The Home Workers Strategy (whilst still having a life)

A messy desk at homeA lot of people tell me that moving toward home working is easy, just decide one day that its going to happen and there you go…………..right? Without a plan and thinking thoroughly about your run and jump into home working you might want to think again. Interested well read on.

Many organisations for lots of different reasons close offices and decide that the workforce can work from a home base. Generally there is a shrug of the collective shoulders, you pick up your laptop, a phone and off you go. No planning, no discussions at home of what it may mean to the family or how you will manage the available space.

Mum’s and Dad’s going back to work after a baby might not want to be away from their precious one, so this options will help them get back to the work they love. Again jumping in with both feet might work but when you plan the home working thing with work and family in mind its potentially a win win situation.

Here is a quick check list of things I use to help business and individuals move positively toward home working bliss.

  • Get the right technology and support for technology sorted out quickly. Being on your own to sort out broken computers, sufficient broadband, mobile phone signal etc can be challenging. Make sure you have a back up system for both files and hardware , so the stress of things going pop is reduced.
  • Talk to the family. Ensure that families and especially children understand what is happening. Let them have their input into the transitional process.
  • Decide on where you will situate your office space. This goes back to families once more, as excess clutter and paper work can cause quite a lot of stress and conflict. A corner of a living room is fine but what disturbance will you get and what hours will you be able to work most productively without being bothered?
  • If you are lucky you can convert a bedroom or garage. Again spend time planning and setting this out so you feel you are at work and away from home.
  • Commute to work. Yes I know you are working at home but a trip to the newsagents or bakers in the morning helps you get your head in the right space for work.
  • Decide upon how to maintain your social connections. Meet colleagues at the many hotels with lobbies that have coffee shops and catch up with friends when you can.
  • Do not get dragged into working too long – presenteeism is a serious problem for home based working.
  • Keep technology away from the bedroom and yes I mean phones, TV’s and computers. You need your sleep to be effective at work and yes that means home based workers too.
  • Start a homeworkers coffee morning or lunch club. Great for small business owners to mix, get ideas & network.
  • Most of all enjoy the home working experience. Enjoy the flexibility and the chance for a better lifestyle for you and your family. Plus with planning get a great deal of work done whilst sitting at home.

So all is not lost for home based working just needs a bit of careful planning and bit of negotiation and most of all commitment to make it work. Good luck and most of all have fun with the change to more flexible working.

Call or email me for details of my strategies for successful home working and my upcoming book “How to Work at Home & Stay Sane”

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The Natural Selection of Business & Careers

download (3)Now I am sure we all know the Darwinian model of natural selection & the five theories contained within. If you need a short reminder have a quick look at this very informative web site run by Christ’s College in Cambridge http://darwin200.christs.cam.ac.uk/pages/ (accessed 3/11/2014). So the question is how can these theories be applied to shedding an alternative light upon how businesses evolve and how your career “fits” the environment, the shifting sands of time, skills and your ability to “mutate” into a new job or career path.

Coupled Darwin’s theory and the term “survival of the fittest” developed by Herbert Spencer to help explain his understanding of natural selection, we arrive at everyday terms to describe how life and for that matter business & careers can (in theory) develop. Needless to say these theories have been hijacked to fit may different ideologies and moral standpoints to sometimes disastrous effect. Such as Social Darwinism that is thought to be responsible for laissez-faire attitudes to war, economics & racism.

The Business of Natural Selection

By this time I am sure your imagination is starting to make the connections between natural selection, survival of the fittest and how businesses & careers are born, develop and sometimes die. Businesses have to compete for resources, evolve through small but distinct stages and that some variants or mutations may help them adapt better to their environment. Apple is a good example of a variation that produce many products that are internally similar to other technology companies (Mp3 players, PC’s, laptops, etc) they just do things differently with distinct styling and pretty boxes. Thus have mutated into a distinct species within the landscape. Its a high wire act and difficult to maintain, as if the mutation looses its distinct adaptation to the environment then they become generalists.

The generalists are other technology companies struggling for resources (profit). These generalists are all fighting for the same slice of the market so have to be nimble, agile and smart to fit products to business opportunities that arise. Products are not generally high value items such as Apple products but more standard offerings that will be less expensive but high volume to make the margins. Similar to species of birds, mammals & rodents – all fighting for the same meagre resources to survive in changing environments. Its hard for both generalists & specialists to survive as there has one eye on changing climates and barriers to their success. Competition is tough for businesses as with species of animals & plants are after the same resources unless they can evolve to adapt before others or sadly die out. I am sure as you are reading this you can apply similar stories to businesses & market sectors that you know? Of course there is nothing more compelling than a good theory – just reality gets in the way!

How does your Career “Fit”

The term “fit & fitness” can of course mean many things but in terms of your career we can use the theory to overlay your skills, abilities, knowledge of your job and how your career trajectory fits into the changing landscape of work. I wager you job or work is not the same as it was a few years ago and that you and your work is evolving steadily. Your job may have been made redundant in the past and had to make significant adaptations of your skills and abilities through re-training or re-branding yourself into a distinctly new career species? There are many ways that your evolution and you may have been naturally selected to give your career and working life an advantage.

The big question is now – does your skill set and career fit with where you need to be? Do you perhaps take a risk and mutate into a new career path or do you find new and novel adaptations to re-invent yourself to help maintain your competitive edge? To that aim I have put together a list of actions to help consider your evaluation career options and interested to hear what else your would add?

  • Identify what works well for you that gives you a competitive edge. May be a skill, an ability, an easy way of doing things others find hard, or even just a different way of thinking. Is it truly an advantage? Does it give really you an edge? Can you repeat it and give you that competitive edge?
  • Now that you have found it – cultivate it deliberately. Refine it, add to it & focus on it. Move on from those things you don’t do so well, build that competitive advantage and not trying to catch up with what others find easier than you do.
  • Now you have found and developed one great career adaptation, find another and keep repeating the process. Create as many natural advantages as you can. See what works and go with it, regardless of whether it’s what you expected or not.
  • Always spend time doing what you do best. Don’t forget your positive attributes, skills and knowledge, ignore them are your peril. By identifying development areas you are aiming to support your strengths enabling you to evolve positively.

Hopefully the short list will help with the adaptations as no species has ever thrived by working on its weaknesses and forgetting about its natural strengths. Don’t try to go against the way that natural selection works with careers and business – go with it and prosper. Creating your competitive edge, overcoming barriers, exploiting your natural attributes and planning for your future will no doubt help you (or your business) see environmental changes as a challenge so you can adapt and manage change effectively. So don’t be a Panda eeking out an existence on bamboo alone – be more…………………………….you fill in the gap!

Stick or Twist Careers – Finding Meaning at Work

images (40)Did you know in the pre-industrialised world there were around 30 different jobs to do. You might well have made things such as barrels, worked leather, a potter or looked after horses – you get the picture. Pretty straightforward jobs to earn a living.

However at the last count today there are approximately 12,000 different jobs and occupations (Krznaric 2012). So its no wonder people are confused about how to find a job or career that is fulfilling that will match our values, talents, identity and passions. Our working life and career paths have taken on greater meaning to us all. Maybe wrapped up in status anxiety and the power we feel is necessary for us in certain roles and life stage. Perhaps all this business of careers is just a modernmiddle class conceit; as when the bills and a mortgage needs to be paid any job will do right? Tricky sociological & philosophical questions to answer and certainly one I am not willing to explore here.

Clearly we have more and more choice in our careers and working lives today. Though the paradox of more choice is that we tend to become more risk averse and paralysed about making the wrong choice. Just choosing biscuits for me is the ultimate paralysis though analysis recently. Is it price, chocolate content, brand, dunkability and so on and so on!

Statistics show 2-4 years is about the time we spend in one job before moving on, thus putting us in a perpetual career/work transition phase and having to re-invest ourselves time after time.

So how do you find a job or career choice that has a good match for where you are in your life? Perhaps you are starting out and just wanting to get onto the career ladder or at a stage where you are looking for something more meaningful to do with your time. Do you specialise or spread you net over a range of roles called a wide achiever? In the meantime here are a few things to think about that may help the focus on finding a job with meaning that will fulfil and sustain you – and I will leave you to decide upon what constitutes meaning, fulfilment and what will sustain you in your work.

  1. If you just need a job plan then implement. Apply your skills, abilities, knowledge & experience etc to fitting an industry, trade or career path and get things moving quickly. Get the CV out there, network and find the people who can connect you to those business looking for new recruits. This method may not help you find the “special” role but it will help you move forward.
  2. Getting into a job will help you know what you like and not like in a job or career. You may find that things don’t necessarily match your identity, beliefs, values and passions but you are getting experimenting with work. Trying different jobs and career paths will help build up your experiential learning about the workplace and where you see your future.
  3. Start some voluntary work (if you can) that fits with where your passion lay, if not being satisfied in your current job or career. It may lead on to different opportunities and help you know if your passions are a lovely fantasy or a reality. If the thought of changing career is scary try this model to start the process of change and becoming less risk averse.
  4. Spend time in a career or job that you had never previously thought of. As suggested my Roman Krznaric in his 2012 book How to Find Fulfilling Work a “radical sabbatical”
  5. Lastly, and not for the feint hearted – act first and reflect later (Krznaric, 2012). This may be for the more confident amongst us as going with a career or job that isn’t necessarily planned and thus implemented upon as mentioned before may be a step too far. Though if there is an opportunity to just “feel the fear and do it anyway” you may find that this will open your working world view to career experiments that you had not thought of in your planning phase of career management.

So there we are that’s enough careers and work navel gazing for the time being. Though these big questions are being asked by people, employees and progressive organisations in recent years. Progressive organisations are helping employees become more meaning focussed by allowing them to engage in more diverse projects and outward facing working.

So as Chris Baldry et al in The Meaning of Work in the New Economy, suggest “Nobody wants their job to have no meaning, even if the primary or indeed onlymeaning is its economic support for home and family.’ It may be time to allow yourself some navel gazing toward a more progressive approach to you career and perhaps trying a few interesting working experiments to see where your passions lay?

Bibliography & References

Botton, A. (2009) “The Pleasures & Sorrows of Work” Penguin Books, London

Krznaric, R. (2012) “How to Find Fulfilling Work” Macmillan

Baldry, C. et al (2007) “The Meaning of Work in the New Economy” Palgrave Macmillan

Lord Alan “Widow Twankey” Sugar and the Pantomime Ugly Sisters?

images40So the panto season has started early this year in the UK with the BBC 1 program Apprentice.  Now for the uninitiated a pantomime is

Pantomime (informally panto), is a type of musical comedy stage production, designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is generally performed during the Christmas and New Year season.

As with all English panto’s we have a number of characters such as the ugly sisters as the constants and Lord Alan Sugar as the Widow Twankey presiding over the “he’s behind you” knock about fun. Though through it all a Cinderella emerged in the form of Lindsey Booth who had the resolute dignity to admit that the adversarial and clawing environment was not something she was comfortable with. Its just a pity that she did not resign from the program rather than wait for Lord Widow Twankey’s chubby little digit to pronounce “Your Fired”!

Lindsey Booth runs a very successful and thriving business teaching children to swim and just does business in a quiet unassuming way that relies upon reputation and honest to goodness great service. Lindsey uses her life experiences to tell a very compelling and engaging story of a slow but purposeful business growth whilst being a full-time mother. None of the sell, sell, sell, more, more. Lindsey moves beyond that toward “we teach babies to swim and are proud of it”. Who could argue with that.

For me the Apprentice is a bit like rubber necking a car crash from across the other side of the road, you know you shouldn’t but sometimes its difficult to resist. Sitting in front of the television grumbling that business is just not like this, and these odious panic stricken business people are nothing like the great people I have met and continue to meet. So how does a program bring the noisy pip squeak out of serious business people?

I am sure the contestants are nothing like there ugly sister persona in their day jobs. Its inconceivable that the contestants would be working let a lone successful in their own right. I can’t imagine that they would work in a team or be management or leadership material with the attitudes that they exhibit. Perhaps bringing in psychologist Robert Hare to conduct some psychopath profiling as in his great book Snakes in Suits would reveal a nest of psychotic executive vipers? Of course I am exaggerating as the contestants are probably whipped up to a frenzy by the production company to exhibit all of the worse excesses of the blind self absorbed banking exec of 2008.

So where does the program leave the representation of young executives in 2014? Whilst working at Business School a couple of years ago the attitudes from young business students did suggest that they saw the Apprentice as a template for business success. This from a group of people still using Comic Sans to write business plans and customer invoices for example. Spelling was in text speak with no concern for the complication of working with people. People get in the way of making a profit don’t you know! By the time we had finished working together there was a more realistic view of business, with people at the centre of their success.

So the Apprentice is of course a comic representation of business with heroes and villains, profit and loss and is just television. However, I am wondering if some young people going into business see the Apprentice as a template or just knock about panto fun? Hopefully it is the latter and there are more Lindsey Booth’s out there to make a business that has value as well as profit.

The Printers Apprentice – A Zig Zag Career.

images (36)So is you career linear – a very straight line or like mine and many others a zig zag affair? I have been at work now for more years I care to remember and in that time I have had 16 different jobs. Adding fuel to the average time of 2 – 3 years people spend in a role. Most of my jobs were loosely connected with transferable skills applied from one industry to another and to an opportunity that I was either flattered to asked to interview, or needed the money for one reason or another. So how does a career work, is it planned or does it just happen to people……..that is the question.

This navel gazing came about as a result of an interesting article by Peter Honey and on LinkedIn recently; on the sometimes zig-zag approach a lot of us take to our careers or working life.

So where did I start off? With my headmasters parting words “and don’t come back”ringing in my ears I left school at the tender age of 16. Having to leave school for being a little bit of a rascal and a tearaway was a badge of honour at the time – though it didn’t last long. Dole money in the 1970’s was £7.70p, enough to give my mother £5 and to fill up the petrol tank of my motor bike for a week or so. Then things changed. After a few months of unemployment I managed to secure a 4 year apprenticeship as a lithographic printer in a Kent based print works, Whitstable Litho.

With the indentures signed by my father and the company to ensure I was not to be seen with loose women (some chance) or drunk in the street, I felt 7 feet tall and finally had a purpose. All this for £18.50 per 40 hour week. How innocent I was for the fun and exposure to an adult working life to come.

The apprentice lithographer title was one I would feel justifiable proud of until returning from the London School of Printing, Clarkenwell one evening. During the train journey and sitting opposite a chap who was a little 3 sheets to the wind (drunk to the uninitiated) asked me what I did for a living. I proudly announced and loud enough for the carriage to hear that I am a apprentice lithographer. The chap thought for a few seconds, eyes wandering desperately trying to make sense of the answer. Eventually through his sozzled haze he slurred with some difficulty – “and I am a photographer to”! I left it there and stared through the condensation of the train window deflating slowly like a old party balloon.

I didn’t plan to become a printer, work in the paper industry research & development, customer technical sales/services, manage international technical development teams, develop training/L&D for sales and management, quality systems, environmental science, run large coaching programmes for sales performance & design Welfare to Work health & wellbeing programmes etc etc. Or even have the faintest idea I would end up as a psychologist & coach with a couple of degrees, helping countless people manage a number of different work & personal issues. So how do careers work and how do people navigate their way through any number of sometimes loosely connected jobs to end up where they are today?

Few people emerging from university or school have any idea what they want to do, if they do perhaps they have had great career advice, coaching & guidance. Perhaps its all about personality as some psychometric developers will tell you. I very much doubt it.

The career or working life that fits the bill at your life stage and is unplanned is some ways quite reassuring. We are all told to plan and try to control every aspect of our lives to win the prize of a glittering career, money or other desired goals. The problem is that our ability to control really stops at the end of our fingertips. We can only control ourselves and in my case that can be a bit slippery. So over to you to have a cogitate about your career or work and how it zig zagged across the years. Or perhaps you are a linear careerist that are travelling from A to B to C to D with no hindrance. In any case I will leave you with this quote from Peter Drucker that will hopefully start your conversation.

“Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values.” – Peter F. Drucker

Coach Yourself – Its Easy…….Right?

download (11)How many self help books are there that promise a bright new future or a happier life – millions I’ll be bound. In fact I have just searched Google for “coach yourself”and managed 13,500,000 results in 0.36 seconds. So it seems there are a great deal of people ahead of me in this queue.

Now depending upon where you are in your life or career self help and the wise words of countless books can be both a pleasure and a curse. The pleasure being there are a number of ready made answers to life’s problems the curse being having to read them and try to use them. So how easy is it to coach yourself so you can make sense of where you are and most all feel good about the whole business.

I am going to pin my colours to the mast and suggest we start to look coaching yourself with a model that is tried and tested; cognitive behavioural coaching or CBC. You have probably heard of CBT well its the same but without the “tell me about your childhood” therapy. More how are we going to move forward making sense of how thing are and how they could be.

Now one very simple and straight forward model is the ABC Model and is perhaps the most famous cognitive behavioural format for analysing your thoughts, behaviour and emotions. Cognitive behavioural therapy/coaching works on the assumption that your beliefs influence your emotions, your behaviour. By identifying and addressing problematic and automatic thoughts you can help to change your behaviour and experiences for the better.

The ABC Model asks you to record a sequence of events in terms of:

A – Activating Event (also sometimes described as a ‘Trigger’)

B – Beliefs (for example, the automatic thoughts that occur to you when the activating event happens)

C – Consequences – how you feel and behave when you have those beliefs (consequences may be divided into two parts: your emotions and your actions)

So lets have a quick example on how this might work. You are at work and your boss stops you and says “have you got a minute”. Now if you are anything like me my immediate thought is what have I done now! Says more about me than the statement. So the trigger for me is negative as it is my belief that I am in trouble yet again. As a result, I feel nervous, anxious, might need a strong coffee (won’t help the anxiety), might feel nauseous and generally a heightened sense of doom.

Ladies and gentlemen let me introduce to you a choice – a balancing thought. If I had used a balancing thought I would have seen the thing differently, as my boss is probably going to discuss something completely different. One of the approaches of CBC would be to ask you to reflect on whether the beliefs of the activating event are justified, rational or are based on an assumption or errors of initial thought. If on reflection you consider that those beliefs about yourself are not justified you might think of some more realistic balancing statements which you can remind yourself of when the activating event occurs to help keep what is happening in perspective.

So stop and think about those activating events in your life that kick off a whole body experience of something not necessarily good is going to happen. Ask yourself what evidence have you got for this thought and altered feelings about the situation? You can probably cast your mind back to an event in the past that has framed your thinking of a particular event. If its not relevant to this situation then change it, think differently about the event, thinking about the event differently will change the way you feel and behave. Sounds simple but it is a tried and tested method to help bring a sense of perspective into your work & life.

Give it a go, its sometimes hard work as you have to engage in some meta thinking or thinking about thinking. Think about the events that give you the collywobbles and ask is there a different ore positive way of thinking about it. I bet you can and I bet it changes how you feel and behave? Drop me a line if you want to know more.

My “Genius”and 3D Career Coaching

images (34)A client told me last week that I am a “genius” following a one off Career Health Check session. Mind you I had told them I was a genius before hand, so not sure that counts. Still got to take the complements where you can these days – even if they are self generated.

Career coaching is an area of my work I get very animated about, so stand back and mind the flaying arms of excitement. Want to see what it’s like check out Magnus Pike on You Tube. Now I get a deep sense of satisfaction working with my clients looking to change or transition careers. They may have been out of the workplace for a while for parenting duties and want to get back to work, or perhaps have been out of work and just need a job. Toward young people looking for their first job. These are just a few of the reasons people seek my help as a career coach. However I am sure you can appreciate there are radically different motivations for people, as a result the career coach will need flexibility and a number of differing strategies for meet the need of the client.

Whether we like it or not work is a healthy place to be, probably not something that crosses your mind waiting for a bus on a Northern European Monday morn in January. Bring happy, fulfilled and satiated in your work & career provides you with challenges, income, confidence, self esteem and a chance to strive toward your personal & professional goals. Hence the reason this part of my work is so helpful to my clients and is a hugely fulfilling part of what I do. Though career coaching for some is seen as an indulgence or a necessity depending upon your circumstances. Perhaps getting that itchy feeing in your feet suggesting you need to move on to pastures new or things are coming to an end in a job and redundancy may be a real possibility. All result in a need for change.

Now having had a number of years helping a very diverse group of people to change career or perhaps get back to work, I am always struck by traditional methods of career advice and guidance and the more creative 3D methods. Firstly, traditional methods tend to focus upon the employment process, i.e. CV, application forms (online/paper) job searching methods, interview skills, some passive training and perhaps fitting a round peg into a round hole as soon as possible. Great if you are just looking to get back to work as quickly as you can and into a similar role as before. This method used extensively in the Welfare to Work sector and by some career advice organisations that are, not to put a finer point on it, akin to a sausage factory. Very much a linear one dimensional affair, or to the cynics a box ticking exercise to getting paid for the outcome i.e. the client getting a job for least input.

So what I do mean by 3D strategies for career coaching? Needless to say this is very dependant upon need, goals and aspiration etc. However bear with me for a bit and I am hope to give those looking for a new start food for thought.

The 3D model provides is a fluid method of career coaching & management with staged activities for re-engaging with the workplace or new careers. So I work with clients at three levels.

  1. Primary level – The clients defined goals and hard outcomes. What they want to achieve, by when, how, and resources needed.Some support may be needed to help clarify the primary level to ensure the clarity. Goals may well change but are still the primary level and will need to generate thier own 3D model.
  2. Secondary level – What does the client need to reach the hard outcome – a needs analysis. This may mean the components parts of the job searching strategies, self employment, career change. A CV, L&D needs, geographical area and to examine a social media platform for the client amongst many others.
  3. Tertiary level – More the psychological analysis. Confidence & self esteem, improved interpersonal skills, along with self efficacy to name a few. The activities in a psychosocial capacity may be necessary to help the client develop toward those primary & secondary career goals.

By helping clients move through identifying their goals and the resources they need to achieve them with a renewed sense of purpose is a powerful method of supporting change. Looking at an example, say an individual has had a bad experience with being made redundant and has been out of work for a while. Confidence, self efficacy and self esteem may have taken a bit of a knock and may feel employment skills are out of date. So sending out an old school CV and applying for jobs that do not yield interviews can reduce confidence etc even further. In this instance utilising a 3D model the individual can identify their goals, focus upon improving confidence etc whilst working on their career narrative to help with the mapping out of a CV and a compelling case for why an employer would be daft not to employ them.

A very simple example granted but putting these components and layers together helps the client see the wood from the trees. So enough arm flaying from me for the time being and if you need any more information on one of my 3D model just drop me a line and will be happy to share the knowledge from one genius to another.