A shift in possibilities

This blog, and my life, are about to change.

Six years ago, I was told I had to look for a different job. While dealing with the uncertainty of finding a new role, I started writing at work. It began as therapy at the time but it eventually led to a new career, and it taught me the power of making my work visible.

Three years ago, I started writing this blog. That led to a network of thousands of people, a focus on helping others, a book, and more meaning and fulfillment in my work and life. It taught me the power of relationships.

Last week, workingoutloud.com launched amidst working out loud week, and there was a swell of interest and ideas and interaction. In India, for example, peer support groups (working out loud circles) formed during the week, adding to the ones in the US, UK, Spain, and Australia. I applied to deliver a TEDx talk.

Now what? I’m not sure.

Not all those who wander are lost

I do know that, starting this week, I’ll post articles related to working out loud on the new website. If you subscribe to workingoutloud.com, you’ll get an email every Wednesday morning with stories, techniques, and other resources related to building a better career and life.

That will change this blog. I’ll still write every Saturday morning because it’s too big a part of my life to stop. Having the new site frees me up to write about other things here, to explore, discover, and learn. The topics will be more personal and creative.

Your reading, supporting, and connecting has changed my life and helped me discover a purpose I now describe this way:

“To help people find meaning and fulfillment in their work and life.”

Thank you. That’s a purpose I could never have dreamed of until recently. The last six years have taught me that destiny isn’t something that awaits you, it’s something you create with the help and support of others.

Anyone can shift what’s possible for them. What about you?

What relationships will you build? 

What purpose will you discover? 

What destiny will you create?

How a teacher increases her odds of finding meaning and fulfillment

B02283607Alycia is a 3rd-grade teacher in New York City who increased her chances of finding meaning and fulfillment because of the way she works.

Here’s how she does it, and why it matters to all of us.

Is your job meaningful and fulfilling?

Maybe you view teaching as a noble calling that anyone might find fulfilling. Or perhaps you see it as a difficult, underpaid, and under-appreciated job.

Research shows that people in a wide range of work – from highly-skilled to highly-prescribed jobs – are evenly split in viewing what they do as a job, a career, or a calling. Simply put, the way people relate to their work can’t “be reduced to demographic or occupational differences.” Thus, it must be something else that makes us view similar roles so differently.

So what’s the something else? It’s whether a person is intrinsically motivated to do the work. All the research on why we do what we do seems to point to the same basic truths, summarized succinctly here in this quote from Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

…we have three innate psychological needs – competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy. When they’re thwarted, our motivation, productivity, and happiness plummet.

Your drive – your motivation to do something and how you feel about doing it – is based on whether or not you’re meeting these needs. Alycia works in such a way that she’s more likely to tap into her intrinsic motivators.

How Alycia works differently 

Alycia works out loud. She works in an open, generous, connected way that’s helpful to others and herself.

Part of that is framing what she does as a contribution. Then she makes some of those contributions visible online using a website in her name as a resource for her students and their parents. She also writes for Scholastic, a leading publisher of children’s books along with ten other elementary school teachers. Here are the kinds of contribution she makes.

  1. Research: resources for teachers and parents.
  2. Ideas: suggestions for teaching time, poetry, and a wide range of topics.
  3. Projects: dozens of examples of work she does in the classroom.
  4. Process: how she helps kids prep for standard tests.
  5. Motivations: why she became a teacher and her values.
  6. Challenges: packing up at the end of the year.
  7. Learning: new books and techniques she discovered.
  8. Work of others she admires: projects and ideas from other teachers.
  9. Connections: people and resources she relies on.
  10. Contributions from others: 3rd-graders blogged about their class pet.

Alycia has written over 90 posts for Scholastic, each one complete with photos of actual work in the classroom. These aren’t professional NY Times articles and shouldn’t be compared to them. Alycia’s posts are something  else entirely – personal, helpful and, as a result, lovely in a way that professional articles rarely are. The work on her own site goes back five years, evolving as she tries new things.

What Alycia gets

The main benefit to Alycia isn’t popularity. She isn’t putting in this effort simply to chase views. Instead, with each contribution, she’s learning. Every time she writes about a project or an idea, she thinks deeply about it and gets feedback from others.

In addition to that investment in her craft, she’s deepening relationships with people already in her network and, over time, creating a portfolio of contributions she can reuse over and over again, unlocking other possible connections. When Alycia writes up a project her class, she can send that to other teachers, administrators, parents, and other people she wants in her network. Each time she writes, she has more to offer while making it more likely that other people will discover her work.

Through framing her work as a contribution and making it visible, Alycia has increased her learning, her network, and her access to other opportunities, all in ways she controls. She’s improved how she relates to her current job while increasing her access to other jobs too.

The benefits to you

You don’t need to be a teacher to enjoy these benefits. The research about jobs, careers, and callings showed that nurses, short-order cooks, software engineers, and people in a wide range of other professions can all craft their jobs and tap into their drive.

It’s because intrinsic motivators apply not to certain jobs but to all human beings. We’re wired to learn, to seek control over our environment and life, to be connected.

How would you frame what you do as a contribution? How would you increase your own chances of finding meaning and fulfillment?

A career talk that everyone should hear (and that anyone could deliver)

WOL Careers - Slide 1People at all stages of their careers have been asking the same basic questions for decades:

“How do I get promoted?”

“How do I find jobs that are available?

“How do I manage my career?”

To help answer those questions, there are plenty of career development talks at work, networking events, and HR courses which give people advice and examples. These can be helpful and sometimes inspiring. They just don’t equip people to make any meaningful change in how they manage their careers.

Now, we have something better.

A different kind of career event

Last month, I was asked to give a talk on personal branding so I could answer some of those career questions for a particular organization. Instead, I offered to talk about working out loud and help people form working out loud circles. We put together a 60-minute, interactive session for over 80 people which ended with Q&A and a call for volunteers to join circles.

25% of the audience volunteered.

The reason so many people joined wasn’t because of me or my slides, it was because they were hungry for something they could do to invest in themselves. Although most had never heard of working out loud, the ideas seemed like common sense and the circles gave them a way to apply that common sense towards a personal goal they cared about. A few weeks later, five circles formed and started meeting.

Results you can replicate

Speaking at this event gave me an idea. I had seen how, even if you want to work out loud, convincing friends who’ve never heard of it to form a circle could be hard. So a career event is a natural trigger to taking some positive action. With dozens of people all attending at the same time, hearing the same information, and with a convenient sign-up sheet at the end, it was simple.

So what if we made it easy for anyone to have such an event?

Towards that end, here are a set of slides and commentary you can make your own. The next time you hear about a career or networking event at your firm, maybe you can offer to give this talk instead. Maybe your organization can go beyond offering advice and examples to  truly empowering people, helping them to take control of their careers and their lives.

Slides and commentary you can make your own

My own style for slides is to use large photos and minimal text wherever I can. It means the slides are readable in almost any environment but it also means they don’t stand on their own. So I’ve included images here along with the main points I make. I’ve also included the actual slides as .key and .ppt files and as a PDF.

Feel free to use them in any way you like to help people form working out loud circles. This is just one way to accelerate a positive movement. I welcome and appreciate all questions, suggestions for improvements, and comments about what worked and didn’t work.

WOL Careers - Slide 1

WOL Careers - Slide 2

WOL Careers - Slide 3

WOL Careers - Slide 4

WOL Careers - Slide 5

WOL Careers - Slide 6

WOL Careers - Slide 6b

WOL Careers - Slide 7

WOL Careers - Slide 8

WOL Careers - Slide 9

WOL Careers - Slide 10

WOL Careers - Slide 11

WOL Careers - Slide 12

WOL Careers - Slide 13

WOL Careers - Slide 14

WOL Careers - Slide 15

WOL Careers - Slide 16

WOL Careers - Slide 18

WOL Careers - Slide 19

WOL Careers - Slide 20

WOL Careers - Slide 20b

WOL Careers - Slide 20c

WOL Careers - Slide 20d

WOL Careers - Slide 21

WOL Careers - Slide 21b

WOL Careers - Slide 22

WOL Careers - Slide 23

WOL Careers - Slide 24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Career planning has changed

  • Career planning has changed from just 5 years ago.
  • For decades, it was a lottery. Who recruited on your campus? Which company picked you? Who was your boss?
  • Now, you have more control than ever.

Three stories

  • Three quick stories of how people find work that’s meaningful & fulfilling.
  • I’ve written about Jordi Munoz and Joyce Sullivan before. The third is Anne-Marie Imafidon who is a friend, colleague,  founder of the Stemettes, and who merits her own chapter in Working Out Loud. Yes, that’s her with the Queen. You might substitute someone in your own organization as an example.
  • The thing they have in common is they all work out loud.

Working Out Loud – 5 elements

You can do better than a lottery

  • A lot rides on which company you join, which part you fall into, and which boss you get assigned.
  • You can increase the odds of landing in a good spot.
  • A bigger, diverse network with deeper relationship provides you access to a wider range of possibilities.

A short exercise

  • Ask people to take out their smartphones and Google themselves.
  • Who are they? Do they have to rely on a broker to help them describe themselves? Or a 2-page resume? From the animated conversations, people found this both funny and embarrassing.

We all need help

  • Many of us don’t even do the simple things we all know we should do, like photos on a profile.
  • It’s not that we’re bad at it, we ‘re just not good at it yet. We need help.

Making change easier

  • Research on changing habits shows how we can make change easier and sustainable.
  • It includes chunking the change into small, fear-free steps and getting feedback along the way. (Albert Bandura called it guided mastery and cured snakes phobias in an hour this way.)
  • It also includes getting help from friends while practicing, practicing, practicing.

WOL Circles

  • Explain how circles work generally and ground rules for inside the firm, especially how they are confidential, with no need to have a certain rating or corporate title.
  • Available resources include the book, circle guides, and a range of material coming to workingoutloud.com. I provide drafts of the material to all circle members.

Call to action

  • Point them to the sign-up sheet or whiteboard and open for Q&A.

I used Apple’s Keynote to create the slides and also exported them here as a PDF and a Powerpoint file.

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation.key

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation (PDF)

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation.ppt

The worst performance review I ever had

The bad egg detector: How do they know?

 

Even before I opened the email, I knew it was bad news. Subject: year-end review.

“He needs to speak with you,” his assistant wrote. Though the deadline for reviews had passed months before, she seemed almost frantic, trying to schedule a call before the end of the week. He was in another city, and it was after 10pm there when he spoke to me on my mobile.

This is a true story. I write it not to solicit sympathy or embarrass anyone. Instead, my purpose is to show how management processes, however well-intended, have devolved into lotteries of a kind. Some win, most lose.

It was only years later that I learned I could change the game.

The set-up

In every firm I’ve worked in, there’s a similar process. You agree on objectives with your manager, review progress in the middle of the year, and get a formal review at the end of the year. To ensure the firm pays top performers and gets rid of low performers, the year-end ratings have to fit a curve. On the surface, it all seems reasonable, systematic, and fair.

In practice, though, behind all the spreadsheets and numbers, there’s an intensely human calculus. I’ve had years where I performed poorly but had powerful sponsors and got good reviews. It’s when your connection to your manager is weak, or the network you have isn’t powerful, that you’re at risk.

A friend compared this style of management to a wolf-pack, with leaders picking on the weak, allowing the other wolves to keep going, happy it wasn’t them who was sacrificed.

The conversation

I happened to be the weak one that year. The person I had been reporting to had left earlier in the year and our team’s fate was now uncertain. We used the word “exposed.” One colleague resigned right away. Referring to rats leaving a sinking ship, he told me “This rat can swim.” Others, like me, stayed on board.

The reason for the late-night review via telephone was that the next day was when our compensation would be announced. I presume someone needed to tick a box, perhaps afraid of a lawsuit. I imagine a person in HR exhorting managers “Did you communicate to all your poor performers?” I imagine she kept a list.

The conversation didn’t last long. He was earnest, saying he wanted me to succeed. But what was success? Was he even aware of what I did? How did my work compare to others? Why single me out this year and not others?

I never asked those questions. I never asked him about the objectives I was ostensibly being rated against. I knew it was pointless.

It was years ago, but I still remember hating the firm and the system. I remember feeling ashamed.

The lesson

Ironically, not many years after my bad review, it was my boss’ turn to be the weak one after he got a new manager. I wonder if he had a similar conversation, if he felt it was unfair.

It’s only now that I see the futility of taking it all so personally. My boss, my colleagues, and I were all trapped by processes that promoted internal competition, politicized the environment, and systematically propagated mediocrity and unfairness. It’s why PwC, a major consultancy regarding HR practices in large organizations wrote:

“There’s a growing school of thought that our traditional tools for managing employee performance are outdated and in need of a radical reboot.”

You could wait for firms to change their practices. Or you could work in such a way that you build a better network now, one that gives you access to people and possibilities without having to ask for permission from your boss.

If I get a poor review in the future, I won’t be angry and I certainly won’t be ashamed. I’ll acknowledge the setback, reach out to my network, and keep going. Never again will I cede the power over my career and my happiness to someone else. You don’t have to either.

“Holy ****. That is awesome.”

Working Out Loud CirclesThat’s a reaction from someone in one of our working out loud circles. It’s an unconventional testimonial, perhaps, but captures both the surprise and joy people feel when a circle member is successful in building a network, taking control of their career and their life.

Here’s the short story behind that reaction that demonstrates how circles work in practice.

We were in week 6

Circles usually form for 12 weeks and this was our sixth meeting. At the beginning of each meeting, before talking about a set of slightly more advanced techniques and exercises, we quickly recap the progress each person made with their plan from the week before. One woman described an event she attended and some of the influential people there who could help her grow her business. Our circle helped her choose the specific people she should add to her relationship list.

“What should I say?” she asked us, and we spent a few minutes suggesting ways to frame an email about the event as a contribution. We wanted her to start with appreciation but to also reference her own work in a way that would be helpful to the person receiving the note. It was a short practice in email empathy that Dale Carnegie would have approved of.

At the end of the circle meeting, we all described the steps we would take before the next session and encouraged each other to reach out if we needed help. Our friend said she would send that email.

“Oh my god. What now?”

Two days later, we all got forwarded an email with a short question from our friend: “Oh my god. What now?” The influential person she was nervous about reaching out to had already responded – thanking her for such a nice note, showing an interest in her work, and alluding to possible collaborations.

The people in our circle quickly offered suggestions for a reply, and the rest of the mail thread was a virtual high-fiving, celebrating our friend’s new connection. She sent the reply that day.

The really important thing that happened

Our friend has been working her lists for a few weeks now and has read a draft of the book. So she knows how to make her work visible, how to frame it as a contribution, how to build a network and be empathetic in her communications. But she still doesn’t have the habit of doing all of it.

So the important thing that happened this week wasn’t that our friend sent an email, made a connection with an influential person, or even that she created a possibility for collaboration where none existed before.

The important thing was that she practiced. She exercised the techniques she has learned so far, got positive reinforcement from both her network and our group, and is more prepared – and more likely – to take the next step and practice again. Gradually, she’s developing the habit of working in an open, generous, connected way.

The working out loud circle gives her emotional support, coaching, advice, and a sense of shared accountability that helps her develop her new habits. Over our remaining time together, as that habit grows stronger, she’ll be equipped to work out loud towards any goal.