It’s September. Autumn is coming and after that horrible heatwave we are into shortening days, wind and chilly nights. Are your children back at school after six months away? New uniforms and shoes? Lunch boxes to pack again. I guess that is taking some adapting to. Old habits that must feel very new and strange after all this time. We have not been watching the clock in the way we did have we? Now it is about collecting everyone up and getting them into the car – staggered start times cannot make that easy. And then there is homework again and different routines for food. A time of adaptation!
Meanwhile, I have been working with a client mapping out her career plan. Getting the right experience to build a solid foundation for what we both hope will be a high flying career. It got me thinking.
When we build a career path we sometimes have to take a diversion into a specialism that does not look massively attractive, but has to be learnt. When I took that decision I was building an HR career with my eyes set on a board level job. I knew I had to learn more about job evaluation, salary and performance systems and management development. It would be an office bound job and take me away from my beloved lorries and warehouses and the wonderful mavericks who work in them. It would mean applying processes rather than solving everyday problems. No more heading off a disaster by buying everyone wellies (45 pairs I seem to recall) and organising regular Bovril breaks – yes I did that when we had a flooded depot and it was all about getting everyone working long hours to rescue parcels and dry the place out.
It was made worse by the fact that this job was in a team of three at head office and my boss would be a woman who did not know one end of a lorry from another. Anyway, I reconciled myself to this, applied for the job and got it. In the process the departmental manager called me “Une femme formidable”; I am not sure it was meant as a compliment!
My boss Jenny was very able but had not had an operational person in this job previously. I was unsure as I had not worked for a woman before and thought it might be different. We danced around each other for a couple of months until a mutual respect grew. Jenny was great, and generous with her knowledge. She taught me all about the intricacies of job evaluation and its implications for grading, salary ranges and how to use it to help with management development. She was a total expert and I enjoyed learning her expertise even if it was not where I wanted to spend my life. She knew that I only intended to stay two years and I knew she was happy with that.
We had complimentary knowledge and skills. She hated going out into what she would call “the field” and I loved it. Give me a whiff of diesel any day.
However, what I remember best was when she gave me the job of getting the information we needed on two very different men, both depot managers of big locations. We needed to work out how to use their undoubled skills, whether they were in competition or not and who should be offered the next appropriate strategic vacancy (Ops Director or maybe even MD of a smaller operation).
We decided that I would go out to talk to them in order to prepare new job descriptions and get as much background information on them as managers and men as I could. Mata Hari eat your heart out!
Both these guys were based at a geographical distance so it meant an overnight stay, and what could be more natural than for me to invite them to share dinner with me – except this was back in the 1970s when women in their 20s did not often do that type of thing! I hope you know what you are doing Liz!
So I went. I interviewed each guy. I questioned him as Jenny had taught me to do about his job, his freedom of action and his accountability. I brought an operational eye to the depots – what was well run and what was not. This was my forte and afterwards Jenny questioned me very closely about both locations, she respected the fact that I could assess what I had seen, I had expertise that she didn’t.
To get the additional information I gave them both dinner. One was a delightful guest – interesting, asking and answering questions. There was mutual understanding as we both had a similar career trajectory. I came away with a clear picture of what he enjoyed, what he thought he was good at, where he felt he needed more training and experience and where he was prepared to work, take his family and all those very important personal things that effect a career.
Now you can see where this is going can’t you? The other dinner was totally different. The guy concerned came with very different expectations. This was not a professional dinner with a colleague; it was not an opportunity to speak about his aspirations, how he could develop his career, a meeting of equals. Why do some men think they are George Clooney when they are more like George Osborne? From the moment he arrived I was a blonde girl in my 20s and fair game. Now I will not bore you with the sordid details. Suffice it to say I had not been a management trainee travelling throughout the UK without learning how to deal with a guy like this.
He will never connect the two but his attitude affected his career. He missed the opportunity to register what he wanted, what he was good at and what he enjoyed. In fact all he did was put negative information into the pot about his poor judgement and he suffered for it.
The guy who took the opportunity to spend time talking about his career ended up as a Managing Director. The other one passed up his chance and did not.
So why am I telling you this story? Lots of reasons:
- It was Women’s Equality Day on 26 August (the day when the USA commemorates universal suffrage). This story reminds me of the power of women working together and bringing complementary skills to a team. It also reminds me of why we have to remember we are equal and professional even if someone tries to force us into stereotypical roles.
- Sometimes you have to take on roles or tasks that are not exciting in order to learn your trade and build a solid foundation of knowledge for the future.
- Never lose your focus on what you want and if someone asks be ready to tell them.
- Always assume that anyone you speak with might be able to open doors for you and treat them with respect.
- Business is business and personal is personal – mix them up at your peril.
- Reputation is everything and once lost is almost impossible to regain
I would love to know about your career planning and who helped you. My fundamental belief is that no one can succeed by themselves: we need lots of support and lots of challenge. We all need a mentor. Someone to work with us on an individual basis, to understand us, to believe in us and help us push boundaries.
So if you like my ethics and want to grow why don’t we talk? I love speaking with people, off the meter, to help explore possibilities and whether/how to take them forward. Please give me a call.
Life will be good again; let’s be more appreciative of how lucky we are and live the lessons we have learnt.