6 questions that I ask professional career coaches

Where were you the day Lehman’s crashed?

I had spent a long day sequestered in an office building in London. Coming out into the dark evening, I was surprised to see a serious story in the free newspapers handed out at the entrances to the Tubes.

The 158 year old bank, Lehmans had declared bankruptcy and 10 000 financiers, bankers, clerks and support workers who arrived at work on the prestigious Canary Wharf were told they must cease trading and clean out their desks.

Our response to abrupt crisis

Abruptly losing your job and your livelihood is not a disaster but it is certainly a crisis. Some of Lehman’s employees may have taken the first plane out to a sunny beach, but most of them would have sat around the next day wondering what to do. The day after would have been a day of rumination. What went wrong? Could it have been avoided? Who is to blame? And, ultimately, what should they do to retain the same income, status and meaning in life.

Career coaches and people in career crisis

Many career coaches will see erstwhile employees from Lehman’s and may have seen some already.

Proxy career coaches in the form of doctors, bank managers and employment agents will see them sooner. What is the best advice that we can give Lehman employees and all others whose way of life comes to an abrupt, surprising and juddering stop?

What it feels like to be in a career crisis

The first thing we need to remember is being laid off is a rude shock. Having had no preparation for the event,

  • Ex-employees do not know what to do
  • Ex-employees panic
  • Ex-employees want it to be ‘all OK right now!’

Our task as career coach

Ex-employees may have no experience or training in damage control. They may be have no experience in managing their own emotions and attention. This is our task if we are to help them succeed. We must help them to

  • Regain emotional equilibrium
  • See the solution
  • Regain control

What we will achieve as a career coach

We are not, though, going to make it “all OK right now”. Our clients will want us too.

A year ago when Lehman’s crashed, even the pundits thought we might spring back to normal like a new elastic band.  But, for most people, the early teens of the 21st century will be a time of enormous transition. A country with a GDP of 1.4tr cannot dole out 1.0tr without having to make some adjustment.

Yet there is a flip side to a bad situation.  When your house has burnt down so to speak, there is little point in building one that is exactly like the one before. We build a better one.

Our challenge as a career coach

In the early stages, when our clients want everything to be OK, when they are in the first of the five stages of grief – denial – they will not want to work through the long hard slog of rebuilding.  They will want everything to be bounce back. We have to work with them even though they are in no mood to work.

Helping them find any foothold as they work through their grief is important. Listen to them. But also help them keep moving. They have a lot of rebuilding to do and every small step will be important when they emerge from the emotional turmoil further along the line.

The career coaches that we need

Coaches who can do more than say “aha” are needed now. We need coaches who can help people take baby steps while they are overcome with emotion.

6 questions I ask professional career coaches

It is amazing that this is not taught on work psychology degree programmes.  These are the first 6 questions that I ask professional career coaches.

  • How do we work with people overcome by grief?
  • What practical steps can any of us take when our career and life has fallen into an untidy heap?
  • How long does it take to rebuild a career mid-stream?
  • How soon can we introduce the idea of rebuilding a better career to a client overcome by grief?
  • How many people really do rebuild a better career after such a disruption?
  • What distinguishes those who begin that project from those who don’t?

Pretentiousness: don’t spin and scam in a world governed by necessity

Pretending to be what you are not

We do it a lot.   It is the hallmark of our institutionalized society.  We have these ‘roles’ which we think we are supposed to fit into.  We think other people expect us to fit into those roles too.

So we try to dress the part, look the part, say the right things.  Why?  So we will be treated as if we are the part.  We are part of a large scam – and we know it.

Economic and other shocks reveal the Emperor’s clothes

When our lives are upset in some way – when our expenses are challenged, when our business model is scuppered by the internet, when our business contracts and our spending power takes a dive through a leaner cash flow or outright redundancy – we often find ourselves unduly taken up with  “how will people treat me?”.  Will I be taken seriously without my big car?    <Panic and dismay>

But don’t make it worse by concentrating on the wrong thing

When someone has the rug pulled out from underneath them, it is sad to watch.  Not because they lose their status but because they hang on to an irrelevant formula.

Get your priorities clear

Mate, just get your priorities clear.  If a tsunami had swept over your town, you wouldn’t be stopping to blame yourself or to score points over you neighbour.  You’d get to fundamentals.

  • Where are the people I love?
  • What are the immediate threats?
  • What do we have to feed us, wash us, keep us safe?  Where is clean water?
  • Who around us needs help and can we help them?

Get real!  It is so much easier!

Stop acting.  Spin and scams looked good but it is time to get real

If you are feeling very uncomfortable in your skin or in your current circumstances, maybe stop acting.  The old model is broken.  Well, and truly bust.  Don’t spend another thought on it.  The tsunami has come . . . and gone. We are dealing with the aftermath.  We can reminisce later. We can ask the climatologists what happened later.  For NOW, we only want to know what happens NOW

Judge people by what they can deliver now.  If they want you to play a part, do you really believe they have anything substantial to offer?  Really?

Imagine arriving at a Red Cross tent after a tsunami and dealing with an official who is pretentious – who makes you fill in daft forms  and play games.  You will be quick to work out whether they have food for your children in their tent or not.  And you will do the minimum to get it.  You will get it, but you will do the minimum.  These are clearly not people to be bothered with.  You may be shocked that the aid workers are scam merchants but, really, you will be busy, so you will put aside the shock and concentrate.

If there is another tent where food is handed out briskly and you can get on with your life, you would choose that tent.   Vote with your feet.  Hanging around a badly run tent full of pompous officials who demand you look the part in some imaginary narrative will not get you anywhere.  The tent might look good, but hang around only so long as they deliver what you need NOW!

Challenge your own pretensions

It really is important to get real.  No one owes us a living, as the saying goes.  Do today what needs to be done today.

We also owe a living to no one except the young, the sick, the infirm and the aged who cannot contribute any more.  We have to learn to give unto Cesar.  Pay the tax that we have to pay. Fill in the forms that we have to fill in.  To use the contemporary expression “fake like they are human”.  But ignore them otherwise.  You are too, too busy, coping with what needs to be done today.

If they think less of you because your world has fallen apart, that is their lookout  They are just not helpful.

But don’t lose more friends because you are worried about spinning and scamming in a world governed by necessity and real challenge.  Attend to what is real.  Leave the spin merchants to their imaginary life.

I want a British TED – and a parallel show for Luddites

I want a British TED

The world is divided it seems – in to those who watch TED and those who don’t.

I watch TED because I like positivity – I like my daily fix. And I admire technological advancement. I wish we had a British TED too – the best of science and technology that is coming out of the UK.

But is my wonder of TED shared?

It seems strange to me, but so many people don’t share my wonder.  They aren’t interested.  They even proclaim themselves proudly as Luddites.

What bothers the Luddites?

Of course, the original Luddites weren’t just disapproving of new technology.  They smashed  the new weaving presses too.

The people around us who claim they are Luddites, simply don’t understand the technology they decry.  But they don’t stop anyone else using it.

They share with the original Luddites, though, a sense of disapproval.  Most of all, the new technology threatens their status.

Should we bother with Luddites?

I am impatient with people who are ‘tight’.   But all fear is genuine – sincerely and acutely felt.   And I am willing to spend time to help people find a positive place in the world.

What I am not willing to do is hold up improvements for others while they have a sulk.  That’s not on the agenda at all.

The general class of bereavement counseling

When we are counseling people who are fretting about change, we are working with a ‘general class’ of issue – bereavement at the highest level, and adjournment at the level of group formation.

Because disdain of new technology belongs to broader, general class of situations, we have the know-how and experience to help people.  We work through three broad steps.

1.  Acknowledge the contribution they made to our welfare and celebrate the skills they used.  We do this fully, sincerely and elaborately.

2.  Focus attention on the opportunities that are opening ahead of us, and new patterns of relationships with new people who are coming into view.  We are concrete & specific and we introduce them, in person, to people who work in the new technologies.

3.  Help individuals, one-by-one, to formulate a personal plan.  We get down & dirty, one person at a time.

I think we should be bothered with Luddites.  If they cannot see how technological change will benefit them, then we haven’t worked hard enough to show them around the new world that it is coming.

Better Reality TV?  TED and the parallel program for Luddites?

I want a British TED, because I like to watch science, and I want to know the best of British science, up and down the land.

I’d also like to see a parallel program that offers respect for the work of people in ‘old technologies’ and welcomes them into a world that we find dear.

Shall we put reality TV and our license fees to good work?

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Who will earn more and who will earn less because of the internet?

Is the internet good for you?

Was it this week that we had the media telling us that Facebook would give us cancer?  And a professor telling us that the internet makes us scatty?

Well, I won’t go where angels fear to tread, but I do know this.  The world has changed in a fundamental way and it is very important THAT YOU GET IT!

The internet has changed the way we make a living and before you go off and spend 5 to 10 years getting a qualification and doing low paid jobs to get experience, have a look at the business model of the profession you are entering.  Will your profession survive the intenet?

And don’t ask recruiters and HR officers either.  They rarely know the answers.

Ask experienced people who are responsible for strategy in their field and don’t join up unless they can ask clearly!  Invite people who have a hig profile in your future career to talk to your school, university or service club, and ask the questions you need to ask!

Managing risk

At the heart of any profession or occupation is the management of risk – yep that thing that bankers didn’t seem to understand.

Very simply, we cannot know everything in the world and when we have an unfamiliar decision to make, we turn to professionals for advice – doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumbers, and even, bankers.  Even my lowly purchase of a loaf of bread at the supermarket is the purchase of advice.  I am trusting my supermarket to sell me something wholesome and good at a reasonable price.

But how do we know who we can trust?

We have several mechanisms.

  • First is a system of licenses.  A body, like the British Medical Association gives a doctor a practising certificate, for example, to indicate the doctor has the training and knowledge that we expect.
  • Second is a system of audits & inspections.  Chartered Accountants like KPMG and Deloittes check the financial affairs of a business and tell us if it is a going concern.
  • Third is the business model itself.  Newspapers, for example, would verify information is correct before they printed it and it was for that verification that we would pay a shilling or a dollar for our paper, though we often felt that we were buying the content.  They are motivated to get information correct so they stay in business.

The internet adds another way to manage risk

The internet has changed the game of business, and importantly the careers available to us, because it adds, among other things, an additional way to manage risk.  This additional mechanism for managing risk affects how consumers get advice and who gets paid for giving advice.

  • Google Search, for example, allows us to pull up information from all over the world in the blink of an eye.  For many particularly simple matters, we can find information for free and save ourselves the fees of professional advice.  Knowledge has become more easily available and much cheaper.
  • Twitter provides recommendations with equal speed and allows customers to speak to each other. The wisdom of crowds gives us assurances that previously were only available from auditors and inspectors.
  • Blogs, YouTube, Flickr make us all citizen journalists.  Collecting and transmitting data is now so cheap and easy that events like a plane ditching in the Hudson are transmitted as they happen.  No paper or TV service can report events so quickly.

But there is so much rubbish on the internet

Indeed there is.  And it is very important to treat the information for what it is.  IT IS NOT information provided with a stamp of approval from a professional body or a well established business.

This is frightening for many people.  And so it will be until they think clearly about what is happening and act accordingly.

We have two tasks therefore.

  • First, understand how to verify information on the internet.
  • Second, to understand how the internet changes the value of various professions and how much people in those professions will earn in the future.

A lot of people write about the first task.  I am interested in the second.

How does the internet change the value of various careers and the salary you can expect to earn?

Whether you are in a profession or ‘old school organization’, or if you are changing careers and thinking about your next move, these are the questions that I think you should ask.

5 questions to ask about the value of information in your profession or organization

1   Why did you want to go into this career?

When you chose this career, what value did you believe you would add to the world?  Why did you undertake the qualifications instead of just opening up your business?  What did the qualifications teach you that cannot be taught elsewhere and freely on the internet?  How are the systems of knowledge maintained so the knowledge of your profession is deeper and more valuable that information on the internet? To what extent is the profession protected artificially and will these artificial barriers be stripped away by the internet?

2  How do you maintain integrity?

What are the promises that your profession makes to the public and are these promises genuine?  For example, do you send someone to jail for breaking these promises?  What areas of malpractice does the profession look out for?  How do you check that your core promises are being honoured?  When your customers are able to talk directly to each other, what aspects of your service can they inspect better than you can? If they are able to check themselves, of what value is your guarantee?  What aspects can they not check and is the responsibility of your profession?

3  What does your online profile say?

Are you on professional groups like Facebook, Twittter, LinkedIn and Xing?  If we Google your name, can we find you?  What issues are Googled by your clients/customers/patients and what do they find? How do you maintain your profile?  How good is your understanding of information traffic on the internet and the way Google chooses what to show people?  How is your profession learning about the internet and the way it is developing?  How is your profession managing the conversation about the internet among your members?

4  What is your ‘authority’ on the risk management issues which have been the basis of your profession?

What are the issues on which your profession is expert, experienced and willing to help other people, albeit for a fee?  Who in the internet world defers to your opinion and how do they link to you?  How does your profession monitor your online authority?  How do you manage your online authority?  How do you manage the way one member of your profession competes with another for internet domination?  How do you ensure that your clients/customers/patients get access to well debated information and ‘honest authority’, so to speak?

5  How do you help your customers/clients/patients find the information they need and make intelligent choices?

What choices are your customers/clients/patients making on a daily basis?  What information do they use?  What do they search for?  How does information find them and are they able to process it safely and to their advantage?  How has the internet changed this process? And how have those changes, and ongoing changes, changed the basis of your business model?  How you make a living, in other words, and how future members of your profession will make a living?

Your comments?

This is the first time I’ve written about these issues.  So I’d be very interested in your views – or comments – or indeed questions.

How do you think the internet changes our work and our long-term potential to make a living?

What questions should we be asking leaders of professions and encouraging our young people to ask before they invest in an expensive training?

Why some people stay cheerful in spite of the recession

Psychology of loss and gain

Economists who study behavior will tell you that we value something we lose, much more, than we value something we gain.

This is a pertinent emotion during a recession.   Most of us will lose something.  We may not get the  increase in salary we worked so hard for, or we might make less profit.  We might suffer a large loss, such as our job, or our business.  Some of our possessions may get repossessed.  We could even lose our houses that we saved and skimped and spent many weekends working on.  What chumps we will feel!

Loss is devasting, and distracts us from possibility.

Tom Peters today passed on a fabulous anecdote about Kurt Vonnegut,  Joseph Heller and a hedgefund manager.

“At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have … enough.'”

Amen!
And thank you, John Bogle!
(And Judith Ellis.)

Coping with loss

It’s really difficult not to focus on loss when it happens.  Indeed, we shouldn’t move on too soon.  Grieving has its place.

I find the advice from the 5 stages of group formation useful: forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning.   The leader’s task during ‘adjourning’ is to help an individual break their tie with the group, and to proceed back into the world quite happily as an individual.

Applying that advice to the horrible events that happen in recessions, we have three broad steps.  We need

  • Signal that change is going to happen in sufficient time
  • Plan a rite of passage (like a graduation ceremony)
  • Get people visualizing life without the group (or house or whatever).

No, that’s not quite right.  To talk about ‘life without’ brings our attention back to what we have lost.

Endpoint

We need to talk about our story, all the good times we have had, and gradually get to the point that we see jobs, companies, businesses, not as the end in themselves – just as ENOUGH.  They are there to help us get what we want.

What do we want?  And how are those projects going!  Incredibly hard to focus on those things when confronted with loss – the economists tell us so!

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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