Category Archives: Brand Yourself

Not Your Mad Men Career Ladder

Way back, before most of us were working, you got a job with a company and you stayed with that company–making steady progression–until you retired.  You were, of course, a man.  If you got fired, you had done something pretty bad.  Layoffs didn’t happen very often.  There were career ladders that you took all the way from your first position to your last position.

traditional career ladder is no more

This is so long ago that many people reading this don’t get it, don’t know why we still talk about it, and think this is a no-brainer.  We still talk about it because this model still shapes our expectations in many ways.  Our infrastructure is not set up to support the current reality–if so, we’d have portable health insurance and retirement plans.  We’d also be much more focused on taking care of ourselves in our careers rather than leaving it to companies.  It is time for our mental models to catch up with reality.

The current ‘career ladder’ looks a lot more like those cool folding ladders that can be shaped over obstructions and can bend in several directions as necessary to do the job.

todays career ladder

The current ‘career ladder’ takes you up when that is possible and helps you deal with the plateaus, job losses, industry and functional changes that are necessary to remain resilient and successful in today’s economy.  Today’s ‘career ladder’ needs to focus on skills and trends rather than specific roles in specific companies in specific industries.  Find ways to “Genericize Yourself,” that enable you to move across industries.  Find ways to specialize (I know, those sound like opposite pieces of advice, but they aren’t), so that your value (brand) is obvious.  Build your resilience for all kinds of shifts in the economy–think of the shifts that have happened in publishing, electronics, e-marketing, and are happening in health care and communications now.  You can’t know what is coming, but you can be ready.

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Executive Development, Job Hunt, Recession Proof, Success

Selling Your Brand

Have You Thought About Your Brand?Sell Your Brand

Have you ever thought about how your boss thinks about you?  Not what he thinks, but how he thinks?  What about how the organization thinks about you? How about the top leadership in your organization? What about the folks in your professional organizations? Do you stand out in any way?  Do they think of a certain kind of expertise or talent?  Do they think of a certain kind of results?

When you think of McDonald’s you get a “picture” of what McDonald’s is.  Depending on your age and interests, that image might be different, but it pops into your mind.  The same is true of Coke, or Apple or Sears or Fanta.  You make decisions about those brands based on your values, interests, likes/dislikes, income and other demographics.  You want to be able to control (or at least strongly influence) how people think of you (your brand) when they think of you.  The more you influence your brand and the more aware you are of it, the more likely you are to be able to manage your career successfully.

How I Learned This Lesson–The Hard Way

I worked for many years in a large, rapidly growing organization.  There was a period of time when I was “stuck” in the same position for several years.  The men who had started in the organization with me were moving past me and I was standing still.  I was very confused by this. Rightly or wrongly, I rejected the idea that it was a gender thing.  I thought it was something about me.  I was VERY frustrated.  I was quite angry about it. (Although looking back on it, I’m not sure just how clear I was about what was causing my frustration.)

Our CEO had a leadership meeting and announced the formation of a trilogy of high performance projects.  He announced that the people selected to work on these projects would be those who were identified across the organization as the “best” in each of the areas.  I was thrilled.  I was the “best” at one of them.  (Ok, maybe I wasn’t really, but at the time, I was absolutely, completely, without a doubt sure of it.)  So . . . I waited for the invitation.  It didn’t come.  Someone else in my division got selected.  Someone who not only wasn’t as good at it as me, but who wasn’t even interested.  I went from being angry to being FURIOUS!  How could they announce that the ‘best’ would be selected and then not pick me!?!?!  I couldn’t let it go.  I asked my manager.  I asked the VP of HR.  They didn’t know.  I finally asked my VP.  His reaction was one of the best lessons I ever got–although not at all fun!

He was completely, genuinely surprised that I even thought I should have been selected.  It hadn’t occurred to him.  It was in this very painful way that I realized that he really didn’t know that I was the ‘best.’  The person he had selected was a charming, talented person who regularly delivered results.  He didn’t know anything about the subject matter at hand, but that didn’t really matter that much.  He was easy to get along with.  He was very competent (at other stuff).  He was charming.  He got results.  So he got picked.

I, on the other hand, was pretty much an unknown to the VP who had my career in his control.  He certainly didn’t think of me–at all.  This was completely eye opening.  And when I got over the shock of it, I got over being so mad, too.  I could see how and why he was oblivious to my strengths.  I was pretty much totally responsible for that.  I hadn’t made a point of selling my abilities to the ‘powers-that-be’ in the organization.  I hadn’t made sure that I was thought of as an expert in the organization.  Once I figured this out, I went about building my ‘brand’ in the organization.  And I got ‘unstuck’–promoted within less than a year.  And then I got promoted again.  And then again.

How do you build your brand?

  • Be an expert.  Build your expertise.  Within your organization, become THE expert on something.  Be the ‘go-to’ person for that subject.
  • Help other people.  Create mutually beneficial situations.  Create ‘organizational trade routes.’
  • Act like you’re dating. Remember back to the days when you were dating.  Somehow or other you always managed to be in the right place at the right time to ‘meet’ up with the person of interest.  You managed to ensure that s/he knew how great you were.  You managed to appear to be as smart as possible, as talented, as charming as possible.  Do that again–just in a different context–prove how ‘right’ you are for the organization.
  • Be brave.  Stand out.  Blending in will not do you any good long-term.  What’s different/better/a more perfect fit about you?  How can you get it communicated?
  • Make sure other people are ‘selling’ you.  The theory behind social media marketing is that buzz created among ‘friends’  is more credible than advertising by the company.  I can’t tell you how many times I was in meetings of managers who were deciding who got what job.  The candidates who were known of by more deciders were the ones who got the jobs.  EVEN IF THEY WEREN’T the most qualified on paper.  If you know of someone, you feel more comfortable choosing him than a total unknown.  Imagine how much better someone did who was known of (because they had effectively sold their brand) by all the deciders.
  • Get over any thoughts that ‘selling’ your brand is unseemly. This is your life, your livelihood, your career.  This is the way you do it.

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Career Goals, Communication, Executive Development, Networking, Recession Proof, Success

Career Check-up

Why a Career Check-up?

Those of us who do what we should have annual physical check-ups.  People who practice preventative health care are much healthier.  We take our cars for their regularly scheduled maintenance milestones.  Our cars last longer, drive better and have higher resale values.  Regular house maintenance (how many of us have given our houses great makeovers when we’re selling them?) leads to fewer crises and higher sales prices.  But how many of us do that with our careers?  Most of us get an annual review for our job, but what about our careers? A job is a role that you play, specific functions you perform.  A career is a professional or work life, a broader view, transportable, beyond your current employer, beyong your current job.  Transportable.  In today’s economy, transportable is priceless.

Career Continuum

Career Path

Where are you on the your career continuum?  Where on you compared to where you want to be?  In terms of time–how long have you worked?  How much longer will  you work?  Are you 1/3 done?  Are you 1/2 done?  Between now and what is left, what do you want to accomplish?   As you look at where you are, what do you need to move your career along as fast as you need to in order to get to where you want?

Career Trajectory

Now look at where you are in terms of what level you want to be?  If you are a Director now, do you want to be C-level?  Do you want to have your own business?  Do you want to move into another field?  Do you want to accelerate how much money you’re making?  Are you moving as fast as you want to? Are you being considered for the types of positions you should be to get to the level you want?

What’s Going On Now?

Look at what’s going on at your current organization WITH CLEAR EYES:

  • Are You Valued?
  • Do You Think Your Company Has the Right  Direction?
  • Do You Trust Your Organization’s Leadership?
  • Are There Growth Opportunities?
  • Is There Enough Challenge?
  • Is This Work What You Thought It Would Be?
  • Do You Fit in the Culture?
  • Is This Meaningful for You?
  • Are You Motivated at Work?
  • Do You Make Enough Money?
  • Is This the Right Work-Life Balance for You?

Depending on the answers, you need to decide whether your current organization is the right place for you to accelerate your trajectory pace.  If not, face it now.  That doesn’t mean you need to move now–it means that you need to get ready to move.  (It took me six years to get ready for my next step beyond an organization I truly loved–but once I saw that I needed to go, my focus changed to the next step rather than continuing to stay in an organization that couldn’t deliver my end-state for me).

Start Working on What it Will Take

Skills Traits Knowledge

The more specific you can be in understanding what you need to know, do and be in order to reach your goal, the better you can prepare to do it.  If, for example, you are a Director and you want to be C-level, you may need to be much more financially literate than you are now.  You may have to be able to see the big picture better and pull yourself out of your detail focus.  If you are a Project Manger and you want to be a Program Manager, you may need to know how to understand enterprise-level governance of projects and programs.

How Do You Figure This Out?

Look at People Who Do What You Want to Do:

  • What Do They KNOW?
  • What Can They Do?
  • What Are They Like?
  • What is Their “Brand?”

I can rarely persuade people to actually do informational interviews until they are looking for jobs, and usually even then, they are out of a job before they’ll do it.  It is an incredibly helpful tool for a career check-up.  It helps you to understand what it takes to get to the level you want when you talk to people who’ve done it.

  • What do they wish they had known when they were at your level?
  • What is the most important skill at their level?
  • What was hardest to learn/do?
  • What would they do differently?
  • What advice do they have for you?

You walk away with a perspective on what you need to know/do/be.  You are also likely to walk away with an advocate who may start looking out for you.

Create a Project Plan

You know how to do this:

  • Set your goals
  • Identify your critical path tasks
  • Identify the resources
  • Set your timeline
  • Do a kick-off
  • Git-ur-done!

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Goal Setting, Personal Change, Success

Get Off Your Butt! DIY Executive Development

I’m going to rant a little

l talk to people all the time who are sitting around waiting for their company to “do something” about their development.  They know that they are talented (and for the most part, the company agrees), they know that they are “hi po” (high potential–recognized by the company as having potential to move up), and they know that they do a good job.  So, why doesn’t the company send them to Executive Development programs, or provide them with developmental opportunities, or generally take an interest and develop them?

There are all kinds of reasons

Maybe the company doesn’t have a well-developed Executive Development system.  Maybe the company doesn’t classify these people as “hi po” enough.  (Lots of companies, maybe most companies, take the view that only the most “hi po” gets developed).  When I ran an Executive Development Program for a company, I found that the “hi po”s who were selected by the ‘deciders’ were all over the place.  Potential is in the eye of the beholder.  You may not fit the profile for hi potential for the person in YOUR management chain who makes the decision.  The company may be trying to develop a certain skill (like innovation) at this time and are picking people who they think have the most potential in that area.  Someone up there may not like you.  There are all kinds of reasons why it is not you, not this year, not at this company.

So What?

So why am I going to rant?  Because I think it’s totally nuts for ANYONE to sit around and wait for your company to develop YOU.  Who cares more about your career and your abilities more than you?  Who wants you to succeed  than you?  How long will you stay at THIS company?  They will develop you for their organizational profile and needs.  Will that make you a fully rounded Executive candidate? Maybe, but probably not.  What one organization believes are the key attributes of leadership is another organization’s rejection list.

Get Off Your Butt and Develop You

Most well run organizations have well thought out Executive Development plans and programs (just because it doesn’t focus on you doesn’t mean that there isn’t a plan).  These programs look at what the organization needs, what it has, and puts in place a plan to hire or develop the necessary skills to take the organization to the next level.  You can do the same thing, with you, and only you, as the hi po being developed.  (this applies to you hi pos who are already “being developed” by your organization—make if faster, or develop skills that are outside the organization’s focus that you know you need).  If you do this right, it could have more impact than an MBA (although it is possible that an MBA is a necessary part of your personal development plan).

After years of helping organizations develop Executive Development programs and of coaching all kinds of individuals, I’ve come up with an outline of what needs to be addressed in Do-It-Yourself Executive Development.

DIY Executive Development

Do-It-Yourself Executive Development

I know the print on the diagram is too small to read, but I wanted you to see how it all fit together.  There are four areas of developmental concentration:  1) Know Yourself, 2) Understand Your Environment, 3) Personal Change Tools and 4) Skill Building.   You can start anywhere—they all support each other.

4 Essentials for Do-It-Yourself Executive Development

The Recipe for DIY Executive Development:

Know Yourself–Understand Your:

  • Motivation
  • Habits
  • Personality
  • Beliefs About How Things Work
  • Strengths/Weaknesses
  • Temperament
  • Flaws (aka Derailers)

Understand Your Environment:

  • What is the Culture?
  • What is Your Fit in that Culture?
  • What is the Power Structure?
  • What Gets Rewarded?
  • What is the Organization Life Cycle Stage?

Personal Change Tools–Understand:

  • Reframing
  • Habits
  • Feedback

Skill Building–Develop:

  • Execution Skills
  • Leadership
  • Financial Acumen
  • Organization Assessment
  • Organizational Political Saavy
  • Personal Brand Management
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Organizational Change Management

The well-rounded, and highly successful Executive has all of these.  No one is born with all of them; they need to be developed.  If you want to be a successful Executive, stop waiting for your organization to do it.  Get off your butt and start working on developing yourself.  You’ll do a much better job than any organization if you focus on it.

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Executive Development, Hi Po, Leadership, Personal Change, Recession Proof, Reframe, Success

Genericize Yourself, Increase Your Options

Change Your ThinkingBroaden Your Opportunities

For the first ten years of my career, I did product development and operations at an electronic publisher.  Before the Internet.  Explaining what I did was very hard.  (It would be a lot easier now).   When I started looking at other career options, I found that there were a limited number of electronic publishers in the country and none of them were within 100 miles of where I lived.  If I wanted to work at another company, my options were pretty limited.  I looked at job postings (again, before the Internet) and I couldn’t find anyone looking for anything remotely similar to what I did.

The fact that my company was being sold made me realize that I needed to figure out ways to open up more opportunities.  The way I did it was to examine the positions within my company that existed in other companies in my community–human resources, organization development, strategy, government relations, fulfillment, and customer service.  I looked at ways that I could get more experience in those areas so that I could market myself to other companies.  Luckily, I didn’t get swept up in the layoffs associated with the sale of the company.  Also, I was lucky that my company was open to me getting experiences in other departments.  I acquired enough experience to make myself credible in a number of different positions.

Then Broaden Them Some More

Today, if I wanted to genericize myself, I would do it differently.  I would become an expert who is broad and deep in a subject area that expands beyond inside-organization jobs to external contractors and consultants.  These would be jobs like Project Managers, Program Managers, experts in ERP systems,  global operations or social media marketing.  These would expand the opportunities to reflect the way job opportunities exist now–inside and outside companies.

And Then Some More

At the same time that you are building your skills to make you credible across companies/industries/delivery models, you should be building your brand as a complete player in your area of expertise.  If you want to go to the top you also will have to make it all fit together.  Your understanding and performance at that point will have to be broader than it is deep.

All of this requires that you look beyond today’s job to tomorrow’s job and beyond.

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Filed under Brand Yourself, Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Personal Change, Recession Proof, Reframe