing short courses to build new skills and get a taster of different career areas. Most have no desire to return to a single place of work 4-5 days a week. They want the flexibility and autonomy to integrate good quality work into their whole lives rather than have work demands dictate the quality of the rest of their life.
Many are taking this opportunity to completely rethink their professional lives, what they do and how they do it. I’m interested to see how organisations plan to adapt their working practices to retain their talent and attract more people in the future.
Self-Coaching Techniques for Managing Fear
We’re dealing with a lot at the moment. It’s ok if you’re experiencing some fear. Everybody is.
Here are some thoughts about how to manage fear more effectively so it doesn’t manage you:
Firstly, normalise it. It’s perfectly normal to feel some fear sometimes if you’re continuing to grow and develop.
How you choose to manage fear is something you can get better at with practice. Fear doesn’t go away if you ignore it. Avoidance just breeds more fear/anxiety.
Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with an underlying feeling of helplessness. The way to feel better about yourself and reduce your fear is usually by doing something about it. Informed action wins over paralysis every time.
Take a moment to understand your fear. Is it fear of something that is happening around you? (economic environment) Is it fear about an action you could personally take? (putting yourself forward for a bigger role) Is it fear of feeling a particular emotion? (embarrassment). What else is it?
Take your overall fear, let’s say a ‘fear of a big presentation’, and break it down into smaller chunks – fear the tech won’t work properly, fear you’ll get questions from your audience you can’t answer, fear you’ll forget your key points etc. Now take each of these points in turn and identify what you would do if it actually happened. Now you can be confident you could handle it if you needed to.
Call time on that endless loop of rumination in your head about what you fear (might) happen. Ask yourself some other questions instead.
What is likely to happen? What do you want to happen?
If you were fearless, what would you do?
Thinking of working for yourself? 7 questions you need to ask…
We’re all going entrepreneurial mad.
In the UK, a whopping 80 new companies were created per hour in the first half of last year (according to data from StartUp Britain). We’re told that one in five millennials plan to leave their day job to start their own business – if only they could pay off their student debt first. And LinkedIn is currently full of people taking the opportunity of redundancy to do their own thing.
Chances are, you’re reading this because you’ve started to wonder whether this is a route you could go down yourself. Or maybe you have friends and family who are pitching their business ideas to you in the hope that running a business will bring them more control over their working lives and greater rewards for their efforts.
Having left a corporate job in 2000 and run my own business ever since, I can certainly vouch for the fact there are lots of advantages to working for yourself – tons of autonomy, flexibility, no boss to answer to, massive variety in the range of projects/people you collaborate with each week, the chance to really set your own tone on how things get done. With so many advantages, I sometimes wonder why people would want to be on the payroll for anyone else! But of course, as with anything, there are trade-offs to be made. And all of these upsides come with downsides that people moving out of long-term corporate careers to work for themselves, sometimes don’t anticipate.
I’ve had a number of corridor conversations over the years with people who have quickly returned to the shelter of a corporate job because working for themselves wasn’t quite what they expected! And so in the spirit that forewarned is forearmed, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of the themes I hear most frequently so that you can make a more informed decision about whether working for yourself is going to be the right option for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you happy in your own company?
Unless you plan to throw money at premises and staff from day 1, the reality is you could be spending a huge amount of time on your own. This can be a massive wake-up call if you do your best work bouncing ideas off other people throughout the day and have a strong sense of ‘belonging’. I know a number of self-employed people who work from home alone every day and only see the postman between the hours of 8 and 6. Is this something that is going to be good for you personally?
2. How confident are you at selling yourself?
Once the honeymoon period is over and you’ve exhausted your existing network of contacts who may be happy to hear about your new product/service….you’re going to be out there on your own. Without the quality stamp of a global brand on your business card or the large marketing budget that goes with it. Are you confident you can open doors on your own? Can you talk about your product/service in a language your potential customers can understand? And most importantly, will you really enjoy this part of the job? In the short term at least, you won’t be able to afford a salesforce. You will be it.
3. Can you make the shift to being a ‘Jack of all trades’?
If you’ve been in a large organisation for many years, you’re used to having certain things done for you. There will be a process for everything and lots of departments to delegate to. Working for yourself means initially you’ll be doing everything yourself as well. Are you really equipped for this? Do you have the versatility to move between admin tasks, business development calls, copywriting, purchasing stationery, fixing broadband all in the same day potentially? Cash flow is the life blood of a new business and things will quickly go pear shaped if you’re not administratively on top of your invoicing. Are you really willing to roll your sleeves up and go back to basics as required?
4. Are you able to create your own structure?
There is a natural working rhythm to corporate life – the annual kick-off event, the planning meeting, the weekly numbers call, the monthly team meeting, the quarterly review, your annual appraisal. None of this will exist if you work for yourself. For some people, this lack of structure can be debilitating and lead to a massive drop in productivity as one week simply merges into the next. Are you a real ‘self-starter’? And by that I mean someone who can create and maintain a structure and rhythm to their work which enables them to get things done and stay motivated. Not someone who’s simply very effective at working within parameters that are already there.
5. Are you prepared for feast and famine?
You may be going into this with the idea of a steady 3 days a week of paid work that creates a much better work-life balance for you and your family. This is definitely achievable but initially you’re quite likely to find yourself stuck between feast and famine. When it’s busy, you’ll be working all hours and too busy to take the time to enjoy it. When things go quiet, you’ll be worrying about where the next piece of work is coming from and not wanting to spend the money you’ve just earnt! How confident are you that you’ll be able to manage this situation calmly and see the picture of the whole year rather than get stuck in week to week anxiety?
6. How important is status to you?
Sadly, we live in a society where a lot of focus is placed on what we do. You may have become accustomed to a certain level of acceptance and respect when you introduce yourself as ‘head of sales for a globally recognised brand’ and have probably got used to a certain lifestyle that goes with it. When you start working for yourself, you may feel that you lose a lot of the status that comes with a definable and recognisable big corporate job title. Are you really ready for this?
7. Are you able to let go of the security blanket?
There are a lot of great perks that go with a corporate job that you sometimes don’t appreciate until you no longer have them – monthly salary, health insurance, paid compassionate leave, long term sick pay to name a few. Life still throws stuff at you whatever your choice of employment status. Are you in a position to walk away from some of these benefits or willing to provide them yourself moving forward?
There are many people out there who work for themselves, find it hugely enjoyable and rewarding, and would never consider anything else. At the same time, this way of working is absolutely not for everyone.
If you’re considering working for yourself in the near future, I hope this post has gone some way to helping you make a clear decision about whether this is a good option for you. Look out for my next post, where I’ll share the pitfalls to avoid in your first year.
Take the stress out of self-employment
April is ‘stress awareness month’, and this year it coincides with the first month of self-employment for people in my network who have recently left with redundancy packages to start their own businesses. Having permission to step away from corporate life can be a big de-stressor in itself, but there’s the potential for a huge amount of stress in your first year as you make the transition from employee to fully fledged business owner.
When I went out on my own in 2000 on the back of an unexpected corporate re-org, most people thought I was crazy.
Let’s face it, walking away from the security of full-time employment is hardly ‘perfect timing’ when you’re married to someone who is also self-employed, you’re in the process of building your own house and simultaneously paying out on mortgage, rent and building costs – plus planning to start a family in the near future with all the additional expense that will entail! There have been some hairy moments along the way, but overall, that decision to strike out on my own has surpassed my expectations in every way. Through self-employment, I’ve found a way to sustain my own lifestyle and that of others, plus enjoyed more flexibility and autonomy than would have been possible had I stayed as a corporate employee. I’ve also been able to collaborate/network with many other small business owners and been able to learn from their experiences too.
If you want to put in place some working habits now that will enable you to minimise some of the stressors of self-employment and serve you and your business well into the future, here are some suggestions:
Play the long game
If you’re fresh out of a corporate job, chances are you’ve been working quarter to quarter for most of your working life. When I first started out, I was given some great advice that has stayed with me ever since…..”It takes 4 years to build a business”. A whole 4 years before you reach a point where customers are contacting you voluntarily, and you feel confident your business has legs. Sales and marketing experts may disagree, but in my experience, the principle of the 4 year rule has rung true for many business owners I’ve worked with.
What’s helpful about viewing your fledgling business in this timeframe, is that you liberate yourself from the self-imposed pressure of completely unrealistic financial targets you might be tempted to set in your first year of trading. (It’s very unlikely you’re going to match the corporate benefits package you’ve been used to in your first year!) You’ll get a shot of dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, every time you make progress towards a goal, so set yourself goals that are achievable and allow you to experience early success, feel positive that you’re making progress, and stay motivated. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
Get your inner cabinet in place
A common issue I hear from people deciding to head back into corporate employment having tried working for themselves, is the sense of isolation that self-employment can bring. Turns out that too much time on our own is really not good for the soul. Evidence suggests a large part of our happiness and wellbeing comes from our relationships with people and the day to day connections that may not initially happen when you start working for yourself.
Make it a priority to establish and maintain relationships with people in a similar situation to you. Find the people you can be really honest with about the ups and downs of your business, who you don’t need to impress with a shiny sanitised version of how things are really going, who will help you find the humour at the bleakest times, can empathise with you, celebrate successes with you. Seek these people out and set up a routine of regular face to face contact with them. Your sanity depends on it.
Know when good enough is good enough
For any fellow ruminators out there, the potential to ‘over think’ every single aspect of your new business is absolutely endless in the beginning. No-one will think about your business as much as you do. But excessive pondering about every little decision you’ll need to make along the way is simply going to slow you down as you seek a level of perfectionism that probably doesn’t exist.
It’ll be tempting to spend hours looking at pantone numbers so you can find the exact shade of blue that will 100% match across your website, business cards and compliment slips because no-one will care about this as much as you do. But the fact that no-one will care about this as much as you do means this level of overthinking is not productive. Rumination will sap you of precious time and energy which can be better used elsewhere, and so keep it to a minimum.
Manage your boundaries carefully
If you’re not careful, this overthinking about your business will leak into every aspect of your life, particularly if you’re working from home, and especially if your business needs to become a significant source of income in your household. It’s something you’ll be starting from scratch, will have your name on, and you’ll be desperate for it to succeed. But you’ll test your personal relationships to the limit if you’re constantly preoccupied with your business. You also need proper downtime and rest so you can maintain a clear head and sense of perspective to face the many new situations you’ll find yourself in.
Put a structure in place from day one so that you and your family know when and where you’re working, and when you’re not. When you’re finished for the day, switch the devices off and firmly shut the home office door. Your business is not who you are, it’s something you choose to do, and so don’t allow it to consume you.
Shape your product / service as you go
Avoid the temptation to isolate yourself for months whilst you 100% perfect a product/service that you can launch to the world. This is simply going to cost you time and money. And you’ll feel demoralised when you realise you’ve invested hugely to create a brilliant product/service that everyone is bound to need…..only to find no-one actually wants it!
Identify who your target customers are early on (and I mean real people with budgets, not just target industries), go to the places these people go to, find out what their current issues/problems are, engage with them, listen to them and shape your product/service to fit their current needs. Then evolve your product/service as you go and start offering it out to other potential customers too.
Batch your time
Once you get busy and you’re responding to customer demands, it’ll be easy to spend all of your time making other people’s businesses brilliant, rather than your own.
Batch your time so you’re working ‘on’ your business and not simply just ‘in’ it. Set aside time each day/week/month to keep on top of business development and actively manage your pipeline of future work. Allocate time to develop your own skills and expertise. At the end of each busy week, ask yourself, ‘what ONE thing have I done this week to move my business forward? What ONE thing have I done to invest in myself?’ Be ruthless about batching your time from day one and it will become a habit.
And finally, your business will not survive if you’re not completely on top of managing healthy cash flow. Put simple processes in place now that allow you to easily track income and outgoings. Be tenacious about requesting (and then chasing) PO numbers from customers before you commit to work. Send out your invoices the moment you’ve completed work. Chase late payments the day they become overdue. This is your business, your livelihood and this is something you need to be all over!
So, to sum it up…..self-employment can be hugely fulfilling if you approach it in the right way, but it’s not without its stressors. If you want to minimise stress and get through your first year in style, avoid over thinking everything, interact with people, and be ruthless about your time and cash flow.
You’ve been ‘mapped into a role’. Now what??
With so much transformation around at the moment, you may have started the year with the news that you’ve been successfully ‘mapped into a role’ within a new organisation structure.
If things have been uncertain for a while, then you’ll be forgiven for wanting to at least take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief and wait for the dust to settle! But far from sitting back and waiting for things to happen around you, now’s the perfect time to get on the front foot and ensure this situation is a positive and decisive move for you, rather than a role you simply sleepwalk into.
So if you or your team is in this situation, here are some practical things you can do to help you hit the ground running…
Tap into your emotional intelligence
If former colleagues are walking out the door with severance packages, you’re probably feeling mixed emotions right now. Relief, excitement, disappointment, survivor’s guilt, a sense of anti-climax maybe?
Paying close attention to your emotions can give you useful insight into what’s really important to you and how you want your life to change moving forward. If you were to put a label on the main emotion you’re feeling, what would it be? And what information does this give you that it could be useful to act on?
If it’s relief that you’re staying because you’re not confident about your job prospects elsewhere, what can you do now to strengthen your CV so you feel less vulnerable in the future? Do you need to refresh some skills? Learn some new ones?
Maybe you’re feeling disappointment that you’re not leaving with a financial package that would have paid the mortgage/school fees/taken you on a world cruise. What changes can you make outside of work that will give you greater financial independence so you can do some of these things anyway?
Maybe the prospect of redundancy has been the first time you’ve allowed yourself to contemplate what other roles are out there and this role now feels like an anti-climax because you recognise you’re actually ready for a much bigger career change.
If you recognise that you’re not yet feeling excited about this new opportunity, what will it take to have you fully firing on all cylinders for the year ahead?
Perform your way through the ambiguity
Being told that you’ve been mapped into a role may actually mean that you have a job title on an org chart, but not much more than that initially!
You may not have 100% clarity because key decisions still need to be made higher up the chain, but avoid falling into the trap of ‘waiting for more information’ because that time may never come. A whole first quarter can easily disappear while people wait for clarity, and this isn’t good for business and it’s not good for you. At the end of the year, you’ll be measured on a whole year’s performance even if you only had formal objectives in place for part of it.
You’re the role holder and are well placed to make recommendations about how things can be done differently moving forward. So act your way towards greater clarity rather than wait for it to be fully defined by someone else. Start some projects your customers will value, make recommendations about new ways of working, and improve the problem areas you see in front of you. Early successes will keep you feeling motivated, show you add value, and allow you to start shaping this role as you think it can best be done.
Don’t delude yourself that you can do two people’s jobs
If resources have been cut in your area, make sure you’re taking this opportunity as a team to reassess how you’re doing things and agreeing what work is (really) not going to get done as a result.
A transformation is absolutely the opportunity to take slack out of the organisation, create more efficiencies and find new and innovative ways of doing things. It’s not about doing all the things you were doing before but with half the resource. The only place that’s heading is burnout, stress and diminished performance.
So avoid the trap of saying yes to things you really should be saying no to, just because you’re feeling grateful for still having a job. Start as you mean to go on by setting and managing realistic expectations with all of your key stakeholders, at all levels in the organisation. You may be closer to the ground than some of the decision makers, and if resource decisions are being made that may compromise key customer projects, it’s important they know that sooner rather than later and can redeploy resource appropriately. Being a hero and taking on more than can possibly be expected by one person is probably just storing up bigger problems later on. It’s your reputation at stake.
Treat the situation like you would a brand new job
If you’ve been automatically mapped into a role by HR/your management team because it’s equivalent to something you’ve already been doing in the organisation, you won’t have mentally prepared yourself for it in the same way you would if you’d proactively decided to apply for a brand new job elsewhere. You may not even have known a re-org was about to happen in your area.
Set yourself up for success in this re-org by approaching it with the same discipline you would a new job; identify some quick wins, establish success criteria for the year ahead, expand your network, identify the new projects/skills that will enhance your CV, and regularly assess how you can reap enough from this opportunity to keep your career moving forward.
Above all, avoid sleep walking into a situation that may not have been of your choosing in the first place. You may have been mapped into a role that suits your organisation, but you’re absolutely not a passive bystander in this process. This is your career and you continue to be in charge of it.
Why Don’t Leaders Do More Strategy?
In the world of leadership development we talk about strategy a lot, and being strategic is deeply cool. Ask someone about it in an interview and everyone does strategy. Right? Wrong. I’ve had the opportunity to work with leaders from organisations all over the world and time and again I find that there are brilliant managers who work incredibly hard for their organisations, who are not putting their energy and attention where it should be. They are not doing what is really needed. They are not being the leaders that they could be.
So what are these conscientious managers with their long hours and dedication doing wrong? If you’re coaching them, how can you help? If this is you, what can you do to fix it?
More than the day job
You’re so busy in your managerial role, working so hard, giving all those late nights, so why is some Psychologist saying you’re not being the leader that you need to be? Why? Because you’re putting this vast effort and attention into the wrong things.
Yes, it’s all of what Covey calls the ‘urgent, but unimportant stuff’. All those last-minute requests, all those things that definitely must be done. This is what gets in the way. This of course includes solving crises and responding to incredibly vital customer requests. Part of the job – yes. But of course, if you keep doing them then you can’t get into the non-urgent, vitally important leadership stuff.
The real reason that this is such a trap is that the urgent, unimportant things are tangible, immediate tasks where you know what to do, and you know that you can do a good job. That’s going to be attractive to focus on any day of the week. That’s going to trap your attention. So instead you should be focussing on things that you actually find more difficult, where you’re not sure what to do. You should be looking at your longer-term tasks, where you’re not clear what needs doing and you’re not confident you’ll do a good job. So it’s obvious why you’ve not been doing that then!
And how do you break out of this trap? Where can you start in developing this vital leadership skill?
When you’re riding a bike, it goes where you’re looking. Get distracted by a dog with a fluffy tail, crash into a hedge. Or at least I’m told that can happen. To other people (I broke by hand falling off my bike a short while ago). I often apply this metaphor to look at goal setting, but I actually want to shift this a little now and consider what this means for the time-focus of your attention.
What do I mean by that? It’s like your eye-line when riding a bike, but where you’re looking in time. The simplest tasks tend to have the nearest time-focus. If something needs doing right now, that’s straightforward, simple and tangible. And these are the sorts of tasks we might start with in individual contributor roles. ‘Gareth: get this done next please’.
As we move on and gain experience, our time-focus tends to lengthen. ‘This is what needs to get done by the end of the week’/ ‘this is what the sales target is for this month’. For many middle-managers, their time-focus seems to end up somewhere between one and twelve months, depending upon how changeable their world is.
The big point here is that senior leadership roles involve looking at much longer timelines. So many prospective leaders will have to learn to raise their time-focus so that their attention is where it needs to be. Crashing a company is generally worse than crashing a bike. One of the questions I ask leaders that I work with is ‘what is your biggest challenge for the next 12-18 months?’ It’s surprising how often people struggle to answer that. At senior levels, the question would be 2-5 years.
But I haven’t been set my goals yet!
A common reason I hear for a short time-focus is ‘well I have to wait for the trickle-down of goals from my manager’. This is a big issue in many companies, and I feel for leaders trying to work in an annual goal-setting system that requires them to set goals before they’ve been set them.
However, the leaders who master their time-focus are always looking further ahead. They don’t wait for the annual system of goal setting to remind them what needs to happen in a year’s time. If you are constantly creating a rolling view of where you need to be in 18 months’ time, then you are far less likely to be surprised.
So the challenge here, the skill to develop, is to extend your time-focus; to be clearer about where you want to be in 18 months’ time. Otherwise you run the risk, that I see in so many leaders, of setting arbitrary annual goals for their team, because they’re not sure where they really want to be in 18 months.
How to develop a longer timeline?
Now you want to move to a more senior leadership position, and you recognise that your time-focus is currently at a year or less. Or maybe you’re trapped in the habit of relying on your organisation’s annual goal-setting system. What can you do to raise your timeline?
Talk to people. The information about what will be important in 18 months’ time is out there. The first place to look is to talk to your manager and their manager. They will have a good view of what is likely to be relevant. If they’re not sure, then this may be a good time to start that conversation with them.
Work with your network. Outside of your immediate line are your other stakeholders and your peers. Outside of your organisation are your customers, suppliers and partners. Engage these people in conversations about where things are headed. What is likely to be important in 18 months’ time?
Deal with ambiguity. Anyone who promises you exactly what your world will look like in 18 months is confusing accuracy with confidence. You have to accept that there will be unknowns, complexity and differing opinions. Lengthening your time-focus isn’t about perfectly predicting the future. It is about saying ‘given what I know now, where do I need to be then?’
Where do you want to be? The final part of the puzzle (or maybe the first) is your desires and ambitions. What do you want to be doing in 18 months’ time? Where do you want to be? If that involves changes from where you are now, then it will involve you making changes in yourself, your information, attitudes and skills.
What’s the first thing you can do right now?
Sit down and answer the following questions:
What are you 90% sure will be needed in 18 months’ time?
Who are 3 people you will talk to about what will be required in 18 months’ time?
What do you want to be different in 18 months’ time?
What skills will your team need to deliver, what will be needed?
And of course if you’re too busy to sit down and answer these questions? Raise your time-focus.