Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Managing Your Biases

Just to give you an idea of just how far behind the power curve I am these days, the article below was written and published by Pete Weddle in his June 12th newsletter. the fact that I am just getting around to sharing it in August should in no way diminish the wisdom that Pete has given to us in it. The subject in that regard is not what they call time sensitive.

It is however something for people to think about when it comes to managing their professional work lives and when I read it, I felt it was very much worth putting out there for those who might not yet be on the distribution list to get the WEDDLEs newsletter. If you aren't and subjects like this are of interest, it is free for the asking. Have a stare:

Andrew Zolli is a futurist who spends a lot of time helping companies prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. Recently, he posted four biases that he believes are essential to understanding human behavior. Of course, in today's world, the word "bias" has a negative connotation, but the dictionary defines it as a neutral term. It is simply "an inclination of temperament."

In other words, a bias is a predisposition we humans have to do or see things in a certain way. While that's an important insight for corporations trying to sell us something, it's also a critical bit of knowledge for those of us who want to accomplish something, especially when that goal involves your work. If you're trying to forge a successful career, Zolli's list can help you better understand why you do what you do in trying to reach that goal. It makes you more aware of the actions and behaviors to which you are predisposed in managing your career and that insight, in turn, enables you to analyze the impact of those inclinations on your success or lack of it.

Zolli describes the four biases of human behavior as follows (with some commentary from me):

We bias the personal over the impersonal. We concentrate on that which affects us individually because it most directly affects the extent of our success.

We bias the tangible over the intangible. We focus on that which we can see and/or feel because we believe we have a greater probability of using it effectively.

We bias the present over the past and the future. We devote our attention to today's reality because it's the best way to control what is going to happen to us in the future.

We bias desirability over responsibility. We fixate on that which we enjoy because it is the most direct connection to a meaningful and rewarding life.
To a greater or lesser extent, all of us share these "inclinations of temperament." However, while biases are theoretically neutral, the reality is that they have the potential to mislead us in the management of our careers. They can undermine our ability to achieve our goals by inducing us to make bad decisions or take inappropriate actions. If our biases are left unchecked, therefore, they can diminish our success and even push us into failure. Here's what I mean.

Biasing the personal over the impersonal. Obviously, each of us wants what's best for our own careers and for our families who depend on us. Ironically, however, the key to a successful career is not the WIIFM factor: What's In It For Me?. It is, instead, to adopt exactly the opposite perspective. I call this alternative perspective the WIIMF factor: What Input Insures My Future? The people who experience the most fulfilling and rewarding careers look for ways to contribute their talent to the success of the organizations that employ them. They don't focus on getting the most out of their employers, but on giving the most to them. And that selfless inclination makes them extraordinarily more self-sufficient. No employer wants to lose or overlook a top performer, so a commitment to being the best you can be for your employer is the single best way to take care of yourself and your family.

Biasing the tangible over the intangible. More often than not, the one tangible that most influences our career decision-making and direction-setting is our paycheck. Not only do we live in a consumer-based economy, but today, the cost of living is rising before our very eyes. For many of us, therefore, the primary goal in our career is the maximization of our compensation. That focus, however, can actually have exactly the opposite effect. When you make pay the key factor in accepting one job over another, you potentially subject yourself to a daily grind that disappoints and frustrates you. If work is simply something that you must endure to get a paycheck, your performance will inevitably slip and, eventually, so too will what you earn. What's the alternative? Focus on the nature of the work. Find jobs where you are engaged and challenged and have a chance to perform at your peak. That's the kind of employment that optimizes both the paycheck and the happiness you bring home from work.

Biasing the present over the past and the future. The way most of us manage our careers is by paying attention to our job security in the present. We prefer the devil we know-our current employer-to the devil we don't because that eliminates uncertainty and the need to change. Relying on the present for our continued wellbeing, however, can actually have exactly the opposite effect. In the current global marketplace, employers are banged back and forth by market forces they can't control or even influence. As a result, they can (and do) promise job security, but they can't deliver it. The only goal that makes any sense, therefore, isn't job security; it's career security. You have to keep an eye on the health of your career in the present and make sure that you avoid occupational obsolescence in the future. Since the state-of-the-art in every field is always advancing, you should continuously prepare yourself for the new responsibilities that development creates. You are, in essence, a work-in-progress that's never done. Yes, that means you can never coast in your career, but it also removes the limits on where you can go and what you can do in your work. You have the security of being employable at every point in your career.

Biasing desirability over responsibility. In these times of ever more pressing employer demands, many of us are paying more attention to the maintenance of a healthy work-life balance. We seek this "benefit" because we want to preserve our personal health and the health of our relationships outside the workplace. Our determination to strike such a balance, however, can actually have exactly the opposite effect. The term work-life balance, itself, implies that work is an onerous activity that must be offset with other, more desirable activities. When you accept this view of your work-whether you do so implicitly or explicitly-you consign yourself to a sweatshop-like career. You agree to 30 years or more of tedious, unfulfilling and fundamentally abusive work. On the other hand, when you accept the responsibility for ensuring that employment provides the opportunity for you to express your inherent talent in meaningful challenges on-the-job, you re-imagine your work as some of your best time. When you make it your job to find the right jobs for you, you transform your work into an exercise in self-fulfillment. It doesn't need to be balanced, therefore, but simply integrated with the other important aspects of your life.

If Zolli is correct about these biases-that they are inherent characteristics of the human species-then we must be cognizant of the angst they can cause in our careers. Rather than be alarmed by that knowledge, however, we should embrace it. The wonderful thing about the human species is that we can learn from ourselves. We can acquire self-knowledge and use that insight to change our direction and reform our biases so that they benefit rather than harm us. That's my prescription for a healthy and rewarding career.
Thanks Dr. Pete.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The secret of the web (hint: it's a virtue)

Is there anybody in the world of marketing who doesn't read Seth Godin's Blog? If there are, I haven't stumbled across them as yet.

One of the reasons I suspect he is so popular is that among other things he has the talent to communicate ideas in words of one syllable that those of us without MBAs can both understand and relate to. Always a plus.

I thought a particularly good example of how he does this was his recent posting called The secret of the web (hint: it's a virtue). Why did I feel that way? Simple: it was short, easy to understand, and because it met the most important and universal criteria of all ~ I agreed with him.

The gist of Godin's message in the post has to do with having the patience to believe in your vision as you build your business. Hardly a revolutionary concept, but it did give me pause to think about how it is that a belief that began 20 years ago still remains the foundation upon which ExecuNet continues to build.

As I thought about it, I am not sure if the right word is patience or not. Some might say in our case it might be closer to obstinacy, but whatever it is, I know that at least in our case I am very glad that we have followed a path closer to the wonderful ads that back in the day John Houseman did for Smith Barney

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Where the Big Jobs Are

The economic headlines with which we are bombarded 24/7 are, as we all know, enough to make you think that we won't make it through the weekend much less the year, and given the negative spin that almost every piece of news gets, it's hard to believe that there are any positives at all.

Clearly we are not living in the fantasy world that existed before the dot.com bubble burst or the delusion that the roof (pun intended) would never come off the housing market or the even more naive delusion that the big banks actually had ethics.

Maybe I'd best stop there before I start getting cease and desist letters.

So what does all this have to do with the title of this post? Well, if you are not a regular visitor to the Ask Annie column on the CNNMoney site you might want to check out the piece she posted this past week.

Based on a good deal of the data contained in our Executive Job Market Intelligence Report Anne tries to put some of the executive job market issues into some perspective as well as asking her readers for feedback on the degree to which life style issues impact their decisions about career moves these days.

It obviously struck a chord as before the close of business on Friday, the article was the most read and commented on the site for the day. So if you were ever in doubt of the degree to which this issue is important to people (even high priced executives) check out some of the 40+ comments.

There is nothing like feedback from the real world that helps to cut to the chase.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Work-Life Balance: Not Just a Phrase Anymore

Work-life balance has been getting a lot of ink in recent times, and a tough job market nothwithstanding, it looks like it is going to continue to get plenty more.

I saw some "early return" stats the other day that came from a survey (still in progress so far as I know) sponsored by the AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants). For those who may not know, AESC is a well known and long established association made up retained executive search firms.

Essentially, the survey is gathering data that would compare preferences and priorities of senior executives in the context of initiatives being implemented by Corporate HR teams and line managers.

Some of the highlights they have reported thus far:

52% of senior executives feel that they have not achieved a satisfactory work-life balance.

84% say work-life balance considerations are critical in their decision to join or remain with an employer.

65% of executives find a flexible daily work schedule to be the most valuable aspect of a work-life balance program.

54% say work hours have increased during the past 5 years.

51% are less willing to take a job that involves heavy business travel as compared to 5 years ago.
Obviously they are interested in having as many participants as they can round up, so if you would like to contribute to the data being gathered, just click here and it only takes about 10 minutes or so to participate.

I also think that if you invest the time to take the survey, you also will get a copy of the full report once it is ready and which would provide the perspectives of both executives as well as the HR world.

I have to say, that in looking over these early headlines and looking back over our own data collected in this year's Executive Job Market Intelligence Report, our survey participants would seem to be in the same ballpark as AESC's.

When we asked such questions as: Why executives accept offers for new gig and/or stay where they are, items such as "improved work/life balance were certainly on the list as was travel/commute considerations, and the company providing flexible work arrangements.

On the flip side when we asked about dissatisfacation, we were not surprised to see people talking about the lack of work/life balance, length of commute, etc.

Coming or going, for sure this is no longer an issue or subject of conjecture by the John Naisbitt's of the world and executives and the organizations they work for along with the recruiters who place them are going to have to adapt, particularly in the tight talent market we are in and likely to rermain in for the next several years.