Lattice to a Higher IQ

Boost your intelligence through a lateral career assignment.

How’s that?

Learning itself makes you smarter, according to  Ken Bain, author of “What the Best College Students Do.”

The habit of expecting to learn, which leads to putting yourself in situations where you’ll be challenged, learn, and grow, actually rewires your brain to help you learn faster and better.

That’s why you feel ‘brain dead’ as you molder in the same job with the same responsibilities, and likely with the same results.

If your workplace is not open to a lateral move, construct one on your own time. Choose a skill — such as learning the underpinnings of a popular content management system — or a business experience — such as fundraising — you’d like to master. As you gain traction with this developmental self-assignment, you’ll not only act smarter. You’ll be smarter, too.

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Education + Lattices = Growing Cities

I’m of the opinion that the Opinion section is the best part of the Chicago Tribune (and not just becuase it occasionally publishes my personal essays. Also not because one of the editorial page editors is my former neighbor Greg Burns, as fair a guy as you’ll ever meet. The Tribune is lucky to have him.)

Recently, a Tribune editorial reinforced the wisdom of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new plan to have each of the colleges in the city’s community college system collaborate with just one industry. The aim is to align each school’s curriculum with the skills that employers need immediately.

The editorial urges employers to get on board with this initiative. I’d add one more thing: that the colleges and industries also collaborate on career lattices to ensure that new grads have a plan to keep growing. Here’s a perfect example: The health information career lattice newly launched by my research partner, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.   Collaborative education is a start, not a destination.

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Volunteer Your Way to the Top

Work for free and build your career!

No, that’s not a shady classified come-on. It’s a genuine career development strategy that advances women in public accounting, outlined in depth in the 2012 Accounting MOVE Project Report: Building Careers and Communities: How Strategic Community Service Advances Women in Public Accounting.

Here are some highlights of the report, which was designed and managed by my firm, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc.:

  • 79% of accounting firms encourage employees to join nonprofit boards as a way to gain professional skills
  • 71% of firms offer leadership training through volunteer programs they support

But here’s the missing link: firms rarely tie nonprofit service back to firm growth goals or even to talent development strategy. At most firms, employees are on their own: sure, volunteer, climb through committees to a board, and we’ll even give you paid time off to do it…but it’s up to you to figure out exactly what skills you need to get and how to integrate them into your career path.

Future posts will outline winning strategies for integrating community service with professional development.

Make Your Job Description a You Description

What’s not on your resume?

  • What you’ve learned about sourcing materials running your Etsy shop?
  • How you’ve gained project management skills by chairing a nonprofit fundraiser?
  • That you overcame your white-knuckle fear of public speaking by leading a Scout troop?

Skills you gain through life experience — you remember life — it’s what happens between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. — can propel professional growth.

But there’s rarely a place to wedge in these experiences on a traditional resume. And there are even fewer opportunities to apply off-hours experience on the job — at least, not officially. (If you’ve managed a carpool or playgroup, you have univerally applicable leadership skills.)

Finally, though, employers are starting to mine the deep veins of talent lurking in their very own corridors. As reported thoroughly in the Wall St. Journal, employers like Cisco, Google,  and Booz Allen Hamilton are hard-wiring 360-degree talent searches into their human resources databases. Yup, they’re catching up with recommendations in The Career Lattice!

Employer are in sync with the life skills deemed most applicable to professional development by The Career Lattice research partner, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning:

  • Cross-cultural adaptability
  • Foreign language skills
  • Willingness to relocate – i.e., appetite for adventure!
  • Client retention track record

Have you discovered unusual life skills that have played into professional advancement? Tell us about it!

When Did Self-Awareness Become a Job Skill?

What’s the difference between a matrix and a lattice?

There isn’t one. They’re mirror images of the same type of organizational structure.

A matrix is a web of responsibility distributed throughout an organization.

The lattice is the personal version of this. A lattice is a personal career path that goes both over and up, enabling you to get ahead as you gain skills and experience in several directions.

The matrix replaces the chain of command.

The lattice replaces the ladder.

What does it take to succeed in a matrix, when you can’t count on your title and all the authority it confers to scare others into doing what you say? Here’s what the Hay Group says:

  • Empathy
  • Conflict management
  • Influence
  • Self-awareness

Sounds like a set-up for an enlightened workplace.

If only.

Hay recently found a mismatch between the skills demanded of the matrix and the skills actually possessed  by leaders in such organizations:

  • 9% held a strong sense of self-awareness
  • 20% were able to lead using influence
  • 22% had a strong sense of empathy
  • 31% had good conflict-management skills

I’m wondering how the 91% of employees who don’t even know that they’re clueless, given their low levels of self-awareness, are going to figure out that they need the other skills.

Back on point:  if you’re in an organization that says it’s a matrix, actively cultivate these four skills. Whether your bosses know it or not, these problemsolving skills are the currency of advancement.

How Do You Know How To Grow?

Latticing sounds great! How do I know which way to grow?

When you start to look around for career growth, rather than just up, a new world of options opens up. How do you narrow down the possibilities?

Here’s how to get a grip on your lattice.

First, don’t assume that the training your employer provides or encourages you to get is the best  strategic fit for your career growth.

The Accenture Skills Gap Study found that employees were most likely (52%) to have gained technical skills in the past five years. Lagging far behind were problem-solving skills (31%), analytical skills (26%) and managerial skills (21%). But guess what skills employers claim are in shortest supply? Yup: those know-it-when-they-see -it creative and problemsolving skills — the very ones that employers are least likely to pay for.

Scrutinize the skill sets and job descriptions of people who currently hold jobs you’d like to have. (LinkedIn and BranchOut are great sources for job-skills-peeping.)

Match up what they have that you lack.  What can you most likely get your employer to pay for? Technical skills, probably. You might have to gain creative, problemsolving and managerial skills by volunteering for leadership responsibilities on the job or in your off-hours.

Another way to tackle the where-to-start dilemma is to see how your situation compares to the norm. Leadership consulting firm PDI Ninth House recently tracked the strengths that men and women business leaders tended to have at various points in their careers. Both men and women senior leaders tend to be highly ranked on all skills.

But PDI found that middle management men are viewed as stronger in financial management and strategy; women are better at collaboration, trust, developing others, and customer needs.

Do your current strengths align with these gender norms? If so, you will need to explicitly pursue opportunities to backfill the skills usually considered a strength in the opposite gender.  As you do, build case studies that show your skills in action; your success stories will show how you demonstrate the skills used by current organizational leaders.

How to Solve the Tech Skills Gap Today

 Could the tech talent shortage be solved short-term through career latticing technique?

Maybe so, if employers were willing to think outside the box of their own four walls about how to employ scarce web engineers.

Think global, hire local,” urges tech exec Matt Asay.  If tech-driven companies in Silicon Valley and New York can’t find enough developers, maybe they should consider hiring them wherever they find them and simply managing them virtually.  After all, argues Asay, if it makes business sense to outsource to another continent, doesn’t it make even more sense to create virtual teams who live in other states?

This is too logical to not happen, which means that the ability to manage virtual teams will soon be emerging as critical for tech project managers.  Leading people you can’t see is a completely different skill from managing those whom you can directly observe hammering away at their keyboards and scowling at their screens. 

But leading a virtual team builds such management skills as:

  • managing results
  • recognizing quality
  • streamlining communications
  • using organic advantages, such as having workers in different time zones, to meet goals

Employers will have to stretch their definitions of successful team management to include virtual leadership.  They will soon find that a roster of managers who can lead ‘anywhere’ teams will open up a new world of possibilities for recruiting and retaining tech talent.

Help the Economy and Yourself: Quit!

Smart analysis by the Wall St. Journal points out one of the biggest barriers to job growth: people are reluctant to take a chance on a new position.

The article cites a Stanford /BLS survey that cites 80% of the reduction in hiring during the Great Recession to a complete stagnation in turnover — people were glued to their seats, and that stopped up the whole hiring system.

Don’t mistake lack of movement for loyalty. Over 50% of currently employed workers are actually passively looking for a job. They are trolling ads, checking in with colleagues and friends, and keeping an eye on professional activity through industry and career social networks. 

One great way to signal that you’re ready for a move: chat about a new skill you are applying in your current position. Got a project over the line through some creative negotiation? Teamed up with somebody new and learned some new techniques that make both your jobs easier? These are the kinds of anecdotes that catch the attention of headhunters and potential referrals….and that keep you growing even as you ponder your next move.

Do You Own Your Work?

Cultivate your ideas and keep developing fresh skills: that’s one of the key recommendations in The Career Lattice. But how do you know which of your ideas is yours, and which actually belongs to your employer?

It’s not as clear-cut as it seems, according to presenters at February 11’s Pen to Digital Press: DIY Publishing in the Digital Age, hosted by Lawyers for the Creative Arts.  (I spoke too, with the irrepressible Shari Stauch of Shark Marketing, which helps authors build their audiences.)

Tips from the conference:

  • You can’t copyright or trademark an idea.  You CAN copyright or trademark the specific expression of that idea. Thus: the idea of chocolate chip cookies? Uncopyrightable. My amazing chocolate chip cookie recipe with a Secret Ingredient? Copyrightable.  Just because it occurs to you doesn’t mean you own it.  But if you develop the expression of that idea on your own time, and you want to protect it, then publish it and register the copyright.
  • If you develop it at your day job, they own it. If you want to build your own portfolio of work, develop it on your own time and document it as such.

This is especially relevant if you are cultivating career skills through a side job or freelancing. Be sure to draw a bright, thick line between the material you produce for your day job employer, and that which you develop, produce and copyright on your own.

Jobs Without People & People Without Jobs – How to Bridge the Skills Gap

President Obama’s 2013 budget reportedly includes $8 billion to fund workforce training through community colleges.

That’s a start – and certainly community colleges are prime collaborators with local industry, so deserve the cash. But it’s not enough to set up workers with a toolbox of today’s skills. Employees know they need to string those skills into a coherent path so they never again end up in a career dead-end.

A study released in November by Accenture found that 55% of U.S. workers believe they need more skills to be successful at the jobs they have now, or that they want to have. And 68% of employees say it’s up to them to pursue that triaining.

Employers may complain about the skills gap, but, guess what?  They perpetuate it.  Fewer than half of employees get employer-provided formal training, according to the Accenture Skills Gap Study.

Here’s how employers invest in training, according to the types of training employees told Accenture they got:

52% – technology
31% – problem solving
26% – analytical skills
21% – management skills

Employers don’t even inventory the skills their current employees have; instead, they assume that they have to start advertising for someone with new skills.

Latticing links the people employees have with the skills they need to qualify for the jobs employers need to fill. That’s how it solves the skills gap. Community colleges can build long-term relationships with local employers by weaving career paths into their curricula. And that will bridge the skills gap.