Tag Archives: Networking

The Greatest Challenge of Any Career

In a recent discussion, I was asked to identify the most common career challenge a person would face ….but only using a single word.  Without hesitation, I replied in one simple word….”People.”  They are the single greatest source for your success and also the single greatest barrier to it.  Maximizing the utilization of this resource is challenging to say the least.  After all, this resource does have a mind of its own.  With regards to achieving success with people, you’re totally dependent upon the people that surround you.  Makes sense, right? If you’re a real go-getter and want to move closer to living out your dreams, read on.

Credentials don’t matter.  I know most academic institutions will tell you that your MBA or other advanced degree will take you far but that’s just crap.  Academia and Private Industry have been at odds for many years on what young professionals need to be successful at work.  Let’s look at two work situations: where you have less credentials and where you have more credentials.  Years ago I worked in a research company with over 400 PhDs.  I didn’t have a PhD but began working on it during that time.  Meetings with these guys were what I called “swimming lessons.”  They were tough shouting matches and the best logic won.  They didn’t care what your credentials were.  You just had to be able to make a sound argument.  If you couldn’t, you educated yourself before you jumped in an argument.  Honestly, I’ve always appreciated meetings with people who prepare for the discussion ahead of time.  More recently, I’ve worked for companies with much less credentials, mostly bachelor degreed professionals.  The atmosphere is totally different.  They didn’t support free thinking and you certainly wouldn’t argue with anyone in a meeting, especially a manager.  This workplace characteristic stifles creativity and forces you to figure out ways to get your ideas out in the open, potentially reducing your value to the organization and even your will to try to help out.  So no matter how you look at it, your credentials won’t mean much to people around you.  However, you are much better off around people who will allow you to grow your thinking and learn from interactions with others.  It’s contribution over credentials.  If the people around you aren’t giving you that opportunity, your success will be very limited.

Managers do matter.  The bad part is that you don’t get to pick your boss.  When you join an organization, you’re assigned one.  Most of us join an organization because we need a job.  So we don’t question the assignment.  It isn’t until we learn that our boss isn’t a good match for us that we realize our career mobility is doomed.  While it’s difficult to express the probability of getting a good one or a bad one, the greater challenge is doing something about it when you do get a bad match, as this is more likely the case.   It’s the most important case anyhow.  A bad match can drive you crazy.  The question is what do you do about it?  Do you find another position in the company?  Do you change companies? Do you do nothing and hope the situation improves?  This is the most influential member of your career in a company and it’s critical that you understand who they are and whether or not they will assist you in growing your career.  If not, you need to find an advocate somewhere else in the company or find another company.  I’ve seen too many highly credentialed professionals sit in positions that didn’t need advanced degrees for too long waiting for hope to deliver an answer to their situation.

Peers are great but don’t bank on them.  One of my favorite speakers, Les Brown, said that you’ll make within $6000 (or so) of the people you put in your circle.  Well, if you aren’t making what you want, then you’ve got the wrong people in your circles.  If you want to get promoted, your coworkers probably can’t give that to you.  Most professionals still cling to the idea that doing great work will gain you all of the accolades you seek.  This simply isn’t true.  Hard work is necessary but there is no one watching you and waiting to shower you with success.  Most everyone is hoarding it for themselves.  The rapid pace of change and a declining loyalty to employees puts everyone in the short term mindset; that is, grab everything I can now because there’s no telling when my company will change and let me go.

Before we look at some possible solutions, we should understand why most of the people in organizations won’t provide much help.  There have been several changes in the corporate world that have spawned a transformation of the workplace.

  • No organizational structure. It’s really hard to seek help on how to grow your career when the company fails to define the possibilities.
  • No training or development. Employees are becoming disengaged and restless when the organization shows no interest in developing its own people.  According to an IvyExec survey, the main reason professionals seek executive education is to calm the desire to expand one’s professional and personal breadth.
  • Too much change. Companies that fail to figure out how to grow will constantly make drastic changes to improve their performance (e.g. restructuring, reorganizing, M&A).
  • Poor leadership focus. Management focus only on the financial aspects of the business, mostly to ensure they keep their job.
  • New employee mindset. Younger generations are seeking fulfillment from their jobs and will jump from company to company to find a meaningful career.  They want more than a job.
  • Remote work. Many companies have instituted telecommuting, flextime and working remotely, which separates employees from other members of the company.

These and other factors have drastically changed the work environment from one filled with strong personal relationships to one built on weak working relationships.  Employees are friendly at work but don’t really associate with each other outside of work.  We don’t take much of a personal interest in our coworkers anymore.  This is why simply allowing your environment to recognize your contributions to the business and reward them fails so miserably.  You must actively develop a team that can influence your career and promote your talents to those who can make a difference.

So, how do you find the right people?

Finding the right people is really about knowing who to look for.  Over the years, I’ve worked with some really brilliant people who are working at the top of some of the greatest organizations in existence today.  These professionals search for three key factors in the people that they put in their network.

Level of Success.  As I’ve said before, it doesn’t do you much good to connect with people who have the same or less success than you do.  You need to find people who have achieved what you want.  They can show you how they get there.  With that knowledge, you can chart your own course.

Reputation.  Reputation is everything.  Reputations were once only word-of-mouth opinions.  Today, they are everything you write, tweet, blog, publish and memorialize.  Once you find a highly successful person with a good reputation, get out a notebook and prepare to learn.

Expertise.  Most highly successful people know what they don’t know and how important that lack of knowledge is to their career.  These voids are filled by professionals who are experts in these areas.  Don’t waste time trying to learn everything.  Find experts who can provide the specific information you need.  That means you need to know what you need from these experts, which is where most professionals fall short.

Where do find them?

You probably won’t like this but many of the people you need in your network actually will meet you face to face.  I know the Internet tells you social media is the best place for everything.  Unfortunately, that’s not how real relationships are made.  That has to be done in person.  Networking events and professional associations are still the best scenes for building your network of successful people.  Yes, it takes work and time to find the right people.  Sometimes, it can take years but it is well worth it.  After all, your career will last a long time so don’t try to sell yourself short on the resources that will make your life a phenomenal success.

Thanks for reading such a long post.  Here’s to your success!

Why You Aren’t Building Social Capital

Very few will argue that creating a quality personal network is the key to a long and prosperous career.   These networks are formed by the quantity of connections, quality of the connections and the resources available between the connections.  The value you get from these connections is called Social Capital.  Our friends at Harvard University suggest that “Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”].”  The major benefits in these types of social interactions are information flows, reciprocity, collective action and a broader sense of solidarity.  These benefits lead us to new opportunities, which, in turn, provide us a sense of growth in our lives.  The idea of social capital is quite old (first published in 1916) but the methods for engaging in social interaction on a global scale are fairly new.  LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and numerous other social networking tools have popped up over the years to provide individuals with a method for creating more value in their lives (and their connections).  Unfortunately, many of us still haven’t mastered the art of building social capital.  Here are a few things we get wrong in building our social capital.

Too few quality connections.  Our personal network is the source of our opportunity.  Our connections have resources that are beneficial to future progress in our career and life.  What resources do they have that are helpful?  That’s a question you should be asking to your current and potential connections.  As you might suspect, the more quality connections you have, the more potential you have to create social capital.  You just need to make sure these new connections are ready, willing and able to be an active participant in the relationship and that they have resources that are beneficial (e.g. connections, knowledge, skills).  You need to constantly assess the value of each of your connections.  If you’ve been connected for years and never shared a word with your connections, obviously they aren’t doing you any good.  And collecting a lot more of these connections won’t help either.

Too passive.  Creating a profile on social networking sites isn’t sufficient for building a network.  To reach the benefits of social capital, you have to first build trust and then a reputation with your connections.  Both of these factors require interactions and effort.  If you are just sitting and waiting for opportunity to come to you, you should plan to be waiting for a long time.  Your strategy should be to give your efforts and resources to others to build their trust in you and to build your reputation as a solid supporter of such relationships.  Then, you’ll invoke the sense of reciprocity in your connections.  Very few people are willing to give their time if they don’t see something in it for them.  By giving first, you put that question to rest for good.

Your network isn’t diverse.  One of my favorite motivational speakers, Les Brown, once said that you make within $6000 of those you hang around with.  In other words, we have a tendency to associate with others who are very similar to us in occupation, lifestyle, financial status and personality.  I think it makes us feel safe.  But this sense of safety comes at a price.  People who are in the same situation we are in most likely have the same resources we do (e.g. network, knowledge, skills) and, as such, can’t provide any considerable fuel to our progress.  Branching out of your safe zone to others outside of you occupation, financial status and knowledge base will give you insights that will certainly fuel your growth.  Remember the book Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD?  It’s about mice in a maze and an experimental movement of the cheese.  Some mice stay where the cheese was put every day, even after it doesn’t show up anymore.  If you don’t have a diverse network, you might be asking the guy beside you, who is also staring at the missing cheese, “hey, where’s the cheese?”  You should be finding the guy who found the cheese.  Aim for diversity.  You won’t be sorry you did.

Lack of brand power.  As we look to our connections for resources to help build our future, others will do the same with us.  Building a profile that enhances trust and respect is a quick way to invite others to connect with you.  Building a better brand requires three things: defining what you have to offer, providing evidence that your offering is real and tangible, and communicating your value clearly so that others understand what you offer.  If I can’t discern what you’re good at by looking at your profile or from a short conversation with you, I probably won’t push to make a real connection with you.  For example, a writer will clearly identify his genre in his profile (e.g. non-fiction).  Then, he would list or provide links to his published books so that you can validate his claim to authorship.  Once it’s validated, the relationship can move to the next level; that is, reputation.  How well have the books sold?  This is evaluated at many levels, meaning that it will not discourage people from working with you, but it will likely ensure that those who engage will have less experience in writing than you do.  If you want to connect with those with more experience, you’ll likely have to seek them out yourself.

The development of social capital requires the ability to network efficiently and effectively.  It requires a lot of work.  There is sufficient research to show that you can build a better network through mentors.  If you don’t know how, take time to get help with it.  If all else fails, give.  Offer others your time and energy.  There’s no better way to invoke reciprocity than giving people something without asking.  After a few iterations, you build trust.  After a few more iterations, you build a reputation.  Then, people will want to be connected to you.  Their skills and resources become yours.  They deposit their value in your bank.  Then you have plenty of capital to achieve the goals you want to achieve.

Why Should You Get An MBA?

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t just recommend doing anything because it is trendy, especially when it comes to spending a lot of your money and even more importantly, a lot of your time.  The MBA is a great tool for your career; that is, if you use it correctly.  If you don’t have an MBA, you may be asking yourself “how do I use the MBA?”  Well, it’s more than the degree we are talking about here.  Let’s look at this in more detail.

The GMAC 2014 Prospective Students Survey Report states that the MBA provides three key benefits:  skills, networks and brand.  Were these in your initial thoughts?  They weren’t in mine.  I thought education was about learning those quintessential skills that make you valuable to the business world.  Of course, I didn’t graduate from a top tier business school, where the mentality is quite different.  According to many top tier graduates I’ve worked with over the years, networking and branding are major subjects that are studied and perfected during the program.  Grades are not as important.   So, you can learn from the top tier programs that the “MBA Experience” is very important to future success.  If you just enter your MBA program with the intent of only learning new skills, you’ll miss out on two-thirds of the overall benefit of the MBA Experience.

We’ve looked at what MBAs do with their degree.  Take a look at our presentation. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll love it.  It’s March Madness and the MBA_2015.

Naturally, not all MBA programs are equivalent when it comes to the experience.  Top tier programs will be more organized and geared towards the networking and branding aspects.  Most every other program will suffer in these areas.  And some programs won’t provide anything at all.  I would dare say that most MBA programs are in this category.  Sure, you can read a few articles that say MBAs are in high demand but economics would beg us to understand the supply side of this before making a decision.  The problem for MBA aspirants is that it is difficult to truly assess the supply and demand side of the MBA.  So, your only choice is to gather as much information as you can and make the best decision possible.

But where do you go for such information?  Often, aspirants seek information from the MBA programs themselves.    This is a good place to start but it shouldn’t be your only source of information.  After all, the problems you’ll run into with the MBA will be post-program issues.  Universities will have limited experience in this stage of your career.  For example, I’m a father of three kids and I’ve seen the birthing of each child but I can’t tell you what it feels like to give birth.  You have to go to the source for that; that is, the mother.  Well, if you want to know the impact the MBA has on your career, you need to ask someone who has had that experience.  In other words, ask the MBA graduates.  After all, they are the ones who are trying to build their career with the MBA degree.  Wouldn’t that be a good source of information?

Before you make any decisions about the next two years of your life and the destiny of a whole lot of your money, take the time to understand the impact the MBA has on your career by reading the stories of MBA graduates from around the globe.  Their experience will enlighten you and give you insights that will help you maximize the return on your personal investment.

We’ve taken the time to capture the knowledge of MBAs from around the world on many topics that affect MBAs directly.  These topics aren’t the kind of issues that get addressed during your MBA program (and never will be) but they are REAL WORLD issues faced by MBAs every single day.   Click below to learn more about What MBA Graduates Know.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I don’t just recommend doing anything because it is trendy, especially when it comes to spending a lot of your money and even more importantly, a lot of your time.  The MBA is a great tool for your career; that is, if you use it correctly.  If you don’t have an MBA, you may be asking yourself “how do I use the MBA?”  Well, it’s more than the degree we are talking about here.  Let’s look at this in more detail. The GMAC 2014 Prospective Students Survey Report states that the MBA provides three key benefits:  skills, networks and brand.  Were these in your initial thoughts?  They weren’t in mine.  I thought education was about learning those quintessential skills that make you valuable to the business world.  Of course, I didn’t graduate from a top tier business school, where the mentality is quite different.  According to many top tier graduates I’ve worked with over the years, networking and branding are major subjects that are studied and perfected during the program.  Grades are not as important.   So, you can learn from the top tier programs that the “MBA Experience” is very important to future success.  If you just enter your MBA program with the intent of only learning new skills, you’ll miss out on two-thirds of the overall benefit of the MBA Experience. We’ve looked at what MBAs do with their degree.  Take a look at our presentation. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ll love it.  It’s March Madness and the MBA. Naturally, not all MBA programs are equivalent when it comes to the experience.  Top tier programs will be more organized and geared towards the networking and branding aspects.  Most every other program will suffer in these areas.  And some programs won’t provide anything at all.  I would dare say that most MBA programs are in this category.  Sure, you can read a few articles that say MBAs are in high demand but economics would beg us to understand the supply side of this before making a decision.  The problem for MBA aspirants is that it is difficult to truly assess the supply and demand side of the MBA.  So, your only choice is to gather as much information as you can and make the best decision possible. But where do you go for such information?  Often, aspirants seek information from the MBA programs themselves.    This is a good place to start but it shouldn’t be your only source of information.  After all, the problems you’ll run into with the MBA will be post-program issues.  Universities will have limited experience in this stage of your career.  Look, I’m a father of three kids and I’ve seen the birthing of each child but I can’t tell you what it feels like to give birth.  You have to go to the source for that; that is, the mother.  Well, if you want to know the impact the MBA has on your career, you need to ask someone who has that experience.  In other words, ask the MBA graduates.  After all, they are the ones who are trying to build their career with the MBA degree.  Wouldn’t that be a good source of information? Before you make any decisions about the next two years of your life and the destiny of a whole lot of your money, take the time to understand the impact the MBA has on your career by reading the stories of MBA graduates from around the globe.  Their experience will enlighten you and give you insights that will help you maximize the return on your personal investment.   We’ve taken the time to capture the knowledge of MBAs from around the world on many topics that affect MBAs directly.  These topics aren’t the kind of issues that get addressed during your MBA program (and never will be) but they are REAL WORLD issues faced by MBAs every single day.