Restoring your energy level in mid-winter

So here’s half of the first month gone. The new year has definitely started. You might have wondered where I was. I was starting to wonder the same thing. Well, life happened, like I mentioned in my previous post. I’ve got a 4-year-old getting used to (pre-)school life plus a new day care to match, and we got a couple of fresh poo-ey trousers to remind us that not having nappies doesn’t mean the (school) toilet is an attractive destination for every type of secretion. Well. It seems to have passed by now ūüėČ

Energy level: December food and January blues Continue reading

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Your DIY career plan: a beginners’ guide

Why would anyone who isn’t hugely ambitious¬†be tempted to make a plan for their own career?¬†Though it may sound odd, I think everyone¬†should have a ‘business plan’ for¬†their career. By that I mean a rough idea of where you want to go and why. I’m not talking 30-page plans here. Okay, you can if you want to.

Why make a career plan?

Career Plan adds Direction to your job seeking efforts

Add more talents and interests to your career [star and fish from OCAL]

This is the ‘open doors’ paragraph I expect:

  1. If¬†you have a job today, that’s no guarantee you will have one in the future.
  2. Even if you¬†expect to¬†hang onto¬†the ‘same’ job, it¬†will change over time.
  3. Another question entirely is whether you like your job,
  4. – and whether you will continue to like it.

I’ll start from scratch in case you haven’t looked¬†in your professional mirror for a while.

What aspects of your current activities do you enjoy the most?

List¬†talents and interests you can’t use in your current activities, or in the last job you had, and¬†which you would love to find a use for. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • When are you at your best: alert but not stressed out, ready to help, showing others the way to go?
  • When do people seem to listen intently to what you have to say?
  • When do you get enthousiastic – talking about what topic(s), in what kind of situation?
  • When do you feel in control of a situation?

(Jot your answers down somewhere.)

How can you use your talents and interests?

Look for options that are (next to) free to start. Just a few examples to start you off:

  1. If you enjoy reading and used to love writing letters or if you kept a diary, blogging could be a first step to giving this side of your personality some room in your life. What do you want to learn from the experience?
  2. If you love talking about, advising on, or even teaching specific topics, consider where to find people who can benefit from your expertise. Look inside your company, outside, in your neighborhood, and of course online. LinkedIn groups are an excellent place to do a bit of low-threshold advising.
  3. If you’re a people person who loves¬†to listen: find people who appreciate what you have to offer. Anything in a business context is fine for a bit of experimenting. Don’t use your skill in a private setting to give¬†people psychological advice –¬†do nothing beyond listening for clues that tell you¬†whether someone¬†needs professional help rather than a neighbor with good intentions.

Small first steps will let you discover if a specific role suits you, and if it does you’ll find that¬†you feel more¬†confident and energized.¬†Even starting with just one talent will tease out other dormant interests.¬†So there’s no need to tackle every option at the same time. Give every interest about a month’s worth of your attention.

You will undoubtedly discover that some interests will remain hobbies because once you explore¬†them,¬†they turn out to involve tasks that you don’t want to do on a daily basis. And that’s okay.

Start looking around for opportunities to use your talents

Once you give your talents room to grow and bloom you’ll want to build on those humble beginnings. Your budding plan¬†may involve a company of your own – or it may mean you look for new challenges in your current job.¬†Some talents will ease their way into your day job almost imperceptibly, because you¬†view things differently. People are more likely to give you a task that involves using¬†your specific talents if you prove you have those talents, are willing to invest (time, energy) in them, and if you feel confident enough to take on something new as a result.

A¬†‘business plan’¬†for your career helps you set priorities

A business plan allows you to determine what you will do and what you won’t. What you’ll invest a lot of time and energy in and what you need to delegate or minimize in some other way so it won’t harm the important things in your working life. In short, it helps you to prioritize your everyday tasks into the good, the bad, and the ugly ones. Delegate non-priority¬†tasks whenever possible – some tasks are a welcome challenge when you’re in your 20s, just another chore at 30, and a right¬†pain in the backside¬†well before you reach¬†40.

How does a business plan help you if you’re between jobs?

It’s vital to have a sense of purpose beyond what you do here, now, every day.

  • New options appear along the way as your life and your career shape you as an individual and as a professional. Having a plan,¬†taking the first step (at no or low cost),¬†will help you¬†find the direction for your next step.
  • Knowing where you want to go, and why, helps¬†you talk about your motivation for a specific job.¬†Employers like to know how your new¬†job will help you:¬†if you expect a job to benefit you in some way, you’re more likely to be truly motivated.

If all options seem closed to you it’s time to find a new window to let the fresh air in. What¬†would¬†a ‘business plan’ for your career look like?

X is for Change. Making good ideas work in big organizations

This is a bit of an odd one out in view of all the knowledge management posts I’ve written lately. Yet there is a common background to them: change in organizations.

Apart from knowledge management, there is social business, and probably a couple of other great change initiatives I’m not aware of, but that you’ve witnessed from the enthousiastic launch right down to the moment when the last “new way of thinking” motivator turned their minds to different activities – or¬†launched the escape pod to another company in hopes of finding converts there.

Change in Big organizations

Change for the better? – Image by HikingArtist.com

Big change is bad news in big organizations

Getting an existing company to change the way it does its work may involve changing the organization chart. It’s messy and people tend not to like that. Employees don’t like it because it could be their job on the line. Managers and the people with jobs that start with a C don’t like it because change, real change, could backfire in a big way. That would leave them looking rather silly in terms of return-on-bonus ūüėČ

But they can’t do nothing. So they hire someone to handle the new project. This one person may even grow into a small team. They target groups of people at once, trying to make as many converts as possible.

After a while, budget is moved elsewhere and the expert or team may move along with it to another department. The bar may be¬†lowered because things don’t go as smoothly as hoped.

Small change is… very small change in big organizations

In a big organization, small changes look like background noise. They may still be fundamental changes, but it takes a while for any change to come up to the surface to get some fresh air.

Most people who try to change the organization (or at least parts of it) are experts in their own field: knowledge management, social media in business, or anything else. Unfortunately it looks as though the cash cow is grazing on a different field: that of change management. Knowledge management, social business, and the like, give you something to aim for. Lack of knowledge and skills to help you get there frustrates your whole project.

Good ideas in big organizations need change management

What is change management? If done right, the recipe contains organizational theory, strategy, ideas about how to deal with the human resources side of it all, possibly some other herbs and spices, and psychology (quite a lot of that actually).

Suppose you’re trying to get someone to fly to the moon. Or to abandon their cart in favor of travelling by train. You need to convince your intended converts:

  • that the goal is worth working towards.
  • that¬†your contraption won’t break up, explode, crash or simply grind to a halt in the middle of nowhere.
  • that they can actually operate the vehicle – that they will be trained thoroughly.
  • that they will get real help quick whenever they don’t know what to do next (I just got a flash of the Apollo astronauts calling the helpdesk…yikes!).
  • that they will benefit from their effort – not chucked out into the cold.
  • that there is no true alternative, even though they think they’re¬†sitting on it – that there is no comfort zone.

Make¬†any change¬†look too insignificant, and¬†people will be so slow in moving you’ll barely notice their progress. Make it look too big and scary,¬†and people¬†will freeze up and wait for you to leave and leave them alone.

Disruptive change? No thanks.

Steer clear of the organizational terminators if you really want to change anything.

X is for change

In the course of your working life you may have read articles calling for a CIO, a CKO, or a CMO¬†– and I just remembered a CCO too. Some of them even exist in a couple of companies, though rarely on a par with the “big C”s: the CEO (boss) and CFO (finance).
Based on my own experiences my vote would go to a CXO: a change leader. Just to get the good ideas going on a strategic level. I can’t guarantee it’ll work – but I have the impression it might just make things that little bit easier.

Read more:

Have you ever initiated what would have been a welcome change (for the better) for your organization, or part of it?¬†Or, have you ever wished a co-worker¬†success with their attempts to change anything wondering how long they’d last?

Towards a ‘natural’ knowledge management (part 2, nature of knowledge)

Knowledge is almost by default inaccurate, incomplete, unreliable, partially outdated, and changing… The reason it’s all of these things is because it’s personal. What does this mean for knowledge management (KM)?

Knowledge Management Needs a Plan

KM takes a bit of planning… great image by HikingArtist.com

If you’re a knowledge manager you’re basically faced with the task of managing people. Unfortunately their manager is already managing them.

Let’s assume you convince a team to get a handle on their knowledge. What, out of all their knowledge, do you want to document in some system? And what can you document anyway? I’ve talked about these questions in my earlier post Why knowledge management is like herding cats. Things I’ll mention here are best practices, process-related content, and knowledge about your clients.

The nature of knowledge versus knowledge management initiatives

One of the (old?) ways organizations have tried to manage knowledge is by making employees enter stuff they know in a system. But knowledge tends to disintegrate into information inside a system.

  • It’s no longer knowledge transferred from one person to the other. There’s a non-intelligent medium involved which takes away the non-verbal feedback, the adjustments one makes during a conversation.
  • You need to describe your knowledge outside the context where you actually need it.
  • Often there is no real recognition for the effort you put into it.
  • If you show some hesitation, you may well hear convincing arguments like “look, the bottom line is, you have to”.

Just because your company’s interest is in squeezing the last drop of precious knowledge out of your brain before they let you go doesn’t mean it’s got to hurt. The process of entering your most precious asset into an indifferent system on pain of ‘pain’ is not exactly motivating, is it?

The nature of knowledge: learning and expertise

The learning process you’ve undergone in the course of many projects has resulted in your professional expertise. You have learned, re-learned, and even un-learned (check part 1 for more about un-learning). The ‘meta’ level of your knowledge is the veteran professional’s treasure and its the bit that tends to be missed the most when you retire.

To make knowledge sharing more personal, dynamic, and fun, your alternative is to put professionals together and have them talk about their projects, clients, and the like. My impression is that most organizations start doing that kind of thing after they notice:

  • that knowledge can actually walk out the door
  • that having a beautiful system to capture knowledge doesn’t make their problems go away.

In short, they don’t start moving until they notice what’s happening on their watch – and what that could mean for the organization. Last time they noticed some KM guy suggested a system. This time it’s clear that either the system doesn’t work or there’s more to KM than a bit of software. At this point, it’s really important to snap out of the “sh*t-we-need-knowledge-management-NOW” reflex!

One way to make knowledge management ‘work’ (I hope)

What if we tell everyone to spend 5% of their time sharing what they know with others? It could work, but it’s still something “you just have to” do.

Would a culture in which anyone can achieve the position of ‘mentor’ work? In order to avoid it turning into a punishment, I think there are three aspects which may support each other.

  1. Becoming a mentor should be a natural step in one’s career. (Let HR figure out how to make it happen.)
  2. Give ‘mentors’ the resources to document their knowledge. Which means you give them the time they need, away from their other duties. And it means arranging things so they can share their knowledge in a format that suits them.
    1. Writing (blog, article, web page, data in a system)
    2. Talking. One way to get around the ‘stupid (KM) medium’ is being interviewed and capturing the conversation on video.
    3. Training colleagues in a workshop
    4. Making a presentation
    5. Drawing cartoons (here’s a nice one on Mark W. Schaefer’s {grow} blog)
  3. Mentors need to take part in projects with others. Their sole aim is that of identifying areas where expertise is still lacking (to a degree). They either share the necessary knowledge themselves or help find the right people and learning materials to remedy any knowledge issues. Plus they will log what they found and how they resolved it. This way you form an understanding of what people in your organization need to know, but don’t.

Some people have a knack for teaching/mentoring. You don’t need to make it to senior manager before you start sharing what you know! How will you share your knowledge today?

Blogging impressions: how to change your journal into a blog

This post is about me. And perhaps it’s also about you… When I started blogging I refused to¬†explore the question who I was going to write for in detail. So now maybe it’s time to make up for that.

Who am I trying to reach? Who is my audience?

Well, for starters:

  1. People who have a brain, and are not afraid to use it. If that’s you, consider it a compliment ūüėČ
  2. People who like to learn, and who don’t mind reading stuff that’s about different topics so long as it’s written for non-experts.
  3. People who share one or more interests with me.
  4. Experts who like to extend their own thinking on various topics.
  5. In other words, I aim to blog for people with room in their heads for new ideas or new takes on things they know (although, if they read a lot, I may not always be able to surprise them). I blog for curious people.

Change your Journal into a blogI’m writing for people who are, in a way, like me. It’s quite possible that I’m writing for me. Which I¬†reckoned was fine when I started blogging. After all, I’m my own best-known audience. I know what I like. If you blog for a specific audience without doing research into your intended audience, chances are that you’re blogging for you. If that wasn’t your intention, all I can say is: Oops.

Does all of the above mean you’re looking at my journal right now? Yes and no… So how do I write my posts for you on this blog of mine?

How to change your journal into a blog written for an audience

Unless my planning gives me a topic to write about up front (I’ll admit I’ve been too busy lately), I start out writing about something that’s either fascinating me, or frustrating me, or worrying me, or…
I start writing and keep writing for a while, exploring the topic as I go.
Until¬†the bloggers’¬†inquisitor¬†drops in. I keep¬†this creature¬†outside on a leash for¬†my ‘raw’ draft so it doesn’t chew on the furniture or drool on my keyboard while I’m busy.

The blogger’s¬†inquisitor is that nagging feeling you may know – that may creep up on you when you’re writing… asking:

  • Why would anyone be interested in your problems?
  • What’s in here that could actually solve someone else’s problems?
  • After all you’re not so unique that you could be the only person in the world who has this issue. Are you?

Turning…

At this point I snap out of journaling mode and start writing for YOU:

  1. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of pasting “you” where I was (yes, and the verbs too).
  2. Sometimes it means I look at the issue I’ve described in a whole new light.
  3. And I start describing details of what you might run into.
  4. Then I add tips to counter some of those issues.
  5. A key issue is that I can’t pretend to have an answer for you if I don’t have one. But as a part of my blogging activities I can look for an answer and present it to you in my resulting blog post.
  6. Or I can think about what might work for you, even if I don’t know if it would work for me.

Think about it for a minute. There’s a HUGE difference between a journal and a blog.

What is a journal about?

A journal is essentially about you. It’s where your write about stuff you run into. In the case of an online journal, it allows your readers to recognize, sympathize – sometimes have a lot of fun reading about your musings. Some of¬†your readers may take heart in¬†the fact that¬†you’re experiencing the same problems they’re facing.

What is a blog about?

A (business) blog is¬†– has to be –¬†about your readers. Whatever you put in should be written to benefit them in some small way. That doesn’t mean you should leave out your point of view – that’s the point of it being your blog – right? I’d say it’s impossible to leave¬†yourself out – but you can suppress¬†your presence¬†to the point of squeezing the last bit of life out of your blog.¬†Please don’t.

Painting the picture more clearly…

Compare writing to painting. Turning from journaling to blogging doesn’t mean you stop ‘painting’.¬†All it¬†means is you don’t do self portraits anymore –¬†most of the time.

Your work still shows your choice of topic, your structure, your style, your preferred colors and details. It’s just that your readers are no longer inspecting every pimple on your nose anymore (metaphorically speaking – I hope). Instead,¬†your readers¬†are exploring the world through the¬†words you paint onto the canvas of your blog.

Read more storytelling and blogging:

  • The science of storytelling, by Gregory Ciotty on Problogger.net (14 Feb. 2013)
  • And in this post on Problogger, Jon Morrow gets personal (2011) – much to the surprise of some¬†people in¬†his audience if the comments are anything to go by.
  • Lastly, I talked about audience matters in an earlier post, so in case you missed it here’s the link to that post.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Blogging impressions. You may find previous episodes here and here. And finally, leave your thoughts on journals, blogs and (your) blogging audience in a comment!

The value of your (LinkedIn) connections

If you’ve read my earlier posts about LinkedIn you’ll know¬†I’ve been on there for some time, but others – maybe including you – are getting started right now.¬†One question you’ll want answered is: how are you going to make¬†LinkedIn work for you? In this post I aim¬†to give you at least¬†the start¬†of an answer.

Your LinkedIn profile, which I discussed earlier, will help you to keep track of:

  • the jobs you’ve had, the tasks you’ve performed
  • the clients you’ve helped
  • all of your courses

Oh, and people can read it if they like ūüôā

(LinkedIn) Connections

Your LinkedIn profile’s not really something you’d get excited about. Why not? Simple – it’s¬†all about your past performance. None of the above gives you any reason whatsoever to connect with people. If you’re fairly secure in your present job you may not see any reason to start connecting with a lot of people. After all, you see them at lunch, you get their e-mails…

You could¬†connect with anyone you ever worked with. That means that your presence on LinkedIn also allows you to keep track of all the co-workers you ever worked with.¬†Yay! … Nope. I’m still bored ūüėČ

How to make LinkedIn work for you

The only possible way to make LinkedIn work for you is if you decide to join conversations and connect with people (including colleagues) with an eye on¬†your future. Why? Because your future is unknown territory. Unless you did something really dreadful in a previous job, it’s not coming after you to club you on the head. But the future is a different place. One you haven’t visited yet.

Start by asking¬†yourself what you want for your career in the next, say, 5-10 years. Now you may not be at all clear about the answer to that question. Scan the scenarios in the next few paragraphs.¬†I’ll ask you questions in each one. Some of¬†my questions¬†are based on my own experiences at various points in my career.

You’re still studying (part time)

Will you be able to do parts of your study within this organization? Like getting an internship, or even working there as an employee while adding it as the job experience you would otherwise gain from an internship? Will you be able to write your thesis here? Is the company you work for part time likely to offer you a job after you graduate?

You’re looking for a career change

Does your current employer offer possibilities for your newly chosen career? If not, what organizations look better equipped to house the likes of you in the (near) future? What can you do by way of a hobby or as a volunteer that would qualify you (even at a basic level) within 4-10 months?

All you want is… job security

If you want, first and foremost, to keep your job because you’re happy where you are¬†and you have a family and you don’t need the hassle right now: what do you know about the organization you’re in that might impact your chances of keeping your job? Are there other¬†positions within your organization that you could move¬†to if necessary? What skills can you learn that would make it easier to shift direction within your organization? Who else works in a team where you might end up if you had those skills? In other words, how can you make it more probable that a change will involve a new job in the same organization rather than having to look elsewhere?

Start by deciding where your priorities lie in real life

Suppose your organization is big enough to hold several positions you could fill if you wanted (or had to find another job) – it would make sense to get to know a few colleagues from different parts of your organization.

What if it’s not big enough? What if you’re in a tiny team that is more likely to shrink even further rather than grow in the future? What if there aren’t going to be any jobs after you graduate?¬†In that case getting to know people in other organisations is important. But don’t¬†forget the ‘network-happy’ people in your¬†own organization who¬†know absolutely everyone in your field of expertise!

What value can LinkedIn add to the connections you have in real life?

LinkedIn is a handy extension for real-life relationships. Connect preferably first in real life, then follow up by connecting on LinkedIn. Once you connect with anyone on LinkedIn, you can view their ‘updates’ which contain their every activity.

  • Some activities are alterations to their job title – you’ll know it if an ex-colleague starts in a new job, so you can send her a message about it.
  • If¬†a connection¬†who may or may not be in the category “companies/departments I wouldn’t mind working for” shares a great article about a subject you’re interested in you can comment on the article while also letting ’em know you’re still around.

All in all, the information¬†you receive in the shape of LinkedIn updates¬†gives¬†you (extra)¬†starting points¬†for interacting with colleagues and other professionals – which is great if you’re NOT running into them twice a day.¬†Your contacts on LinkedIn are not about instant results. They’re about staying in touch – and in the picture even though you, and they, are busy.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it. Or you may leave your thoughts about your (LinkedIn) connections in a comment below for me to read and reply to!

5 key questions to help you write your LinkedIn summary

After my rather long 16-LinkedIn-tips post of last Friday I’d like to stick to just one detail of your LinkedIn profile in this post: your summary. If you’ve left it for later like I suggested, great. Today you can fill the gap.

Why do you need a summary on your LinkedIn profile?

Writing Your LinkedIn Summary

In real life (IRL) you may meet someone, chat a bit, find you have common (business) interests and decide to exchange either business cards or anything ranging from email to phone number or Twitter handle. Just so you can follow up a pleasant and potentially beneficial contact.

On LinkedIn, your summary should give a first impression of you as a professional as you’re not present to introduce yourself.

Who are you as a professional?

If you’re having trouble deciding what to tell the world about what matters to you most, ask yourself what tasks or situations bring out the best in you. A few examples:

  • Suppose you’re completely result-driven. There’s no better moment than when you get to present your solution to a nagging issue your colleagues or clients have been working around for ages.
  • You’re a people person. Helping people out is what you get up for in the morning (or would, if you didn’t have a job that doesn’t suit your personal strengths). Or, nothing can beat having meaningful conversations that allow you to really connect with people – some call this ‘networking’ and treat it like a chore but for you, it’s the air you breathe.
  • Or say you’re both. There’s no buzz like the one you get after you’ve helped resolve a really sticky problem that was ruining someone’s life. You can do this kind of thing¬†in absolutely no time at all – you power up, get things done, and make your co-worker, client, or a complete stranger for that matter, immensely happy.

Describe who you are¬†in a business setting. That’s you as a professional.

What do you put in your LinkedIn summary if you’re a student?

Exactly the same¬†kind of¬†information. Except your ‘business setting’ is the projects you’ve done, an internship, a part time job, tasks you performed as a volunteer. Anything anyone ever asked or required¬†you to do for them. What activities or¬†situations are the spice in your food?

How should I use key words in my LinkedIn summary?

You can add key words to¬†appear in¬†search results but they should look natural in the context of your summary. Do NOT just open a text book and select anything you think would attract potential employers or clients. Your summary is not about what you studied, but what you (intend to) do with the knowledge and skills you’ve gained as a result.

How long should my LinkedIn summary be?

Think of your LinkedIn summary as an¬†“About the author” bit above or below a blog post, or a Twitter bio. It can be anything from 30 to about 100 words. If you go well beyond 100 you’re probably adding too much detail to your ‘first impression’ and chances are you’re repeating yourself. See what details¬†you¬†should rather¬†use to describe¬†individual projects, jobs or other activities. Or add a link to your “About” page if you have a blog, or to a short video.

In short, use your summary to introduce yourself as a professional. Stick to what you know to be true about yourself. This way it’s clear¬†to everyone that¬†“what they see is what they’ll get”. Wouldn’t it be great to¬†get¬†an interview¬†based on¬†who you are?

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. If you did,¬†please share it – I would really appreciate it! You may also¬†leave your thoughts and questions about your LinkedIn summary in a comment – I¬†promise¬†I’ll¬†reply to anything non-spammy ūüėČ