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!