7 Keys to Successfully Manage the Business of You
We live in a free agent economy. According to a recent survey, 53 million Americans are doing freelance work. That’s 34% of the workforce, who are charting their own course, in charge of every aspect of their careers.
And for those of you sitting in larger corporations, you’re in a similar boat. Your company has its goals and objectives, and they consider you a resource to help them achieve those goals. They want you to care about and engage in the mission and purpose, but how many companies have asked employees what their personal goals are and engaged in helping them to achieve them? Not many.
A few years ago, I was out on a sales trip in New York with a colleague from the corporate office. He was a sharp, driven guy with a great education and experience with one of the big consulting firms. He’s a high potential guy that surely the company had their eye on. One evening, as we drove to a client dinner, I asked him about his career path and where he’d like to go with it. He stammered a bit as I’d caught him off guard and then replied that nobody had ever asked him that question before. He was nearly fifteen years into his career and nobody had ever asked him where he was headed. This is the reality of Corporate America today, even for top talent.
Companies are under so much pressure to deliver short term results, they feel unable to invest in long term initiatives. The average tenure of a US worker with their company has averaged between 3.5 and 4.5 years for decades. This provides little incentive for companies to invest in you. The only one tied to your success over the long term is you! Whether you work in a company or you’re a freelancer, you’re the one who’s ultimately responsible for the success of your career. You’re the captain of your ship, so in addition to your regular job, you’re now responsible for managing your career. Are you prepared to do it well?
The 7 Keys to Managing the Business of You:
1. Know your Vision and Values – Just like a company, you can create a vision of your future self that you intend to become. To be effective, your vision should be highly aligned with your skills, abilities, interests and passions. Your vision needs to be purposeful. Your values should be an accurate reflection of what’s most important to you. Together, your vision and values will act as a framework for decision making and behavior that, if followed, will successfully guide your career forward.
Much has been written on the topic of finding purpose, yet most of us still struggle to understand what it means for us. Keep in mind that finding purpose is a long, iterative process that can take an entire lifetime. You don’t have to have “THE” answer to begin working on a purposeful goal. Try new things and experiment until you find yourself on the right path. Your purpose will be something that you have an interest or passion in, it will play to your natural strengths and it will enable you to make your highest contribution. I use this model to assess whether or not to pursue new opportunities based on how purposeful they are for me. An opportunity is purposeful when all three criteria are present.
2. Focus on Delivering Your Highest Value – To be your most successful self, you’ll need to focus on using your highest value talents and abilities. If you’re a brilliant writer, but not much for technology, don’t spend your time building websites for yourself or others. It’s just not a good use of your talents and interests. Besides that, you won’t be as good as someone who has a strength in that area, so the value that you deliver will be less than optimal.
Companies do this all the time by outsourcing non-core activities. Apple is a brilliant design-oriented company, and they outsource manufacturing of their products to others. Other companies outsource some portion of marketing, payroll, accounting, IT, etc. If it isn’t what they do best, they look for a partner who can do it better. We as individuals should do the same when possible so that we can focus our time and energy on delivering our highest value.
3. Set Goals and Create Your Business Plan – You can think of your vision as the ultimate destination for your career. Your personal business plan is your roadmap to get you there. Break your goals into smaller pieces, creating milestones to pass on your journey. You don’t have to make it detailed and formal, but you do need to make sure it has enough information to guide you forward.
We all know how companies use business plans to focus their efforts, but in my experience as a coach and mentor, this is one of the areas where people undermine their own success most often. Most people have some form of vision and a clear view of their values, but most don’t have written goals, much less a plan on how to achieve those goals. We have business plans and project plans at work, but for some reason, most of us fail to use these practices in our career management and personal lives. To be successful, you need to plan for it.
4. Preparation is Critical to Success – Every successful journey requires some level of preparation. As you look at your personal business plan and the path you intend to take, are there new skills, knowledge or credentials that you’ll need? If your big opportunity presented itself today, are you prepared to successfully tackle it? Your plan should include a section on personal development that is aligned with the overall plan to ensure that when opportunities arise, you’re prepared to succeed.
Companies have their own version of personal development and preparation. To gain new capabilities, companies can hire consultants, launch training initiatives, partner with other companies, or even acquire other companies. As individuals, we have some of the same options available to us. We can hire coaches, take classes, read independently or even partner with other free agents to expand our capabilities. An opportunity that you’re not prepared for will likely be wasted, so do your homework.
5. Control Your Habits – I recently heard Naval Ravikant, CEO of AngelList, describe humans as collections of habits. I agree to some extent that at a basic level, we are what we do each day. To make the most out of each day, it’s important for us to be aware of and in control of our habits. Keep a log and take note of any habits you notice in your daily routine. Evaluate those habits and make a conscious decision whether to keep, change or eliminate them from your life. To learn more about habits, I highly recommend the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
Companies are collections of habits as well…they just call them processes. Companies invest vast amounts of time and energy to optimize their processes to improve performance. They also invest in optimizing the habits of their customers to get them to behave in a way that benefits the company. Don’t believe me? Are you a smoker? Do you eat when you’re not hungry? Ever buy something on impulse as you check out at the grocery store? Do you find yourself on Twitter or Facebook without consciously deciding to go there? You’re not alone. They got me too.
6. Put in the Effort – It’s competitive out there, and you need to work hard and smart to win. There are no shortcuts in life that will allow you to succeed without effort. Get rich quick schemes and miracle diets are only successful at separating you from your money. Consistent, focused, hard work over time is the true path to successfully achieving anything. By combining hard work with the other principles in this post, you’ll have much less wasted effort and you’ll reach your goals much sooner as a result. This is the closest thing to a miracle pill that I’ve ever found.
On the corporate side, we know the importance of hard work. Companies invest in compensation plans, engagement initiatives, incentives and contests all in an effort to get us to work just a little bit harder. They know that a small increase in effort, multiplied over time, will generate a tremendous improvement in results.
The key to getting sustained effort over time is to get engagement with purpose. If you’re working on something purposeful, it helps to energize you, allowing you to work harder and longer without being fatigued. Companies use this too as they try to inspire workers with the mission and purpose to drive higher engagement. Make sure that you’re focused on your purpose and putting in the work that’s required to succeed.
7. Get Help – Nobody succeeds alone. As a professional career and personal success coach, I certainly recommend this approach if you have the means. Having a coach is the most focused and direct way to get help, but it’s not the only way. Mentors are great because there isn’t a cost, but the downside is that you can’t ask for too much of their time. I also believe that peer to peer coaching is a good solution for many. If you need discipline, motivation and accountability, working with a friend could work well for you. You can always engage a professional as needed to help you with special situations and bigger opportunities. Using a combination of resources can be very effective.
I didn’t get my first coach until I was already a Senior Vice President, 20 years into my career. My company understood the benefit of coaching and invested in it for its senior leaders. It was a transformational experience for me and I’m grateful for having the opportunity to work with a coach. I only wish that I’d enlisted a coach earlier in my career where it could have made an even bigger impact. As individuals, I think most people are still struggling with the idea of needing a coach. For some reason, they think they should have all the answers. Companies know better in this regard, and invest in coaching and mentoring programs to help their people to improve their performance. Look at your personal network to see if you already know people who could be good peer coaches or mentors for you.
Floating versus Paddling
As I said before, nobody else is going to manage your career for you. So you can choose to go with the flow and see where the current takes you in life, or you can grab a paddle and follow these steps to create your ideal career. This is not the easy path, and it does require a lot more from you, but I’m sure you’ll find the results to be worth the effort. So what’s it going to be? Are you going to be a floater or a paddler?
Chris Slotten is a leadership and organization expert, business coach, consultant and senior executive. He recently founded a new online community for peer to peer coaching and personal development called Peak.Life. When he's not working on fun projects, he's the chauffeur and personal assistant for his three daughters, who always have somewhere to be.