The world of work is changing faster than ever before. Huge technological, structural and demographic shifts are altering what we want from our work and even how we do it.
These forces are even changing the types of career paths that are now available to us. As such, it’s now becoming more important than ever that we all take steps to proactively manage our own careers.
So today we’re joined by Dr Maggi Evans, Director of Mosaic Consulting and co-author of From Talent Management to Talent Liberation. Maggi is here to talk to us today about how we can all start to liberate our own talent and reach our full potential.
1. Before we get started, please can you introduce yourself to our listeners?
I think the first thing to say is that I’m absolutely passionate about liberating talent. I work with organisations, teams, and individuals, and the theme that runs throughout all my work is about helping people to be at their personal best, so that organisations can be at their best.
I’m an author, a speaker and a consultant, and one of the things I really try and do is bridge between academic work and what’s really practical.
I’ve been inspired to look at talent liberation for individuals and organisations by the frustration I’ve encountered when speaking with individuals. When I’ve been coaching with them, they say, “How can I really move forward with my career? My manager doesn’t help me. I don’t know what to do”. And so that’s really what’s prompted me to do this. And the book is a collaboration with lots of other people, including two co-authors, Professor John Arnold and Dr Andrew Rothwell, featuring lots of interviews and conversations with people.
2. The world of work is evolving at an unprecedented rate. What do you think are the key forces at play and do you think that personal career management is becoming more important in order to succeed, both now and in the future?
We’re all hearing all the time about the way in which the world of work is changing, the change in expectations and I think there’s so many more opportunities now. Before it used to be that everyone thought about a career ladder and that actually you would start in one place and probably stay with one or two organisations within one or two functions. Nowadays, people have a much broader idea of what career is, it’s the whole sequence of your working life and working experiences.
I know at Hays you’ve done quite a lot on the one-hundred-year life, which has really challenged the idea that we have three phases of our working life. We have education, work and retirement, and I think there’s a really good way of thinking that’s all mixed up now.
So, if we want to have fulfilling careers, we need to be investing in a bit more time thinking about how we make the most of all these millions of opportunities that we’ve got in front of us.
3. In your book you mentioned the concept of thriving at work. Could you explain what you mean by this?
Yes, it’s a word that we often use, and I love the word, it’s so positive. There is some academic literature that looks at thriving and they describe thriving as being in that state where you’re really learning, you’re stretched, you’re challenged and you’re really enthusiastic about what you’re doing. So, you’ve got that energy and you’ve got that learning and you stretch. That makes you feel engaged, fulfilled, productive, and resilient to cope with tough stuff.
But you can almost imagine it on a sort of two by two axes. So that’s in the top right-hand corner, the place that we’d all love to be. But then you’ve also got other spaces on there. If you’ve got lots of learning and stretch but you’re not engaged, you’re probably quite stressed, you’re a bit overloaded, you’ve got that sense of feeling overwhelmed and it’s difficult to cope.
If you’ve got a situation where you’ve got lots of enthusiasm, but you’ve not got that learning, then you’re probably stalling. And that’s a time when lots of people start to think, well, what do I do with my career? I’m actually enthusiastic, but I’m frustrated because I haven’t got that sense of future direction.
And then obviously we will come across some people that are still in the bottom right hand box if you will, where they’re going through the motions. They’re not enthusiastic, they’re not learning, they’re just kind of coping and getting the monetary benefits, but that’s about it.
Thriving is a great way of thinking about where we’d like to be in our work. But I think it’s important to say that we don’t all want to be in thriving all of the time, because sometimes you might decide you have enough going on elsewhere in your life. So, you don’t want the extra stretch and challenge and you could say you want to be in a maintaining space – you want to feel enthusiastic and positive, but actually don’t want anything else. You might also feel that it’s going to be really stressful for the next two years, say training as an accountant, you’ve got the work to do, you’ve got the exams, or a lawyer or lots of the professions. So you trade, and you might actually get some quite boring work to do in the short term, but actually you feel it’s worth it for the long-term trade-off. So, you’re moving towards a place where you think you can be thriving.
I think at different times in our career, we probably want to be in different places. By stepping back and thinking about it, you can make a conscious choice of where is it you want to be and what actions you can take to help be there.
4. It seems like you need to be aware of what you need and what you want from your work in order to make the next step and make that happen.
We know about planning, but lots of people approach their career with a sense of I’ll see what happen,s and then they only take action when they’re fed up.
But, if you can be a bit more proactive about it, particularly because there are so many opportunities – and I sometimes refer to it now as a career laboratory – there’s lots of places you can go, and you can do some experiments and see what’s going on. I think if you give it some thought, you’ve got much more chance of ending up in that thriving place than if you just leave it to chance.
5. Let’s move on to what our listeners can do to help them thrive at work and in turn liberate their own talent. I presume having an understanding of your own talents and skills is an important first step?
I think for most things actually. I don’t know if it’s my training as a psychologist, but I put self-awareness as the first step. For me, for thinking about your career, it’s great to think of yourself as a bit of a detective. So, you’re looking for clues because if you ask somebody, “What do you really want? What are you good at?”, most people absolutely hate it. You know that interview question when you get asked; “Where do you want to be in five years’ time?”, what on earth do you say? And I think for me, that idea of being a bit of a detective, looking for clues, getting input from other people can help you to develop insights.
I sometimes call it setting up an ‘incident room’, a bit like a detective to collect all of this different evidence so you can then look at it and get an idea of where it is that you want to be, “What’s my story? What are my strengths and weaknesses, values, interests and approach to learning? What’s the context within which I’m operating, in terms of my organisation and type of career?” Then look at the reflections and draw some insights from that. So, you can then start saying, “What action do I want to take?”. Self-awareness is the starting point but adding a bit of structure helps you to make the most of it rather than a blank sheet of paper.
6. Now that we know how to gain a deeper personal insight and understanding of our current skills, how do you recommend listeners then then take action?
I think there’s lots of things you can do and it’s treating it like a project. So, thinking about your short-term goals you may have captured in the incident room and how things are at the moment. You can think, “What do I want to change? What do I want to keep going?” and relate that back to the thriving matrix of what thriving looks like for you at the moment.
There’s things you can do about crafting your current role. So we’ve got far more scope than we realise to move our role in the direction we’d like and put a bit more emphasis on that. And it’s recognised now that job crafting is a key way of people developing their careers and it brings benefits to the organisation as well as the individual, which is important.
Another thing we can do is challenge them on helpful beliefs. Lots of people have their own gremlins, things that hold them back and it may be that you feel that you’re not good enough or you may lack confidence in a certain situation. And again, the self-awareness to question those and reflect on them and think, “Let me do some little experiments here to challenge some of those beliefs and check out whether I can transfer them into something that’s more helpful in helping me”.
I think the fourth thing is about looking after yourself. If you’re going to thrive in work, if you’re going to liberate more of your talent, from a physical, mental health and emotional health point of view, you’ve got to be in a good place. There’s a great book that I’ve personally found really useful by Dr Rangan Chatterjee called the Four Pillar Plan and it’s great because it talks about the science behind the behaviours of eating, sleeping, relaxing and exercising – and that’s a great way of simply looking after yourself.
I think for me the final bit is about engaging your line manager. Many people feel that their line-manager is holding them back or stifling their talent. And that means they’re reluctant to speak to their manager, but their manager is one of the people who can hold the key to opening up different opportunities. Starting to build a relationship with your line manager where you talk about what you want from the future, your skills and your frustrations, gives you the opportunity to sort those out.
I think those are five really practical things that people can do and they can start doing straight away. They don’t need to wait for permission from anybody else.
7. How important do you think it is for our listeners to commit to lifelong learning or to make learning and development a habit if they’re really keen to thrive at work?
I think for growing our own talent, it’s really important to be thinking about what we can do differently, to be constantly questioning and being an active learner is probably the most important thing that anyone can do to safeguard their employability.
As we’ve said at the beginning, the world of work is changing massively around us, so the people who succeed are going to be ones who can quickly adapt and learn. So, making learning a daily habit is really helpful and people who are great at learning are really good at learning from their experiences and applying it to new situations. They’re looking for new challenges, asking for feedback on what they’re doing and reflecting on things themselves, so they can make connections, let go of some of the tried and tested things and look with fresh eyes. So, it’s about that curiosity, it’s about that reflection time. It’s seeking information from other people and constantly asking, “How can I do it differently?”
I often recommend to people three really simple questions that can help you to have learning as a habit in your everyday life and it’s simply, “What went well? What didn’t go so well?” and “What should I do differently next time?”. If you want to then add in the future, there’s something about broadening your perspective and saying, “How else could I do this?” and that helps you keep curious for the future and keep alert to opportunities on new technology, putting into practice what you might be reading in the press from other organisations.
So, that reflection on “What went well, what didn’t go so well? What can I do differently next time?” and “How else could I do this out of curiosity?” and those simple questions can really help to drive and cement learning agility every day.
8. Now you mentioned in the answer before last about gremlin’s and self-doubt and we all know that the mind is a powerful thing. Do you think that negative thoughts, can hold us back sometimes?
Yes, absolutely, aren’t we all held back by them? I think absolutely, and it helps with self-awareness to recognise those voices that you know we all have and then to find ways of challenging them. And one of the best ways of doing that is to do some experiments.
There’s some great research and there’s podcasts and information on the web by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey and it’s fascinating, in looking at what we can do to challenge our gremlins and lots of it is identifying our big assumptions and then doing experiments to test out “What would it be like if I didn’t have this? What could replace it”. And it’s a really interesting way of helping us to identify those and talking it through with other people can really help too.
9. You mentioned the importance of a future direction. Does that future direction need to be entirely work related? Could you perhaps give some examples as to what you mean by this?
I think future direction has to encompass all of your life. We don’t just work, we have work, we have things about our health, our family, leisure and community. There’s lots of other things that, matter in our lives and I think taking a holistic perspective helps us think what will help us to thrive across our life. It’s looking at those things in balance and there’s activities like a life wheel that can help you think about where you want to be in each of those different aspects. So, some of it’s about balancing those different things.
I think future direction is also a bit about dreaming. What is it you’re really passionate about? What really excites, and energises you? Because if you have work that does that for you, the monetary reward is often far less important.
There’s also things about evolving where you are now, so some people don’t want a fundamental change, but some things aren’t quite right. There’s some frustrations and that’s more back into the sort of job crafting idea that we spoke about before, so “How can I evolve how things are at the moment in order to thrive more?”
So, there may be some dreaming, there may be some balancing, there may be some evolving and connecting those three things together helps you to identify your future direction.
10. For those listeners of ours, who are contingent workers, so for example, freelancers and contractors. Do you think that they face different challenges when it comes to thriving at work?
Yes, it’s really interesting, I’ve been a contingent worker for the last 20 years and organisations want you because you’ve got the skills now. You’re brought in with the ready-now skills and you’re often not included in all the activities around engagement because you’re just a contractor. So, it can be very difficult to get that sense of belonging and learn new things because organisations don’t want to invest in your learning – they want you there because you know your stuff.
So, you have to step back a bit and think about yourself a bit like a business and think, “Where is my market going? What value am I adding? How do I continue to invest in my skills so I’m relevant to this market?”
You may need to prioritise some space for learning alongside the paid work. You may also need to spend more time thinking, well, “What do I really want? What services do I want to be offering? How do I actually adapt what I’m offering now to get into more of what I want to be doing?”.
11. What advice would you give to someone who’s manager sees them as a ‘safe pair of hands’ rather than someone with potential? How can our listeners help to ensure their potential is recognised if they feel it isn’t, perhaps?
That can be so difficult can’t it, if your typecast is that safe pair of hands person rather than a high potential person. It may be because for a period of time you wanted to be in that maintaining space in your career and now you actually want to progress.
There’s some really interesting information on this that was put forward by Hogan Assessments and they talk about the difference between emergence, which is actively managing how you’re seen, and effectiveness which is delivering the results.
People that are the safe pair of hands can often be brilliant at effectiveness. So, doing the stuff but not very good at telling people what they’re doing. And often, when I’ve spoken to people like that, they have a belief that “If I keep my head down and do the job, I should get recognised”. And I say, “Yes you should, but the chances are you won’t”. So, it’s about finding a way to be noticed without needing to play politics.
So, both are important and if you do feel that you’re being overlooked, it’s about thinking, “What’s my current reputation? How much do people know about my strengths and experiences? Have I actually talked to anyone about my aspirations or am I expecting them to just pick it up without me ever telling them? And who’s my network of sponsors and what do they know about what I want?”. And, by starting to engage in some of those conversations will help people to understand what you really want, rather than potentially making assumptions about what you want.
12. Thank you and finally, this is a question that we like to ask all our guests, if you had one piece of careers advice, what would that be?
I think work is really important in our lives. In an ideal world, we would all find work that we love, with people that we love working with. Realise that’s not always possible, so it’s a case of getting as close to it as you can. I think by thinking about your career and being proactive, you stand much more chance of getting close to what you love, rather than if you just wait and see what happens. So, my advice would be to start giving it some thought, and that’s the way to start liberating more of your talent.
Did you find this podcast helpful? Read Maggi’s other blogs:
Dr Maggi Evans