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How Employees Can Navigate a Changing World of Work
A mindset and practices for creating opportunities in the future of work
Hello and Welcome!
If you’re new here, drop me a line to say hello. This week, I am riffing on concept that I’ve been writing about lately around the topic of helping employees navigate change and the future of work. If you have any thoughts I’d love to hear them!
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Continuous Change in The Future of Work
Just like the world, the world of work shifts and changes over time. And lately, we’ve experienced and felt a lot of change. The past three years have brought lots of change, ranging from a global pandemic, the shifts in where we work (hybrid, return to office) and lots of changes to markets, industries, and companies (Ex: Great Resignation, Layoffs) Not to mention, the increasing role that technology has played in businesses and industries.
But if we reflect for a second and be honest with ourselves, many of these shifts, while certainly present over the past three years, have been brewing for decades.
Remote work has existed for decades, but only when knowledge workers were forced into doing this at scale due to a global pandemic did we realize how we could work in new ways.
People for a long time have been wondering and asking about work-life balance, and people have been pursuing freelance work or other more flexible forms of work for a while.
And the opportunity (and threats) posed by technology transformation are things many of us as consumers have witnessed for at multiple points in our lifetime.
The past few years exposed these challenges in ways in which that caused leaders of organizations and employees to make changes. The reality though, is that while some have made changes, there are far more challenges and opportunities on the horizon.
In a world of constant change, new markets and industries, and the opportunity of transformational technology (ex: Generative AI) the way to take advantage of the emergent market is to adapt and learn faster than the pace of change.
If leaders want their people to be innovative and come up with new ideas and innovations, they must empower them to think and operate in new ways.
Developing the right talent strategy of workers and figuring out how to not just attract this talent, but ensure that it develops and stays is critical to succeeding as a business. HR and People Leaders are already putting upskilling and learning initiatives front and center, but the reality is that it also falls on individual employees to make choices as well about how they want to navigate and evolve in a changing workplace.
The Challenge and Opportunity of Career Choice
As for employees, there are far more opportunities today for thinking about careers and work, but we are still often held back in exploring those opportunities. Similar to how outdated practices about management and ideas of the workplace have permeated for decades, we have also traditionally had a dearth of new ideas about thinking about our careers.
While we have a very diverse and multi-dimensional population of workers in the workforce, for decades, we have been encouraging and funneling all people to fit a very small type of work and career growth. While this model can be good for some, for others it can be limiting or frustrating, or in some cases, incomplete.
However, this is not all doom and gloom for employees. Given that there are industries and roles constantly forming, more access to education and learning, and more opportunities to find and explore people and roles, there are in theory, potential more opportunities to find a career path that works for you, and to choose how to make your career fit within the context of your life. Take for example, the fact that you can literally apply to a job on your phone in 3 seconds - That didn’t exist up until the past decade!
The opportunity in today’s world of work is that you really do have many diverse ways and options to think about how to build and manage a career. There are more tools and technologies than ever before to explore careers, find new jobs, or and connect with people who are doing interesting things that you might be curious about exploring.
There are tools to pick up freelance work to explore opportunities, spin up a business on the side, or turn a skill or interest into a business venture.
There are platforms for on-demand and gig work, and it’s not uncommon for people to make transitions from one industry to the next.
Moreover, we also are at a point in society and culture in the western world, where it is much more common today to change jobs and careers, as well as to talk more openly about our work and careers. There is plenty of progress that still needs to be made, but compared to decades prior, there are many positive trends when it comes to building and growing your own unique career.
However, this is also what can be challenging and overwhelming. The paradox of choice can often be difficult to manage, and because there are so many ways to think about how to grow your career, it’s common to be overwhelmed by all the options. Not to mention, we tend to glorify or idolize certain kinds of careers and choices, and that often is reflected back in the career advice that is passed down and shared.
The Infrastructure and Habits For Career Growth
To navigate and build a thriving career in a constantly changing world of work, employees need a mindset, skillset, and set of practices for generating opportunities in their career. This is a way of thinking, working and operating that relies on intentionality, iteration, and self-awareness.
To effectively do this, each professional must start to activate their Career Operating System.
Just like a phone or a computer needs an operating system to run efficiently and effectively, we as employees in this future of work need our own operating system to manage your career. Enter the Career Operating System, which is the mindset and practices for evolving your career in a changing world of work.
Just like your phone, tablet or computer is powered by an operating system, so is your career. With a well-developed Career Operating System, you have both the infrastructure, and practices for generating and creating opportunities aligned to your goals and for a constantly changing world of work.
Think of your operating system as the infrastructure for managing your career. It allows people to think more expansively, intentionally, and strategically about how they view development and success, and provides a set of practices and actions that, when implemented consistently, develop “muscle memory” around managing your career.
Investing in your Career Operating System also helps you “upgrade” and over time, evolve and grow so you can take advantage of the emergent opportunities.
There are a number of elements to the operating system that you can focus on today to help you think about your own career development and growth.
They are as follows:
#1: 360 Awareness
Definition: Developing self-awareness around your strengths and interests, and paying attention to your company and the market to create opportunities for yourself and others.
To succeed at work and in our careers, we all need chances, opportunities and “at-bats.” However, Opportunities don’t always come out of thin air but when we know ourselves and the outside world, we increase our surface area for opportunities to come our way. In a world of change and new opportunity, the ability to know ourselves and what we excel in, and then to pay attention to the market, industry or outside world around us can help us “sense and respond” and create our own serendipity to occur.
Example: As a Product Manager, Jason had lots of diverse skills, but his one superpower was listening to customers and pulling out the insights that mattered. Jason started creating customer listening docs, and his stakeholders like them so much they asked his manager to have all of the product managers use the same exact template, further building Jason’s credibility and brand.
#2: Curiosity Led-Learning
Definition: Using curiosity, a growth mindset and self-motivation to quickly learn and acquire skills and turn insights into opportunities
The world and our work is constantly changing, and the only way to keep up is to learn faster than the rate of change. We can create everyday opportunities to learn by following our curiosities and being in contact with other people. While formal learning opportunities do play a role here, so does the informal learning that we can engage and choose to participate in each and every day. While forced or compliance driven learning is sometimes necessary, following our curiosities can be rewarding, engaging and challenging, and when we do that around others it can lead to benefits not just for us but for others as well.
Example: In a prior role, I created a learning group for other product marketers where we would meet every other week, and each person would get to share what they were working on and ask for feedback from other product marketers. This enabled us to get feedback and get “unstuck’ on a project, and also helped us collaborate better with other people in our organizations.
#3: Professional Advocacy
Definition: Documenting and sharing your work so that you can gain contribute knowledge and improve your visibility and can learn and benefit
Here’s a hard but honest truth about the workplace: While hard work, and doing a good job are important, they are necessary but not sufficient to succeeding and standing out. Today’s world of work is busy, there are constant distractions, lots of things going on, and most people are focused intently on what they are doing or what’s in front of them (as well as perhaps all the distractions they are getting) If nobody knows about your work, you often won’t get the credit you deserve. Sharing your work helps you gain visibility, helps your company learn, and helps you get more exposure to additional opportunities.
Example: At the end of each quarter, Cassie puts together a document that highlights her key accomplishments, key learnings, and what she wants to focus on for the next quarter. She shares this with her team and her manager, who then can use it to advocate on her behalf
#4: Organizational Acumen
Definition: Identifying the processes, rewards, and interconnected relationships that drive people and performance and using it to navigate inside your organization
All of us work in a system and environment that is bigger than ourselves and our aspirations. If we want to be successful (however we define it) we must understand the system, the people within it, the rewards, and the behaviors, so that we make informed choices about how we want to take action to achieve our goals.
Being able to explore, understand, and navigate the system is what enables us to chart the course that we want to take. When we pay attention to the culture, norms, the rewards, and the interplay between the people and the structure, we can begin to develop our acumen for navigating these structures and gaining the capital we need in order to succeed.
Example: When Brian started a new job at a new company in new industry, he knew that there was a lot he had to learn. He sat down with his manager when he started, asked them to review the org chart, and then asked to meet the people inside his division who were often championed and seen as influential. Finally, he also met with HR to better understand the performance evaluation process so he could position himself for success.
#5: Continuous Relationship Building
Definition: Being intentional about your efforts to build meaningful and impactful relationships with others in order so you can achieve goals and develop personally and professionally
Today’s world of work requires knowledge and expertise, but even if you’re smart and hard working, chances are you have to work through and with others in order to get things done. Building connection and trust with your peers is critical to being effective in your job and achieving goals, so much so that setting aside time for building relationships is a critical component of almost everyone’s job.
Finally, careers are long, continuously evolving, and full of serendipity. While you are responsible for the choices you make, you can go much further and gain much more in your career when you have a team of people around you who can help and advance you along the way. Many of the decisions in your career are often made in rooms you are not in, so having the right set of people advocating and sponsoring you can take you beyond anything you think you could have done by yourself.
Example: Nick realized that while he had made good relationships with mentors and leaders, he was lacking in having the right set of cross-functional relationships that were critical to his goals. He began focusing on 2 primary members who he met with once every two weeks, and who he made an effort to share knowledge, ideas, and opportunities with. These individuals were also the same people who advocated on Nick’s behalf when Nick went up for promotion the following cycle.
#6: Intentional Career Planning
Definition: Intentionally and iteratively identifying your preferred career growth and goals, and taking actions that align with those desired goals
No more than ever, people have more choices about the way they want to take their career or choose how they want to grow. This is also what can be overwhelming. Figuring out where you want to go or what you want to do in a world of choice isn’t always easy. Furthermore, a career is not a one and done, but rather a continuous process that evolves. It similar to the difference between lightning bolts (once a year or infrequent and random) versus drum beats (smaller, but more consistent.)
Making sure that you are thoughtful, iterative and intentional about your career ensures you are evolving your career on a path that is right for you can be done through a set of consistent behaviors and habits.
Example: Each quarter, Lydia runs a “career experiment.” This is a small project or initiative that she conducts to learn more about a certain aspect of career that she is interested in. During her career conversations that she proactively schedules with her manager, she shares what she wants to learn and how she wants to grow, but she also shares with her manager the progress of her career experiments, and how her manager can help.
Lightning Bolts and Drumbeats
When I think about how the Career Operating System can help employees and leaders, I think about the difference between a lightning bolt and a drumbeat.
Traditionally, we have thought of career development in terms of “lightning bolts.” These are once in a lifetime moments (ex: a yearly career conversation) we know they are happening and that they are big, but we don’t really prepare for them, but when they do happen, they are a big deal, and they won’t come around again for awhile
On the other side of the lightning bolt is a drumbeat. This are smaller, but more frequent, and if you string a few of them together, it starts to come into a rhythm and pattern.
The Career Operating System is meant to help with actions that lead to drumbeats. Yes, the lightning bolts (ex: career conversations, promotions, new job opportunities at new companies) are important, but when we can find the behaviors and practices that lead to consistency over time, we increase our serendipity surface area for opportunities th (including creating more lightning bolts!)
When I think about the future of work, I think about the difference between something that is complicated and something that is complex. Something that is complicated (like building a house) is complicated in that it’s hard, but we have a series of steps for solving it that are pretty widely known. If we just repeat the steps, we can find the solution. This is why we can mass produce houses.
But on the other side of things, is something that is complex - solutions to complex problems are not necessarily found in a series of repeatable steps - complex solutions require exploration and iteration. There isn’t a playbook, but rather, it’s a journey to be explored.
I like to think of careers in the same way. Your career is more complex than it is complicated, but that’s where your Career Operating System comes into play.
Developing and activating your Career Operating System so you have the infrastructure, habits and practices for career growth is an ongoing process.
But learning how to manage your career is something you can take with you throughout your life to help you link your aspirations to your actions in building and managing a career that is right for you and keeps you relevant in today’s world of work.