It’s About What You Can Do, Not Your Job Title

A great way to identify your next lateral move is to think like your boss.

To think like your boss, read what your boss is reading.

What does your boss read?

Probably the Harvard Business Review.

And right here in the April 20 HBR digital digest, Alexandra Kalev, a management academic at the University of Tel Aviv, tees up latticing perfectly: “Think about what people can contribute, not just what jobs they hold.” (Read the entire article here.)

To identify a strategic lateral move in this chaotic time of COVID-19 economic confusion, apply Kalev’s insight to your career ambitions.

What are you doing now, just to help your company get through this crisis, that is outside your job description? Crystallize these new tasks, responsibilities and accomplishments as line items for your next performance review.

What could you do that is outside your job description? What skills would you like to gain, that would qualify you for your next big move up? If you’re not sure, this is the perfect time for internal networking. If your company clearly outlines qualifications for each job or level of responsibility, review those qualifications to see what gaps you can fill with a bit of online training or by pitching in on a team that introduces you to new people within the company or within your industry. If your company doesn’t offer transparent career paths, talk with someone who’s a couple steps ahead of you, or whom you’d work with in your destination position, to fill in the stepping stones.

This is the perfect time for showing initiative and self-direction. Explore Skillshare, Udemy and other online class platforms to gain skills that help you bridge to a new position.

And diary all this so you can show your boss, that you stayed a step ahead of the company’s needs even in a crisis. The very ability of anticipating needs and positioning yourself as the right person at the right time is a career skill in itself.

Working past 65? Here’s inspo from SideHusl

Working past the traditional retirement age of 65 is completely different when you engineer a sustainable position. Career latticing techniques support sustainable work, and ongoing income, that can help ensure the money you need for the life you deserve.

Veteran business journalist Kathy Kristof started SideHusl to help people of all ages vet gig opportunities. With all the scams out there, the littered landscape of “work from home” and similar offers needs a trained eye to sort fact from fiction.

The Career Lattice was featured recently at the SideHusl blog. I’m glad we’re in sync with Kathy’s vision of senior workers transitioning to positions that bring them one last burst of career satisfaction.

Working From Home Long-Term Is Going to Be Hell for Introverts

Working from home is going to be hell for introverts. 

It’s only a matter of time before they take to the streets, a ragtag army in coffee-stained pajama pants, demanding human contact, even if it is from a social distance.

Yes, I know: the corona-virus-imposed heaven that is working from home is their dream. They’ve been preparing for this all their lives. The crafters are giddy with the prospect of boss-directed time inside, with their fabric, beads and endless unfinished projects. The book-addicted swoon at the notion of curling up with their stack of to-reads and a bottomless pot of Earl Grey. The Netflix-addled are in heaven at the notion of binge-watching from the sofa, laptop open, remote in hand.

But sinking into a crumby cocoon is an overcorrection. Introverts have to work harder to connect with people. Those who fantasize about their virtually people-free nirvana are going to find that going to work actually created the social equilibrium that makes them love being alone.

I know and love many introverts. I married one. I gave birth to two. One of those gave birth to another one. But as a confirmed extrovert who has worked from home for 39 years, and who studies and writes about career growth, I give introverts a week before home purgatory turns into home hell.  

Extroverts love to work from home, too, and they are better at it because distance is no barrier for a determined extrovert. They’ll talk on the phone, they’ll burn up Slack, they’ll text, email, and videochat all at the same time.  In my ongoing exploration of lateral career moves, I talk all the time with employers trying to figure out how to respond to employees’ requests to work from home. People who most successfully work from home are extroverts, who are naturally propelled to connect with others. Introverts don’t do themselves any favors, professionally, by giving into their urge to hide.

Working from home frees up commuting time that can be used for career development, professional learning, and to connect with people in other departments. Smart organizations will rally short-term assignments that both solve virus-inflicted operational problems and convert the suddenly-virtual workforce to an opportunity for cross-functional collaboration that pulls everyone together in new ways. You’d think that introverts would lead the way so they could further the business case for working together separately, but it’ll be the extroverts who pioneer ways to bridge the distance.

When we all emerge, blinking and sun-blind, into that brave new day, when corona virus is something we work around, extroverts will simply transfer their ongoing conversations to real life. Many of them will claim that they were more productive than ever while they worked from home. That’s because they found ways to be with others, alone together, in some newly created virtual space. Church groups, study groups, bowling leagues, golfers, gardeners, runners, not to mention work teams, will all pivot, led by extroverts, to virtual meetings, group chats, and instant Facebook groups.

 It won’t be long before the new normal will be established.  I’ll wave to my introvert neighbors as they head back to their offices and I’ll look forward to hearing about their reluctant re-entry, over a pitcher of margaritas on my front porch….for about twenty minutes, before they go home to recover. 

How working from home doesn’t prepare you for self-employment

Looks idyllic, right?

Who doesn’t want to work from home, if their job allows?

Nobody, which is why so many people are so giddy with the prospect of starting the day in pajamas, working all day in pajamas, and working from bed in the same pajamas. Every publication, online and in print, is rife with advice on managing your time, not eating at your desk, communicating with co-workers via teleconference and Slack, and wearing pants.

Mastering your time, taming the refrigerator, maintaining boundaries with family, neighbors and pets: that’s half the battle of working from home, right?

No. It’s not.

If you’re working a traditional day job from home, you are transferring your corporate culture to your personal space. You will learn invaluable skills for virtual collaboration, managing by results, and prioritizing tasks.

But you will not be tackling the single most important thing you must have to be self-employed, and that is, winning clients.

To be self-employed, you have to have clients. It’s that simple and that scary.

Clients are great. I love mine. But they can harsh the mellow of working from home. Deadlines, and all that. Invoicing. Calls. Finding new ones. Keeping old ones. They’re high-maintenance.

By all means, make the most of your time at home. But don’t think that you can expense your pajamas as a start-up cost. To be successfully self-employed, you’re going to have to put on pants. And leave the house. And get clients.

You can do it! The upcoming Career Lattice online course, Staff to Self-Employment, will show you how.

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Date Entrepreneurship Before Committing

Do you have what it takes to start a company or employ yourself? You can “try before you buy” by taking on a self-contained side hustle.

Making fancy cakes just for graduation season or dog-sitting as a backup to an overbooked dog caretaker forces you to think like an entrepreneur. If your Career Lattice skills inventory turned up worrisome weaknesses, a small, short-term side hustle will make you backfill those weaknesses. Hate bookkeeping? You’ll get over it quick when you realize you won’t get paid for your side hustle unless you invoice and manage the related paperwork.

Side Husl is a terrific source for pickup work that can enlighten you about your entrepreneurial abilities and potential gaps you need to fill. It’s run by a longtime business journalist whose no-nonsense approach to work, career and income is a real-life as it gets. Use the Side Husl tools to zero in on a gig you’d like to date before you commit to entrepreneurship as your sole occupation.

Time is your boss’s money: Spend it on yourself

How much power do you have, really, over your time when you are an employee?

You don’t set deadlines. You often report to more than one boss (thanks a lot, “flat management structure,” for all those dotted lines on the org chart that mean you have to get sign-off from people who technically aren’t your boss but somehow have veto power over your work, amirite?) .  Often, deadlines are set by outsiders – clients, customers, the IRS. 

All these forces can collide in your calendar.  But to free up time for a side-step that can give you new skills and help you meet people essential to networking to a new job, you’ll need to master time management skills that prove you can handle the lattice assignment.

Here are three ways to do that.

  1. Group like work and functions together. The temptation is to tackle the project for Client A, finish it (or, at least get it far enough along to dump it on somebody else’s desk), then pick up work for Client B. Look under the lid to find similarities so you can do similar work in a single pass. For instance, if you have to get signoff on a few paragraphs from legal, bring legal all the sign-offs at once. You’ll have more leverage to push to the top of legal’s priority list when you’re doing so on behalf of three clients, not just one, and you’ll move ahead with all the projects at once while driving for the first deadline.

2. Analyze your “flow state” so you can protect productive time.  The “flow state” is your groove: when you’re clicking along, ignoring the clock, getting the coding or writing or analyzing or calculating done in a glorious, sparkling steam of productivity. Some people can turn their flow on like a tap  (I’m one of those lucky ones). Others find their flow in a quiet office before others have arrived or after others have left. Chances are you love the work you od in the flow. Treat yourself and block out the flow on your calendar for uninterrupted, closed-door, flow. Save the petty, annoying, paperwork and inbox-pecking for your door-open time.

3. Track your time so you can identify bottlenecks and barriers, both human and technical. Your boss(es) gives you work to do so she doesn’t have to do it. Build trust by documenting the amount of time you spend on each task. An easy way to do this is to use a time-tracking app designed for freelancers who charge clients by the hour.

If the time reports don’t seem to line up with your boss’s priorities, review the reports with her. She may not realize how much of your time is taken up by those doted-line relationships or by technical problems you have to work around. Let her run interference in blocking and tackling the barriers – that’s why she’s paid more than you are. And – bonus! – if you are thinking of transitioning to self-employment, you will become conversant with time-tracking so you can more accurately estimate how long it takes to do key elements of the job you envision creating for yourself.

Venture redux: Starting your own company helps your career

People quit the corporate grind to start their own companies for a lot of reasons.

Positioning themselves to re-enter the grind is not one of them.

Maybe it should be.

A Berkeley researcher, Gustavo Manso,  has found that the entrepreneurial experience of “experimenting with new ideas”adds so much value to your management abilities that even if your venture fails, you are likely to move back to a corporate job with minimal losses. In fact, he found that a stretch of self-employment can actually boost your salary if you go back to traditional employment.

That is…if you bail on a failed venture within two years.

This validates part of the premise of  The Career Lattice, in which I position self-employment as one career lane, not as a one-way ticket out of the corporate world.

The key implication for entrepreneurs is to see their experiences – wins, losses and draws – as evidence of learning new leadership and business skills. Developing short stories and anecdotes about your adventures in startup land are key to developing relationships with partners, suppliers, lenders, and customers, anyway. With potential employers added to the mix, you’ve got one more reason to cultivate a variety of narratives about how you’ve become better at what you do and how you think by being a business owner.

Get perma-benefits from being a perma-temp

Temporary work isn’t.

Oh, it’s work. But it’s not all that temporary.

A new report from finds that 59% of companies that use freelancers contract with them for at least six months at a time.

And 42% of companies use the same contract workers over and over.

When you know why companies are keeping you on contract, you can turn the advantages you bring them to build your career.

And – surprise! – saving money isn’t the main reason why companies use contract workers. Workmarket found that 64% of employers rely on contractors for flexibility. Then comes money, at 45%, then, expanding geographically, at 38%, and finally, tied at 24%, to generate additional revnue and to improve work quality.

Flip those stats over and here’s how to use your clients’ motivations to your advantage:

  • Flexibility goes both ways. Keep your clients in the loop about your availability. They want flexibility, but that’s also why you’re a free agent. Ask about their project schedules, anticipated staff shortages, and crunch times. Find out if they’d like you to block out time when they are most likely to need you.
  • They save by buying quality. Stipulating that you’re charging at least market rates, prove your worth by delivering polished, ready-to-go work on time or early. It only takes one round with an inexperienced, unorganized, error-prone contractor to m reinforce the total value of working with a pro.
  • Support expansion. Your know others like you. Your network is a hidden value to your client. Offer to refer your client to other contractors located where your client wants to be – and vice versa. You’ll build relationships in both directions.
  • Revenue doesn’t generate itself. Neither do ideas for new clients, new projects and new efficiencies. Make strategic introductions for your clients. In other words: trickle up.
  • Quality is the biggest reason why businesses don’t use contract workers as much as they might: 31%, according to Workmarket, say that quality is their biggest obstacle to using more ‘on-demand professionals,’ as it terms us contractors. So validate your quality by joining top-level professional associations; by asking for and using references when pitching clients; and by having an up-to-date and rich portfolio that illustrates the scope and depth of your work.

Freelancing is a career of its own. With more employers realizing the advantages of working with freelancers, the benefits can go both ways.


Three Brilliant Lattice Strategies from People Who Move Stuff

Great minds sure think alike.

While I was toiling way on The Career Lattice, Hector Jaramillo was arriving at some of the exact same points, from a completely different route.

I met Jaramillo, who’s a manager with NACCO Materials Handling Group, in October 2014. I was part of a panel about new career paths at the annual conference of the Materials Handling Institute. (That’s the industry that gets the stuff you need to the right place at the right time, in one piece.)

Hector’s an engineer: left brain. I’m a writer: right brain. His challenge was to redefine career paths at NACCO so the company could better attract and retain employees, especially professionals.

He did it by applying Six Sigma principles to the problem of straightjacket career ladders. (Six Sigma is a rigorous process of analysis that quants love, love, love. I’d link to a Six Sigma resource but I have no idea which one is the best. Just search on “six sigma” and choose the info graphics for a digestible outline of what it’s all about.)

Jaramillo realized that it wasn’t just a matter of telling people to do different jobs. He had to clear the path by showing the lateral moves that made sense in engineering language.

Jeff Redmon, a high-ranking human resources executive at Caterpillar, had a similar lightbulb moment. He advocates for cross-functional assignments and career paths that better align with industry cycles and long term growth trends.

Here’s what Jaramillo and Redmon are doing right:

  • Framing classic lattice principles in terms and processes typically used by their industries to solve problems (i.e., Six Sigma). They are using familiar tools to introduce an unfamiliar concept.
  • Showing both the medium and long term implications of lattices for continual growth. A lattice doesn’t stand on its own. It leans on its industry.
  • Infusing the process and conversation about lateral moves with transparency. Lattices offer many directions. Many directions means that people have to make decisions. They need information about the skills they need for a move, and the likely implications of making that move. The more information they have, the more powerful the lattice.

It was a tad humbling to wait my turn – third in line – as Jaramillo and Redmon outlined the lattice strategies they got in motion before they met me. Or heard of me. Or read my book.   But then I remembered: this movement is bigger than me and bigger than them. When a journalist and two engineers arrive at the same conclusion taking different roads from different starting points, it’s hard to deny that they haven’t all figured out something important to everybody.

How Latticing Is Like Jazz

In October 2014 I was part of a panel about new career paths at the annual conference of the Materials Handling Institute. (That’s the industry that gets the stuff you need to the right place at the right time, in one piece.)

The industry desperately needs new ways to attract, retain and advance people – all people.  Eager engineers tend to flock to Silicon Valley, not to warehouses. But as I watched keynote John Kao play the piano as he explained the difference between innovation and creativity, I realized he was talking just as much about re-inventing career paths as he was about re-inventing big-scale processes and data handling and such.

Kao’s main point: Innovation blends skill and opportunity, to forge a new way of thinking or doing something. It’s flexing at the moment of inspiration – flexing with well developed skills.

Basically, you have to have muscle memory so that when the moment emerges, you can seize it. Kao illustrates this by improvising jazz on a piano right in front of the audience. He knows the keyboard and chords so well that he can smoothly riff on a theme. That, he says, is innovation.

Latticing is also innovation.  It’s career innovation that you craft when you see a chance to move over to gain experience, business skills or new technical skills.  But  it takes finesse to make lateral moves. You can’t just jump from one log to another in a moving river. You have to keep your balance.

Just as practicing the piano enables Kao to spin out jazz improvisations, you need to practice lateral moves so you are confident in the skill of latticing. You don’t want to lose a plum lateral opportunity because you weren’t able to make your case, win buy-in from peer influencers, and step into the new role.