Early Career – Development Priorities

It’s that time of year for budget reviews and planning as a new year begins to take shape. And as companies consider priorities and corporate strategies, it’s a good time to also align individual’s growth and priorities.

Early Career Development Priorities is part 3 of our 3-part series focusing on trends, priorities, and insights to help align personal growth with business priorities for the year ahead.
Read Part 1 – Peak Career Development Priorities here.
Read Part 2 – Mid-Career Development Priorities here.


Today’s young professionals are setting a new way of working and shifting the thinking from work as a place we go, to work as a thing we do. This group of employees entered the workforce with savvy technical skills and solid educational backgrounds that seem destined for success. And the current labor shortage has given them more opportunities to choose from.

As the newest players in the workforce, they’re negotiating flexibility as well as compensation. They’re outspoken about where they want to work and how they want to work. And that’s exciting when you’re young and feel like you can set your own lifestyle and balance work alongside other interests. But there is another view of that flexibility that most early career employees don’t see.

They’ve traded off visibility for flexibility. And that may be a short-sighted advantage with long-term consequences. We’re seeing some early signs of that. Many companies saw phenomenal growth coming out of the pandemic, but it was not sustainable growth. And they’re resetting to a more modified growth track. That meant some workforce reduction that will continue as we head into 2023.

Reduction is never easy across teams, but it’s easier when we don’t really feel connected to an employee. If you joined a company and have worked virtually for the duration of employment, there’s not the same loyalty to you as others on the team. You haven’t had the visibility to leaders and therefore you don’t have the same support team when the tough decisions have to be made.

And if you allow flexibility to be the only motivation of your early career decisions, you may find that you’re stepping from one company to another without really moving up from one role to the next. The first decade is an important time to set a career path and make smart choices in order to leverage opportunities for more than a flexible schedule.

As we’ve worked with early career professionals and managers, we’ve focused on three priorities to strengthen their visibility and impact.

 

Career Runway

Jobs feel a little like window shopping right now. It’s fun to see so many choices, and the window dressing makes every opportunity look exciting. But buyer beware! Shop for more than the package wrapped up for you. Look at the company, the culture and the advancement opportunities. Are you considering the long-term as well as the short-term as you evaluate a role? Did you meet the co-workers and the hiring manager? Is this a good fit or just a good paycheck?

In addition to finding a role that meets the way you want to work, consider the role that will help you get to the next one. Resumes are shaped in the first decade of work. Hiring managers like to see that someone took an interest in you and helped you gain skills and additional responsibility. When the career path doesn’t show that, it’s a red flag.

We can help. Many data points prove out that early career employees will change jobs much more frequently than others which means framing up your experience more often. Our book, Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand & Your Career focuses on how to position yourself and your experience. It also links to your personal brand and impressions. We developed a course to support it and can help you prepare for an interview or an internal, introductory meeting to help others get to know you and your interests. It makes all the difference in finding the next opportunity and positioning yourself for it.

 

Brand Awareness

Your personal brand is how people think about you and talk about you when you’re not around. It’s a reflection of someone’s impressions of you that take shape over time.

The savvy professional takes note of impressions and makes choices about how to come across as confident and credible. Impressions of confidence are why certain people get heard when they speak up. Confidence isn’t just a skill for leaders; it’s a differentiator that strengthens any employee’s personal brand and impact in an organization.

But it’s rarely an instinctive skill. It’s more about awareness of how people see you and hear you and focus on what it takes to really connect with a group. And it’s harder if you aren’t in an office often to be seen and heard. Early career professionals need to think about impact and add intention to visibility moments and their opportunity to be visible and involved in key initiatives.

We can help. Our workshop, Strengthening Personal Brand & Impressions, is offered internally for working teams or quarterly as an open-enrollment workshop. The program raises awareness of brand impressions and guides the discovery of professional presence and a confident communication style.

 

Manager Exposure

Everybody needs a champion. And in today’s shifting work environment, most people are going to need more than one. A champion is someone who knows your work and is willing to speak up on your behalf. It may be your manager, but it could also be your manager’s peers or others that you’ve worked with on projects. Champions start the process of a network within a company, and they are critical to bigger opportunities and advancement.

We used to build relationships as we met people in the corporate gym or cafeteria. It was easier to evolve relationships over time because we saw people often and had informal interaction and a chance to get to know each other. That’s a consequence of hybrid and virtual work models. It isn’t happening by happenstance. It takes an intentional plan to meet with someone and plan for those interactions, and early career professionals are going to have to work harder to get these connections.

Companies are trying to help with development programs and opportunities to connect with managers. Take advantage of all of these opportunities. When your company hosts a lunch, be there. When they set up a volunteer opportunity, be there. It’s going to take intention to start a network, and managers notice who’s taking an interest in it and who’s not.

We can help. Both programs described above include an element of building champions. We can also help you think through your own plan in 1:1 coaching and map out a conversation to gain insights and input from a potential champion in your organization.

 

Flexibility is a wonderful addition to career paths, and it’s an advantage that seems to have taken hold. But don’t make it the only factor in your early career decisions. Leverage the current role you have to build your brand and find the managers who will champion your skills. While it may take a little more in-office time, it will be the difference in your career advancement in the long run.

As always, we’re here when you need us.

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Don’t Blame PowerPoint!

Next to a laptop, PowerPoint (PPT) could be considered one of the top three tools used in business. More than 30 million presentations are built in the software every day tying up 15 million people hours at a cost of $252 million…..every single day! And yet, few of us are Masters of it. In fact, we have a love/hate relationship with the software which has led to the term, “death by PPT.”

AT SW&A, we hear a lot of the angst around preparing presentations blamed on the software.

From the listeners:

  • “There were too many details and too much information.”
  • “I got lost in the details and didn’t understand what the listener was asking me to do.”
  • “It’s a horrible eye chart.”

From the communicators:

  • “We go through more than 15 iterations of decks before we have a final presentation.”
  • “I got so many edits to my slides that I’ve lost the point I was trying to make.”
  • “I’m not artistic or creative; I hate building slides.”

And our response is always: Don’t blame PPT.

It’s the process…or lack of a process…that frustrates you. Not the software.

Here’s a little self-diagnosis.

Assume that you’re asked to deliver a presentation two weeks from today.  Whether you start planning it today or wait until next week to develop it, how many of you will start the process by opening up a PPT document on your laptop?

If this sounds like you, stay with me. Then, you begin outlining points by putting a text box on each slide or if you’ve covered the topic previously, you’ll open up another PPT and begin to migrate slides to your new deck. Either way, you’re building the foundation of your content, one slide at a time.

It’s a very linear approach to structure, and it’s the wrong approach.

Because now you have a collection of details instead of a storyline, and you will present the deck slide by slide versus concept linked to concept.

Is this your approach?  Most people say yes.

When PPT is used as the planning tool, it becomes cumbersome to work with and takes on a very different role. PPT’S role is to help you illustrate details or connect two points, not to thread all the points together.  That’s the role of an outline or storyline structure as we refer to it. The usage numbers above may explain this.  Because organizing content has become such a constant in our day, we may be telling ourselves that we can skip a step and organize our thoughts at the same time as we illustrate them. And, that’s a misuse of PPT.

The storyline structure is the first step, always. Whether you use our model or you have your own tool, as the communicator, you should always start with an end to end view of what you’re asking the listener to do. It’s rarely the details that fail in presentations; it’s always the connection between them.

A storyline view helps a communicator understand the bigger ideas and repeatable points that will lead the listener to an outcome or takeaway.  This changes how you build out a PPT.

When PPT becomes the second step, it works beautifully for the communicator and the listener. A broader storyline helps the listener see beyond what you’re illustrating and understand why you’re illustrating it. The communicator’s focus gets simpler and key concepts get repeated as the communicator focuses on pulling ideas forward rather than making every point.

PPT is also a horrible communicator and a really good illustrator.

Let’s diagnose that one.

Assume that the presentation you’re building is for another leader to deliver or it has such high visibility that several people want to give input before you deliver it. So, you work on the PPT for a few days and then you forward it for feedback.

Does this sound like you?  Then, what you may not realize is that even though you shared it for feedback, you were pretty locked into those slides. And your editors now begin to interpret what the slides mean.  They can see the illustration; they just don’t know the storyline. So, they create their own mental storyline to support your details. Then, they edit to their own thinking.

This leads to adding content on your slides, reordering your slides and even adding new slides to support their thinking. You get the edits back and don’t feel grateful for the input.  You’re frustrated. Because they’ve changed the meaning of your slides and thrown off the flow of your storyline. At least the storyline you have in your head.  Because it was never shared as a structure for the conversation.

Have you had this experience? Most people say yes.

 

The storyline drives communication; PPT creates illustration. If an editor can read a storyline to see the end to end plan for communication, they are much less likely to edit slides.  Instead, they’ll identify areas of the storyline that aren’t easy to understand or where they want you to add detail.

In fact, when a team is involved in preparing a presentation, we urge communicators to get buy-in to the storyline first before PPT is even introduced. This helps a group align to the full direction of communication and the big ideas before the supporting PPT takes shape. And it keeps a team moving through the organization process together. Then when you move to PPT, the second step, the feedback is limited to the look and feel of illustrations.

As a communicator, you want listeners spending less time on how to follow your thoughts and more time on understanding how the big ideas connect and lead to outcomes.

And if we’re pleased with the transformation we see when individuals add our first step  into content planning, we’re ecstatic when we see teams adopt it. Because if an individual can improve a single meeting, the full team can change their influence in an organization.

We know because we’ve made it happen.

We’ve taken many teams beyond the storyline structure to a team template that gives the communicators a template to follow and the listeners a consistent expectation. So, listeners spend less time trying to follow the structure and more time hearing the ideas.

When teams adopt a standard structure, it quickly takes hold in an organization. They become known for their ability to deliver clear ideas and recommendations which often raises their visibility in a company.

If you’re getting bogged down in details and edits, don’t blame PPT. Put the first step back into your process. And if you’d like some help learning to do that, join us for an upcoming storylines workshop. Even better, bring your team together and strengthen the group’s impact across your organization.

Call us when you need us.

Sally Williamson & Associates

Please Don’t Make Me!: Why You Should Care about Setting Development Goals

It’s that time of year again. The fun of the holidays has come and gone and in the first few weeks of the New Year you’re flooded with renewed energy, renewed purpose…and renewed click-bait on how to maintain your New Year’s Resolutions.

You see articles entitled, “Four Easy Steps to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution,” on Facebook and LinkedIn, and you see photos of your friends lifting weights or running on the treadmill on Instagram and SnapChat. You even hear morning talk show and radio hosts offering segments on how to make sure that you stay with your goals.

And while all this content is meant to be inspiring and useful, the truth is that by now, we’ve heard it all before. The theme of starting fresh in January has become so cyclical that it has lost its edge. We have gotten used to the exercise of setting goals for ourselves at the start of the New Year, but we’ve also grown more complacent to when “life happens” and we miss, forget, or even drop the goals we set for ourselves. After all, if we don’t achieve our goals this year, then there’s always next year!

This pattern can prove especially true for young professionals. At first, second, or even third jobs, it is all-too-easy to put on blinders. We want to impress our managers, land a big sale, or develop a solution that will get the attention of senior executives. And while this focus is important, it can actually lead to neglecting the development of skills that will help you long-term in your career.

Chances are, you may have heard something like this before when your manager asked you to type-up your development goals for the new year. And, if you’re like me, you likely tuned it out and put off turning anything in, because they were far more important priorities on your desk.  So you got your project work done, and then eventually, after a lot of groaning and dawdling, you sent your manager a list of half-hearted goals to check the box. And then you don’t think about them again until your next year-end review.

So, what’s the point of this exercise? Does it really matter that I write down a list of goals? I work hard at my job and having to turn in a written list of goals at the start of the year feels kinda childish. Can’t I just have a discussion with my manager about what I need to improve on, and then move on?

Unfortunately, professional development isn’t that simple. While it may seem like a tedious or even unnecessary exercise (trust me. I fight it every year!), setting development goals and making strides to reach them will actually do more for a young professional’s career than just making a sale or solving a business need.  The key to successful goal setting, and the point that is often missed with early-mid career employees, is that it isn’t just the setting of the goals that’s important, it’s the measurable follow-through that sets a vision for the year ahead and helps us track our own professional growth.

And while that may seem obvious, goal development can become a pain point between young professionals and their managers. And so, in the spirit of the resolution season, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why young professionals can struggle with development goals and how we can bridge each communication gap.

Riding Solo:

Development goals are not something that we can keep in the back of our minds as something we’ll get around to eventually. The truth is that if your goals aren’t top-of-mind, you’ll always find a way to put them off, or you’ll eventually neglect them altogether. And if you don’t involve others in the process of setting goals, then you’re only listening to your own opinion. And that likely won’t help you grow very much.

Your manager should be an equal partner in setting your development goals, and as tedious as finding time to type-up your goals may be, having a physical record to hold yourself accountable to is one of the easiest ways to help others keep you accountable as well.

Checking Out Instead of Checking In:

One of the most common trends when young professionals are asked to think about their development goals is that they simply don’t do them. The truth is that writing down or typing up a laundry list of goals is not going to be an exciting task for everyone. And when a task isn’t an exciting or meaningful one, it gets put it off indefinitely or ignored. It’s a frustrating thing for managers to witness and it can easily make an early-career employee come across as arrogant or disinterested.

However the gap is rarely ever that young professionals are disinterested, they just haven’t been able to see the reason to buy into investing the time in the exercise. Just because setting development goals is a yearly exercise, doesn’t mean that it’s one that automatically resonates with everyone each year. Managers taking the time to check-in with their employees and actively collaborate on the goal setting process are far more likely to make that connection than if goals are treated as another handed down to-do.

Goal setting is a yearly journey and active participation from both young professionals and their manages will lead to far better results.

Setting Only Stretch Goals:

Another common occurrence when young professional set their development goals is that they set too many unrealistic goals. Instead of spending time focusing on their own specific development needs or interests, many early-career folks make their goals about promotions or company revenue.

And while long-term goals can be part of a development conversation, setting a year-end goal solely on becoming a Senior Director by the end of your first year isn’t likely to do you much good. If you don’t achieve that goal you’ll be disappointed, and you’ll become frustrated when you don’t have any other measurements at your year-end review. Development goals are meant to be a full-picture of year long journey in a career, not just an end-point you may or may not reach.

Foundation Over Fluff:

In addition to keeping goals relevant and collaborative, perhaps the most challenging part of setting goals for young professionals is learning how to critique ourselves in an impactful way. Development goals are not meant to be fluff pieces that your manager looks at once and then throws in a file somewhere.

Real development comes from setting goals that require a lot of self-reflection. And it can be hard to be honest with ourselves about where our professional gaps may be. Chances are, we even have a few blind spots. Setting goals of simply “improving in…” won’t lead to any meaningful development and certainly won’t paint the picture to managers of an employee who is open to and even eager to improve.

Goals have to set expectations that pull us in new directions and allow us to grow in a way that will be beneficial not just for our company or our manager, but for ourselves. And as tedious or daunting as the process may seem, in order to continue to develop as future leaders, we have to invest the time and effort into making sure that our development aligns with a business need as well as personal aims.

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