Caution: When You Get Called the “H” Word

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This past week I was having a great discussion with an individual who was sharing how she was growing in her career. She was developing the right skills. She had received great performance and career feedback. She was networking with the right individuals by leveraging her personal and professional networks. As she told me, she was positioning herself for her next big career opportunity within her organization. I was extremely happy to hear about her success and agreed with her that she was clearly on her way.

But I had one burning question to ask her that had been asked of me by a former mentor. At that particular time in my career I had an answer, but it wasn’t the right answer. Or put it this way, it wasn’t the answer that was going to position me for the next opportunity in my professional career. However at the time, I thought it was going to position me for that next big assignment and above all things, thought it counted the most. How naïve I was. Fast forward, I had now learned. So, I thought I would ask the same question that had been asked of me, a question that caused me to think. I was now able to share a key lesson that I had learned. So, I asked,

“If I went through out your organization today and asked people to describe you (at various levels), what would they say?” “What is your professional signage?”

She jumped right in and the first descriptor that came out of her mouth was,

“Hard Worker”

She obviously went onto to share others, but they paled in comparison to her stating that the organization viewed her as a hard worker. More importantly it told me that her sharing this as the first descriptor of herself was probably not only top of mind for the organization but how she probably thought of herself as well.

In my professional experience and being in countless career conversations, succession reviews and leadership discussions, when an employee is described as a “hard worker” it always sets the tone for a slightly different dialog about the individual. The conversation becomes one that centers on questioning if that person can really perform at the next level or assume a bigger role. In other words, can they truly be viewed as a leader in the company? This type of descriptor often leads to the asking of more questions than available answers.

The dialog often goes something like this, “Great they work hard, but can they blah, blah, blah…” which ultimately leads to more questions. Then there’s hesitation by all in the room. The best chance that the person that was being discussed has of recovering is that there is a supporter in the room that can hopefully provide the right descriptors. But more than likely there isn’t, especially someone that is willing to put their reputation on the line (like a sponsor) for that person. So the conversation ends about that individual and the next person in the cue is up.

Don’t get me wrong working hard is good. It is admirable and for those of us that are proud hard workers, it would be hard to change who we are and we shouldn’t. But if we work in an environment in which people are assessing us and making decisions about our career or next steps, then we need to be mindful about how this type of descriptor shows up. Why? Because once you are professionally type casted, it can be hard to turn it around. More than often, it doesn’t change.

So, what should you be doing to find out how the organization views you? How can you avoid being labeled or at least be aware of it to manage it?

1. Look beyond the performance evaluation and career feedback. What they put on paper and what is say about you are two totally different things. This is where your listening and interpreting skills become super valuable. Listen first, read second.

2. Don’t let your career discussion only occur with your manager. I am always amazed that individuals only think that it is their manager who has control over their career. There are many. Do you know who they are?

3. Leverage human resources. Many of us often run from them. You’d be surprised as to how they can help you. Oftentimes they are in the room when you are being talked about and often lead the discussion. Make sure they know who you are.

4. Obtain feedback from the key stakeholders in your professional network. Find out what is being said about you. If you like what is being said, then great! If not, use it as an opportunity to understand why and what they think that you should be doing to change the perception.

5. Work on the right assignments. Ensure that you are working on the assignments or tasks that will demonstrate that you are not just an individual who will get the job done. Speaking of the demonstration of skills, ensure you know what the organization truly values. Look around in your company and observe others what they are known for.

Hard work is not to be minimized. If you are a hard worker or have been described as one, don’t shy away from it. Just make sure that it isn’t the first thing that your organization says about you or you say about yourself unless it is truly valued by both parties.

In this case, the word or words that describe you as you continue along in your career really do matter.

I am Francine Parham. I focus on professional and leadership development. I help individuals develop the critical skills they need in their careers to be successful and achieve their professional goals. I have an expertise in professional networks and networking. I am the creator of a program named Maximizing Your Network™, which instructs you on how to build, interact with and maintain your professional network. My online instructor led series of Maximizing Your Network™ is being launched February, 2015. Please connect with me on francineparham.com

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Questions You Should Ask Before You Take That Awesome Job Assignment

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Congratulations!!

You have just been told that you’ve been promoted. Maybe you were just assigned a new role or given a new job with important additional responsibilities. It was communicated to you that you are being assigned a role that is pivotal to your career, which will establish you as a future leader or expert in your organization. You will have the opportunity to make a positive impact within your company and on others, maybe the world!

STOP HERE!

That could all be true and your leader as well as the organization are operating with the best of intentions, but before you jump for joy, call your friends, tell your family – know what you are truly walking into. This is not about the job itself, but what this phenomenal opportunity presented to you truly means to you as an individual and your overall career.

Oftentimes we don’t pause and really ask ourselves a few questions after that moment of elation. I’ve done this myself. I was so excited about the opportunity that I really didn’t stop and think thorough what the impact of the assignment was going to be or what it truly meant to my career or my life. I don’t think that I am any different than the majority of professionals out there. Sometimes we don’t think about anything at all, but doing our jobs well. We are just excited that the organization is acknowledging our work or ability to contribute.

We become enamored by the opportunity and hope that it will work out in some shape or form even though the job has “warning” written all over it. We just accept what our organization tells us, the support they say they will give us and move on.

So how do you potentially say “yes”? How do you ensure that your positive response is an informed one? More importantly a signal to your manager and the organization that you are a savvy career-minded individual?

Here are a few questions that I wished I had asked (yes, I took the assignments) that would have given me a little more control over my career. At a minimum made me more knowledgeable:

1. “So, what does this job prepare me for?” Many times we focus on what is in front of us right at that moment. If your leader can’t articulate this, then this is a warning sign. Don’t take a dead end job. If this is a true assignment to develop you, then the organization should have thought about you and your career steps beyond this one opportunity. It’s called succession planning. Make sure there’s a plan for you that you want and that your organization supports.

2. “This sounds like a great international assignment, so how do I get back?” Many times we are so excited about the destination, we forget about the return. Make sure that you not only focus on the job and where you are going, but the following job and where you are returning to. You may not know all the details as the future is not promised, but have a really good idea. It is nothing like the organization trying to find a place for you to return and you not having any idea either plus having a work permit that is expiring. Talk about this upfront and continue to talk about it throughout your assignment.

3. “This is a great developmental opportunity, so when this is completed, what skill is the organization expecting me to have demonstrated? Many times you are given a great assignment and it is the hope of the organization that the situation or responsibilities you will be taking on will provide you with the right skills. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Most of the time, it doesn’t. But either way, ensure that you know what you’re your organization wants to see that you have demonstrated upon completion of the job. Again, talk about this as you go through the assignment.

4. “This is a huge opportunity, so how do you recommend that I stay connected to the organization and the leaders so that they see the work that I am doing” Just because you have a big job or will be given a huge role it does not mean that anyone will be paying attention to you unless you screw it up. I’ve worked in some remote locations with big assignments and it is tough staying top of mind. More than likely if you are successful, it means that you got stuff done. You made things happen seamlessly. Well don’t let it be so seamless that you are forgotten. Hold your leadership accountable for ensuring they pay attention to you. They need to know about the work that you are doing as well what you are capable of doing. This is where your professional network becomes super important and invaluable as well. Also please make sure that more than one person is talking about you, at the right time and in the right conversations. Don’t leave it all up to your manager.

These questions are by no means all inclusive. They probably won’t stop you from taking that new assignment, promotion or position. But what they should do is make you form your own set of questions. The result is you being a more informed decision maker about your career and not just the exciting opportunity. Hopefully your leader and the organization will know that you are also paying attention to what they are doing. Don’t let your leaders make assumptions about you or your career that will cause detours in achieving your professional goals.

I am Francine Parham. I focus on professional and leadership development. I help individuals develop the critical skills they need in their careers to be successful and achieve their professional goals. I have an expertise in professional networks and networking. I am the creator of a program named Maximizing Your Network™, which instructs you on how to build, interact with and maintain your professional network. My online instructor led series of Maximizing Your Network™ is being launched January 8, 2015. Please contact me at email@francineparham.com for further information.

Flickr Photo: Shannon Kokoska

How Capable Is Your Professional Network and How Competent Are You?

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Many of us do a lot of networking to establish ourselves and work very hard to build professional connections. Our ultimate intention is having assistance from our professional network in achieving our goals whether in the present or the future. Also as we network with others (if we are a good networker) we offer assistance in helping them to achieve their goals. The intention is that both parties achieve success by leveraging their network.

I just presented the ideal scenario.

In reality we network and we network, we go to many events, join many professional groups and associations, which ultimately yield us nothing. Also others ask us to help them but we don’t or more than likely we really can’t, even though our intentions are good.

So what’s really the problem?

The professional network that you probably have is not really capable of helping you and you are not capable of helping it.

We often don’t take stock of our professional network and what it is really able to help us achieve. Also we don’t take a look at ourselves and do an inventory of our skills and/or connections and what we actually can offer them.

 

So what do you do?

Review Your Network Profiles. Ask yourself do you really have the right profiles in your network. Are the profiles aligned to the goals that you are trying to accomplish? This is not about focusing on names, but the description of types of individuals as well as the types or skills that you need in your network. So if you are an entrepreneur starting a new business, do need profiles of types of individuals that understand how to make a start-up successful in your network? I would say so. Do you have these types of skill sets in your network? You should if you are trying to build a successful company. This has nothing to do with who the people (their names or who they are) that are in your professional network. It is about the skills, experiences and ability of the profiles in your network to help you or connect you with others in a meaningful way to achieve your goal(s).

 

Evaluate Your Social Capital.Now review the actual people in your network and the actual groups that you belong to or are a member of. Are they similar to you in terms of profession, age, gender, ethnicity or experiences? Or do you have individuals that are from different backgrounds, different experiences and varied connections? You have to decide what is best for you in the achievement of your goals. However, having a diverse network tends to pay off for obvious reasons versus one in which everyone has similar experiences and connections. Ensure that your professional network is diversified.

 

Determine What You Bring. How would sell and communicate your value to your professional network? This question may sound silly but it is actually very important. In other words what skills do you bring in assisting those in your network to achieve their goals? What real connections can you offer? As we know building a robust professional network is a skill. How you build, interact with and maintain your network is a skill that you practice again and again. You build this skill over time and your offering is a big component. It is important that you stay on top of your skills and work on developing or learning new skills to increase your value to your network. You have to have what I call “professional network capital” as well. Always work on this.

In Summary…

You just move on if there isn’t a match. It’s that simple. Become a loose connection and start really focusing and building the right network that is aligned to achieving your professional goals. Loose connections are good as well. You can stay connected when and if needed. Also please ensure that you have something of value to offer your network beforehand to attract those that you want join and stay in your network. Everyone has something of value to offer – a connection, a certain skill, important information, etc. Just make sure you know what yours is; you can communicate it and; can actually deliver on it when asked. Ensure you work on “you”.

The longer you wait the harder it becomes when you and your professional network don’t match. Don’t hold onto professional connections just to have them. It serves neither you nor those in your network any good. The end result is that neither party’s goals are met.

 

I am Francine Parham. I focus on professional and leadership development. I help individuals develop the critical skills they need in their careers to be successful and achieve their professional goals. I have an expertise in professional networks and networking. I am the creator of a program named Maximizing Your Network™, which instructs you on how to build, interact with and maintain your professional network. My online instructor led series of Maximizing Your Network™ is being launched January, 2015. Please contact me at email@francineparham.com for further information.

Flickr Photo: ed_needs_a_bicycle

Avoiding the False Positive Career Discussion with Your Manager

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We’ve all had career discussions. Hopefully, you have had at least one this year. If you haven’t, then my hope is that it is on your calendar to occur before the year is concluded. At a minimum you deserve this dialog to ensure that you are somewhat in control of your career and able to make informed decisions. So no matter how big or small your organization; what sector you are in; what you do for a living, you deserve a career conversation especially if you report into someone.

However, it is not about just having a conversation, but an actionable and transparent one. A conversation that is between you and your manager that truly tells you something of worth whether good or bad. However, this type of conversation rarely seems to occur.

What usually occurs based on my experience having worked for multiple companies is that you as the employee are often led to believe that you have a great career and your possibilities are limitless when in reality this isn’t true. The manager doesn’t tell you and you don’t usually ask anything that will tell you differently. Many times you don’t know what to specifically ask your manager because all the conversations that you have had over time have been positive and inspiring. You have received ongoing feedback that you are headed to do great things for the organization. You’ve received feedback that the organization is absolutely ready to invest in your professional career and growth. Then something occurs.

You start to see others being promoted or that developmental assignment that your manager had talked to you about is now being given to someone else. Things that were agreed upon by the organization and told to you have not occurred, even as basic as that professional development class once promised to you has not happened. It continues to sit in writing on your career form year over year. But once again, all the conversations you’ve had have been positive in nature and future focused with many career possibilities. So what has really happened?

THE FALSE POSITIVE CAREER DISCUSSION

So fast forward, after countless “false positive career conversations”, between you and your manager, you end up in my office wondering what has happened. Sometimes you are bewildered, frustrated and feeling betrayed by their organization, more importantly by your manager. What occurred was that the manager wasn’t being transparent about his/her view of you or the organization’s view. The really unfortunate part was that I usually discovered that the manager didn’t have the courage to have the right conversation and/or the ability to truly develop that employee to reach their fullest potential, which is another discussion for another article. Nevertheless, the ultimate hope was that you would go away or “the system” would fix it. A little secret here for all of you that are managers of people – you own it and there is “no system” to fix it. Oh, it doesn’t usually go away (if at all), it only gets worse.

So how do you as an employee manage your career to ensure that you don’t have “false positive career discussions”? Try a few of these tactics:

Make it the right conversation by being prepared to discuss what you would like to do career-wise. Do your homework beforehand. Don’t take a passive role. Clearly articulate what you want. Don’t wait for your manager to tell you where the organization sees you going. Do you also see it? Is it really possible within your organization? How long will it take and what are the real hurdles? Think through the questions you may have and try to answer them beforehand to see if they match what your manager says when you both talk.

Ensure you have not one but multiple conversations with the right people. This is the time to leverage your network and your supporters. I don’t believe that you can be effective by relying on one person (your manager) to speak for you or about you. Send the message to the organization that you are interested in your career and how you want to achieve your professional goals. The more individuals that know about you and your career aspirations, the more informed they can speak on your behalf. This is especially important if they are in places within your organization where you aren’t, can’t be or don’t know about.

Ask the right questions to understand what your organization is truly preparing you for. What is the real intention of you moving into that developmental role? What will taking that course help you with and how will you apply that new skill when you return? So how are the things that have been highlighted from a career perspective helping you to get ready you to move to the next opportunity? I have seen too many times a lot of “career development” actions that the employee engages in and the manager supports that ultimately lead to nothing. I affectionately call it the “Career Stall Tactic”. Give you something to focus on to make you think you are being developed while the organization tries to figure out what to do with you.

Understand what the resources being offered to you really mean and how it will help your career. So for example, your manager offers to get a coach. Do you really know why? What is that coach going to help you do? Does this tie to or help you with achieving your overall career goals? You should be asking why and what will that coach help you achieve versus you being excited that the organization is paying attention to you. Ensure you are getting the right attention and know why.

Obviously this list is not all inclusive, but hopefully it will add value to the enriching conversations that you are having or will be preparing to have about your career within your organization. You getting beyond the pleasantries and having a real conversation with your manager will help you avoid being surprised.

I am Francine Parham. I focus on professional development and the critical skills individuals need in their careers. I have an expertise in professional networks and networking. I am the creator of Maximizing Your Network ™, which instructs you on how to build, interact with and maintain your professional network. My online instructor led series of Maximizing Your Network!™ is being launched January, 2015. Please contact me at email@francineparham.com

Flickr Photo by Bob Renner

Why Don’t We Use Bartering More?

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There are many approaches to take as you build and maintain your network. The approaches can range from you having a network comprised of all experts to one in which the individuals in your network are akin to a board of directors which is made up of individuals that have many skill sets; are at various levels; come from different backgrounds and; provide diverse perspectives or advice for you. One approach is not better or worse than the other as it depends on your goals and your network plan. So, knowing what you are trying to achieve and the outcomes that you want is paramount. However, one approach that seems to seldom get mentioned is just plain old fashion bartering, which also can be very effective if used correctly.

I recently read an interesting article by Brigid Moynahan, President and Founder of the Next Level Inc., named To Get Ahead, Learn the Trading Game. In her article she writes about the fact that to get ahead we need to learn the art of trading. I happen to agree with her. I view it as a skill that one needs to practice and develop to be successful at it. She goes further to write about the differences in gender in which women are taught to develop deep relationships and men are taught to trade. Irrespective of if you want to get ahead or your gender, her article made me wonder:

“What is really wrong with bartering?”

Why do we not do more of it to build our network? Is it too transactional or viewed as not genuine enough? Is it an approach that’s viewed as too abrasive? So, do we really need to spend time nurturing a relationship when there is a true need and resource that can assist us immediately?

Bartering is not bad. It has existed since the beginning of time. It works and as a society we barter today – ideas, knowledge, money, etc. I think that if bartering is used in the right context in your network, with the right individuals and more importantly with the right intentions (meaning both individuals are straightforward in what they want) there is a high probability of success for both people. Disappointment usually comes when individuals are not forthright in their intentions. This is a recipe for disaster which is why we often avoid bartering in the context of building or maintaining our professional or even personal networks.

How many of us have been in such a situation in which someone was not forthright in what they really needed from us? It is nothing like that ugly feeling that you are being used for someone else’s gain. I specifically recall a situation in which I spent two hours of my life (that I will never get back) talking to someone that wanted me to help them with introductions to do some community work. This person had their done their homework and knew quite a lot about me. I was initially impressed. We had previously met at a professional networking event. However, it became very obvious when we were meeting one-on-one, that this person only wanted one thing. This person had not thought through how they could make the barter successful. So when I “turned the tables” and started to mention how they could help me, it became time for them to “go home”. It was a test for that individual about their true intentions and they failed miserably. Needless to say, I haven’t heard from them since. I think that person got my message.

However, if that person had been upfront with me, I would have been more than happy to provide assistance, at a minimum connect them with someone that could further help them by making the right introductions. I didn’t need to know this individual or have a deep relationship with them as I didn’t want to at that juncture. I wanted to help them based on what they were trying to accomplish. They just needed to be honest in their intentions with me by just stating what they wanted and had to offer upfront. I love to give but I also like to receive. Let’s face it we all do. Bartering is an exchange by definition. It does not have to be of equal value, but it should be an exchange that should be of some worth. This starts by both parties being transparent with one another about their intentions.

So how do you avoid and ensure that if you take a bartering approach with those in your network or even outside of your network that it is successful? Establish a few of the rules of engagement for both of you to use early on:

Be clear in your communication about what you both want out of the deal up front.

This is not the time to be shy or hope that an individual will understand your intentions or desires. I hear so many stories of disappointment that someone thought the individual they helped was going to return the assistance. But when it was their turn in the exchange, nothing happened. Don’t be surprised about the outcome if you aren’t clear about your expectations. Be clear on the outcomes you both want. If you have some expectancy as it relates to something at that moment or even later, let the other person know. There are a thousand ways to be graceful about this type of conversation. If you aren’t being told, then simply ask. If you are not asked, then tell. Don’t make assumptions. Have the discussion and have it up front.

If you “come to the party” please bring something of worth.

No one likes cheap exchanges. It is nothing worse than being ready to exchange something that you offer then being disappointed that the other person has nothing for you. It is great to communicate what you both want, but the next step is to establish what you can actually offer each other. Both of you should do your homework and take a few moments to learn about that person’s skills, connections or whatever both of you can offer to one another. This establishes that both of you are serious about your intentions. If there’s nothing that either of you can offer each other or one of you feels that the other doesn’t have anything to offer, then please don’t barter. Try another approach. Both parties should feel that they are getting something worthy. It’s not about the quantity either but quality.

Have an ending to the exchange.

There have been times and will always be times when I am more than willing to help individuals in as well as outside of my network. But after the task is done or the goal is met, I’m done. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like the person or have an issue with them. It just means that I am on to the next item or request. I know that if there is a need to connect again, then we will do so and if there isn’t, we won’t. Too many times we feel that once we have a connection we have to stay connected all the time. You don’t have to. Loose connections are ok and are good. The great thing about a bartering relationship is if you both have agreed beforehand on how you two will work together and how it will end, then when the exchange is over both of you can move on and help others.

As a savvy networker, you hopefully have multiple networks and many approaches that you take based on the goals that you are trying to achieve. More importantly, it is my hope that you are clear on the foundational piece to building your network, your goals. As you know if you aren’t clear on what you are trying to achieve, no matter what network approach you take you will more than likely not be successful. Bartering can be an effective approach to building your network and it does work, so think about how you can use it effectively to achieve your goals.

I am Francine Parham. I write and speak about topics related to professional development, career growth and women’s leadership. I can be reached at email@francineparham.com.

Flickr Photo by Mark Stafford