Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career planning 11: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 5

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on August 10, 2017

This is my 11th installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-10.)

I began to more systematically address a set of issues that are coming to reshape and redefine employment and employability, and certainly in developed-world countries such as the United States in Part 9 and Part 10, where I briefly touched on the issues of:

• Automation and robotization with their combined impact on what types of work can be and will be cost-effectively available to human employees,
• And non-compete agreements as they have started to be more widely used to rebalance and skew the power dynamics in the employer/employee relationship, and the range of opportunity that employees can have in shaping and controlling their own employability and their own careers and work lives.

At the end of Part 10 I offered a brief set of news stories links that point to reporting and news analysis pieces that came out between 2014 and 2017, highlighting that second bullet point and its issues. I pick up on that narrative again here, by repeating one of those links and offering a new one that would best be understood in light of that June, 2016 news piece:

To Compete Better, States Are Trying to Curb Noncompete Pacts (for the earlier article), and
Quit Your Job for a Better One? Not if You Live in Idaho.

Some states in the United States are in fact actively beginning to push back against what is argued to be unwarranted and even ridiculously constraining overuse of non-compete clauses in hiring and terms of employment agreements. But some, and states such as Idaho in particular that are governed from the politically “conservative” and the “ultra-conservative” perspective, have taken an essentially entirely pro-employer and anti-employee rights approach here. Right now, this issue is playing out at a state by state level in the United States. Yes, as this becomes a larger and more overtly visible and discussed issue, pressure will arise for the United States Congress to address this at a national level – unless that is the US federal court system and the Supreme Court in particular, takes this up first. But in today’s polarized climate and with so much at stake and so much taking everyone’s complete attention in Congress with the Trump presidential administration scandals, and with the Republicans in Congress skewed by numbers to the right and to conservative and ultra-conservative positions, Congress will not and cannot take this up with any possibility of resolution soon. And when and if the Supreme Court or even just a regional federal court takes on this issue – that in principle could happen any time but that probably means years from now. And that might only happen after Congress acts nationally on this with the passage of affecting legislation, if that new law is taken to court and challenged for its constitutionality.

I can summarize the core message inherent in that paragraph in a few simple words: this is a growing problem that genuinely needs a nation-wide, federal governmental response and resolution but that will not happen for years. Because of that, individuals will have to find their own ways to survive and even thrive professionally in the face of these contractual employment restrictions – just as they have to when facing the inexorable shifts in the workplace and in employability that are arising from automation. And that leads me directly to, and I add into the closing note that I appended to the end of Part 10 where I indicated in brief outline, the types of issues that I would address here:

• “I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least briefly consider the issues of legal challenge to the open ended use of non-compete agreements. But more importantly, I will discuss this as a new source of disruptive change in a career development context, and how networking and other approaches that hold value in addressing disruptive change, can hold value here too – and before any court or legislative action limits the use or reach of these restrictions. And I will further discuss how seemingly separate and distinct changes and disruptive changes in employability interact, in how they arise and in their overall collective impact – and in how that can be more effectively addressed by people who seek to take ownership of their own work lives and careers.”

I just raised, and for now and for short-term dismissed the possibility of legal case and legislative action remediations to the blanket use of non-compete clauses. And that has left me with a need for at least suggesting more effective tools that individuals can use to remain as flexibly and effectively employable as possible as they pursue jobs and careers that would be best for themselves.

I have discussed the role of open and more widely reaching business-oriented social networking in several installments to this series, and return to that topic here and with a specific networking goal in mind, that calls for some very specific steps on the part of the networking individual before they begin reaching out.

• You need to know precisely what a non-compete agreement that you would face if you took a new job, would entail and how it would limit or block you later on as you might wish to take a next jobs and careers step. What precisely would this limit you’re being legally permitted to do and both for specific skills used and for specific applications of those skills? And what is the geographic reach of those restrictions? Would they only apply in the one state where you would work in this new job, or would they potentially follow you across state lines or even beyond, for more international businesses? And how long would they remain in effect? Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements for protecting a former employer’s confidential or proprietary knowledge can be open ended for duration, to put that question into perspective. Could you get out from under the restrictions of this non-compete clause by moving to a state that was more restrictive in how it allowed them to be applied as barriers to further employment? You need to know the implications and the potential for what you would agree to for this, as a basic due diligence check-list issue in deciding if a new possible job would be best for you, or if it might in fact hold long-term negatives in it that would outweigh any possible short-term gains, given your more immediate short-term and here-and-now needs and their pressures.
• And as a part of this, you have to ask yourself and know what types of entanglements you might already be facing from prior jobs and their hiring and terms of employment agreements, that you have already signed and legally agreed to. This means addressing the same questions and issues raised in the above bullet point, but from the perspective of response to what is already in place, and not entirely from free and open choice on your part. Can you even take the new job offered you in the first of these bullet points, or have one or even more than just one prior non-compete agreements signed, prevent you from taking it without risk of legal action from a previous employer, who might have you in their sights because you just left them and not of their choosing?

Know where you stand now and what types of minefield you might already be in from non-compete clause restrictions as they would specifically apply to you. And know where and for how long they would apply. Now, what can you do with your current skills and workplace experience that would, through reframing and other means, not by disallowed there? Would for example, a change in industry worked in be sufficient to unblock you?

• Think this out and do your research – and keep copies of the agreements that you do sign with employers as part of your ongoing career documentation.

You should do this anyway, to document for your own use precisely what you have done professionally and in what contexts, but changes in the employability landscape such as the widespread emergence of non-competes makes this an absolute necessity.

Now openly reach out and network. Do this to help you find new paths forward in your work life and career path, if you feel hemmed in and for whatever reason: from workplace automation, non-compete agreements or whatever. And do this for information and insight that might better help you understand and navigate your way forward, and around these challenges, as well as for helping you find specific new opportunities.

• Do you need to retrain in some way and if so, how? This might mean learning new hands-on and related skills, but it can mean learning a new language too: the professional slang and perspective that is commonly taken for granted as known in some new-to-you industry that you are considering switching to.
• Network with a goal of finding out more fully what you already have identified that you need to learn,
• And with a goal of identifying gaps in what you know, that you have to learn and be able to demonstrate, that you have not already identified as being important or even essentially necessary for you.

Open and wide-ranging networking and a willingness to step out of your current tried and true comfort zone is essential to you here and it can be vitally important for your overall and long-term career planning and even just for your here-and-now employability.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to the second half of the to-address note that I appended to the end of Part 10, that I repeat here for clarity and ease of reading:

• “And I will further discuss how seemingly separate and distinct changes and disruptive changes in employability interact, in how they arise and in their overall collective impact – and in how that can be more effectively addressed by people who seek to take ownership of their own work lives and careers.”

Note that many of the points that I raise here regarding non-compete clauses and their challenges, apply to workplace automation and I add other widespread disruptive workplace and employability changes too, and how better to face them. With that stated I will start the next installment to this with some further notes on addressing the non-compete clause challenge as it is now and as it is still emerging, absent any legislative or court-decision remediation. And with that in place and in its context, I will delve into the issues and questions of this now-reduced to-address point, and the emerging flood of disruptive change in the workplace as a whole.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Career planning 10: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 4

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 29, 2017

This is my 10th installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-9.)

I began addressing the issues of networking in a changing workplace and employment context in Part 9, and continue that narrative here. And with that context in place for this posting, I begin it by offering some specific, crucially important advice:

• When you are facing new and the uncertainty that that brings with it, effective professionally oriented networking can be one of your most powerful and useful tools.
• And the faster that change is advancing around you, that would impact on how and where you could productively find work, the more important it is that your networking reach be open to new possibilities – and open for who you would actively network with in finding them.

I restate and repeat this advice here because it is crucially important and for all of us, that we move past the restrictions of self-limited networking and that we be willing to actively move out of our perhaps comfort zone of only reaching out to the already known and familiar. You will not find the new and unexpected information or insight, or the job and career advancement next step guidance that you will need in addressing the new and the disruptively new, if you only converse with and share information with, and hear and learn from the smaller circle of those who you already know. You already probably know much if not most of what they could offer you, if you actually actively network with them anyway.

Let’s take this out of the abstract by considering a very real, specific emerging form of workplace and employability New. I wrote of automation in Part 9 as an increasingly important source of examples of this, for how workplace change is actively, rapidly reshaping and redefining what employment and even employability even mean. My quickly sketched discussion of that set of issues as offered in that posting, only addressed one minor aspect of an emerging change that will fundamentally reshape the workplace and employment forever. Think back historically to how the first industrial revolution reshaped both the working world and the meaning of employability. That progression of change and disruption included in it, a massive shift from agriculture as the major source of employment, as more and more mostly-young adult workers began to move to more urban settings and to new jobs and types of them in manufacturing. And small hand crafted shops that had constituted the basic manufacturing base already in place, gave way at an even faster rate than that, as mass production and the demand for new types of mass produced products, and for new types of employees to make them took hold.

More recently and starting in the late 20th century in countries such as the United States, manufacturing as a major source of employment and the manufacturing economy, gave way to the service economy (as briefly noted in Part 9) and now all of this is being fundamentally redefined yet again by automation and the advancement of artificial intelligence and robotization into the workplace. And this seismic shift in employment and employability might very well prove to be the largest and most far-reaching of these three.

Old and comfortingly familiar might offer real and even sustaining value in a stable and fixed context, or even when change is taking place but only in a slow and steady evolutionary manner. Disruptive change and very rapid ongoing change demand a different approach – a new and more open one for acknowledging what is happening and how best to meet its demands.

And with this said, I turn to consider the second basic issue that I said I would address here, at the end of Part 9: the advent of the non-compete agreement as a basic requirement for employment, as this is being used to skew the balance of power in the employee-employer relationship, starting with pre-hire negotiations and proceeding on from there.

I begin this line of discussion with some historical background notes, that I offer in order to put this topic in its current manifestation into wider perspective. Employees, and certainly hands-on non-managerial ones, and employers have always faced both points of agreement and alignment, and friction points of disagreement with at least potentially conflicting goals and perspectives driving them. This probably goes back as far in history as the first hiring of non-family employees does, if not farther. Ultimately, a business’ leadership and certainly its owners tend to think in terms of what would most benefit their business as a value creating organization, and themselves through it. And that business’ employees think more in terms of their own needs and interests and meeting them. That employee-oriented perspective definitely applies when employees hold no stake in the businesses that they work for and see themselves as receiving their salaries and whatever other specific benefits that were explicitly agreed to but nothing else – leaving them with no reason for their thinking of their workplace in any sense as being “their business” too.

I have written in this blog, of the benefits of everyone at a business coming to take a proprietary approach to where they work and a sense of this being their business too, and with everyone there acting accordingly. That can be accomplished as a matter of corporate culture and certainly when employees at all levels are rewarded for taking a stretch goals, beneficial to the company approach to their workplace. And that approach can tremendously add to the overall strength and resiliency of a business, when openly and widely encouraged and rewarded, as it can help that business to capture the fuller range of value creating potential that its employees could bring to the table there. But that sense of widely held ownership has to be explicitly worked toward, for it to be achieved and most workplaces and their owners do not seek to realize this as a practical possibility. (See for example: Accepting and Living an Ownership Approach to Jobs and Careers and More – a key to enabling a fuller life.) It is commoner, even if less functional and certainly long-term and in the face of change and challenge, for the employee-employer relationship to be more confrontational, and as an unstated but known possibility if not as an immediately acted-out here and now reality.

That is why so many people in so many industries and so many types of work positions have organized together through unions over the years. And it is why businesses that have seen their employees unionize, have historically and in so many ways pushed back against this strength in numbers approach, as employees seek a larger and more powerful voice in workplace and compensation negotiations. But unions and I add a wide range of other more traditional pressure points that could be cited here, only address part of this story, and that part from the employee-enabling side. And this brings me directly to the non-compete clause, usually added into the standard terms of employment agreement that new hires are required to sign as part of their being hired there at all.

Originally and as generally conceived and implemented until recently, businesses only required select employees to enter into non-compete agreements as part of their terms of employment, and this was used for basically just one reason: protection from loss of control and ownership of proprietary information and techniques, and of specialized in-house proprietary skills. And these agreements were generally fairly focused in what they restricted and both for specific next types of work for employees who move on, and for the geographic reach of such agreements, as well as for how long they would remain in force before expiring.

Then more and more businesses began deploying much more widely inclusive and much more widely restrictive non-compete agreements, in order to limit their employees in their ability to leave for better job and career opportunities. And their intention in this was very clear. It was to retain the people that they wanted to keep on staff by limiting or even entirely blocking their being able to move on, and certainly in the same type of work that they have been performing. And at the same time these contractually binding agreements have been used to limit the competitive pressures of the employment marketplace, as the possibilities to find better jobs elsewhere at higher pay have became more and more limited from them. And this meant their being able to retain those employees and at lower overall salary and compensation costs than they would have to face and accept, absent these new job change barriers.

The first antimonopoly law of any real stature to pass into law in the United States was the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Ironically the first real uses of this law were not to reign in monopolistic business practices; this law was primarily used at least at first to challenge and break unions and employee organization through them. And the key phrase from this law that was applied there, and that was subsequently used in enforcing antimonopoly restrictions against large corporations too, was “… in restraint of trade.” I cite this law and this key phrase from it here because the widespread use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts, and their punitive open ended enforcement, arguably constitute the exact type of restraint of trade – here the opportunity for employees to enter into it and of their own free will, as envisioned to be problematical there.

I take this out of the abstract and by way of some specific relevant news story links that date from June 2014 through May 2017:

Noncompete Clauses Increasingly Pop Up in Array of Jobs.
When the Guy Making Your Sandwich Has a Noncompete Clause.
To Compete Better, States Are Trying to Curb Noncompete Pacts.
Companies Compete but Won’t Let Their Workers Do the Same.

The second of these articles and its discussion of how even minimally trained minimum wage workers can become caught up in non-compete agreements now, highlights the ridiculous extremes that at least some businesses are pursuing through use of these employability limiting contract clauses. And the third makes note of how this business practice is now coming under fire at least at the state level in the United States, where its use has become particularly rampant.

And as a final thought for this posting, and bringing its two halves together, right now a significant percentage of the overall workforce in countries like the United States, are being caught between disruptive forces such as workplace automation that limit the types of jobs that will be available, and rampant use of non-compete agreements that serve to limit ability and opportunity to advance in their careers and remain competitive in the workforce.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least briefly consider the issues of legal challenge to the open ended use of non-compete agreements. But more importantly, I will discuss this as a new source of disruptive change in a career development context, and how networking and other approaches that hold value in addressing disruptive change, can hold value here too – and before any court or legislative action limits the use or reach of these restrictions. And I will further discuss how seemingly separate and distinct changes and disruptive changes in employability interact, in how they arise and in their overall collective impact – and in how that can be more effectively addressed by people who seek to take ownership of their own work lives and careers.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Some thoughts concerning a general theory of business 16: considering first steps toward developing a general theory of business 8

This is my 16th installment to a series on general theories of business, and on what general theory means as a matter of underlying principle and in this specific context (see Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, Section VI for Parts 1-15.)

I began this series with a discussion of general theories and what they consist of, as a matter of general organizing principle (see Parts 1-8.) And after laying a foundation in that, for focusing in on a general theory of business as a special case, I began addressing the more specific intended topic of this series as laid out in its title. And I have focused essentially entirely since then on the organizational level of the business as a whole, first treating these entities as if they were essentially monolithic in nature, and then opening the box a little to consider their functional and organizational structure too – at least at the level of granularity that would appear on a standard table of organization. But even there, my focus was on how they fit together and functioned together in collectively comprising the business organization as a whole.

As a matter of organizing this series and its narrative if nothing else, I have chosen to address this fundamentally single business level of conceptual organization as a baseline that I would organize the series as a whole around. And then in the course of writing Part 15, I stated that I would turn from that to:

1. Consider the basic issues raised and considered in this series, from the perspective of the individual business stakeholders.
2. And then I will expand the scale of consideration outward from that of the single complete business enterprise to consider supply chain and related value chain systems and I add, business and marketplace ecosystems.

I will, of course recurringly return to reconsider the baseline middle ground organizational level of the individual business organization, and both when focusing in on the individual and when telescoping out to consider the larger business and economic contexts, that businesses reside in and function in. But I offer this as a brief anticipatory outline of what is to follow.

I begin all of this with Point 1, as restated and reorganized from Part 15, above. And I begin that by at least briefly connecting what I will offer here, to a progression of series and individual postings that I have been offering in this blog as my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development (see its Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 listings.)

My goal for that Guide is to offer what experience and insight that I can, on finding and securing jobs and working successfully in them, and both at the individual job and career step level and in an explicit career and overall career development context. I have worked with a fairly wide range of businesses and in a variety of industries and in a fairly wide range of types of positions, and I have actively sought out opportunity to learn from others in this. As such, I probably have seen first-hand and directly experienced a wider range of job and career possibilities than most. But I am still just a single individual and offer what I can there, as filtered through the biases and assumptions of my own experience. As such, I still offer a limited perspective there, and even if a relatively comprehensive one with over 550 short essays included in it as of this writing. But there are a few fundamental points of observation and experience that underlie all of that, that I would start from here as essentially axiomatic assumptions, going into this general theory discussion:

• Even when we work for a single employer as an in-house employee and throughout our work life, we should still think of ourselves as if we were consultants, who might find ourselves having to work with a next employer and a next consulting client as developing and emerging circumstances dictate. No job or job opportunity can safely be presumed to last forever, as a tacit and unconsidered assumption.
• An employing business and its underlying assumptions and sense of self-interest are separate and distinct from those of our own. And while our employment with such an enterprise might seem long-term and even open-ended, we can never assume that as an absolute given. Business employer, and personal employee needs and interests can come to differ and diverge and change, and even disruptive change in employment options and possibilities can arise.
• So always think of yourself at least in part as an independent consultant, even if you are working in-house and long-term with one “client” employer. And always think of yourself at least in part as an independent small business, and with your own needs: short-term and immediate, and long-term firmly and clearly in mind.

This is important, and I add this is a point of observation and of conclusion that underlies how I address Point 1 of the above list. Any general theory of business that seeks to address the organizational level of the individual needs to address this type of consideration, and both for those who are entrepreneurial (i.e. who take this approach) and for those who simply see themselves as someone else’s employee.

And with this in place, I offer here, an at least preliminary to-address list of Point 1 oriented issues and perspectives that I will delve into in this series as I consider its level of organization:

• From the perspective of the individual employee, whether hands-on and non-managerial or managerial, or executive or owner, and with consideration of a still wider range of stakeholder types as well.
• From the perspective of how each of these groups of stakeholders see themselves and other stakeholder types, and in both risk and benefits, risk management terms and in game theory terms,
• And according to how the members of these groups see themselves as strictly in-house employees with their leaving their longer-term planning in the hands of their employers, or as more independent entrepreneurs and consultants who take direct ownership over and responsibility for their own work and career planning and its execution.

I am going to begin addressing these points and their issues in my next installment to this series, with a discussion grounding scenario that begins with the individual career developer and the hiring and promotion-directed strategies that they follow, and ends with the approaches that those same individuals follow when actually working at a business. And as part of that, I will also consider the strategies and the tactics of others who work with them or who otherwise become stakeholders to these transaction flows (games.) My goal there will be to ground a perhaps more abstract line of discussion in more real world jobs and careers terms, and with a more familiar experience-based foundation point that I will be able to refer back to while discussing Point 1 issues in general.

And I will discuss all of this from the perspective of:

• The individual as they work and plan and carry out their careers, and
• From the business process and execution side as individuals work to achieve goals and priorities and stretch goals and their priorities, in meeting business needs.

And as my goal here is to offer a general theory of business that would offer value in an emerging 21st century, and not just serve as a retrospective on the 20th century, I will of necessity also address:

• The issues of globalization here, where outsourcing is just one piece to that puzzle,
• And workplace automation, where a combination of artificial intelligence and robotization are reshaping what employment and even employability mean.

I am going to begin all of this in my next series installment, with the above-cited grounding scenario and will proceed from there to address in turn the rest of the issues noted here. Meanwhile, you can find this and related material about what I am attempting to do here at About this Blog and at Blogs and Marketing. And I include this series in my Reexamining the Fundamentals directory, as topics section VI there, where I offer related material regarding theory-based systems. And I also include this individual participant oriented subseries of this overall theory of business series in Page 3 of my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, as a sequence of supplemental postings there.

Career planning 9: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 3

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 17, 2017

This is my 9th installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-8.)

I focused on a range of interrelated issues in Part 8 that directly relate to career planning and its execution. I said at the end of that installment that I would continue from where I left off there, by addressing two related topics here:

• Networking with a real career development focus, and
• Job transition challenges, where I will specifically focus on an increasingly common and troubling one: non-compete agreements as they are increasingly becoming common hiring requirements and by more and more types of employers and for more and more types and levels of jobs and work positions. I note here in anticipation of this line of discussion to come that while these impediments to next step employment were once essentially entirely limited to protecting a current employer’s proprietary knowledge and methods, they are becoming commonplace and even for low level jobs that do not require or involve special or proprietary skills of any sort, or access to special or proprietary information of any type either.

And I will at least begin addressing these points here, but before I do so I want to more fully address the career planning and execution challenges that workplace automation creates. And I begin by citing a piece of essentially axiomatically presumed “truth” that very quickly went from presumed trenchant observation, to trite catch phrase, to simply assumed and unspoken, and over the course of just a few years: “developed world countries such as the United States no longer operate in a manufacturing-driven economy; the real economic drivers in countries such as the United States now, are service-oriented and we now live and increasingly so in a service-based economy.”

That sounds very nice, and it is true that a great deal of mass production has moved to countries with lower payroll and related costs and certainly for industries such as clothing manufacture, with a relative increase in the proportion of service-oriented jobs arising from this shift. But let’s consider this in the light of our own individual experience. Do you ever call businesses for customer support? If so, and many if not most of us do this at least occasionally, when was the last time that your call was initially answered by a human operator and not by an automated response system?

Call centers and the customer support and related activity that they handle, represent quintessential support service activities. But it has become all but universal that call center and related support have become highly automated. How can that happen? I have in fact already answered that question in earlier postings to this blog, in the context of writing about Information Technology help desks, as for example are provided by businesses for employee support.

In most businesses, some 90% of all IT help request calls received are encompassed in a top ten list of recurring problems. And most of these help request problems tend to be amenable to standardized resolutions. “I forgot my password to — X–” for example, essentially always leads to some variation on “here is what you have to do to reset your password.” This is a context where the Pareto’s principle fully applies and usually in a stronger form than the more traditional 80:20 proportions that this empirically grounded rule of thumb would suggest. And given the way that the vast majority of all requests fit a single recurringly relevant list and the way that resolving them essentially always means following some single remediative process, it should not be surprising that the first thing most callers hear when reaching out to these call centers, is automated. And they generally never actually find themselves talking with an actual living person unless their call is one of those rarer “none of the aboves” that do not fit on the 80% or even 90% or higher, standardized list.

The principles underlying that apply in general for essentially all customer support help line systems. And an increasing number of businesses have sought to increase their range of issues and questions that can be resolved through automated processes, reducing their number of “none of the aboves” to as near zero as possible. And an increasing number of such businesses are entirely eliminating any opportunity to speak with a person through these systems – ever.

Automation does not always make related human employment disappear. Automated teller machines (ATMs) have not for example, made the position of bank teller a job and career possibility of the past. It is just that tellers spend less of their time handling routine bank deposits and withdrawals now, and less time helping customers check account balances or making account to account transfers. But automation has very significantly cut down on the number of people employed in help desk and customer support systems – and with the positions remaining requiring more and more skills and experience and very different ones than were traditionally required.

The service sector as a whole is facing tremendous change from automation, and in exactly the same way that manufacturing is, and not just in answering questions and offering consumer and end-user support services. Retail stores, for example, and certainly larger ones such as supermarkets are increasingly offering self service sales checkout machines for making purchases and offering payments. Human employment, and jobs and careers will not disappear in these sectors but they will change and a wide swath of types of work in them will give way to automation and disappear. The jobs that remain, and that open up and become possible from this transition will require more and different training and experience, and with that including an ability to work effectively in a mixed, human employee and automation setting.

With that noted, I at least begin to address the issue of networking with a more effective career development focus. And with the challenges of automation and of outsourcing, and of ongoing change per se in mind, and in ways that can and will impact upon all of us, I offer an assertion that should be fairly obvious even if it does violate how many of see social networking: business and professionally oriented online social networking included.

• Closed and intentionally limited-reach networking is an open invitation to be run over by change and the unexpected.
• And we are living in and still just beginning to enter into a period of profound change and uncertainty and certainly in any realistic jobs and careers context, and for all of us.

I offered a basic taxonomy of online social networking approaches and strategies in this blog, not that long after I began writing to it at all with Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy. And I recently picked up on that topic area again in two newer postings: Topologically (Contrived Opportunistically) Connected Social Networks: rethinking a basic paradigm and its Part 2 continuation. And I offer a basic assessment that I had already arrived at in 2009 when writing and posting the first of these three postings, that I refrained from expressing then, and certainly with any forcefulness:

• People who network for work opportunities, as for example in job searches when currently unemployed, and who network with a goal of advancing their careers, but who do so with real a priori restrictions in who they would network with, do so with at least one hand tied behind their back.
• You cannot effectively network for new job or career opportunities if you only seek to connect with and communicate with the familiar and with those who are already your close acquaintances.
• Change in general and disruptively novel unpredictable change in particular, call for open networking and a willingness to step outside of your usual circle to learn and to join in wider reaching conversations, where you can make genuinely new acquaintances.
• And we are definitely living at a time of ongoing change and of disruptively novel, unpredictable change, and even when we see something of the change that is coming and have named it (e.g. automation and the advancement of artificial intelligence-driven systems in the workplace.)

If manufacturing and service sector jobs and career paths are being reshaped by this, so are every other areas of work and employment, with some all but disappearing, some in effect emerging as workplace possibilities and all fundamentally changing. You have to network actively and openly and with a wide reach and an open mind if you are to keep up with all of this.

I am certain to have more to add to this in a next series installment, but will end this posting and its discussion here. And after adding to my discussion of business networking in that next installment, I will turn to consider the employment and career barrier of non-compete agreements as noted at the top if this posting. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Career planning 8: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 2

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 5, 2017

This is my 8th installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-7.)

I focused in Part 7 on addressing a point first raised in Part 1 of this series, in an anticipatory outline of discussion to come in it:

• Career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis, and of thinking and planning beyond the limitations and givens of where you are now, and in terms of next possible steps that you might take as you seek to succeed in any current job that you hold and as you advance and prepare to advance along a career path.

I began addressing this from a very specific jobs and careers perspective: that of working in a highly competitive industry and job market, where change in what businesses offer and in what their markets demand, and in what they require of their employees are always occuring and at a rapid ongoing pace. And more specifically, I wrote Part 7 in large part in terms of employees and would-be employees who seek to actively advance, and both in their skills and workplace experience so as to reach their best possible work positions, and so they can advance up their employers’ tables of organization. Note that I intentionally made “employer” a plural there, as advancement to higher level positions can require moving on to a new job with another business that has the right type of vacancy, and either because of a loss of a prior office holder, or because a new position was being created to meet changing needs.

I specifically proposed at least one alternative to this career path vision in Part 7, without delving into its details or its longer-term ramifications: “the sometimes all too comfortable trap of “established and settled” jobs and job descriptions, as they can lead people into the traps of obsolescence and the human employment dead end of automation.” And I begin this posting’s discussion by stating that this is an increasingly important point of long-term jobs and careers consideration, or at least that it should be, and for anyone working in any job that can be captured in algorithm form and automated.

• Established and settled jobs that require carrying out and completing standardized work processes, in set and consistent ways to reach standardized established goals and in standardized timeframes, can be and will be automated, and removed entirely from human work and career path contexts. That shift in what employability even means is already happening, and at a very rapid rate in some industries. And the coming decades are going to see a tremendous increase in both the range of job types that can be automated and the range of them that are.

That stated, jobs and job types that are at risk of disappearing into automation do not all fit into the current workforce patterns of staid established industries or settled businesses in them that do not constantly seek to innovate. Such risk considerations can and do arise in high-tech and similar businesses too, that do overall seek to innovate and bring in and offer New and on an ongoing basis, and for at least some of the types of jobs currently hired for and kept on payroll there. And not all jobs in more settled and even seemingly staid businesses are at significant risk of disappearing into automation either, at least I stress in any short term timeframe.

• So it is important not to assume that any job or any possible career path of any type that happens to currently exist in some rapidly changing industry and its businesses, is always automatically going to persist as a job or career opportunity. Venue here does not automatically eliminate or even just significantly reduce the risk of work pursued becoming automated out of the employment market – and once again, wherever a position can be captured by an algorithm and carried out by a machine.
• And seeking out work in a more established technology and product line business, does not always automatically create higher risk or threat to employment from automation either – depending on among other factors, precisely what you would do there and how much creativity and task flexibility is called for in performing that job.

Consider the above notes here as a housecleaning effort, clearing out a set of issues at least implicit in Part 7’s discussion but that I simply left hanging there. And I continue that same approach here by picking up on a second such implied but not discussed point where I set up a seeming catch 22 situation of having to expend the time and effort and resources on acquiring and developing new skills that are (then currently still) in low demand, so as to be ready for when they become high-demand, and where the right people with them can in effect write their own tickets in securing their best-for-them, next jobs and next career advancement opportunities for having them.

There, in my Part 7 discussion, those new skills were cutting edge and in ways that would at least initially only appeal to pioneer and early adaptor hiring managers and their business, when those gatekeepers are considered and identified in terms of a standard new innovation diffusion and acceptance curve. And job markets for those skills and for people who hold those skills would only be expected to really open up and reach peak demand as later, more middle stage-acceptance managers and their businesses decide they needed this too – with the few people with significant levels of early stage experience in them now in peak demand.

This applies to people, here in very technical fields, who seek to advance as far and as fast as they can as a basic career path choice. And to round out this description, I add that these are also the people who would be more likely to take the risk of seeking out new job opportunities elsewhere while already stably employed – because that would allow them opportunity to advance in their careers in ways not as possible where they are now, from lack of appropriate job openings for them to try for there.

Let’s consider the alternatives to this pattern now, that collectively encompass the majority of members of the workforce and of those who seek entry or reentry into it:

• Preparing for future opportunity by in effect gambling with your work life on what will take off and become mainstreamed in an innovation diffusion, and acceptance and adaptation sense can yield higher payoffs, and certainly for career advancement and promotion,
• And so does, I add a willingness to change employers and take that leap into uncertainly and even recurringly as a path forward. Think of the opportunity there in that career strategy as a matter of playing the numbers. The more at least reasonable fit potential employers you consider working for and seeking employment with, the more good and desired-fit next job opportunities are likely going to be visible to you, and for the same level of due diligence-based jobs and careers search. Nonprofits, as a special and extreme case, limit headcount in order to limit personnel and related costs to the business, and as a requirement if they are to devote as much of their incoming revenue as is required, to their missions and visions to still quality as nonprofits for tax exemption purposes among other things. So moving up a table of organization in a nonprofit world can and usually does mean seeking out employment at another nonprofit where the right type of position might be possible, and where it is very unlikely that similar advancement would be possible where you are now.
• These approaches to work and career development are risk accepting and they are exceptions, and even in business sectors such as nonprofits. Most people seek to develop and perfect skills that would be more widely accepted now, and even if that means their remaining non-managerial employees, or lower or mid-level managers and with that a highest likely possible job advancement step for them over the course of a complete work life. And this more settled and secure approach is the right one for most people.
• Just remember, in this still emerging 21st century, you also have to calculate in the risks of possible automation of what you do, and of what you can do. And you need to keep an eye on your skills and experience sets with this in mind. And outsourcing is still an ongoing issue and not just in developed-world nations. There are jobs that were moved from the United States to China for example, as manufacturers sought out lower labor costs, just to see then move from China to Malaysia or Viet Nam and for the same reasons. India and Bangladesh have captured job opportunities and increased employment for their citizens from outsourced jobs in this way, just to see at least some of those types of career opportunities start to move away from them too.
• The point that I raise there, by way of this posting’s brief notes on automation and outsourcing highlight the need to reconsider and to more fully consider where both opportunity and risk are, in deciding your career path. And that means really understanding where you are now and how stable that workplace context is for you as a long-term source of job and career opportunity. And that means always thinking of what you can and should do next if you are to shape and in some measure control your own workplace destiny: your own career path and where that would take you.

I have only addressed some of the core issues in this posting that I said I would delve into next, at the end of Part 7. That leaves me to still address:

• Networking with a real career development focus, and
• Job transition challenges, where I will specifically focus on an increasingly common and troubling one: non-compete agreements as they are increasingly becoming common hiring requirements and by more and more types of employers and for more and more types and levels of jobs and work positions. I note here in anticipation of this line of discussion to come that while these impediments to next step employment were once essentially entirely limited to protecting a current employer’s proprietary knowledge and methods, they are becoming commonplace and even for low level jobs that do not require or involve special or proprietary skills of any sort, or access to special or proprietary information of any type either.

Then after addressing that, I will turn back to Part 1 and its to-address outline and continue fleshing out what I initially made brief note of there.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

As a final thought here, I stated and discussed a piece of advice that I have shared with others and followed myself:

• Where do you see yourself five years from now in your career and in your life? (Note: five years is arbitrary, so pick a closer but still somewhat distant time point if that would work best for you. But I would generally recommend you’re not pushing your next-step of consideration time point any further out than five years for purposes of this exercise.)
• And what can you do today that might at least incrementally help you to move towards that goal?

I argued a case in that installment for not projecting out farther than five years in this, and return to that point of observation here too. The farther out you project and predict in this, the more likely that your ideas and preconceptions of today will collide with overriding change, and in both its cumulative evolutionary forms and in its more disruptively unpredictable ones. A lot of what I have been addressing in this posting has involved this emerging and ongoing flood of change and the challenges of building a career in the face of it. So I turn back here at this end point to Part 8 in this series, to at least briefly make note of the starting point and its premises for Part 7, and to reiterate how closely these two lines of discussion fit together here.

Career planning 7: career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis 1

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on June 23, 2017

This is my seventh installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-6.)

I began this series by offering a very briefly stated outline of what I would delve into in it, at least as a matter of building a foundation for further discussion there (see Part 1.) And I have at least briefly addressed the first four points offered in that list in its first 7 installments. I turn here to at least begin to address the fifth basic point that I listed there, which I repeat here, restated for this posting’s immediate context:

• Career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis, and of thinking and planning beyond the limitations and givens of where you are now, and in terms of next possible steps that you might take as you seek to succeed in any current job that you hold and as you advance and prepare to advance along a career path.

I begin this posting by repeating a point of observation that I have offered to others who I have mentored and helped train, and that I have found of value in my own career development and in my own overall work life:

• Where do you see yourself five years from now in your career and in your life? (Note: five years is arbitrary, so pick a closer but still somewhat distant time point if that would work best for you. But I would generally recommend you’re not pushing your next-step of consideration time point any further out than five years for purposes of this exercise.)
• And what can you do today that might at least incrementally help you to move towards that goal?

My goal for this posting is to at least begin to outline how to do this, and with a realistic-to-you focus and particularly where you do not necessarily know a best long-term answer for yourself as you start out. This two bullet point observation offers a useful career development perspective as stated and when it is simply considered in general terms. It does, after all, offer a general direction for identifying and pursuing next career steps. But operationalizing it and actually pursuing the career development path that it suggests as a practical and ongoing process, and one that can become an automatic part of a work life, gives it significant practical value.

Where do you start there? I reframe that question with a second one. Where precisely are you now and for all of the positives and negatives that you face, as a starting point that you will have to career build from? I recommend starting this exercise from the perspective of the second of these two questions, and I begin developing an approach here, for thinking about and answering it by offering a set of organizing actionable question-framed points, as follows:

• What, in broad brushstroke terms, would you like to be doing in general terms in five years, or at whatever other timeframe benchmark point that you are using in this exercise? I strongly recommend that you start this exercise without explicit consideration of the precise details there, and in general terms and for a simple reason. Precise more narrowly focusing goal details, if included too early and if focused on too restrictively, carry more implicit and unconsidered assumptions than they do direct and usable value. They can serve more as blinders than anything else, foreclosing the new and novel from your consideration. They can close off doors and path-forward options and opportunities, before you can even become aware of them – and even if they would be best possibilities for you to consider and even actively work towards. So start this process in general terms and only focus in on the details of your overall goal in this as you build a framework for selecting and adding in the right ones, and realistically for you and your needs.
• Now start assembling two positive details lists: a list of the skills and assets and other positives that you have and can demonstrate now, and a list of what you would most likely have to further develop or add to your current toolset if you were to reach your still-generally stated next big career step goal. Note that this can include new technical skills or certifications, or expanded experience using skills that might become more important for you. But this can mean working on and refining your communications and other “soft” skills too, and it can means you’re strategically networking and reaching out for information and insight that might, among other things help you bring all of this into focus where you can start adding in the right details.
• Now do this same thing from the opposite perspective and list the issues that you face and the challenges that you face that might hold you back from reaching your next-and-beyond goals. Note that I added issues such as technical and other workplace performance skills in the positive-side lists. These assumed-likely next-step requirements belong there if they can be made attainable and certainly if you do not set your assumptions there in stone and remain open to reconsideration for what you would include there. This more negative-side list is as much a matter of thinking through wider life issue considerations than anything else, and about looking for contexts and issues from your own and your family’s lives that might create barriers or challenges as you move forward and as you seek to do so in your work life and career path.
• An obvious possibility there might arise if you are married or have a life partner, and a possible next big step career move that you might work towards, would require relocating and to a new workplace and a new home community that is a significant distance from where you are now. How would this impact on your overall life and how would it impact on your immediate family and certainly where they would have to make this move too?
• Let me point out and challenge some assumptions that I just made in the above three bullet points. First of all, non-work life issues can enter into this as positives too. If a possible relocation, for example, can be seen as a negative for its potentially adverse impact on a career developer and their immediate family, relocations can also be positives as well. Sometimes, for example, both a husband and wife can benefit from a same relocation possibility with greater opportunity for better jobs if they make a same specific move together. And technical and other workplace skills and experience issues can be real negatives too, and particularly if a would-be career developer has a work history that could be seen as type casting them in a negative way – and they really need to reframe themselves with new skills to get out from under the weight of that.
• This brings me to a crucial point. Potentially positive points can be perceived as negatives and by hiring managers and other next step career gatekeepers if they are not addressed and presented effectively, and possible negative ones can reframed as more career-neutral, if not as overt positives if they are so addressed and presented and built from.
• Simultaneously with looking at yourself and at what you have done and can do, and at what you have to learn and do moving forward,
• You have to actively look outward and at what is needed and where, and by what types of at least potentially hiring businesses. And you have to look for emerging trends and shifts in that, where some skills are becoming less and less important and less and less in demand in new hires, and others are emerging or ramping up in importance.
• Let’s consider the dynamics of this. Just considering more technical hands-on skills for the moment here, the newest of the new in technical skills, and at least basic experience effectively using the tools that they would be deployed through, are going to start out only appealing to more pioneer and early adaptor hiring managers and their businesses. As a new computer language or other technology-based skill proves itself, a wider range of businesses and their hiring managers are going to start looking for and even demanding it from their new hires and I add from their current employees too. So a peak market demand for new, in skills and experience can and usually does arrive only as a newer hands-on skill and the technology it connects to have diffused out in employee marketplace acceptance, to be positively appreciated by more middle-stage adaptors, if you view this along a more standard innovation acceptance and adaptation curve. Timing is important here, and for any career development planning. And the demand for both skills and experience, to complicate this, means middle-stage hiring managers requiring in many cases, new hire employees who began using a new technology and mastering it, before they would have ever considered hiring for it themselves.
• Yes, I set that up in this discussion as something of a catch-22 and intentionally so. Planning and preparing for career advancement in a rapidly changing and evolving technology-driven industry usually means looking ahead and preparing for jobs that do not exist yet, except as still just fringe opportunities, but with skills that you are convinced will become more mainstreamed and in wider demand. And this can mean learning and finding opportunity to learn what you hope will become the next more widely accepted “must have” before it gets there so you can be one of the few with both the skills and the experience in them to be in peak demand and with all of the career development and advancement opportunities that this can create.

I am going to continue this narrative and its Point 5 discussion in a next series installment where I will more fully consider the issues of refining and fine tuning, and more fundamentally resetting your plans as you proceed. And I will discuss step by step implementation of this too. And I note here in anticipation of that, that networking with a real career development focus can be crucially important in all of that, so you can be as informed as possible about what is currently available and wanted and what is trending and emerging, and so others who you need to favorably reach out to can be more aware of you and what you offer too. I stress the importance of identifying and networking to the “right others” there, noting that this is most likely going to mean reaching outside of your known and familiar networking circle, and where you cannot necessarily start out knowing in advance who you have to meet and connect with or who specifically could best help you to network to them.

It should be noted that I wrote this posting in terms of rapidly changing industries and in terms of employment and career advancement in the face of markets that demand new and better and all of the time. I will also discuss the sometimes all too comfortable trap of “established and settled” jobs and job descriptions, as they can lead people into the traps of obsolescence and the human employment dead end of automation. I will also discuss the role of outsourcing and even to businesses multiple time zones away for established jobs that cease to be considered essential elements of an employer’s core business. I will at least begin to discuss this in my next series installment too. Then after considering and discussing all of that, I am going to consider an emerging challenge that many of us now face and certainly in countries such as the United States and in the West in general: non-compete agreements as they are increasingly becoming common hiring requirements and by more and more types of employers and for more and more types and levels of jobs and work positions.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Career planning 6: learning from the experience of others 3

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on June 11, 2017

This is my sixth installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-5.)

I began discussing mentoring in this series from the recipient, mentee side of the table (see Part 5.) And I focused there on finding the right people to seek out and connect with as sources of information and insight, and on best practices for doing so.

• Mentoring can serve as a powerful tool for helping cultivate the skills, strengths and potential of those who could do better at their jobs, and further in their longer-term careers too.
• But this can only work if it is approached and carried out in ways that are respectful of the needs of all concerned, and of their time and effort commitments.

I delved into this from the mentee perspective as a key element to my Part 5 discussion. And I turn here to consider these best practices considerations from the mentor side of the table.

I acknowledged in Part 5 that I have made a consistent practice of seeking out others who I can learn from, and in all directions in the organizations that I have worked with, and certainly when working with new clients as a consultant and striving to get up to speed on their issues and challenges, and in learning my way through their systems of resources and their corporate cultures in place. At the same time I have always actively sought out opportunity to help others in this way too, and both through networking and as a mentor (see Consultant and Mentor – bridging the contradiction for a posting related to mentoring in a specifically consulting-oriented context.) Focusing on that side to this set of opportunities, I see mentoring as a means of helping people with unrealized potential to do better in the jobs that they already hold so they can more fully succeed there. And I see mentoring as a valuable resource in helping prepare people with real potential for their next career steps too, and in better understanding what their best-for-them career goals might even be.

I wrote in Part 5 of how mentees can find great mentors and great sources of knowledge and insight from essentially any direction in an organization. But to simplify this posting, I will write it in terms of top-down mentoring as is more commonly considered. And I simply note here that most all of what I would offer here, applies in other mentor/mentee relationships too, and particularly when a more collegial relationship develops there, and not a more strictly superior/subordinate one, which tends to limit candor and mentoring effectiveness anyway.

Where does mentoring per se fit into the picture for a manager in a business? How does this fit into their here-and-now job and into their own career advancement? That depends on the corporate culture in place as much as it does on anything else, with more collaborative cultures valuing mentoring more positively than a more strictly competitive one would. But assuming at least some business process and business culture support for collaborative, positive support – which in essence can be seen as supporting enlightened self-interest as much as anything else, I would propose the following as holding the greatest value for a manager as they seek to rise through the ranks and up the table of organization:

• Specific hands-on technical skills offer the greatest value for hands-on workers but hold progressively less such value as you reach higher levels of management authority. And as part of that shift in priorities, the higher up a chain of command you go, the higher the percentage of people who you will find yourself supervising and managing, directly and indirectly through others, who have and use specific skills that you do not have too. Flipping that around to emphasize this point, the higher up you go in a management system, the more people will find themselves working under you there who will have expertise and experience that you do not share and that you never will have, and that you might understand for results achieved, but that you will not know the details as to how those results were achieved.
• Interpersonal and communications skills become progressively more and more important as you organize and coordinate larger and more skills-sets varied tasks and projects and as you find yourself responsible for larger and more varies ranges of them.
• And helping the perhaps many people under you in your area of the table of organization to perform better, and to live up to their fuller potential while doing so, can become a defining point of consideration when you yourself are up for performance review, and when you are up for possible further career advancement yourself. This is where support of more general employee training and related staff enrichment opportunities enter this narrative, and this is where mentoring can too, and particularly when it is offered to employees and more junior managers who genuinely show promise and without any ulterior bias added into that selection process.
• A concern on the part of potential mentors, of a perception of possible bias in who they actively mentor and who they do not, probably deters more people who could help others in this way than any other possible confounding issues faced here. But it is possible to build this type of support into a business and in its business practices and in its corporate culture too and it is possible to build a mentoring culture into a business, and as a source of its defining positive value as a place to work.

I assume in what follows that mentoring per se is seen as at least something of a positive, and that this includes it’s not having been turned into a “favoritism minefield.” How can a prospective mentor find the right people to help train and guide in this way? Two possible avenues come immediately to mind here, that I will explore for their complexities:

• Performance review findings, where that includes both pertinent technical skills and work performance findings, and communications and interpersonal skills evaluations.
• And this selection process of necessity, and certainly in this context, should also consider enthusiasm for the business and for what can be done there, and at least something of a consideration of interpersonal fit, between potential mentor and mentee. If everything else is there, but a potential mentor and mentee cannot seem to find common ground for working together, this is not going to work out.
• And self-selection, and on the part of mentees in particular. An employee who asks really good questions and who actively seeks out the information and insight that they need to go beyond their current day-to-day routine and do more: that is a good sign. And employees at whatever level on the table of organization who seek out special projects and opportunities to stretch and expand their skills and the range over which they apply them, and who actively seek out opportunity to help address genuine otherwise-unmet needs, are good candidates here too.

Managers and senior managers in a mentoring business culture can become eligible, or at least more visibly so for advancement through mentoring and particularly when the people they so help, benefit from this and prove that from their own work performance and their own professional growth. And mentoring and supervising at that level can serve as a gateway into management for non-managerial employees who seek to career advance into management too. Mentoring, after all, is in large part a matter of communications and interpersonal skills – some of the very skills that become so important in management per se, along with capabilities in delegating both tasks and responsibilities, and authority to match the level of responsibility so conferred, and capacity to see and understand work done and goals worked towards from a bigger picture perspective than would be called for in immediately here-and-now hands-on work.

Let me conclude this posting with a crucially important, if basic and even elementary observation: An effective mentor learns at least as much as anyone they would help train and advise and for several reasons. First, mentoring, and I add teaching in general force you to look at and reconsider the knowledge and skills that you would share, with new fresh eyes. This can in effect force you to reorganize and consolidate what you know, thinking through gaps and possible inconsistencies in that. It can force you to really see and examine your own automatic assumptions and preconceptions. It can leave you more solidly grounded where your might have been thinking and operating more in terms of special case rules – but where you could generalize to more widely applicable general understandings. And mentoring builds bridges, and for networking and for simply working with those around you with greater awareness and understanding of your human context.

• I write this posting in particular, for those who have never mentored but who have something to offer – and something to gain from doing so. Never feel threatened by the people around you who seek to excel and who seek out the knowledge and insight and tools they would need to do so. Cultivate the best in others and strive to help them reach their own best potentials, and strive to become the best that you can achieve too, and regardless of your title or level of organizational authority. And I offer this as a career point that goes way beyond the issues of mentoring and of seeking out or serving as a mentor.

I have been developing this series according to an outline that I first offered in its Part 1. And I will continue following that same basic pattern in my next installment, where I will address that posting’s Point 5, as offered in its principle to-address list:

• Career planning as an ongoing process of analysis and synthesis, and thinking and planning beyond the scope of this list’s Point 2 (e.g. thinking in terms of where you are now, and in terms of next possible steps that you might take now to specifically reach where you seek to be next, as discussed in Part 3.)

And I will proceed from there to discuss the rest of the more general, foundational issues of career planning and execution as noted in that first series installment. Then, in anticipation of further discussion to come, I will go beyond the scope outlined in Part 1, to consider the impact of change, and of automation in particular as that will come to redefine what employment and employability are in this 21st century. And the issues that this transformation raise, are among the most important that we as humanity will face in the years and decades to come. But before delving into that, I will continue building a foundation for its discussion here, as first outlined in Part 1.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Career planning 5: learning from the experience of others 2

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 30, 2017

This is my fifth installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-4.)

I began a more general, overall discussion about learning from others in work and career planning in Part 4 of this series, where I focused on networking more effectively for information and insight that you can apply to your own circumstance and in your own planning. Then at the end of that more focused line of discussion, I said that I would turn here to consider:

• Mentors and mentoring and from both sides of the table, and pursuing opportunities to learn and grow professionally from that.

I have written about mentoring on a number of occasions in the course of writing this blog. So I begin this posting as a continuation of that line of discussion, by offering some background resources of relevance to it:

Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation – part 7 and building a mentoring network,
From Peer to Supervisor – Part 9: training and mentoring others,
Moving into Middle Management – Part 8: leading by example, mentoring and advocacy,
Consultant and Mentor – bridging the contradiction and
Career Changes, Career Transitions 16: mentors and mentoring .

I chose those postings to highlight here, because they touch upon the issues of mentors and mentoring from both the mentee and the mentor side of the table, and because they indicate how a mentoring relationship can fruitfully arise from unexpected directions – and certainly if you only think of this in terms of higher up towards lower down on the formal table of organization.

Let me begin this posting and its contribution to that narrative by offering some general organizing comments and observations:

• Mentoring and cultivating the collaborations that it can create are all about building relationships.
• The fact and opinion finding exercises that I touched upon in Part 4 of this series, in a networking context are also all about building relationships as that is how real, sustainable networking arises too.
• But in a Part 4 context, that information gathering side to networking is all about finding specific pieces of information and types of it, and in a timely manner. Mentoring is more open-ended for this and it can be at least as much about finding out what you do not even know to ask about as it can be about finding specific here-and-now answers to immediately pressing questions.
• And to return to a key word offered in the first of these bullet points, a sustaining and sustainable mentoring relationship develops as a true collaboration.
• And to pick up on one more at-least apparent point made above: an assumption actually, mentoring and even the best mentoring is not always carried out from “higher up towards lower down on the formal table of organization.” The most effective mentoring can come from essentially any direction in that regard.

Consider for example a new manager, straight out of business school who secures a position with a new company and in what to them is a new industry – and they know this. The supervising manager who they report to has made it clear that they are going to be available to help answer specific questions (and according to a more Part 4, networking approach.) But they have made it just as clear that they want to see what this new hire can do and can learn on their own and without requiring special attention from higher up on the table of organization; this is in fact an apparent test issue for their new hires as they go through their first 90 days probationary-hire periods (see my series: Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation, at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 73-88.)

Who would these people best turn to for ongoing and more open ended guidance and advice as they find their way in this new-to-them business and this new-to-them job there and with all of the learning curve challenges that they face?

• One possible source of this type of mentor support might be more experienced and widely respected same-level peers on the table of organization. And if you can find the right ones, who are willing to help you with this and if you do not become too demanding of their time and energy in this, well seasoned peers can be a best possible source of mentors. They, after all face essentially the same table of organization contexts that you do, so they are in a better position to see and understand your world at that business as you would experience it – and the issues that you face and need guidance on too.
• But a second possible source for this type of mentoring might be found lower down on the table of organization, from among the more experienced and I will add wise members of your own staff. These are the people who know both the systems in use and the place and the history of the place and of what has been tried and done and what has and has not worked there. They know who does what and they know their personal issues and communications styles and preferences too. The best of these long-term employees can become veritable walking encyclopedias of expertise into that business and how to succeed in it. And this leads me to a simple, basic question. Who would the people who report to you, seek out for advice if they had questions or if they needed insight that went beyond simply addressing their day-to-day ordinary? Phrased slightly differently, who in your area of this business has become the go-to expert for thinking through and resolving the unexpected and the particularly challenging, and who would know where to turn to throughout the business if you need further insight from other functional areas there too?

In both of these mentor/advisor sourcing circumstances, and particularly in the second of them, if you seek out a mentor, do so with a measure of humility and respect. And the respect side of that includes both acknowledging that the people who you would reach out to here, know things that you do not and that you need to learn. And it also includes recognizing and acknowledging that they have busy schedules and work deadlines too – just as you do.

• If you are in fact turning to long-term employee experts who report to you and either directly or indirectly for ongoing insight and information, you have the option to make that a part of their recognized and even prioritized workload, so you are not putting them in the uncomfortable position of being required to do what for example might be nine hours of work in eight hour work days and even just occasionally.
• This can be done informally, and both for when and how you take from their time in order to gather specific information and insight from them that you need. So for example, you can ask Martha, the accounts manager who has been there 28 years for some of her time, assuring here that her more regularly scheduled work on an established client account that she would be doing then, can wait until the next day if need be. But even then, make use of these resources sparingly and in ways and at times that would work for them too. Accommodate their needs too; meet with them for a more informal if still work-related conversation over lunch if that would make their day easier and if they would be comfortable with that.

I add here as a final thought for this posting, that as a consultant I made a career out of working in new-to-me businesses, and a career out of walking into challenging workplace requirements where I did not necessarily know up-front what were the underlying problems that I was to address, and what were actually just symptoms of them. So I always sought out mentors and advisors who could and would help me to fill in the gaps in what I knew, and who could help me to identify misconceptions in what I was assuming – and perhaps even particularly when they have been based on what I had just been directly told by the executives who hired me there. As I have indicated at least on occasion in this blog, the managers and leaders of a business do not always know themselves, what the real underlying problems are in their organization, and what are more properly just symptoms of them. I have found and cultivated mentors and advisors in all directions on tables of organization, looking primarily for those who would know what I needed to know, and those who would and could share this information with me in a positive collaborative manner. And sometimes the best sources of this type of expertise have come from what in the businesses involved, would be the least expected directions and from very experienced people who were more taken for granted there than anything else.

And with that noted, I repeat a point made at the end of an earlier bullet point here, that I would hope this posting has at least somewhat clarified:

• “The most effective mentoring can come from essentially any direction in that regard.” It really can.

I have primarily been addressing this topic from the mentee side here and will switch to focus more on the mentor side of this in a next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Career planning 4: learning from the experience of others 1

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 18, 2017

This is my fourth installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 459 and following for Parts 1-3.)

I focused in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series on two points of discussion:

• Longer-term work life and career strategic planning, and
• Shorter-term, more tactical planning.

I originally offered these to-address topic points and others in Part 1 to this series, and continue in this installment from there, with Point 3 from that initially orienting list of what is to follow:

• Learning from the experience of others: positive and negative and developing your own best practice priorities and goals from the insight that this type of research can bring you.

And I begin by citing an early learning curve experience from my own childhood. I was a grade school student in a fourth or fifth grade science class and the instructor brought in a set of chemical bottles to make a demonstration with. I no longer remember precisely what they wanted to show to the class – their intended demonstration did not present itself as either interesting or particularly informative at the time either. But I do remember a completely unintended lesson that was conveyed, and powerfully so to me. One of the bottles that this teacher brought in was filled with a very strong solution of ammonia, and he took the top off and set it aside, noting that it had quite a strong smell to it. One of my classmates picked it up and took a smell with his nose directly over the open top to that bottle – and almost dropped it from the fumes that came out. I, for whatever reason picked up that bottle and tried smelling it too, but more circumspectly. I still ended up with watery eyes and I add with an admonition from this teacher to not act like an idiot.

I had assumed that if I simply sniffed and at more of a distance, that I would not be hit as hard by the fumes coming out, which was correct but not correct enough in this case. I remember how that teacher in effect set us and himself up for problems by bringing in a bottle like that for his class demonstration and by leaving it within easy reach after making his comment about it. But this also drove home another lesson as well: that of more carefully and fully learning from the experience of others: and in this case from both my fellow student and from the teacher himself from how he set up this situation.

Did this teacher learn a lesson of the importance of learning from the experience of others in planning out his next class demonstration? I do not know. But I learned and as a part of that, this meant both thinking outside of the patterns of my own expectations and agendas, and thinking in terms of wider possibilities.

I have in effect already started addressing this posting’s topic in earlier series installments and certainly in its Part 3 when I wrote of downsizings. If you are working at a business that might be facing possible downsizings, and even just in another area of the business that you work at as a whole, you need to listen and watch and learn from that. What happens as a possible downsizing “there,” after all, can become a possible or even an probable downsizing “here” too, with time – and certainly if a first round of this becomes just that, and with next rounds becoming necessary too.

• My brief whiff of ammonia was a bit unpleasant. But a downsizing and particularly in a weak job market for those suddenly looking for work, can be a lot worse. And if you simply back into that type of event and into finding yourself in an exit interview, that can be a great deal worse.

Learn from others, and for both downside and upside possibilities. Do you need to expand your skill set, and if so how and in what way? What options and opportunities might be available through your employer for this? If you were to take on a special task or assignment that called for these new skills, would your employer help you with that, and either by allowing time for your learning those new skills or by at least helping to pay for your training in them? Has anyone else sought out these or similar skills and if so, where? What support did they receive from their supervisor and from the business for this? Who precisely were they and what was their experience with the training programs that they went through? Were those programs, for example, hands-on practical and did their coursework really fit into and help them meet their own the job needs, or was subject matter coverage spotty and less practically applicable? If so, what would they recommend that you look for in finding a better program, and do they have any names of training facilities or programs offered that they could suggest your looking into? I only raise some of the possible due diligence questions here that you might need to actively consider.

I am in fact addressing several issues here, with strategically planned networking as crucial to your learning curve success as actually reaching out and listening to the experience of specific others. Learning from others, and with an effective reach that would increase your chances of success there, means networking beyond your already familiar circle of immediate acquaintances. It means reaching beyond your usual contacts, for contacts and who they know, who you would benefit from getting to know too – and with a specific goal on your part of learning from their experience.

• This means you’re really thinking through what you need to learn and know next and it means you’re bringing this understanding into a focus that you can clearly and succinctly articulate to others.
• And it means really thinking through who might hold this information, and with direct personal experience validating it for them.
• It means thinking through who you know who would or at least might know these target contacts who you need to meet and connect with. And it means you’re networking through these intermediaries to reach them.
• But most importantly, it means networking with a goal of both gaining and offering value and throughout this process. In that, I suggest you’re at least reviewing my four part best practices series: Jumpstart Your Networking (as can be found near the top of the directory page: Social Networking and Business.) Good networking practices build bridges; bad ones burn them. And this posting is all about building.

I am going to continue this line of discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to the fourth to-address point from Part 1’s initial series-orienting list:

• Mentors and mentoring and from both sides of the table, and pursuing opportunities to learn and grow professionally.

And remember, as a final thought that I would add to this posting, that is going to be just as important to this next one to follow too:

• Real networking only begins with the second real point of contact with a new acquaintance. That is where any real conversation that could take place is actually started. This is important: a first point of contact helps you to find a doorway to new opportunity. That second point of contact is where you turn a potential conversation that in and of itself could easily end there, into an actual one. This is where you open and go through that doorway.
• And to repeat a point made earlier here, real networking always springs from a real effort to both gain and offer value of at least some sort, and reciprocally. Simply taking and coming across as simply seeking to take just burns bridges and forecloses any real networking possibilities.

How do these points, and particularly the second of them apply in a mentor, mentee relationship? I will discuss that as an area of consideration in my next series installment, among other issues.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

Career planning 3: thinking through and taking first steps forward in an ongoing iterative process

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 6, 2017

This is my third installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Part 1 and Part 2.)

I started this series by laying out a road map to it in its Part 1, for many if not most of the topics and issues that I will address here. And I proceeded to address the first of those points in Part 2, approaching careers and career planning from a big-picture perspective and by offering a longer-term career progression mapping tool that centers around understanding your needs, goals and priorities as they change over time.

My goal for this third installment to this series is to shift focus to a more here-and-now level of career development that coordinates with that. It is important that we career plan with an active awareness of where we have been and where we seek to go, and with a big-picture understanding. But we still live and work and decide and act in our immediate here-and-now context too, and of necessity. And with that noted, the second to-address point from Part 1 that I will address here, is:

• Thinking in terms of where you are now, and in terms of next possible steps that you might take now to specifically reach where you seek to be next.

And that is where initial planning first turns to initial action and follow-through. As a bridge between these two time frame perspectives, I often at least initially couch the set of issues and decision-based actions that I address here, in terms of the following two basic organizing questions:

• Where do you see yourself in five years, for what you seek to accomplish between now and then, and for where you seek to be at that point in time in your career and in your life? (Note: five years is arbitrary so pick a closer but still somewhat distant time point if that would work best for you. But I would generally recommend you’re not pushing your next-step of consideration time point any further out than five years for purposes of this exercise.)
• And what can you do today that might at least incrementally help you to move towards that goal?

Think and plan longer-term, and act in the here-and-now and with both shorter-term and immediate goals and requirements in mind, and with a matching awareness of that longer-term perspective as well.

Realistically, you have to meet you’re here-and-now needs now, and pay your bills and meet your current obligations now. You need to actually live in you’re here-and-now. Career planning and life planning in general, add in longer-term considerations to that so you do not simply drift from immediate here-and-now to immediate here-and-now and entirely reactively.

• Career planning is where and how you add proactive into this mix and into your work life as a whole. And this posting is about developing step by step practices in doing this, and ones that can become second nature to you that you would automatically turn to,
• Making proactive an automatic part of your work and career life.

And when you do this, you of necessity also gain a greater awareness of change and its potential, and certainly as that might impact upon your already considered possible paths forward as you reach towards the goals that you have longer-term set for yourself: those five years out and longer.

A great deal of this involves increasing your awareness of the context that you live and work in, and of the potential that this creates for shaping and reshaping what is both likely and possible for you, and at what costs and with what benefits depending on what actually arises. Let me take this out of the abstract with an example that has become all too real-world for way too many of us: the possibilities of employer retrenchment and staffing downsizings, and certainly for those of us who work in volatile industries, but actually for all of us when economic downturns are possible or if we work in a type of job or in a type of career path that might become automated.

I have written repeatedly in this blog of not simply taking any given current job or work circumstance for granted. Even a job that we really love and that we look forward to returning to, and every work day can change. And that holds, even when our employer actively wants us working there and wants us to stay.

• We can find ourselves with a new supervisor or boss, or with an ongoing supervisor or manager who we have comfortably reported to but with them now reporting to a new next level-up manager who seeks to empire build or otherwise make sudden and significant change and according to their own goals and plans.
• Our job itself and our basic tasks can be changed and in ways that move us out of our comfort zone and in ways that we might be hard pressed to become as comfortable with.
• And we can face a growing disconnect between what we are held responsible for and what we hold authority and voice over, and with more and more of what we do taken out of our hands, as far as even day-to-day decisions about it are made – but with us still responsible for all of the consequences.
• Workplace demands and pressures can change, and once collegial teams that have always worked together very smoothly can break apart and be replaced as old team members move on and new ones join in, who might have very different goals and agendas and ways of doing things, and ways of communicating.

This just lists a few of the possibilities of how a workplace and work environment can change and not always for the best. And on top of that, I add the possibilities of challenge to the entire business and its realizable potential for maintaining profitability, where as a worst case that can mean staff reductions as less profitable areas are trimmed back or cut out for financial, cash flow and liquidity reasons.

All of these points: all of these possibilities hold at least a few critically important points in common. And one that arises in particular significance in the context of this series, is the need for greater awareness of our work and its evolving context.

Change, and in both its positive and negative forms can arise suddenly and disruptively and without real warning. But most of the time, at least in retrospect, it turns out that there were indicators of what was to come and certainly for the negative possibilities there. To focus on the possibility of downsizing, that is a move that is almost never taken by a business without some warning signs and for all to see. Consider for example how a business can at least slowly, gradually drift into difficulty because of:

• A progressive loss of market share, that might or might not stem from their failure to keep what they offer compellingly relevant to the market,
• Or from overall market shrinkage where the same market share or even an increase there might still mean less business transacted – fewer sales, smaller sales or both and less revenue and profit generated, and with time a need for staff “right-sizing.”

I couched that in more retail business terms but the same applies to mission driven nonprofits and essentially any other business that might face loss of revenue and a need for belt tightening. Downsizings happen in circumstances that can be lot less predictable, but there are in fact almost always at least some warnings that they might take place too. And that is when the types of stay or go questions and decisions that I address for a wide range of contexts in my recent series: Should I Stay or Should I Go?, should come to mind (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 416-458.)

If your current employer is heading in a direction that might lead to your being caught up in this type of a reorganization and regardless of your contributing value to the business, should you begin actively looking for new opportunity elsewhere, while working and with a steady paycheck still, or should you simply wait and hope for the best – and take a reactive approach to whatever happens? Prudence would probably dictate you’re at least looking so you can know your options and so you can have as wide a range of them as possible as you enter what might be a period of workplace and employment uncertainty. You should just do this with care so as not to tip your hand as to what you are doing, except under terms and at a time when that would be in your best interest, while continuing to offer value where you are now as a great employee while looking.

That addresses possible downside possibilities, but it can be just as important to keep your eyes open to new positive opportunities too, where positioning yourself for them might mean strategically developing new skills, taking on special assignments that would be doable for you but that would open the eyes of your supervisor to the range of what you can do, or both. Note: I did not add simply doing more of the same there, as that is not going to open doors to your doing new and different, in and of itself. That, on its own is mostly just going to further label you as reliable for what you have always been doing there, and nothing else.

• Ultimately, this posting and the issues that I address here, all centrally revolve around awareness and planning, and in an immediate tactical manner and with a longer-term strategic awareness.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to address the third point offered in my Part 1 list for this series:

• Learning from the experience of others: positive and negative and developing your own best practice priorities and goals from the insight that this type of research can bring you.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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