Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Successful Transitions 3: College Graduate to Working Professional

Part 3: Achieving Workplace Success 101

The Radio Show Recap...

In our third segment of Successful Transitions, O’Keyla Smith and I discussed the essential skills young people need to acquire in order to find success in the workplace. The workplace can be a strange new world for many of young adults and learning the ropes early on can really help accelerate career advancement.

O’Keyla’s Question: Let’s talk about success. How is success in school different than success at work?

Achieving success at work is VERY different than achieving success at school! School may give you knowledge—but it doesn’t teach you the process of accomplishing work effectively in the “real world.” The culture, environment, value system, and framework of the working world is almost completely opposite than those of the school world. Many young people don’t fully appreciate the enormity of this paradigm shift. Remember, most college grads have spent 16 of their 22 years learning to succeed in a school system—so it is only natural that some young people have trouble adjusting—and may even resist the new environmental “rules.” Rethinking your approach to success after 16 years can be very difficult!

Just to give you and idea of the radical differences—let me outline a few of the areas that often trip young people up:

Performance Level: At school you get to choose your performance level—do you wan to work to be an A student, or are you happy being a C student? At work, you don’t get to choose—stellar performance is always expected.

Customer or Service Provider: At school, you are the customer. The school is there to serve you. At work, you are the service provider. You are there to serve and create results for the organization.

Personal Control: At school, you have enormous personal control over your time, schedule and choices. At work, you have very little personal control.

Relationship to Authority: In actuality, school has very little true authority over you. In fact, you are often rewarded for “disagreeing” with your professors or administration. This is not the case in most workplaces. Authority at work is much more rigid and established—with very little wiggle room if you don’t like what authority is saying or doing.

Decision Making: At school you make most of your own decisions. Additionally, many members of this new generation were actively involved in family decisions. At work, most new recruits are not involved in the company’s decision making process. And this feels very unfair to many young people.

Growth Timeline: At school you are given an explicit and specific rubric for success. You are told exactly what you need to do, when you need to do it and often how you need to do it in order to succeed. You know that if you accomplish your work within that rubric you will advance and succeed in a laid out timeline. Work couldn’t be more different! There is no such rubric for success at work. Very few organizations can (or will) lay out a bullet-proof schedule for advancement and promotion.

Meritocracy versus Social System: School, by and large, is a meritocracy. This means individuals who do well get rewarded—mainly for individual accomplishments. With the exception of the occasional group project—school rewards on individual accomplishment and merit. The workplace is quite the opposite. The workplace is a social system. This means that although individual effort is important, it is not the only factor—or even the most compelling factor—in succeeding. To succeed at work, you must learn how to work with, through, and sometimes around other people. Underestimating the power of the social conditions—and I’m talking organizational culture and politics—can be a serious success derailer.

O’Keyla’s Question: What do successful people at work do better than unsuccessful people?

Successful people know how to play the game. They understand how to get results through working with others. They know how to access their skills and talents and apply them effectively in a working environment. Essentially, they know who they are, they know how to work with others and they understand the nature of organizational life.

O’Keyla’s Question: What are the essential skills a young person needs to be successful in the workplace?

To put it broadly, young people need to focus on developing three “Success Intelligences” in the following three areas:
  1. Individual Intelligence: Developing and managing self
  2. Interpersonal Intelligence: Developing and managing collaborative relationships
  3. Organizational Intelligence: Developing organizational savvy
It really takes all three to succeed. Developing these success intelligence begins with becoming self and environmentally aware.

O’Keyla’s Question: Lets talk about Individual Intelligence. Can you provide some examples?

Individual Intelligence is about developing and managing self and attitude—this means knowing who you are and how your behaviors and actions impact those around you. I’m not talking here about hard or technical skills, I’m talking about intra-personal awareness—developing attitudes, behaviors and actions that are workplace effective and appropriate. For young people, the three biggest areas in which to concentrate are:
  1. Attitudes: your attitudes and expectations must be aligned to the realities of a business environment.
  2. Image: Young adults much develop and maintain a professional image at all times.
  3. Impact: It is critical for young adults to understand the difference between intent and impact. Understanding and appreciating how your behaviors, actions, and attitudes impact other people is critical to achieving success. People don’t get promoted on intentions—they get promoted on impact.

O’Keyla’s Question: What mistakes do you see young people make most often around individual skills and how can they correct them?

I see three big mistakes in this area:

The first one is attitude. This is employer’s number 1 complaint about young people in the workplace today. Young people often come into today’s workplace with attitudes and expectations that are wildly misaligned to reality. This generation has a bad rap for having an attitude of entitlement. Employers complain that they come into the workplace expecting way too much way too soon.

The second big mistake I see, which goes along with the first one, is that young people today have a hard time appreciating the value of “menial” labor. They don’t understand the importance of learning from the bottom up and they feel that grunt work is beneath them. The phrase “I didn’t go to college to make copies,” needs to be banned from their vocabulary. Menial tasks are a test—no one is going to trust you with a big project until they see how you perform with a small project. Stop resisting—do menial tasks with integrity and enthusiasm and soon you will be entrusted with more responsibility.

Finally, the last mistake I see most often, is that young adults continue acting and speaking like a college student far too long. In order to succeed in a professional setting—you need to behave like a professional. People need to see you as a professional.

O’Keyla’s Question: Lets move onto Interpersonal Intelligence. What are the key elements here? Is this just about getting along with others or is it something more?

Organizations are social networks so it is more than getting along with people—you have to achieve and produce results by working with, through, and sometimes around other people. You have to learn to engage others well! This means you not only have to be good at working with others, but you also have to be someone with whom others want to work! So the key element here is learning how to build and cultivate strong working relationships and networks.

The most important working relationship for new professionals is the one they have with their boss. Your boss is the most important person you have to work with. In the beginning, they hold a tremendous amount of power and influence over your career. Don’t resist this fact—accept it. Learn how to follow!!! Here are the key elements for succeeding with your boss:
  • Do the job you were hired to do
  • Know what really matters to your boss and give it to him/her
  • Learn your boss’ work style and adapt to it
  • Make your boss look good

O’Keyla’s Question: What mistakes do you see young people make most often when dealing with other people?

I don’t think young people truly appreciate the social network aspect of work. They don’t take the time to really engage their fellow co-workers. They show up at work, listen to their i-pods, put in their 8 hours and then run back home to hang out with their friends. I would suggest, that young people put a little energy into networking and engaging with their co-workers both during work hours and after work hours. Get to know people throughout your office. Go to happy hours. Eat lunch with different people. Opportunities come through other people—the more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way.

O’Keyla’s Question: I’m curious about Organizational Intelligence. How are these skills different from the skills used at home, school or other “organizations?

This is about understanding the nature of organizational life—what makes organizations tick. Every organization has it’s own personality—or organizational culture, politics, structure, dynamics and hierarchies. Having strong Organizational Intelligence is about understanding how to navigate these dynamics. Young people need to learn and respect culture and politics—even if they don’t make sense. Getting results requires some level of adaptation—just as you wouldn’t waltz into a foreign country and flout their social norms—you need to show organizational culture the same respect. Besides, as a newbie you aren’t in a position to change culture, hierarchy or politics—so you are better off learning them and adapting to them.

O’Keyla’s Question: What mistakes do you see young people make most often when navigating organizational life?

I see lots of young people not appreciating the power structure and hierarchy that is inherent in most companies. Before jumping in to debate decisions with your boss’s boss—take some time to learn how people negotiate decisions and share power. Most companies are not democracies—you can argue with your professor—but arguing with your boss takes skill and savvy. Organizational life will be full of decisions you won’t like and enough organizational annoyances and inefficiencies to drive you crazy. It is the nature of the beast. Learn to manage your frustrations. No organization is perfect. When groups of people work together—all kinds of “stuff” gets in the way. It is what makes the world so interesting! So adapt a long term perspective when dealing with organizational annoyances.

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