Are You a Chameleon or a Protean in Managing Your Career and Your Organisation?

South Africans are becoming adept at change management. Industries are changing. Managers have to build greater flexibility into their organisations. They track trends and technologies. They engage in risk assessments and prepare for a future that may move their companies in entirely new directions.

They do all this for their organisations … but forget to do it for themselves. There is a mismatch here. If business has to be future-ready, so does the individual.

This logic is increasingly accepted internationally where personal preparedness for a new future leads to the development of ‘the protean career’, a term that is now quite common among career professionals and industrial psychologists.

This career is driven by an individual’s own values and goals. The individual is eager to try new things to foster personal growth. New skills are embraced and time out may be taken to achieve some personal ambition.

The traditional careerist is a chameleon who only adapts to immediate delivery requirements and thinks in linear terms, moving ever onward and upward. He (or she) follows standard practice rather than personal inclination. But if the business changes, narrow, industry-specific skills may suddenly seem irrelevant.

In contrast, the protean career-builder is ready for change and savours the chance to do something new.

Locally, we now see growing acceptance of CVs with some protean elements.

Until recently, a ‘gap year’ raised a few questions. Flitting across industries raised eyebrows. Moving into seven or eight different jobs in perhaps 10 or 12 years raised a red flag. Not any more!

Locally, such behaviour no longer excludes a candidate from an initial interview. Internationally, it might catapult the candidate onto the shortlist!

One factor driving the trend to the self-directed career strategy is the realisation that in 10 or 15 years an individual may be applying for a job that does not currently exist.

Blogger-entrepreneurs did not exist five years ago. They do today.

Other careers are just over the horizon; for instance, advances in bio-tissues, plastics and robotics could turn body part manufacture into a highly lucrative niche industry.

Pharming (rather than farming) could be another growth industry as the need for genetically engineered livestock and crops will increase dramatically as the world’s population increases.

Longevity will increase the demand for old age wellness managers. Genetic screening is another niche opportunity.

Some niches, like social media, will go mainstream, creating career opportunities for ‘social media officers’ who will have the job of building the number of ‘likes’, ‘fans’ and ‘followers’ for consumer brands.

The protean has the mental flexibility to succeed in an environment like this. The traditional careerist is more likely to sit tight in a declining industry and decline along with it.

So, how does one develop into a potential ‘shape-shifter’ (another term for the protean)?

International experience highlights six distinct patterns of behaviour:

Downscaling – these individuals live within their means and create a financial reserve (not for retirement but for mid-career). They need money to take a sabbatical or enrol at Heidelberg University to study philosophy or go to the Himalayas.

1. Developing supplementary sources of income – perhaps by turning a hobby into a small business or earning extra cash from consultancy or weekend work (not only to build a financial reserve but to take the individual out of the nine-to-five rut).

2. Getting fit – by looking after yourself, exercising well and eating properly. Mental flexibility requires physical health and energy.

3. Cutting TV time – to create space for more reading and self-development. Future-spotters engage in lifelong education and are rewarded accordingly.

4. Knowing themselves – protean career-builders have a clear sense of personal identity and core values and an acute appreciation of what is important in life. They also have a clear idea of where they want to be in the next five or 10 years.

Adopting non-traditional criteria for success – these highly adaptable people set their own standards. To do something meaningful, they will move sideways in their careers or even take a step down if it fills a gap in their lives or enables them to make a contribution. In some professional situations, taking on pro bono work is one way of making a difference.

Protean attitudes are another key differentiator.

The protean is in charge of his or her career (not the organisation). The protean demands the freedom to grow. That may or may not involve advancement.

Their self-esteem is not based on salary or job title. They derive satisfaction from their work and their level of professionalism, no matter what they do. Their own happiness is a key benchmark.

Mobility and adaptability are increasingly evident in the South African corporate environment. However, it is still rare for major organisations to overtly specify the flexi future-spotter and shape-shifter when looking to fill a senior post.

It’s probably just a matter of time. After all, an IT specialist recently became Master Chef SA. That’s quite a shift.

Michelle Moss is Head of Assessment at Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.

Build a Better Candidate for that Top Job… YOU!

No one is born into senior management. Top performers are invariably built, not born. But here’s the thing … they build themselves. They are DIY experts at equipping themselves with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that take them up to the corporate suite and then into the boardroom.

Yet many successful executives at career-end confide that it took a setback to get them started on the self-build to success.

One catalyst is assessment feedback – the report on traits, strengths and gaps in your knowledge or experience you receive after failing to get a better job or getting one. You might be handed a similar appraisal during a performance management process or after psychometric tests.

Research on talent development, specialist literature and personal interaction with self-made achievers spotlight common themes that may help some other high potential candidates make even faster progress.

Here are 12 …

  1. Don’t stew, review: Assessment feedback highlights areas of strength, but also identifies weaknesses and gaps. You might feel uncomfortable about some comments, but calmly review what the report has to say. Take time to reflect. The information could give you career-building insights and help you grow as a person.
  1. Clarify the vision: Write down your own Vision & Mission Statement. Clarify what you want to achieve in life and in your career. Stick to the big picture.
  1. Set goals: Use feedback to map areas for improvement. Set goals and attach timelines – short, medium and long. Targets should be doable, relevant, measurable and tough enough to stretch you. Don’t focus solely on career issues. Include health, relationships, family and personal interests. You still encounter monomaniac corporate achievers, but most are multi-faceted, broadminded and have a life beyond the boardroom.
  1. Create a how-to list: Goals go on your to-do list. You also need a how-to list that tells you how to achieve targets. Cut down TV time and do more reading; books, journals and articles. You could find yourself following certain blogs or carrying out Net research to expand your knowledge. Building wider personal or career networks will probably go on the list along with gathering new experience and obtaining a mentor or coach. Further training and education usually feature high on the list as do lifestyle changes to promote fitness and wellbeing.
  1. Role-modelling: Formal executive coaching and mentoring can be a big help, but you don’t need to wait for the organisation to put you on a programme. Quietly ‘co-opt’ your own mentor or several. Who are your role models – at work and in everyday life? You might admire the people skills of one senior colleague and the time efficiency of another. Try to spend time with these models. Copy and adapt some of their techniques.  You can also identify a negative role model, somebody who displays behaviour you purposefully reject and don’t want to copy.  Become a keen observer.
  1. Start a learning journal: Carry an old-fashioned notebook or the digital equivalent. Jot down learnings or pieces of useful information. As you start to network more, read more and interact with role models import insights come your way. Record the data, reflect on it and put it to work.
  1. Active listening: Make a conscious effort to listen more. Develop the habit of asking questions, noting the answers and encouraging discussion. You learn by listening not by talking.
  1. Learning by doing: The way to develop new skills is to try them out. Apply your new knowledge. Look for opportunities to expand your experience. Volunteer for assignments that take you out your routine. Job enhancement stretches you and makes you more valuable to your organisation. Training courses are important, but learning on the job ensures skills are bedded in.
  1. Optimise errors: Put mistakes to work by learning from them. What went wrong? Why? What would you do differently next time around? Ensure you cover issues like this in your learning journal. They ensure better outcomes down the line.
  1. Unlearn: Things change. New knowledge creates new insights. You may have to unlearn some ways of doing things to apply fresh concepts. Alternatively, fresh ideas may turn out to have a short shelf-life. Unlearning keeps you open to new input.
  1. Give and take: Don’t simply absorb information from others and learn from your role models; share information. Help others. Become a ‘sage’, a source of trusted information and encouragement. Give back.
  1.  Reward yourself: Self-development is not a chore. You should enjoy the progress you make in life and at work. Ensure you stay the course (it lasts a lifetime) by giving you and your family some rewards as you reach goals and move on.

These techniques are common to many top corporate performers. Another characteristic is worth noting. They never feel sorry for themselves.

Achievers don’t say, “Oh, I never got the chance. The firm never developed me.” That’s because they develop themselves – and make an exceptional job of it.

Michelle Moss is Head of Assessment at Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development.


Discard The Powerful Information That Delivers Foolproof Career Success at Your Own Peril

What do you call powerful information that contributes to foolproof career success but is ignored by two out of three candidates for well-remunerated managerial and executive positions? In the talent management sector the discussion of confidential data is generally referred to as ‘feedback’ and at a few professional executive search companies it is available to any candidate who has engaged in an assessment process to establish the closeness (or otherwise) of the job fit and determine individual strengths and weaknesses. Job-fit information derived from the assessments is usually not the focus of such discussions, but other data, including very precise scores on personal attributes, can be shared, discussed and ultimately assembled into an individual development plan.

Job candidates trying to find out what to fix or foster for career success need look no further. In the executive search industry, feedback is the closest thing we’ve got to a well-planned fix for slow progress up the corporate ladder. Which makes it all the more baffling that only one in three candidates requests access to this goldmine of information. At least one executive search specialist with strong assessment capabilities goes to great lengths to encourage candidates to return for feedback after candidate selection is complete, yet the response rate over the past year stands at only 30.8%. As an assessment specialist, I admit to a sense of frustration that relatively few candidates request a follow-up session to review scores and interpretations.

After all, the data has the potential to turn losers into winners and winners into super-stars, but not if it’s left to gather dust. Reticence is understandable. We all feel ill at ease when personal characteristics and attributes are laid bare. Assessment results should not tell you anything you don’t already know about yourself. But the way the information is packaged will show how your skills work in combination with each other while improving your 6 People Dynamics February 2012 understanding of the impact of your behaviour on others in the workplace. If the assessment tools that are adopted are valid and reliable and the assessments are professionally conducted, the insights are extremely useful. The perception of you is the reality observed by others. (For ‘others’, read prospective employers.)

The good news is that perceptions can be changed; so can behaviour. Admittedly, this requires a deliberate effort by the individual. The starting point is sensible, dispassionate review of assessment results. After that improvement is a matter of application and time. The way forward is easy enough to follow. Perceived weaknesses have to be addressed. Often this can be actioned on the job. Make a point of listening more and listening skills will improve. Give more time to colleagues and subordinates while showing a genuine interest in them and interpersonal skills will develop. Though weaknesses are unlikely to become strengths, strengths can become super-differentiators that spotlight a stand-out job applicant, turning a good candidate into a great one. Once strengths have been identified, hone them.

Showcase your best qualities to best effect and you prepare yourself for the next leap up the corporate ladder. The analytical manager with an eye for detail and strong focus on operational competence may never score highly for empathy. But as long as that manager’s behaviour is not perceived as destructive and empathy scores improve, that individual can reach the top by reinforcing the strengths highlighted by rigorous assessment Insights like this underline the value of returning for feedback. Those who do are generally quick to overcome their reluctance to see themselves as others see them. They then interrogate their interrogator by questioning the assessor about corrective action — either because they were unsuccessful in their job application or because they are already looking ahead to further career success. Improved self-awareness then becomes the fundamental building block in the evolution of an individual development plan. The plan may give added impetus to an existing career path or it may drive a change of career direction.

A well-formulated strategy will set out clearly defined objectives, timeframes and tips on future action. A mix of actions is often outlined; perhaps on-the-job counselling, job rotation, taking on delegated responsibilities outside an individual’s core competence, academic courses, training, reading, executive coaching and working with peer groups. Those who use self-knowledge as a springboard to career action invariably succeed. Reassessment confirms improvement (often stellar). Progress can also be tracked on the databases of well-resourced executive search companies. Over time, these corporate performers win promotions, land their dream job or are rewarded by significantly increased job satisfaction. Their secret? It’s ‘feedback’ and having the courage to digest it and put it to work.

Michelle Moss, head of the assessment division, Talent Africa.

Die Regte Terugvoering Kan ‘n Loopbaan Regruk

Wat noem ‘n mens wardevolle inligting wat kan bydrae tot gewaarborgde loopbaansukses, maar wat geïgnoreer word deur twee van elke drie kandidate wat om uitvoerende of bestuursposte aansoek doen?

Lees verder – Rapport, Loopbane 24 – 25 Sept 2011

Put Feedback To Work And Climb The Ladder

What do you call powerful information that contributes to foolproof career success but is ignored by two out of three candidates for well-remunerated executive management jobs?

In the talent management sector, the discussion of confidential data is generally referred to as “feedback” and at a few professional executive search companies it’s available to any candidate who has engaged in an assessment process to establish the closeness (or otherwise) of the job fit and to determine individual strengths and weaknesses.

Michelle Moss, head of the assessment division, Talent Africa.

Read More – The New Age, Inside – 5 Sept 2011