Changing Careers

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I’ve been pulled into a few conversations on career changes and have learned that the average person changes careers 5-7 times in their working life. This number didn’t shock me as much as our new national average of people changing jobs every 12 months.

Since the average person takes 3-6 months to come up to speed on their newest job, you’d think that companies would want to keep them in that position longer than a year. After all, training costs and mistakes due to the learning curve are substantial.

One person suggested that our culture of self-care is driving the latest turnover. He suggested that people who stay at one job too long lose track of reality. They tend to only see life from the corporate perspective and rarely get a glimpse of what is happening in the real world—outside of what TV tells them. To stay alert and keep their job interesting, people are jumping more often with the hopes that they can grow in value.

There is also the fun associated with something new. I love to learn, and being in a new position would activate me to learn all that I can. The longer a person stays in one position, the more mechanical their job becomes. Not too many people want to be in a job that they can do in their sleep. If they do, they have probably dropped to a lifestyle of going through the motions and not being present in the moment—boring.

I’m all for a person strategically shifting their career a few times to broaden their knowledge and improve their skill levels. However, if they want their future company to see them as a benefit, they have to stay at each job long enough to develop their craft to the level of mastery.

I met one woman who worked for Dreamworks, Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Columbia. I met a man who worked for Pixar. It turns out that the woman had a great understanding of the industry and each company’s approach to market changes. The man, on the other hand, had developed his craft beyond that of most people in the industry.

I tried to determine which route would benefit their next job most. I concluded that the next position’s requirements would dictate which of the two would be best for the position—depending on the new company’s needs at the time. In other words, neither choice would consistently be a good choice.

Back when Walt Disney had to deal with the new rising animation union, he felt shredded by members of his staff who went on strike. It was a personal issue that changed his creative family business into a manufacturing machine. The wages and employee benefits went up, while loyalty to Disney hit an all-time low.

It took years of flops to rebuild loyalty and have employees take pride in their work. Today, Disney is a company that most people long to work for regardless of its wages and benefits.

Maybe that’s why there is a new movement among midsized companies to be slow to hire and quick to fire.

These companies don’t want their culture to be negatively affected by anyone, so being thorough in the hiring process makes perfect sense. Along those same lines, these companies don’t want to keep a bad egg one day too long for fear that they will spread their negativity throughout the ranks.

The next time I’m in a position to hire someone, I’ll follow the following three steps:

  1. Only hire those who fit your corporate culture and daily attitude.
  2. Immediately fire anyone who bucks the company culture or vision.
  3. Find ways to keep quality employees well beyond 12 months.

Whether you’re a hiring manager or looking for your next beneficial position, consider what added value you’ve gained from your current job. Then consider what company can improve by taking advantage of picking you up. Next, decide how to position yourself for a raise or a job change.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

 

Failure Breeds Success

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

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There are several notable authors speaking on failing forward and the need for environments that allow for, or support failure. None of the individuals speak to the importance of failure and how it increases our ability to think and drive innovation. Out of those who speak about the positive aspects of failure, most seem to do so with failure as a caveat, not a requirement. The truth, however, is that failure is a necessary part of success.

Over the years, I’ve talked with numerous award winners, self-made entrepreneurs, and multi-millionaires. In each case, when talking to a person that made the trek up the hill of success, they shared how integral and critical their failures were in getting them to their goals and big wins. No one was able to succeed until they experienced a healthy dose of failure.

The secret weapon of failure must be added to our creativity tool belt. This tool empowers us for the big wins that company’s need for growth. It also wipes out fear from our workforce, promoting a healthy attitude for calculated risks that drive innovation, instead of the shrinkage driven by a risk-averse environment.

Colin Powell, one of my favorite leaders, says, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Flaws are found in every product and service. When we choose to look at the negative and learn about the need that is not being met as a result of the given flaw, then we can learn from that single point of failure and innovate a new and better solution. If, however, we pretend that our product or service does not have a flaw, then we fool ourselves and give an opening for another company to build our mousetrap better. We lose market share—by choice.

Failure sets us up to win with three benefits:

A Growth Mindset

We all start from a position of failure. This is easily seen in my first swimming lesson at Sunset Pool. I was afraid of the water, like two-thirds of Americans, and I tended to sink instead of float. By focusing on my inability to swim, I was able to add to my skill set. By the time I was an adult, I was a PADI and NAUI certified diver that swam with sharks. (According to National Geographic there are 375 types of sharks and only about a dozen are considered dangerous.)

A growth mindset was a simple idea discovered by Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck, that drives motivation and productivity. The concept is that we can change or improve our basic abilities in order to make great accomplishments. By seeing failure as a stepping stone of learning, being able to consider new ideas that would never have popped up had we not failed, we can alter our products and services to be a better solution for the customer.

A Customer-Focused Perspective

I learned at an early age that failure meant you didn’t have or offer what the customer wanted. I’ll never forget the meeting I had with the vice president of a national youth organization. I was told what the organization wanted and I clarified what they actually needed to be successful. While I was 100% accurate in my assessment, which was later proven true, I was dropped from the project because I didn’t deliver what they wanted.

The disconnect was due to me being focused on their customers and donors, while the vice president was focused on assigned objectives. The organization moved ahead without me and saw a massive failure. They soon realized that their objectives were not aligned to their customers and donors. After making several phone calls to key people, they discovered that the needs in their market were perfectly aligned with my initial recommendation.

My failure taught me a valuable lesson about having a customer-centric perspective. I could have gotten the original contract had my recommendation matched their objectives, but I stood by what I thought was right, not what they were willing to pay for. The next customer that called me in for a quote that wasn’t aligned to their market, I offered exactly what was being asked for and supplied a phase two proposal covering next steps should phase one not work. One company suggested we forgo phase one and just jump to two. I was thrilled that they had made the determination after understanding the differences between phases.

A Trajectory for Success

When failure no longer looks like a problem, but rather the next step of an exploration seeking the best solution, the company finds itself on a trajectory of success no matter what scenario is first developed. I had a friend who once told me that some things aren’t worth doing perfectly. The saying stuck with me because my marketing background suggested that speed to market was far more powerful than second to market—unless you pour a ton of money into the second product’s release.

My friend explained that when a product or service is 80% ready for release, to go ahead and release it while continuing to perfect it. Within six months, regardless of having released the product at 100% or 80% complete, the product will still be tweaked from the market’s initial feedback. The amount of time it takes to polish the final product is not worth the quality difference compared to the percentage of market share gained by releasing first.

While this holds true with most products and services, it does not work in film and music sales. Once the product is created, you rarely have an opportunity to fix and rerelease it. This is why entertainment companies do test screenings and focus groups—to get it right the first time out.

My failures have given me wonderful tools that move each of my projects a step closer to success. Without those failures, I would have no idea how to make a new product or service successful. When we review our failures and determine the lessons learned, we drive success in our next venture. In other words, failure allows us to grow, focus on our customers, and create a process that forces our success.

Shouldn’t we all be thankful for our failures?

© 2019 by CJ Powers

 

The Layered Big Picture Guides Innovation

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I was consulting at a Fortune 100 company when the Vice President asked if I understood the big picture. He didn’t care about the details needing to be fleshed out. He trusted my expertise to handle those details, but conditionally—if I convinced him that I understood his endgame.

He clarified his view by explaining that he worked at the 50,000-foot level and seldom put his feet on the ground. He hated being involved in the minutia of a project and preferred to leave it to management’s ability that kept the troops in line. Unfortunately, his stance placed a foothold of problems within his organization.

That’s not to say executives need to get their hands dirty, especially since most people hate management looking over their shoulders as they work. However, without a snapshot of understanding from all layers of a project, there is no way for the executive to learn if key players at each level received and understood the project’s true message and vision.

There are two ways of developing a useful big picture. The first is to place a visionary in each department that is capable of translating the executive’s vision into one easily understood by those at the 10,000-foot and ground levels. The second is to have interactive meetings with the executives and managers at each level to clarify the ongoing vision and how it’s being transformed into products and services.

Before deciding which of the two methods, or a combination of methods, is right for the company, we have to understand the importance of each layer. The executive who thinks one layer is more important than another, will not be able to create the type of business growth that can endure. The growth spirts will eventually fizzle with its high turnover due to good employees not wanting to stay in unimportant roles and departments.

I worked for a Fortune 100 company that had 165,000 employees when I started. I was laid-off when the roster dropped to 26,000 employees. The atmosphere suggested that salespeople were gods, computer programmers were heroes, and engineers were a dime a dozen. These hard delineations stopped the flow of knowledge and communications between silos, forcing people to work in isolation.

Sadly, it was the lack of support for the engineers and the total empowerment of the “above the law” salespeople that caused the company’s crash. Within six months, the stock went from $86.00 to $0.50 per share. Few saw the tragedy coming and therefore only a handful of people were able to shift their 401K investments to something more stable. Thousands of people lost their retirement savings.

I also worked for a Fortune 100 start-up division where communication across departments was a weekly exercise. Everyone was considered important to the process including the RFP proposal writers who at some companies are considered the rock bottom on the importance scale.

In this case, the team was highly valued for its ability to wordsmith and customize documents/presentations to meet the criteria that funded deals. The division broke the $100 million mark in the first year, instantly making the new division a company asset and a recognized force in the industry.

The teams that respected the value of other teams, were empowered to try new things and explore solutions never before considered in the marketplace. The VPs participated in all weekly meetings to make sure the new ideas flowed in line with the executive vision for the division.

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

Pixar co-founder, Ed Catmull, says, “When it comes to creative inspiration, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless.” He goes on to say in his book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration that communication should not follow the business hierarchy, but be open to all in order to facilitate progress.

Giving access to everyone, for everyone, allows all employees to own their layer of the vision and empowers the entire company with an understanding of how each area of the business impacts the others. This structure brings insight to those who are capable of innovation based on cross-department combinatory play, which feeds additional innovation.

While I don’t believe in the “open door” policies, which pulls people away from their work in an untimely manner, I strongly believe in access to everyone when it comes to communication and understanding how the vision impacts all project layers and departments. The proper flow of communication and the consideration of other departments when making decisions always empowers innovation.

Therefore, it’s prudent for employees to understand how all departments matter to the vision of the company. With each person having the big picture and understanding each layer of the vision, they will be empowered to innovate, pushing the company to move forward with ideas that will change the marketplace.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

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