Whose career is it anyway?

Sue Willcock Food for Thought

The blog has since appeared in Behaviour Matters Magazine June 2015

The blog has since appeared in Behaviour Matters Magazine June 2015

Years ago I was pondering over a big life decision that I needed to make around my job and where I lived as a result. It was a hard decision – I asked friends their opinion, sought advice from family and, well, anyone who would listen, to be honest. I think even a visiting dog had its ear bent one night (dogs, for the record, are great at listening but are pretty rubbish with answers). Finally, two months of prevarication (and a big dollop of procrastination) led me to a coffee with a good friend. His words were wise. “Sue, it does not matter how many people you ask, the decision is yours. No one cares as much about your job as you do. They are too busy worrying about their own life.”

At first, I thought this was a bit harsh. People did care about me and my decision would impact on them too. One slowly sipped Americano later, however, and I realised he did not mean that people did not care about me, just that my life was my life. It was my decision to make.
I tell this story because one of my big ‘bugbears’ is people who want others to take responsibility for their career (or indeed in some cases their life, but don’t get me started on that one) and I think his words ‘no-one cares about your job as much as you do’ are powerful.  Depending on our own personal circumstances, many of us will be expecting to work in some form for about 40 years or more. Let’s say, for 8hrs a day. 330+ days a year for 40 years.   That’s a lot of hours in our lives.
Why then, do I meet so many managers in our field that tell me that professional, qualified people, most of whom have been to college for years to qualify in their field, come into appraisal/career planning conversations with a blank sheet of paper “waiting to be told” what to do with their career, or asking their manager “what courses do you think I should go on this year?”
Are you a ‘Waiting to be told’? …Or do you manage one?
If you are a ‘waiting to be told’ then here are a few compelling reasons that I really hope will get you thinking. I am not saying that all employers should have a magic wand to grant you all your wishes, but that’s part of the joy of work in my mind (especially in our field, where most people are employed for their specialist knowledge) – we should be proactive enough to create a reciprocal arrangement that works for both parties.
Reason 1. As my wise friend says “no one care as much about your career as you do.” Not even the best manager in the world.
Reason 2. Early in my career, I was told, “If you want to get on, make yourself as useful as you can to your line manager. Don’t give them work to do”.   Simple advice from a Construction Director. Entering a career conversation (which is about your career!) with a blank sheet of paper, gives your line manager a job. Not really what you want.
Reason 3. Advice passed on to me by a wise CEO. “If you want to be considered for an opportunity you have to have ‘first thought status’ – i.e. you are the first person someone thinks of when they see or hear of an opportunity. If you are a passenger in a career conversation, how will anyone, let alone your personal advocate (your line manager) know what sort of opportunities interest you with clients or in your own workplace?
Reason 4. Some management books tell us that performance only makes up only 10% of success. This is often a shocker to technically qualified people like us who studied hard and take pride in how we perform at work. But it implies that “getting your head down and doing a good job” is just not enough. Wherever you work. It’s Harvey Coleman that tells us that 60% of success is made up of exposure and the remaining 30% is image. Whether or not you agree with this is not the point – it is worth thinking about what turning up and ‘waiting to be told’ could lead to…or not lead to. (Google “Harvey Coleman PIE” model to find out more).
Reason 5. Only you know what really motivates you. Your manager is not a mind reader.   Good managers will coach and guide you and ask good questions to help you, but it is not their responsibility to tell you what you want from your work life….it’s your responsibility to have given it thought.
Reason 6. We are all constrained by ‘inhibitors’ at times – fear, procrastination, lack of confidence or self-belief etc. Even some of the most outwardly confident people I meet will often reveal something I would never have guessed upfront that can hold them back from taking action. One of the most compelling exercises I have used to get myself over my own fears has been to:

  • To ask myself what I want to look back on my life and say about it.
  • To consider what I might say about it right now.
  • To recognise the gap (if there is one) and make a personal plan to do something about it. Part of this will always include work stuff.
Behaviour Matters magazine in June 2015

Behaviour Matters magazine in June 2015

That might mean making an uncomfortable phone call, doing a job I don’t like to achieve a longer term goal for me or taking a risk I would otherwise not take. If you know your own ‘gap’ before you walk into a career conversation, you can drive your own agenda as well as listen to what’s needed of your role.
If you are a manager of a ‘waiting to be told’ you might like to have these thoughts in your back pocket and craft a career conversation with these in mind – decent questions along with your own experience and advice can help you understand what’s beneath the ‘waiting-to-be-told’ surface. And, like most management conversations, it’s knowing what is beneath the behaviour that often to the decent conversations that drive performance.