Every business has a product (or service) line to offer its customers. Do you know what your product line is? Do you know what value you add to your employer, your relationships, and your community?
If you are already a business-owner, you are probably used to identifying your value proposition so you can do effective sales and marketing. But as an employee, you may not have the mindset that you have a specific product line to sell. This puts you at a disadvantage in today’s labor market, where employers want to hire candidates who know how to impact the bottom line. Therefore, it is critical that you identify your value:
YOUR VALUE IS IN YOUR JOB DESCRIPTION. Write a job description for all that you do. Focus specifically on what results you produce. If you are a receptionist, your tasks may include fielding phone calls, but your value is really in being the first line of contact for your employer (marketing) and in managing incoming calls (organizing). Your product line then is a good first impression and a sense of organization. Where else can you sell your services? Reception is but one client. In what other jobs might these skills add value?
YOUR VALUE IS WELL-KNOWN AMONG FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES. Ask colleagues and close friends about your best attributes. Specifically, find out what you are the go-to person for. Everyone understands the concept of go-to people. On a personal level, if you’re blue, you want your funny friend. On a professional level, for your heavy analytical project you want the number-crunching dynamo on the team. What do your friends and colleagues go to you for?
Even if you are accustomed to identifying your value at a professional level, it is helpful to take this to a personal level. When you focus on what makes you a good spouse, friend, citizen, then you offer the best to your personal customers as well.
One of the downsides of fear is the delay it causes. You don’t jump in at the meeting, only to hear your brilliant idea espoused by someone else. You had a fear of being wrong or speaking out of turn so you hesitated, and then your moment was gone. You don’t lobby for the promotion, and then see it go to a peer. You were afraid you weren’t ready, but opportunities may not wait till you are ready.
Career success has a strong timing element. Hiring is based on a candidate’s skills and interests PLUS how these meet what is available at the time. Interviews turn on how prepared you are PLUS how receptive the interviewer is at the time. Promotions are granted when employees are ready PLUS there is a need for a higher level at the time. It is rare to have your opportunities aligned exactly with your readiness. In most cases, you will have to reach for the opportunity — sell your achievements, stretch your abilities, take a risk, and thus encounter fear. If the fear causes you to delay too much, the opportunity may pass.
Understanding the danger of delay, then, may help you mitigate your fear. You realize that you not only have to overcome hesitation but you have to do it as quickly as possible. Ask people what their biggest regrets are, and they usually are not things that they did, but things that they didn’t do. You have the benefit of their hindsight. Jump into your career. Don’t delay your potential success.
We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is the coerciveness: it is always urgent, “here and now” without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank. — Jose Ortega Y Gasset
Each one of us, from the CEO to the unemployed, has 24 hours per day to invest. If time is spent haphazardly, then it is easily squandered. A few hours per day in front of the TV equates to a part-time job watching TV. If you’re not proactively making choices about what to do with your time, it slips away unnoticed. One way to become more conscious of your time investment is to constantly ask yourself what you want from your time.
How much time do you want to invest on your career versus other priorities? You may have relationships, community/ religious activities, personal interests, and other priorities than just career. How high does your career rank on your list? Is the time you invest on your career consistent with how valuable you say your career is to you?
How much time do you want to invest in your current career versus your future prospects? You always need to do both because living in the moment and preparing for the future are both important. However, if you’re unhappy where you are, you might want to do just enough to get a good reference and focus more on your next move. If you’re in your target career, then you want to excel where you are. How much time are you investing on prospects? Is this consistent with your current satisfaction level?
How do you want your time to be split between doing your job, networking for future opportunities, developing your skills, and enhancing your professional image? What area is a strength, a weakness, a fear? Are you touching each area or neglecting one? Before you collapse in front of the TV after a hard day’s work, ask yourself if you’d rather invest that time in one of the above.
Be more proactive in 2010 by scheduling all the appointments you know you need right now. Take out your electronic organizer, handwritten journal, or whatever you use to schedule and block out the following:
ANNUAL PHYSICAL. Check when you last saw your doctor. Aim for the same month in 2010. Then, depending on how much lead time he/she needs to set an appointment, mark on your calendar when you actually need to call for the appointment. For example, my annual physical is in February but my doctor books up by August, so in August 2010, I write, “call Dr. X for appointment for Feb .2011″. Repeat exercise for your dentist, eye doctor, etc.
HAIRCUTS. You know how often you need a cut. If every six weeks, block out time every six weeks. Then mark when you need to call. Repeat for massages, manicures, etc. Don’t wait till your back acts up before getting the massage that prevents it.
INSURANCE PAYMENTS. If you don’t have banking that enables you to set payments in advance, I highly recommend it. But barring that, at least mark your calendars for home, car, life, disability, and other annual or seasonal payments.
HOME MAINTENANCE. Whether you do the job yourself or get someone to do it, mark your calendar for when to do (or call for) annual maintenance jobs: gutter cleaning, window washing, chimney sweep, central air/ heat check-up, appliance check-up, lawn reseeding, etc.
EXERCISE. If you already exercise regularly, congratulations! For those who struggle to get continuity, mark your calendars now for the weekly aerobics class or basketball pick-up game or whatever you like. This will prevent you from scheduling competing events. If you’re just starting a program, schedule specific time periods each week for exercise. You can decide later if you do cardio or weights that day. For now, you just want the reminder there and the commitment not to schedule anything else.
VACATION. If you like to travel, you may need time to research. If you have kids, you may need to work around their schedule. Find out when peak and bargain seasons are at your target destination. Find out when school breaks are. Mark these on your calendar. Then go to one or two months prior and make a note to research Target Destination, so you build in the time to prepare.
Be yourself is about the worst advice you can give to some people. – J.B. Priestley
Maybe you think you don’t need a “brand” because you can just “be yourself”. Maybe you think branding is superficial or manipulative. When it comes to branding, Priestley’s right in that “be yourself” is the worst advice. While your brand should be a reflection of who you are, it is not an excuse for anything goes. Being ourselves means good and bad. We all have our moods, our off-days and our blind spots. We don’t need to share those with the world just to be authentic; we can do that with our friends and family. We need a brand to always put our best foot forward.
Research has shown that people weigh negative information more heavily than positive when it comes to first impressions. This suggests that it is harder to overcome a negative first impression than a positive one. By managing your brand you manage that first impression.
By managing your brand you are proactive about your strong points. You can still be yourself, but you lead with your strong self. Your brand may be reflected in your wit, your fashion sense, your knowledge of pop culture. Your brand is still authentically you, but focused on the traits that you consciously wish to share.
Think of people with strong brands (e.g., Donald Trump, Michael Jordan), and you’ll think of confident and alluring people. You may not agree with 100% of who they are, but their message is clear and therefore exudes confidence. When you go for that job, that raise, that next life step, you want to exude confidence. Send a clear message: manage your brand.
If you are happy in your current job and have no plans to leave, then you might think career planning does not apply to you. This is a common and serious mistake. Circumstances change. Your job might grow less fulfilling over time. Your current environment might be negatively restructured. You might be laid off. Even if you are completely satisfied with your job today, you need to be proactive about maintaining this. You need a career plan to maximize your happy situation.
Increase your added value. Know what you add to your employer’s bottom line, and add more. This means developing and adding skills, tackling challenging assignments, and increasing productivity. Companies invest in R&D to innovate and create new products. Include personal R&D in your 2010 career plan.
Maintain visibility. It doesn’t help to do a great job if nobody knows about it. Know the decision-makers of project assignments, promotions, raises and bonuses. Know what projects are important to these decision-makers. Get on these projects, and let these key people know what you are contributing. Companies actively market their products; they do not assume customers will just know how great they are. Include personal marketing in your 2010 career plan.
Strengthen your foundation. You may love your job, but you should not need it. Confidence attracts. Desperation repels. You may not be financially free, but you don’t necessarily need this current job if you have: a ready network of contacts to help launch a job search; a clear value proposition and an updated resume to market it; a nest egg to support you; and friends and family for emotional support. Include personal finance, personal development and personal relationships in your 2010 career plan.
With the Think As Inc approach, you apply business techniques to your personal life. One advantage of having a business mindset for personal issues is that you take your personal issues less personally. This doesn’t mean being less than 100% invested in your life. It just means that you look for solutions without beating yourself up first.
For example, if you have a goal to save $5,000 and you’re not getting there, rather than chiding yourself for not making progress on the goal, use the Think As Inc business framework to figure out how to move forward. How is this specific goal aligned with your overall mission (e.g., financial freedom, seed money for an entrepreneurial venture)? Once you couch your goal in terms of its contribution to your mission, you empower yourself when you have to make difficult tradeoffs. How can you achieve this goal and still serve your clients? Set aside funds for the dates with your spouse, networking with colleagues, and other priority clients, and save on everything else. Know your brand, product and bottom line goals; support these, but save on everything else.
The success of our goals is often not about willpower, steely dedication or other personal attribute, but rather about simple math – how many dollars, how many calories, how many hours. Your goals are a reflection of your values and needs and dreams. They are already extremely personal. Don’t make your approach personal too. Make it all business. Calculate what’s effective and stick to that. Analyze what’s not effective and shift gears. Think as an inc. What would a CEO do for a company with this problem? Then execute.
Last week, I had a lunch date with a colleague who like myself is a busy working mom. We work in the same department but in different roles, so lunching is mostly for fun but also a chance to learn about what is happening around the department and trade work/life tips. About five minutes before our appointed meeting time, she was hovering outside my office trying to get my attention. Extreme punctuality? Actually, she was canceling at the last-minute. She had an all-morning meeting and came back to a stack of emails, so surely she couldn’t lunch.
This colleague always cancels last-minute. She thinks that the hour she saves by skipping lunch keeps her from getting overwhelmed. Actually it is just the opposite. I keep one or two lunches a week open for last-minute additions – e.g., a professional meeting that has to be over lunch, a personal errand that is time-sensitive. But I typically have my lunch hours booked two to three weeks in advance. I try to balance my lunches between internal appointments (current colleagues in my department and in different departments) and external (colleagues in the industry, colleagues from a former company, informational interviews). I also try to balance my lunches between current goals, future goals, and fun. Lunch is time for myself – for sustenance, career reflection, career promotion, and catching up with old friends. Rather than overwhelming myself, planning my lunches in such a way provides a substantive break in the day. It helps my long-term career management. I don’t just react to the stack of messages that come in. I have plans.
Of course, the benefit of lunch dates only works if you keep them. The strategy is common sense (how else can you get to know your colleagues) but the execution is key. How many busy executives feel like they are being too reactive in their careers and yet cannot plan and keep their lunch hour? Before you make grandiose plans about the next promotion, building a side business, or looking for your dream job, practice taking your lunch hour. You’ll get a midday burst of inspiration and welcome practice in follow-through.
If we have a short-term project (e.g., get a job before severance runs out in 12 weeks) follow-through is relatively easy because the steps are laid out in sequential order and the short duration of the project leaves little time to lose focus. Get the resume in order. Draw up your contact list. Answer ads, network. Interview. Follow up. Repeat as needed. But if the project is long-term (e.g., overall career management) then the steps are not necessarily sequential. Change is dynamic, organic, unexpected. Lack of firm deadlines enables us to get distracted and lose sight of the end goal. For big life goals then, we need to stay on course by asking big questions:
Are you better off this year than last year (in your job, marriage, health, etc)? If not, what can you do now to get back on track?
If you found out that you had limited time left, what would you keep doing and what would you stop? How can you get more of that ideal balance now?
In your list of life goals are there some that are time-sensitive? If you want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro you need to take into account your health, ability to take time off, etc. Maybe you are in a unique position to do that now. Even if you didn’t intend to do that so soon, can you take advantage of your current circumstance to do it? What other goals lend themselves to your current situation?
Are you happy? What is working particularly well? Can you apply those lessons to other areas in your life?
These are not the only questions we should be asking. But they are a good start to move our focus from the daily grind to the broader picture. Being responsible and following through does not just mean we get our chores done and pay our bills on time. It means that we honor our lifelong aspirations and set time, money and energy aside to make them happen. Ask big questions. What are your lifelong aspirations? How can you support them with the time, money and energy you have right now?