3 Rules for Success in the New World of Work

Surveys report different numbers but the picture is the same, anywhere from 25% to 50% of employees are unhappy at their job and many want to leave. (Forbes article and Conference Board survey results).

Being successful at work both as employee and owner takes different skills in today's world of workAdd to this statistic that 47% of kids now in college are not finishing with a degree and 50% of those that do graduate with a degree are underemployed or unemployed.  The picture is bleak for those entering the workforce now.

Rules for Success

I attended a presentation recently on Rules for Success in Education by ACT’s Chief Strategy and Marketing Director David Cumberbatch. Yes, this is the same ACT organization that administers college entrance assessments.

David spoke on skills students need for future success in college and ultimately the workplace.

What stood out for me was the new mindset taking hold for students and employees.  Being okay at what you do no longer cuts it.  You need to be competitive and top in what you do.  Having a degree no longer translates to the job security it once held.

I am not saying college is not a worthy investment, just that thinking now needs to go beyond education and extend into workplace skills that are in high demand.

This is the same if you are an entrepreneur running your own business.  Having a degree is important, but it is not a guarantee for success in the marketplace.

Success either as an employee or small business is being more and more shaped by the intersection of three major factors

  1. Being great
  2. Meeting a marketplace need
  3. Standing out

Being Great

Hard work is not going to any longer keep you employed.  Nor will working long hours bring in customers.  You have to be super power great at what you do and means leveraging your  talent.

Remember the rule of 10,000 hours?  That is Olympic-like greatness mastery of a skill or 20 hours a week for 10 years.   Don’t panic if you aren’t here yet.  The idea is to be working fervently to become super great at what you offer.

Meeting a Marketplace Need

You can have herculean-like talents, but still be jobless if there is no demand for those skills.  Same is true for small business owners.  You must serve others where there is a need, a problem you solve, or a highly sought after joy you provide.  Every business owner needs to bring in income in order to exist.

Finding something you can do that is in demand sounds really simple, but at the moment, the marketplace is flooded with people with skills that are not needed.  And sadly, there are jobs that can’t be filled because employers can’t find people with the right skills to fill them.

And thousands of businesses open both online and offline that have to close their doors in one year or less often because they were unable to reach a market that desired or wanted their services in large enough numbers to bring in sufficient income.

Standing Out

Getting acknowledged for the positive contributions you make is key in today’s world of work.  It used to be you sat down twice a year with your supervisor for your performance evaluation and list out your achievements and set goals for the next 6 months.

Today, you must go beyond the out-dated model of catering only to your boss and instead become known for the great work you contribute among your peers and your ideal target market.

This standing out is not self promotion but about helping others be successful.  Once you get results, immediately document your achievements, ask for recommendations, repurpose it in the social media realm – get acknowledged.  No waiting for recording in your HR file twice a year and collect dust.

Are You Doubting That You Have a Brand?

I was talking to a friend this week and she explained how she was not good at anything.   She volunteered for everything and no one knew about her.  Does this sound any bit familiar?

Been there.  I know you are a great helper.  If someone asks you to teach Sunday School or be on their special project or nonprofit committee or be assistant troop leader, do you without hesitation say “yes?”

Stop saying yes to everythingPut a Halt to This

STOP!  No more yeses.  First, my friend has a brand.  She is known as the volunteer person – the person that you can always count on to pitch in where-ever needed.  The problem with this is you never get a chance to use your true gifts – to stand out and feel like you are making a difference using your one-of-a-kind self.

I am not a great Sunday School teacher.  Instead, I am much better on a board position advising strategic direction. It isn’t that I can’t teach Sunday School – sure, I can follow the lesson plans and get excited with the kids.  However, my gifts are not in teaching a big group of young kids, there are others that are perfectly suited for this and come up with all kinds of creative ways to implement the lesson plans.  Instead, my gifts are visionary, leadership and pioneering new areas applying my experiences in my past.

So I volunteer in areas that use my gifts.  I turn down those that are not a great fit.  I want to be known and known powerfully in the areas that are my greatest strengths.

What Are Your Gifts?

So how do you determine your gifts, your areas of super powers?  A simple way is to ask others.  Ask 4 groups of people:

  • Current customers/clients/patients
  • Any fish that got away (those customers you wanted but did not move forward with you)
  • Past customers
  • Friends and family

You want to ask people from both your personal and professional life.  You should be the same person in both lives – your brand carries over from work to personal life and vis-versa.

Ask What?

So what do you ask?  No complex algorithmic sentence.  Just send them an email asking, “When you think of me, what are the first 5 – 10 adjectives that come up when you think of me?”  For right brain people, it is a good idea to also ask an additional question, “If I were a _____ (fill in the blank with either dog, car, kitchen appliance, or breakfast cereal), which one would you name for me and why – just a brief description of why.”

Right brain people like using their imagination and creativity.  It doesn’t matter which car, or cereal they choose, what does matter is their description of why.

Now send it to at least 3 people from each of the groups I defined above.  If you can identify 7 in each group even better.  You want at least 20 replies to review to find out your gifts.

What Do the Answers Mean?

Now sit down comfortably and scan over them.  What trends do you see?  Start going through them one group at a time.  Do you see consistency?  What are they saying?  Next, is there consistency between groups?

Ideally, you want to see trends, overlap in what people are saying.  Different words are fine, but is the overall essence coming through the same?

No need to break out into a sweat if answers are all over the place.  This just means your actions are diluting who you are and your talents.  You need to start filtering what you do to be consistent and clear on the unique strengths you offer.

Okay, what if the message coming through is not you?  What if you are projecting a brand that is not truly you.  Again, no panic.  It just means you probably have been responding to what you thought others expected of you and not who you authentically are.

Plan B

If you came away without knowing any more of what your gifts are than when you started, it is time to take an assessment.  I recommend the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test by Tom Rath (formerly called Now, Discover Your Strengths). First buy your own copy of the book by Tom Rath, then inside the back cover you get a code with which you can use to take their StrengthsFinder online survey.

The StrengthsFinder test will identify for you your top 5 areas of strengths pulling from 34 possible areas of strength made famous by Marcus Buckingham.  The strengths are meant to be areas you have natural talent in.  Don’t fret if you don’t see the strengths you thought would be labeled as strong.  Often those we work hard to master are not our natural unique areas of contribution. You can still use these areas you have invested time and energy in to master in how you distinguish yourself.  However, right now the goal is to find your natural gifts.

Also, know that you can reject any results from an assessment.  They are just a test and can not truly dig down to tell all your hidden gems.  Often they give us clues that lead somewhere or they may not lead anywhere.  Either way,  you move forward on your quest for clarifying who you are.

And yes, you do have a brand.