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Mid-life Career Blues!

June 7, 2012 15 comments

Met a former colleague last evening; it was raining in Cochin and temperatures had dropped. Our thoughts gravitated towards something to warm us up … and there was a convenient watering-hole nearby. After we settled down with a bracing drink in hand the conversation veered towards work.

“Boss, I have been thinking about a change for a while now; when I suggested this meeting the idea was to discuss a few things with you.”

“What’s the rush? You have been in this job for just 2 years and I would guess that things are going pretty much okay” I said.

“There is nothing wrong as of now. Things are going smooth – but that is my problem. It’s just too smooth. There is no excitement in what I am doing now. To make things worse there was a change in leadership and the new Head hardly interacts with me. He just tells me to do the usual. The previous man used to call me in for discussions regularly and if there was a lull in my main activity he would ask me to tag along with one of his Junior Managers for some on-the-job training. That was nothing great but there was variety, a break from the drab routine. Now I hardly have to think; am just whiling away my time.”

Career Stall … This happens to many professionals.

– They fall into a rut

– Work stop being energising and challenging

– They find no meaning in what they are doing

– They are convinced that there is no further upside in their present pursuit

– They feel ignored and sidelined

– They fall sick or feel demotivated – reasons to avoid going to work!

This usually happens to professionals who have not been able to reach the levels they had set for themselves earlier. At the same time they see former peers now working at levels above them. And their present job has become monotonous. It’s a self-damning cycle fuelled by one’s own imagination.

How does one come out of this rut, this downward spiraling cycle?

There are two ways to tackle this – either by recalibrating and pushing for more from your present line of activity (low risk) or by find a totally new line (high risk).

Option-1

  1. Assess your priorities
  2. Set goals – maybe after studying options available in the market
  3. Do a SWOT analysis for yourself
  4. Find out what’s needed to plug gaps in your portfolio – get re-equipped
  5. Maybe you need a Coach or Mentor to guide you during this phase
  6. Be bold and decisive about making the change
  7. Network and speak with people about your requirement – be assertive!
  8. Keep yourself in the limelight and get noticed when there are promotions planned
  9. Be on the lookout for opportunities in other organisations

 

Option-2

This is the riskier option – like they say in TV Series Startrek “Going places where no man has ever gone before!” It’s definitely a place where you have never gone before.

This is like trying your Option-B first. It should be an area that has interested you greatly – you are in Sales and wish to become a full-time Musician. Maybe you have been pursuing this line as a hobby (you sang at parties, did couple of gigs with other friends at a local club) and some close friend of yours is in that line of activity and doing well.

I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have proven strengths in the new line of activity or have someone who will actively promote you.

Remember that others have their own lives and careers to pursue and they may not have time for you. There are friends or business associates who promise “in blood” that their support will always be there with you and would disappear when it’s time to pitch in. So do not jump in blindly! Do it if you have the personal financial back-up or an assurance of support from your immediate family – it will be amazing if you have a spouse who is working and can temporarily help in tiding over the period of reduced income. After all the bills will not stop coming just because you decided to make a career change. Companies don’t work that way, unfortunately.

I recommend the following strategy:

  1. Be absolutely sure what line you want to pursue next.
  2. Practice the new activity while you are still in your job.
  3. Get assignments that you can do on weekends or by taking time-off from work
  4. If you can get paid assignments it would be a great confidence booster
  5. Create a portfolio or a body of work that can be showcased
  6. Get recommended by the leading voices in that field
  7. Get trained or coached to become a competent practitioner of that skill
  8. Decide to quit your job only when you have a regular set of clients
  9. Minimise your risk by reducing your financial commitments
  10. Having a nest-egg will be a definite plus – reduces stress.

Mid-career blues happens to most professionals – it impacts the hot-shots as much as it impacts the average ones. It could be due to unhappiness with the current job, a loss of self-worth or a feeling of being stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Stop yourself from plunging headlong into desperation and doomsday scenarios by constantly upgrading yourself, getting involving in interesting assignments, making your a valuable resource. Think and behave like a high-flyer.

During this phase it is important to surround yourself with people who help you focus on the positives and for you to have implicit belief in your capabilities!

Keep the engines of your professional life revved all the time – never permit it to shut down and get you into Career Stall!

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The Reset Button!

May 23, 2012 18 comments

Sales Managers often face situations at the workplace where “errant” team-members aren’t performing as expected. They fall short of target, do not report on time, they are not even communicating – at such times it’s convenient to adopt an “I am right, he is wrong!” stance. The problem has got to be with the other person always, right?

Wrong!

I teach a Business Communications Course at a local college – the authorities have not imposed attendance norms and the students come and go pretty much as they please – they would turn up on one day and not be present on another. It’s tough for a trainer because he would have to explain the same material more than once to bring everyone up to speed. It can be tough on some students too because they are listening to some stuff a second time.

Having led large teams in the past I had learnt, mostly through a stumbling and standing up process, how to handle such situations. There was one young person seated in front of the class, nose in the air and disdainful of what was being discussed – his thoughts were elsewhere.

I asked: “Rupee for your thoughts! Do you wish to say anything?”

He smiled slightly and said – “No! It’s okay.”

My next question surprised him – “Can you tell all of us a little about your interests and aspirations!” It was a class on communication after all and this was my way of getting him back into the session without having to say “Pay attention!”

After the initial surprise the young man gathered his wits and said – “I wish to make a significant contribution towards the improvement of this country and its poor people. I am writing a paper in economies and am actively involved in social work.”

I was impressed and immediately applauded his zeal and enthusiasm. The other students in the class had not spoken in this manner. He was willing to show me the paper he’d written, so it wasn’t just talk.

But I did not want him to stop there: “Go on! What else?”

This young man also has an active and well presented blog (I visited it after the class); unlike the other kids he was well read too and mentioned the names of half a dozen books he had read in recent times – his blog has book reviews too.

Impressive! Especially in a class where 90% of the kids had not read even a single book in the last few years and didn’t know what a blog was!

Had I not asked him that question and appreciated his efforts I would have had a reluctant participant in my sessions, who resists any new information – he probably wouldn’t have turned up for another class. Now I know what he is capable of, at least from the communication perspective, and it can be harnessed as and when required.  He has the makings of a good leader.

Sales Managers, members of your team may not respond the way you expect them to for one or more of the following:

–          You as Manager have not built  rapport

–          You have not been acknowledging or utilizing your team’s capability

–          You have lost credibility for some reason

–          The team member is probably undergoing some personal strife

–          Maybe your expectation needs to be reset

–          Team member is unable to express herself

–          The way you speak makes the team member think it’s a personal attack

Often it’s a change in perception and response that’s needed for the Manager to see things differently. The world will be a boring place if everyone worked like you and the world does not exist to fulfill your needs – celebrate the diversity and accommodate for deviations.

Try seeing it from your team-member’s point of view:

–          Have you been communicating well?

–          Have you provided all the support needed, at the right time?

–          How much time do you spend with each team member?

–          Have you visited enough customers in recent times to sense how things are going out there?

–          Have you given team members a fair chance to express themselves?

–          Have you led the way at all times to prove your worth?

If the team member refuses to come around in spite of repeated attempts try another route – it may be tempting to throw the book at them or to pull them up for non-compliance. But their apparent “misbehavior” or “insubordination” may be because you had closed the door on them:

–          Get another team-member to speak with him/her

–          Get another Manager to have a chat

–          Speak with H.R. and get a breakthrough

There are no magic wands and don’t expect overnight results, but what’s needed may be an erasure of some of our behaviour and attitude ….

Hit the Reset button – that seems to work with Windows, it could be the one of opportunity for you!

Time to get out of that rut!

February 3, 2012 2 comments

Happy with the way things are going for you at work? Are you at the top of your profession? Is this your dream job?

Many professional Managers, Sales Managers in particular (this I know for sure, having interacted with a number of them personally) soon get into a rut. They complain that it’s more of the same day-in, day-out, week after week – the usual cycle of business objectives, chasing targets, meetings, reviews, appraisals, travel, late hours and so on.

Even the fun bits seem repetitive and dull after a while – getting together at some resort and doing the same old stuff – stuck in a conference room all day, then drink into the night and make-believe that it’s a lot of fun. Wake up next morning bleary – eyed and sleep walk through another day.

You are justified in wanting to give it all up – the biggest thought running through the head is “When can I get out of this rut and do something different?”

Precisely! That indeed is the prescription – but not by quitting your job. If you change jobs, after the initial period of thrill and newness it is going to be more of the same all over again; there is no escaping it. So don’t let boredom drive you to desperation – have a more solid reason for quitting. You can overcome boredom without switching jobs.

Somewhere along the way you stopped learning and work became a routine – things were repeated mechanically day-after-day; the money was good and nobody was asking questions. So you carried on mindlessly.

The earlier you snap out of this nightmare the faster you can get back into the phase of growth and enrichment.

Bring excitement back into your professional life by doing a number of things – they help break the monotony and give you a well-rounded personality. These activities make you more interesting and bring you touch with interesting people; and at the end of the process you become richer in knowledge and relationships.

Some activities Sales Managers can pursue to keep their minds agile and refreshed:

–         Write a professional blog about your experiences or on your area of expertise (be an SME)

–         Take on a teaching assignment at a local college

–         Take speaking assignments at local colleges or professional bodies

–         Start a club to promote knowledge or skill advancement

–         Be a Coach or Mentor for young professionals

–         Do a part-time course for self – development

–         Join a hobby club and interact with people who share your interest

–         Write a book

These are but a few of the 100s that are possible. You just need to look around and chose what is best for you. Charity and voluntary work is another unexplored area for many; maybe run an NGO! It brings so much satisfaction and peace.

The possibilities are endless. If you wish to make work more palatable include some such interesting side–dish that adds favour and promotes learning.

If professional life isn’t going the expected way maybe it’s time to do something new, something YOU?

Work 100%, live 100%!

January 8, 2012 6 comments

It’s tough to write an article at the end of a long day. Was up at 4:15 a.m. and out in the marshlands off Trichur by Sunrise, to spend 6 hours in the field for a Bird Census; returned to the base-camp to submit reports and then traveled 4 hours to get back home. Phew!

It was tiring, but fun, and extremely energizing!

Why am I saying all this in a Sales Blog?

It’s on account of a response to my Post on Jan 3rd, which spoke about the importance of Effort – I had ended that one with this line:

“Do! Do! Do! … Do you read me?” (Unquote)

The message being – No matter how good our plan, without proper Execution nothing will ever be achieved!

It had evoked this response from a friend-I have removed a section, but retained the essence:

(Quote)

I do:) Loud and clear:) I don’t agree with you completely though….a lot, but not fully. It’s great to have focus, effort and all that but what about the simple pleasures you might be missing out on? A frivolous conversation with a friend? A slow drink watching the sunset? A lazy hour reading Asterix? A mad game with your child? These are equally important experiences that make you a well rounded person…..think about it J!
(Unquote)

This called for remedial action – the feedback was from a good buddy! I didn’t wish to get on her “AVOID-LIKE-THE-PLAGUE” list.

This was my reply:

Can’t agree with you more, Raji. But first of all THANK YOU for reading … regularly.

I only meant EFFORT during the WORKING HOURS! I do believe that we all need to have a life beyond work. But many of us end up wasting a lot of hours in the office under the guise of work. I love doing a lot of stuff other than work and I recommend such practices to everyone during my training programs – but in the spare time. Is that acceptable?
(Unquote)

My hobbies include Reading and voluntary work in Nature & Wildlife Protection Programs. Today I had gone for a Bird-life survey. Here is a view of the wetlands my group visited (A team member photographing an interesting bird species we had seen):

There are many other hobbies and activities we can pursue in our spare time. It makes us complete human beings, enriches our lives and makes us more interesting. Don’t you all agree?

To return to my argument on Effort, it’s easy to believe, and to make others believe, that we are hard pressed for time and doing more than what’s expected off us.

People end up being “at work” for 12 or 15 hours – but if one were to analyse what they are doing at the office it will tell a different story. Today Social Media is a huge distraction – and there are the traditional filler items.

Analyse:

–          Time spent in office “planning” the day’s work

–          Meetings that go on forever / Unscheduled meetings

–          Number of visits and calls made to the office during the day for various reasons

–          Coffee breaks / duration of lunch break

–           Time spent on the Net / Social media

–          Time spent reading/forwarding jokes/videos/unofficial stuff

–          Time spent on chit-chat with the “guys”

–          Personal work done during office hours

These and a few other time-killers make us extremely “busy” people!

Don’t panic. I don’t wish to see Cyborg-like employees at work. We need to know where to draw the line; and I am strongly pro True Recreation, such as Reading, Sports/Exercise, Social Service, Networking, Fine Arts and so on.

My hobby is birding and that activity got my undivided attention today; tomorrow when I start a new week at work I plan to give 100%!

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