Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rethinking Your Comfort Zone

In the New Normal if you’re not adding value to the organization, you’re not of value to the organization. This means you can’t afford to get comfortable in your position. You need to be able to speak to your contribution to the organization; you need to be constantly contributing; and you need to be comfortable doing so.

Among the 6.5 million long term unemployed people in the U.S., many are having trouble getting out of their comfort zones. For many years, they were well rewarded for being comfortable. They worked at their companies; did their job; came in at 8 AM and left at 5 PM. Occasionally, they may have been involved in a special project or two. They survived acquisitions, restructurings, and for a time, layoffs. In the meantime, they earned a good living; received annual salary increases; they enjoyed a lifestyle that their income enabled. And they got comfortable.

The problem came when they were eventually laid off from their job. They hoped for a quick rebound. They may have taken a few weeks – or a few months – off. They may have enjoyed their time off; got some projects completed around the house; took a family vacation. Then they were ready to get back to work. They drafted a resume; one that noted that they had 20 years of experience; one that spoke to their responsibilities. They may have listed every project they worked on since graduating from college. Then they posted it on or CareerBuilder, or both. And they waited. They may have applied to a few positions that they felt they were perfect for. And they waited. They may have been contacted to sell insurance or be financial advisors, but not much more.

Weeks of unemployment stretched to months. Some have hit the year mark without a job. They may have changed tactics in their search. They may have a profile on They may be attending networking sessions with other unemployed folks. They may get the occasional interview.

What they can’t do is clearly articulate why the organization should hire them; how they would add value to the organization. What they did for 20 some odd years isn’t of value any longer. They are members of the “Too’s Club:” too experienced, too old, too expensive.

Over the years they’ve gotten comfortable with their lifestyle and their perceptions of work. They’ve known their roles with the company and what was expected of them. As long as they met expectations, they were safe.

Unfortunately, expectations have changed. It’s not enough to meet or even exceed expectations. These days, you have to be able to define expectations. You have to be able to say how you can meet the organizations needs, which means you need to know what their needs are. And you have to show how you've been successful in similar situations in the past: “I’ve done it before; I can do it for you.”

All this means you have to rethink what you’ve done; how it affected the organization (the company or the team) you were part of. What were your accomplishments? How can they be applied to the organization you’re interested in now?

This also means that the role you’re seeking may be very different from the roles you’ve had in the past. An organization (company or team) may be willing to hire you, but only in a temporary, project-based role. Once the project is over, you’re done. You may spend the next ten-to-fifteen years of your career going from company to company, from project to project. You may have to get comfortable with being the person who finds work, rather than having work assigned to you by someone else.

This could well be the world of work in the New Normal. Can you rethink your comfort zone? Can you work completely differently than you have in the past? Can you adapt to the New Normal?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Re-calibrating Value in the New Normal

I wrote about the “New Normal,” and how it applies to career management, a few weeks ago. Basically, the new normal is a whole new way of doing business – both in terms of how organizations operate and in the talent they recruit. In this new normal, businesses will rely on people who can contribute to the bottom line – who can bring real value to the organization. Moreover, to recruit such talent, they will rely on referrals from people they trust. Thus for the job seeker, demonstrating one’s value and nurturing one’s network are paramount to success in the new normal.

Demonstrating value is about telling your story of how you have influenced outcomes. Relying on number of years’ experience, listing responsibilities of past positions, doesn’t convey value. Not in the new normal. You have to articulate how that experience and how those responsibilities contributed to the organization’s goals; to its bottom line. You have to tell a story that demonstrates value: You've done it before, you can do it again.

So how do you re-calibrate years of experience and increasing levels of responsibility to value? You begin by focusing on accomplishments rather than responsibilities and you fashion stories that reflect these accomplishments; and you do it concisely. There are a number of acronyms to frame your stories: CARs, SARs, STARs and SOARs. Each focuses on a problem, situation or opportunity that required action; the action taken to address them, and the results or outcomes of those actions and their impacts on the organization. Look back at your recent assignments and your achievements. Fit them into the model – context, action, results – and determine your value.

A number of my clients protest that they can’t determine the value of their actions. Results don’t have to be measured quantitatively in terms of dollars earned or saved or time saved. Results can be qualitative as well. Perhaps you initiated a new strategy that changed the direction of a program in trouble or turned around a disgruntled customer. Maybe you trained staff in the outsourced assembly or manufacture of a product. Or you might have convinced a group of decision makers to go in a different direction, which made the organization more relevant in its market.

One way to determine your value on a project is to take yourself out of the equation. What would have happened if you weren’t there? Kind of like Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” If you hadn’t been involved in the project, would the outcome been the same? If not, that’s your value. You were able to influence the outcome for the better – for the team, for the organization.

Many clients, especially men, note that they can’t take credit for outcomes as they were part of a successful team. Actually, they can, and so much the better as most work in today’s organizations occurs in teams. If you were part of a four person team that developed a new, successful approach to a tough problem, it doesn’t mean you take 25 percent of the credit. Each member of the team can take 100 percent of the credit. What you can’t do is take 100 percent credit and portray the successful result as individual effort.

Once you have determined your value, tell your story. Tell it in an interview in response to the questions “tell me about yourself” and “what are your strengths.” Tell it to your friends and colleagues in your network. Don’t be obtuse about it. Don’t pitch everyone you run across about the great things you’ve achieved in your career when you meet them. Find out what their challenges are. Remind them, gently, how you've been successful with similar challenges in the past. Let them know what you can to for them.

In today’s highly competitive environment, where more candidates are competing for limited positions, conveying one’s value is critical to success. In the new normal, where organizations seek talent that will contribute to its bottom line, conveying value is vital. It differentiates you from everyone else, from the competition.

Have you re-calibrated your value for the new normal? Can you tell stories of the value you bring to an organization?