My Top Ten Career Management Tips for 2008

As this is the time of year that many people start making their New Year’s resolutions – personal and professional – I thought I’d share some of the best career management tips I know. Some of these I learned from others and some I learned the hard way. In any case, here goes:

    1. Do whatever Irene tells you to do and don’t embarrass me. whale-watch.jpgThis one comes courtesy of my father. My first job was doing the payroll, manually, at his codfish processing plant in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. (Photo is my family in the harbor in front of that plant last summer). Irene was the long time office manager who knew how to make things happen. Getting to know the Irenes everywhere I’ve worked since has saved me time and embarrassment.
    2. Speak up. This one applies when you have a good idea and/or when you know that something just isn’t right. Organizations rise and fall on the quality and openness of communications between people.
    3. Assertions absent data are just your opinion. This is a corollary to #2. If you want to promote your idea, you need to be able to substantiate its merit with objective data.
    4. The workplace is different for women. Even as organizations have welcomed women into the workforce in the last 30 years, the realities of childbearing and rearing can still throw them for a loop when it comes to contemplating alternative career paths and flexible work options. The world has come a long way since 1985 – when my then employer asked me to sign a letter committing that I wouldn’t get pregnant. See this article in yesterday’s New York Times regarding what organizations are doing to provide more flexibility for workers.
    5. The company’s money is the company’s money. In the interest of encouraging employees to be frugal, companies often exhort them to “treat the company’s money like it’s your own”. This seems to confuse some people – whose behavior can lead you to believe that they must live like sultans from Dubai on their own time. Don’t waste company resources and don’t play games with your expenses. If you need a history lesson on this one, think Enron.
    6. There is power in silence. This is a thesis topic in its own right. Relationships and careers get derailed when things are said in anger, ignorance, or just because the speaker decided to keep talking while s/he shouldn’t have. Keeping your mouth shut at the right times gives you time to think.
    7. Email is both friend and foe. I’m old enough to remember the workplace pre-email. It’s a fantastic tool for conveying information and agreements quickly to lots of people. The dark side of this ease of use is how much workplace productivity is sacrificed to individuals coping with volumes of email that get in the way of “real work”. It’s a rotten tool for negotiating agreements. And it makes it way too easy to communicate something in haste that you’ll regret later. In 2008, make a promise to yourself to pick up the phone or walk down the hall more frequently.
    8. Selling is the most important skill of all. The years I spent as a sales rep were among the most valuable of my career. Planning and persuasion are key to success in sales – and in business in general. I don’t care what your functional expertise is. If you can’t persuade others to take action, your own success will be limited.
    9. Management has its ups and downs. This one could also be called “be careful what you wish for”. It’s great to manage a team of capable, creative and motivated people (as I do now). However, as your responsibilities, compensation, and access to information increase, so does your risk. Your mistakes become more costly and visible and the time you need to invest in doing a good job increases. You have to make tough decisions that can lead to unemployment for people you care about. Not everyone can or should be a manager. Organizations need to continue to find ways to retain highly talented individual performers whose goals don’t (or shouldn’t) include people management.
    10. Keep your job in perspective. This one isn’t always easy, but is probably the most important of all. Jobs have their ups and downs. Organizations do, too. Be respectful of other people, work hard while you’re at work, don’t be defensive in the face of obstacles, and when you go home, shut the door on the workplace. Much is written about how organizations can help promote work life balance. Ultimately, though, only you can define and protect the work-life boundaries that work for you. If you can’t honor that balance in your current job situation, then it’s up to you to find one that will work for you.

That’s it for my top ten career advice tips. What would you add to the list?

5 thoughts on “My Top Ten Career Management Tips for 2008

  1. I’ll agree with you about email not being the best form of communication. Instant messaging is even worse. What happened to the handshake days of business, right?

    Another I would add is:

    Clicking “Send” too fast. Reread every e-mail before you send it! I actually get e-mails from job applicants with misspellings and missing words. They all go to the same place: the garbage. This is a pet peeve. I’m not going to hire someone who is careless.Even if you’re not looking for a job, you want to be careful.

    People will judge you subconsciously on mistakes. None of us is perfect. But you can catch 99% of these problems by rereading the text.And don’t depend on the spell-checker. It will catch misspellings. But if you use “four” instead of “for,” or “your” for “you’re,” it won’t tell you.

    It also is not likely to catch any missing words in a sentence that you inadvertently failed to include. So take a minute and reread your text.

  2. I would say always try to provide benefit to the people you work for. Being layed off many times over the last few years has taught me to work extra hard and provide value to my co-workers.

  3. “Just Ask”… and “Just Do It” are two that I particularly like, and together can cover a lot of ground.

    If you believe, as I do, that people genuinely want to be helpful, then you may also agree that “just asking” may just be giving others an opportunity to exercise their preference. Of course this can be taken way too far to the point of greed. But I’m thinking more along the lines of a small child asking a grandmother to help put his/her mittens on (relevant story, given the snow Boston received last night and the forecast for the next day). Or in the work world, imagine the bond of trust you would be building by asking a colleague for their opinion on a strategic proposal, for instance.

    I like “just do it”, for lots of reasons, among them if you agree that you can learn by your mistakes, then there is value in either path you take. But to delay can often mean either the moment has passed, or someone else will claim the reward. Having just spent a week in the automotive capital (Detroit), I’ll illustrate my point with the example of Chrysler, who very successfully morphed their acquired Jeep brand and gave birth to the now ever popular SUV. While many of the other automotive makers had contemplated evolutions of the Jeep style, none took it on until well after Chrysler had enjoyed years of first-to-market success. On a more individual level, when have you ever been disappointed to see someone take the initiative to “just do it”? I would even go so far as to say being witness to someone else’s initiative, is in itself, self-inspiring.

  4. Number one resonates particularly well with me. As a young professional early in his career I can confirm that getting to know the Irene’s at a company can really accelerate one’s onboarding process and growth path. For this reason I feel that it is extremely important for organizations to foster a mentoring environment, especially when they employ Gen Y kids like myself, who generally seek out and appreciate closer relationships with managers and co-workers.

  5. I particularly like #3, or as Steve Johnson at Pragmatic Marketing would say “Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant”.

    You gave some good advice to a colleague who recently shared it with me: Never go back in your career, always move forward.
    Another good one for the list!

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