Day of the Dead … for your career?

On November 1, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos. It is a tradition that dates back to Aztec times and the goddess Mictēcacihuātl, queen of the underworld, mixed with Catholic tradition and even a bit of James Bond imagination. From Melbourne to San Francisco, from London to Toronto, you will probably come across the striking colourful ways in which our Mexican friends use this day to remember their past and, ultimately, celebrate their own lives. That’s the key behind the celebration: one day you, too, will join those you remember, so celebrate life and enjoy the ride!

When it comes to your career, the same applies. Our working life is long and getting longer, and yet it is not unending. It is finite. How often do you remind yourself of this?

But we’re not here to be morbid. We’re here to be joyous and provide you with practical ways to look at things in a different way.  How can Día de Muertos give you a new perspective on your career? Here are three traditions to give you inspiration:

The “altar” – it is a colourful staple in Mexican houses. A table is set with beautiful ornaments, a picture of the dear departed, their favourite things and favourite foods. What would you like to have in yours? As I laid the one for my father and placed the book he wrote on the table, it struck me, if I too would like to have a book placed on mine one day, I’d better get writing. Would you like pictures of your travels? Well, make a plan, take that sabbatical, get on a secondment. The “altar” gives us a beautiful tool to visualise what we want from the future, and get going to make it happen.

The “calaveritas” – In Mexico, every year newspapers publish colourful limericks telling the story of what death would say when she comes to pick you up. It is endearing and funny. The most serious of events is made more palatable with humour and wit. If Mexicans can joke about death you can defuse tensions with laughter. Life, after all, is a game to be played. So take a moment to find the joy in your career!

The “pan de muerto” – Mexicans say “with bread, grief is less”, in that spirit they created a lovely little piece of syncretism: French Brioche-style bread, but in the shape of a skull covered with sugar. When it comes to our careers, we all have the routine tasks that must be done: “your daily bread.” Put it into a special shape, add a little sugar and voila! It is fun again. So maybe there is opportunity to bring joy to either the process, the people or the product you are working towards. It can be as simple as bringing in that colleague you like into the development process, or ensuring you celebrate the delivery of that annual results presentation with your team in a different way. Maybe you even run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop as your annual team planning event? The key is to sprinkle a little joy.  

Because in the end, our careers, like our lives, will end. There is no time to be wasted. To quote the immortal Horace, ‘carpe diem’.  Because Día de Muertos reminds us all that life is fragile and ephemeral and well worth enjoying,  when it comes to your career, make the most of it now. Take a chance. Challenge yourself. Think about things from a different perspective. 

We urge you then – for Día de Muertos applies to all of us – to consider how to make the most of what you have; and how to maximise your opportunities. What are you doing to take advantage of today’s chances?

Strategic advisers: five perspectives.

In our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders events, one of our goals is to combine fun with practical tools to help participants reflect on their personal advisory style and think what it means for their own behaviour, and how they work with others.

One of the most popular tools we have helps people think about what type of adviser they are. In fact, being a ‘strategic adviser’ comes in five different flavours.

So what are the five? And which one are you?

Imagine you are walking into an expensive restaurant for a date with the one you love. You will encounter several different people — all experts in their own field, and all ready to give you advice on how to have the best possible experience. But they will all do it in different ways.

Nvospersfnls_Cards1 copyIn fact, maybe your first adviser is one you encounter before you get to the restaurant. You meet a previous customer (or read an internet review): “Aah, you’re going to ‘Augustus’ for dinner! Wow! You must totally have the ‘Barcelona Chop’. It’s their speciality. Divine. And for dessert? There is only one choice. Of course you need to order the ‘Caramel Salée With Meringue’. It’s to die for.” This adviser’s heart is in the right place, and they generally believe that those choices are the best for you. But they have jumped to solution and ‘yelped’ it out before even having a detailed discussion. This is a great approach in a crisis: ‘just tell me what to do’. Yelping out the solution immediately they can save time and make your life easier. But the challenge for this type of adviser — the yelper — is that jumping straight to solution or action sometimes works but is not always the best approach.

Nvospersfnls-02As you enter the restaurant, you will meet your next adviser: the maître d’. Let’s call her Martha. Her main job is to ensure you have a good experience, and to marshal a team of specialists to meet your specific needs. Martha is supportive, helpful and attentive. She knows her stuff but doesn’t parade her knowledge. At times, she will bring in experts to enhance your experience; at other times she will develop a relationship with you to understand your needs in more detail. If you are a looking for a quick transaction, go to a different restaurant. Martha will ensure you feel better after leaving; and will place your needs above her own. As you share a taxi home with your loved one, you probably won’t even remember her name: but she’s the one who made it all happen.

Nvospersfnls-05After Martha shows you to your table, you’ll meet your waiter, William. This is the third adviser archetype. His job is transactional. His job is to give you a menu of options and then write down what you say. He’ll deliver whatever you ask. Maybe there will be a little conversation about options, but essentially the waiter’s job is to deliver. Sometimes as an adviser, that is what you need to do. A senior leader needs something and you need to deliver. There is a time and a place for this approach. But doing it too often is career-limiting.

Nvospersfnls-08As you choose your meal, you’ll maybe want some wine. Enter Salma, your sommelier. As your adviser, her job is to have a conversation to understand your needs, the context (the meal you have already chosen; your budget; your tastes) and then make a recommendation. At the beginning of your conversation, she doesn’t know your needs, your context, and there is no clear solution from her list of hundreds of options. If it was a crisis and you needed immediate wine, then the yelper is the adviser for you. But the sommelier will explore the issues, make recommendations and guide you towards a good outcome.

Nvospersfnls-07Your final archetype is Christiane, the chef. She’s the super expert — and has the Michelin stars, certificates and qualifications to prove it. In her hands, the mundane becomes dynamic. Her technical expertise is second to none and if you need an expert to solve your problems she’s the one for you. Like some chefs, she can be hard to handle. Unlike the maître d’, she doesn’t need interpersonal skills. In fact, you probably won’t even meet her. But her solution will be the thing that you rave about later. As an adviser, she’s the expert and the one that will go away and build a solution to meet your needs.

This typology may be a bit of fun, but it comes in useful when diagnosing business partnering relationships. One of the big challenges in consulting or business partner relationships is that the ‘buyer’ and the ‘seller’ can sometimes have different ideas of why the partnership exists.

Successful business partners will make sure there is an alignment between three components of the relationship:

  1. What does the buyer want? Sometimes, actually, it is a waiter problem, pure and simple. Just do it. Going in with a sommelier approach is just going to annoy people.
  2. What is the job? This might be a job description, an RFP or just an email request from one of your colleagues. You need to identify what type of response is needed.
  3. Finally, as a person, where do you get your energy? Plenty of people ask me, “how do I become a maître d’?” but actually when I quiz them in detail it is apparent they are most happy being a chef.

The trick to successful business partner relationships is ensuring an alignment between what the customer wants, the job requirement and where you get your energy.

And this applies not just to those in marketing or PR but also to professionals in other fields such as HR, Legal, IT etc. In fact, we regularly sit down with the other functional leaders in my business where we explore these issues and think about what that means. (Perhaps the same is true in your organization – how often do you sit down with your peers from other functions and think about what your organization really needs from its functional experts?)

If you would like to hear more about this methodology and how to move from one archetype to another, come to one of our workshops or get in touch directly.

A RECIPE for success

Last week, my friend Dr Kendi Guantai at Leeds University Business School, invited me to spend the day with graduate students of the Business School. It was so much fun! I got to immerse them in the world of Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders. This time though the dilemma of how to address the concerns an important, yet tricky stakeholder. 

During the business simulation, we explored how important it is for a senior executive to adapt their influencing style to the objective and the audience. Many leaders do this intuitively, but I’m convinced this is a skill we can all learn and practice. 

For a while now I’ve been toying with the different influencing styles I’ve been exposed to over my career, and I think existing taxonomies are incredibly useful. I keep coming back to French and Raven, Musselwhite and Plouffe and the fantastic work of Positive Power and Influence. 

I think that all professionals should learn them and use them. I confess, however, the most popular approaches are so hard to remember, which makes it impossible for busy people like me and my team to retain, internalise and use.

That’s why a new RECIPE for influence is needed. I smell the scent of success coming out of the oven! 

“R-E-C-I-P-E” is a mnemonic for the six most common influencing styles used in business. It has given my team and I a shared understanding, a shorthand, to talk about influence and motivation.

Without further ado, here’s my RECIPE for success:

 What it isWhat it sounds like…Use it when you…Tip!
RewardA style based in giving something for a future unspecified prize.“As a sign of good faith…” “here’s a little extra”don’t need anything immediate want to establish long-term rapportEvery time you work late, for nothing, you are investing in the relationship with a “reward” behaviour
ExchangeYou give and receive.

“What can I do to make you stay”

“The deal is…”

know you both have something the other needs/wantsThis is great for sales or to motivate a team with a clear goal in sight.
ConnectEngaging the other at a personal, emotional level

“This is what we can achieve together”

“Yes, we can!”

want to create an atmosphere of unityPoliticians are the experts at connect
InformUsing data and facts to make your pointsI recommend this for three reasons…Evidence suggests that…know the audience can be persuaded by reason/facts

Use it sparingly when you have an airtight case.

Remember it’s not the only tool in your arsenal.

PictureTapping into your audience’s imagination“Imagine a year from now what our business will be like”want to establish an emotional connection It’s a very powerful way to open a presentation.
ExitAllowing for time and space when you find yourself at an impasse.Let’s take a break!Let me reflect on this and come back to you. sense that you aren’t getting anywhere.This is not bluffing or walking away. Make sure you establish a time and place to reconnect.

Interested? If you’d like to know more about our approach to learning and development contact us through here or @carmenspinoza11.

Shaking the tree: your unexpected end-of-year bonus

A guest post from Buck Greenback, CFO

Materialesweb-10

Carmen:

How time flies. The year is almost up. Last time we met you asked me to share some ideas about how to think more commercially.

So, you know me: I like numbers. Here’s a practical idea that can help you secure an unexpected end-of-year bonus. More bang for the buck so to speak.

Now there’s a caveat: it might not immediately make a difference to your own pocketbook, but doing this could very well position you to ask for a pay rise in next year’s budget – and that does put more change into the jukebox doesn’t it?

Shake the tree

So what’s the idea? Well, it is a simple one: shake the proverbial money tree. Earlier in the year you and I agreed a budget – you made the case for a set of investments that’ll make a real tangible return to Globocorp. So now’s the last chance to check if you’re on track – coming in on budget, and with the results promised. Doing what you said you would. “That’s not much of a bonus”, I can hear you mutter. Indeed. But it is the precursor for the real kicker:

  • Knowing where you’re at with your spend (and the results) positions you early to make the case for next year’s budget.
  • It also means you can speak confidently to your suppliers – they’re doing their final sprint, trying to close their books for the year. If their CFO is anything like me, then they’d like to get as much money through the door as possible. And that often makes them more willing to negotiate discounts, extras, extensions, and whatnot.
  • And those partners you have joint projects with – have they spent all their budget? If they haven’t, now’s the time to shake it loose. Meet your stretch objectives.

The bottom line

You got a budget at the beginning of the year based on a projected return on investment. As your CFO I’m now looking for that return. Now’s the time to use the last bit of it to get as much value as you can through the door before the year is out. And then we can talk to Isobel, our CEO, about a well-deserved pay rise.

Normally we CFOs like to say “show me the money!”. In this case, though, I’m asking you to “show me the results”.

Good luck – and keep me posted.

Best, Buck

P.S. Don’t forget your team’s professional development budget – you made a particularly strong case there. Having spoken to my team, they’d love it to see more business partnering behaviour from your colleagues.  Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshops, perhaps?

Picture credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AlmondShakerbeforeafter.jpg. Father of Nehrams2020 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]