Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Working Life: Changing Jobs Within Your Organization

The Working Life: Changing Jobs Within Your Organization Do you feel like it’s time to move up or across the corporate ladder? Have you ever thought of advancing or changing careers within your company? What if you are a manager and you want to hire an employee from a different department? There is a right way and a wrong way to change jobs and hire employees internally. The right way can lead to fulfilling and empowering career and company growth, while the wrong way can lead to career disaster. But, armed with a little knowledge, intra-company transitions can be effective and profitable. Everybody can win as long as everyone understands the pros, cons and how-to’s of moving up and around within an organization. Let’s start with the employee.

For The Employee Getting ready to make the move
Even before you make the move to apply for that new job, you should lay some groundwork that establishes yourself as a valuable employee, someone your company would want to keep. If you are interested in moving across or up the corporate ladder be willing to take on new challenges.

Go ahead and volunteer for extra responsibility. Volunteering for and taking on special assignments and extra responsibility is a fantastic way to move ahead. It not only demonstrates you are a go-getter, but it also allows you to develop working relationships with new colleagues which, in turn, helps expand your network and showcase your talents.

Having a mentor is another valuable tool. Mentors can really help you learn how to be successful in your organization. They can serve as a sounding board, an advisor, a coach, and a champion for your career. Last, make an effort to build a strong internal network at your organization. Building solid relationships throughout the company will help you stay on the forefront of opportunities. Having a great reputation with everybody is the best marketing tool you can create for yourself.

Take a look around

Next, determine the protocol within your organization. You’ve got to understand how this sort of thing is done at your company, and most large organizations have policies and procedures in place for upward and lateral moves. Large organizations often post open positions in-house and through the Internet. Your HR department can also be a good source of information. Small organizations rely much more on personal relationships and networks, so it may be fine to ask around (and this is where good workplace relationships come into play). You should also be having regular conversations with your boss regarding your career trajectory so that when opportunities arise, both of you will both be ready.

If you become aware of an opportunity in your organization that interests you, then you have to be proactive about it. As with any job, you need to do a little prep work before applying. Talk to people about the job and the team. Determine if it is a good fit for you and if you are qualified. Even if you aren’t qualified, sometimes just applying for a different position sends a strong message that you are ready for a new challenge.

If you decide to proceed, consider discussing this with your boss. Chances are he/she will find out about it so you want to make sure your action is “spun” right. You want to make sure your manager will support your pursuit of another position. If you aren’t sure your immediate boss will support your move, then you may have to rely on the support of someone else within that organization. This is where it really pays to have a solid mentoring relationship with your boss AND a strong network of professional colleagues within the company. This is also a great reason to always have an internal mentor at your workplace who is not your boss.

Not all bosses are alike. If you are a good employee your boss may not be enthused by your desire to move on. Some bosses really take pride in their ability to develop and grow people. Some don’t. It doesn’t make them bad people; it just means they are more invested in creating strong results for their department. So if you really think your boss wouldn’t be supportive, it is important to find another mentor, advisor or champion within the organization. Here are some tips for finding one:
  • Look around. Who do you respect? With whom do you have good rapport? Who has successfully moved around within the organization?
  • Find a few people and meet informally with them.
  • Just be careful you don’t appear to be “going behind your boss’ back. In other words, don’t have coffee with your boss’ best friend.
  • If your boss does find out be honest. Let him/her know that you are just exploring.
How soon can I move around? This depends on several factors: where you are in your career and what type of company you work for. Some organizations move people around quite liberally. But I would say try to not to move jobs sooner than a year. And I say this for several reasons:
  • One, you don’t want to seem like a flaky employee. It takes time to get employees up and running so if you change too often employers are going to see you as a risky candidate.
  • Two, organizations are social networks. If you transition too often, it will confuse your colleagues and people won’t really understand what your expertise is or where your loyalties lie.
  • And three, it is important to really take the time to figure out what is a good fit for you. If you are constantly moving, then I’m guessing you haven’t really been able to accurately assess yourself and the situation in order to make appropriate decisions.
Now the caveat to this is when you are being recruited and promoted on a steady and consistent basis. In other words, if you are the rising star who is constantly being asked to step up then there will be less stigma. There is a danger to being a rising star, however, and that is that people may start to resent you, especially if you don’t stay in any one position long enough to really show results. In this case people may start to make up stories about you and your sudden rise to success.

II. For The Employer: The etiquette of poaching
Let’s turn the tables a little and talk about recruiting employees from within the organization to leave their current position and work for you. Let’s say you are a supervisor with a vacancy in your department and you have your eye on a possible candidate who has not applied for the position. Is it appropriate to approach this person? Is it OK to poach?

This is really a question of tact and finesse. The answer again depends largely on the culture of the organization and your relationship with the coveted employee and his/her supervisor. There is a fine line between actively recruiting people and letting people know about interesting opportunities. You want to make sure you are someone who can spot and attract good talent, but you don’t want to be known as a shameless poacher. Generally speaking, here is how to do it:
  • Seek out the employee. Tell him/her about the position and why you think they would be a good fit. Find out if this might be a position that would fit into their career plans. Let them know that you are a fan of their work and would love to talk to them about their career plans.
  • Invite them to apply. You can simply say something like, “I think you would be great addition to my team and I’d love for you to apply.”
The pros and cons of promoting from within As an employer, there are advantages and disadvantages of promoting an existing employee. The advantages are that existing employees know and understand the organizational culture and the business models utilized by the organization. They understand who all the players are and how to get things accomplished within the business. Existing employees have proven track records and a proven commitment to the organization. Another big advantage is that it helps organizational morale. People like to know that there are opportunities for advancement, so it sends a strong positive message throughout the company.

The disadvantages, however, must be considered. Sometimes, a position really needs a new set of perspectives and ideas. Existing employees often will reinforce the status quo. A person’s internal reputation can also be a disadvantage if their reputation is at all tarnished or questionable.

However, the biggest disadvantage is when people are promoted into managerial jobs based on technical skills. In other words, being a great sales or technical person does not necessarily mean that person will be a great manager. Those positions require very different skill sets. This is one of the biggest problems in organizations today -- organizations don’t spend enough time developing the skills necessary to move from being a great technical or sales person to a great manager. They are very different jobs with very different skills.

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The Working Life: First Job Blues

The Working Life: Combating Those First Job Blues

Your first job. How exciting! How nerve wracking. How disappointing. Your first job out of college or grad school can be all of those. Many people head into new jobs only to find that they aren’t too thrilled with the reality of their career. They often run into what I call the first job blues, and it’s very common. Luckily, the blues can be cured with a little insight, a little attitude adjustment and some very concrete tips.

What are first job blues?
First job blues usually pop up two to three months after first-time job holders start working. First job blues can have many symptoms, including feelings of dissatisfaction or frustration; feeling tired, having low energy or feeling a low level depression. Work may feel unfulfilling or pointless and you may start to question your choices and your future. Many start to wonder, “Is this what I went to college for?

First job blues are similar to new job blues, where people may feel similarly dissatisfied after starting a new job. New job blues are when a new job initially doesn’t seem to be a good fit. You’ve been in the working world a while, but those feelings of dissatisfaction creep in after you’ve switched jobs. New job blues are often temporary, as you just need time to adjust to your new workplace culture and position.

Workplace blues aren’t new. People have always felt dissatisfied with their working life. What is different now is that we have far greater expectations that work should be meaningful and fulfilling. This is a relatively new career standard. A generation ago, people worked to provide food, shelter, security, etc. Being fulfilled by work wasn’t part of the equation. That, however, has changed, as people (especially young people just entering the workforce) expect their jobs to be meaningful and fulfilling. Young people today are surrounded by cultural images of exciting and rewarding careers. Expectations are very high.

Additionally, young people today have extraordinary pressures on them to compete, get great test scores, have all the right accomplishments, get into good schools, graduate with good grades, and get a “good job.” Then they get the job and BAM! They are unprepared for real work, the often banal “humdrummery” of day-to-day office life.

The cause of the blues
There are four major causes of first job blues: transition, poor job/career fit, poor company fit and misaligned expectations and attitudes. The transition from college to working life is a doozy, and presents the first hurdle. Even when the change is a positive and exciting one, like getting a great job, the transition can be tough. But the transition from college life, where you basically called the shots and were your own boss, to working life, when you are working for someone for pay, presents an enormous challenge.

First of all, the environment is radically different and may appear stagnant, cumbersome and downright annoying. There are also very real physical and psychological adjustments. For example, you are no longer in charge of your own schedule. You have to be at a certain place at a certain time, and many recent grads struggle with not having control over their schedules. Many feel physically exhausted from a 9 to 5 day. Just sitting behind a desk all day is a huge adjustment for many young people.

The second cause of the blues, poor job or career fit, is equally difficult. Your job or career field may have sounded good on paper, but the reality may turn out to be quite different. This happened to me in my first job. I always wanted to be a PR person. I thought PR sounded fun and sexy and my very first job was in that field. Turns out, PR is all about selling and I hated sales. It was not a good fit.

The third cause, poor company fit, crops up when the field or job may be right for you, but the company ethos fits poorly. Organizations, like people, have distinct personalities and cultures. You may love your job or profession but you may not like the organizational environment or personality of your company. It may not be a good fit.

The fourth cause of the blues is one of the most common -- misaligned expectations and attitudes. Entry-level drudgery can be a real downer. It isn’t just that the transition to real work is difficult, it’s that you may have had expectations of writing ad copy or editing manuscripts, when in fact you are making copies and getting coffee. Young people today are used to fast results, instant gratification and lots of attention. They are not so used to the entry-level tasks that everyone must perform before they move ahead.

This is a real problem for many young people, and is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Many people expect too much too soon and don’t realize the incredible importance of entry-level work. They think their degree is their golden ticket, when in reality the golden ticket is hard work, starting right at the bottom.

How to beat the blues
You can beat the blues easily and I am going to tell you how. But first I will tell you what NOT to do:
  • Do not disconnect from potential mentors or advisors.
  • Do not assume the problem is the job and not you, or vice versa; in fact, do not assume anything
  • Do not quit and run off to grad school
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help from inside or outside your organization
That said, here is what you can do to beat the blues. The first step is to determine the cause.

You have to be very honest with yourself and ask tough questions. Try to isolate factors. Is it the transition? Are you just tired and out of sorts from working set hours? Is it the job? The company? Were your expectations too high? Do you like what you do? Look up the company ladder and around the office. Do you like what you see? Do you like what the company does? Would you like to do what other people in your organization are doing?

Once you have asked and answered the tough questions, find a mentor in your profession or company. Ask them if they went through this. You may be experiencing very normal transitional hiccups. Really understand what the transition process is all about, that you are going to feel shockwaves for some time about a new schedule. It’s no small feat to become accustomed to entry-level humdrummery. Try to establish relationships at the workplace. Get to know the job better and the company better. Rule things out so you can get to the heart of the blues. And take a good look at your expectations and work ethic.

Now, if you determine that you like the industry or profession, but don’t like the entry-level drudgery or dues paying, you have to suck it up. You will not get ahead until you have worked in that field. You’ve got to lose the green and gain experience. Similarly, if you like the profession or industry but do not like the company, you also have to suck it up until you have enough experience and have paid enough dues so that you can add that entry-level job to your resume. The more experience you have, even just a few months to a year, the more marketable you will be. It doesn’t look good on a resume to quit after four weeks.

Conversely, if you determine that you like the company but not the job then start networking within that organization. If they liked you well enough to hire you, there is a good chance they will help you find a more appropriate home in the organization.

Meet people. Explore other opportunities. Get informational interviews with people in other areas. Volunteer to work on other projects in areas you think would make you happier. Network, network, network.

Last, if you hate the job, the profession and the company, then you will have to do some real soul searching to determine what you want to do. Hiring a career coach can be very helpful. A career coach can help you determine and define your interests, skills and talents. They will help you create a game plan for pursuing and accomplishing your goals and they will support you through this process by giving you honest feedback and advice. If you are really at a loss, a career coach can help. You can find a coach through your college career office, on the Internet or by contacting me.

What companies can do to keep the blues at bay
Organizations have to realize that their new recruits are going to go through some tough times, no matter the cause. And there is a lot they can do to soften the blow. First, they should try to provide young recruits with meaningful work. Traditional entry-level tasks like copying have to be balanced out with more meaningful work, or new employees will be demoralized. Companies can provide opportunities for young people to work on projects with older employees. Even if their duties will be small, at least they will feel a sense of connectedness and worth. They’ll be a part of the bigger picture.

Organizations can help their young employees find the right fit by letting them do departmental rotations. This allows young folks to spend several months in different departments until they find the right place.

Last, organizations should check in with their new hires after a month or so. They should make it a point to offer mentors and to introduce young recruits to other workers who are a few years older who can help them see the “light at the end of the tunnel.”

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Workplace Mentoring

The Working Life: The Importance of Mentoring

Most successful adults can identify a person who had a significant and positive impact on them. Whether it was a teacher, a coach, a boss, a scoutmaster or a parent, chances are that someone, somewhere along the line acted as a mentor to you.

Today, more and more businesses are embracing the concept of mentoring as a professional development tool. Through mentoring, organizations are seeing dramatic improvements in efficiency, productivity and, of course, the passing of institutional knowledge and leadership skills from one generation to the next.

Mentoring is one of the oldest forms of influence and knowledge sharing. It started with the Ancient Greeks; Mentor was Odysseus’ trusted counselor and advisor. Mentoring is when one individual actively and willingly passes his/or knowledge and wisdom onto another person. A mentor is an individual—usually older, but always more experienced--who helps and guides another individual’s development. This guidance is done without the expectation of personal or monetary gain on the mentor’s part. Mentors can be friends, relatives, co-workers, teachers, supervisors, etc. There is no official title.

Mentoring vs. Coaching
Because both mentoring and coaching have become popular tools in the field of employee development, the two are often confused. While both utilize many of the same skills, being a mentor implies some specific organizational or industry knowledge that helps guide the protégé’s career. Coaching, on the other hand, is more about bringing an objective process to help someone articulate and achieve his goals.

In general, to be a coach, one does not need particular organizational or industry expertise and, in fact, most coaching is more about personal perspective and personal impact than specialized knowledge. Coaches are process experts. Mentors are task experts. Coaching is about skill development. Mentoring is about skill development AND specialized knowledge transfer. When done correctly, it’s a powerful double whammy.

Why mentoring is important
Mentoring is a tool that organizations can use to nurture and grow their people, and it’s gaining in popularity. As organizations strive to retain hard earned experience and wisdom, they are turning to mentoring programs as a form of interpersonal knowledge management. Protégés observe, question and explore, while mentors demonstrate, explain and model.

I know that coaching is big thing in organizations today. While coaching can definitely help individuals become better leaders and managers, it doesn’t really tap into the collective wisdom of people who have succeeded inside specific organizations or industries. Mentoring, on the other hand, can help employees navigate organizational culture, solve problems and advance their careers. Mentoring is a great way to make sure the talent pipeline is filled with people ready to manage and lead.

Additionally, organizations are using mentoring as a way to retain and recruit talent. As the latest generation, the Millennials, hit the workforce in huge numbers, mentoring has become a key tool for both recruiting and retention.

What makes a good mentor?

A good mentor needs to be more than just a successful individual. A good mentor must also have the disposition and desire to develop other people. Great mentors must be able to both “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.”

Being a good mentor requires more than just experience. It requires a willingness to reflect and share on one’s own experiences, including one’s failures. Great mentors are often those who are constantly trying to learn themselves. Essential qualities for an effective mentor include:

  • A desire to develop and help others. A good mentor has to be sincerely interested in helping someone else without any “official” reward. Good mentors do it because they genuinely want to see someone else succeed.
  • Commitment, time and energy to devote to the mentoring relationship.
  • Current and relevant knowledge, expertise, and/or skills.
  • A willingness to share failures and personal experiences. Mentors need to share both their "how to do it right" and their "how I did it wrong" stories. Both experiences provide valuable opportunities for learning.
  • A learning attitude. The best teachers have always been and always will be those who remain curious about learning. Because a mentor is more like a teacher than a coach, this becomes an important characteristic in a mentor. Would you rather be advised by someone whose mind is shut (because he knows all) or by someone whose mind is open because he is always looking to deepen his knowledge?
  • A skill in developing others. This includes the very real skills of listening, asking powerful questions and being able to tell stories, which includes personal anecdotes, case examples and honest insight.

What makes a good protégée?
Just as there are specific characteristics of a successful mentor, there are attributes for a good protégé. And this is important, because protégée’s must remember that mentors are doing this from the goodness of their heart, so being a good protégée is the best way to ensure the relationship enjoys a healthy purposeful existence.
Protégée’s need to be:
  • Committed to expanding their capabilities and focused on achieving professional results.
  • Willing to ask for help.
  • Open and receptive to learning and trying new ideas.
  • Able to accept feedback—even constructive criticism—and act upon it.
  • Willing to experiment and apply what they learn back on the job.
  • Able to communicate and work cooperatively with others.
  • Be personally responsible and accountable.
  • Ready, willing and able to meet on a regular basis.

How to make it a success
Mentoring is a joint venture. Successful mentoring requires that both parties share responsibility for learning and sustaining the relationship.
Successful mentoring begins with initiating the relationship, and then, to steal a coaching term, “designing the alliance.” This means all parties need to be clear about what this relationship is going to look like and how it will be managed. Mentor and protégée should discuss things like:
  • Contact and response times
  • Meetings
  • Confidentiality
  • Focus
  • Feedback
  • Goals and accountability
Very often, in a formal mentoring relationship, your mentor may not be your supervisor or even in the same chain of command. But this doesn’t have to pose a conflict, as long as it is clear what the difference is. The manager's role in employee development is always paramount and should not be replaced or modified by an employee's participation in a mentoring program. Mentoring is an additional and supplemental development tool for organizations, while a managers’ essential role is to support the professional learning process while also monitoring an employee’s performance.

Managers fulfill a stewardship role in terms of day-to-day direct authority and capacity building, while mentors provide a broader and longer view that creates a path to the future. Strong managers, however, will take an active interest in the mentoring process through endorsing experimentation in a way that applauds new approaches and permits the possibility of mistakes. Good managers will also support and design learning assignments in partnership with the mentor and protégé.

If enrolled in a formal mentoring relationship, it is always a good idea to respect the differences between a supervisor and a mentor and to openly discuss potential pitfalls.

How to find a mentor
There are lots of ways to find a mentor. Check with your company first; they may have a program or an organization in mind. You can also check out professional trade associations and groups like SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

The best place to look for a mentor, however, is right in front of you. Look around your workplace or your industry. Who do you admire and respect? Who has always impressed you with their insight and perceptiveness? And finally, who do you feel drawn to?

Consider your boss. Or your boss’s boss. Consider executives in other divisions. Consider older individuals who may not be top executives but who have tons of experience. Approach that individual and ask if they would consider being your mentor. Let them know why you selected them and what you hope to learn from them. It is really key to align your goals with their expertise and experience. Be prepared to talk about what the relationship might look like and how much time might be involved. There is a big difference between meeting someone for lunch on a quarterly basis versus a weekly phone call. Be clear what you want out of the mentoring process and structure your relationship accordingly.

Don't put it off. What can you lose? Even if they decline to be your mentor, and few will, they will be flattered that you asked.

How companies can start a mentoring program
Finally, if you or your company is interested in instituting a formal mentoring program, it is important to, yes, find a mentor for the process. Research other programs, talk to other executives and find the one that fits your company.

When you have your program in place, remember to be flexible and inclusive when matching the mentor and protégée. The right mentor may not always be the first person you think of. It is also important to ensure that participants really want to do this! It can’t be a “box” they check off; they have to have a genuine interest (and the aforementioned skill set) to participate.

You should also provide some skill building and structure, especially in the introductory phase. And be prepared to support the program with best practices. Finally, don’t forget to evaluate the program and incorporate the feedback. You want the program to be successful and worthwhile, so it needs to be given careful time and attention.

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