Career Advice: Coaching By Cath

Rules For Success At Work
01/06/2012

Are you unwittingly following outdated rules for success at work? Each generation buys into and perpetuates a set of "rules for success" at work. We do it because we believe that following those rules will keep us safe, and we all want to be safe, particularly when it comes to financial security. So we do our best to learn the rules for success from our parents and teachers and to pass those rules onto our children...

Unfortunately, in spite of society's ongoing devotion to them, the rules for surviving and thriving at work are changing and many of those old rules for success that became so firmly established in the Factory Age are becoming the higher-risk path, rather than the safer option. So, if you're feeling disenchanted and stuck about your work, here are seven outdated rules for success at work that are still lingering from the factory age, that might be getting you stuck where you are now.

1. Change Is Bad
In the past it's suited corporates to foster loyalty and the dream of spending your whole career with one employer, and there's been the fear that job or career changes would be perceived as a sign of incompetence, fickleness and unreliability and make it difficult to secure the work you want when potential employers see a long list of past employers or projects on your CV. And of course, as I discussed in the Bottom-line on Martha Beck's Finding Your Own North Star, our Social Selves have a natural resistance to change anyway, because change means unfamiliarity and potential risk and we always want to avoid potential risk.

But, with our high-change workplaces and economic meltdowns taking place worldwide, resisting change is futile and job security has become an illusion. Companies can't really guarantee a job for life anymore. In fact, the ability to change easily and adapt to new roles and the constant changes in the market is probably one of the most crucial skills for resilience and success in work and business these days. In addition, we've come to the place where more corporates are recognizing the value of the exposure and experience that people gain when they change jobs and they're often preferring a well-traveled candidate over someone who's only had experience in one company.

2. You Must Specialize
The traditional career development path has been a linear one, where you choose your desired role as soon as possible and then spend the rest of your life getting better and better at that one area of knowledge and skill and climbing the corporate ladder - much like the "job for life" philosophy. There's still some space for specialists but as we've become more and more interconnected and specialist information has become more accessible, specialization isn't as "special" as it used to be.

The ability to straddle and synthesize information from different industries and to see the big picture and the way that the various parts of the system relate and affect each other has become more valuable in the job market than having specialist knowledge in one domain. And from a job security and financial resilience perspective, you're at much greater risk if you can only do one role. You'll have much greater financial resilience if you're multi-skilled and can adapt into a variety of different roles and industry contexts as the job market changes.

3. Work Must Be Done In An Office
This idea is very much from the factory tradition where people were doing very routine tasks, time was money and productivity was closely monitored by supervisors and managers as a result. And of course, prior to the internet and many of the other communication tools that have made it easy to work in location independent ways, workplaces needed to be centralized so that teams could work together in one place.

But these days we have the technology to support us to work in location independent ways and with the opportunity to leverage geoarbitrage, it makes a lot of business sense to work in more location independent ways. You'll spend less time and money on commuting, and you can work in locations where you have a lower cost of living and service clients who pay you in a stronger currency. More corporates are realizing that granting greater autonomy when it comes to work location has big motivation and productivity wins as well as time and money savings for both the employee and the employer.

4. Productivity Is Measured By Hours Worked
Again, this harks back to the highly supervised factory age where workers were completing routine, simple tasks that had a consistent optimal completion time. But the kind of tasks that more of us are doing in the corporate world now involve more creative, heuristic problem-solving that can't be forced into a tight schedule or consistently repeated. Sometimes that problem can be solved in 10 minutes and sometimes it'll take you 10 days. So hours worked isn't a good reflection of value, and the fact that someone was on-site from 9am to 5pm doesn't mean that they added any value during that time.

More companies are starting to focus on measuring results, rather than hours worked. What's more is that we aren't all our most productive between 9 and 5, so forcing people to work between 9am and 5pm can actually reduce productivity. Giving people autonomy over their time and focusing on results instead can dramatically improve intrinsic motivation, creativity and performance.

5. Work Is Just For the Money
Traditionally, work has been given a very functional role, as though it exists purely so that you can earn money to buy the lifestyle you want after you've clocked off for the day, and at the end of 65 years, when you get to finally start spending your time doing stuff that you enjoy.

There's a huge paradigm shift towards realizing that work can also offer us opportunities to do what we love doing, along with opportunities to learn and create and make a meaningful contribution, and more people are inventing work roles and businesses that allow them to get paid to do what they'd love to do anyway. And at the same time, more people are realizing that working your butt off so you can earn more money that you're only able to enjoy spending in your old-age is a very risky bet on your own life, and more people are prioritizing a good lifestyle now over earning more money to buy a great lifestyle later, when they might be too old too fully enjoy it.

6. Your Job Title And The Letters After Your Name Are What Counts
In our very left-brained traditional school, university and corporate systems, linear career development and specialization have been the natural way, and so job titles and formal certifications have been an important representation of where you sit in the social hierarchy and your level of success.

But as so many of the large formal hierarchies are crumbling in this recession, as industries become more inter-connected and work roles blend and cross over more, and technology advances and companies become leaner and flatter, job titles don't carry the importance, or the financial security, that they used to carry. It's not your job title that matters. It's your unique mix of skills, talents and personality traits and your ability to produce results that'll make you remarkable, valuable, indispensable, and ultimately financially secure in this era.

7. You Have To Choose One Option And It's All-Or-Nothing
At school we're presented with a bunch of different boxes representing the different careers available to us, and people ask us, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" We're trained into thinking about our work choices in terms of these distinct labels and an "all-or- nothing" perspective, as if we have to choose which box we want to climb inside, rather than having the option of having a leg in this box, another leg in another box, and arms each in another two boxes. This kind of all-or-nothing thinking is risky because it means that if you want to change anything, there's a big jump between where you are and where you want to be.

The reality is that you have each of those all-or-nothing options as well as a variety of options that are a blend of those two options. For example, you don't have to choose between employment and entrepreneurship. You can have a day job and a small business on the side. And equally, you might not have to choose between this business idea or that business idea - perhaps you can start both businesses, or perhaps you can combine those two business ideas in a unique way under one umbrella. More companies are beginning to work in a project-focused way, rather than a title-focused way, which means that if you're wanting to move into another role in the industry, rather than re-training and starting out all over again at the bottom of a different department or industry, you can probably make the shift by taking on a project where your current role and the new role intersect. There are a lot more opportunities to bring all of your interests together and invent new roles for yourself by taking a project-based approach to your career development.

Discard The Outdated Rules And Invent Your Own
Each of these outdated rules for success at work is a restriction in some way and if you were to accept these rules as though they're true, you'd be cutting yourself off from the boundless opportunities that are available to you and unnecessarily restricting your own choices. Agile living is about questioning the rules and restrictions that are placed on us and liberating ourselves from unnecessary and untrue rules and restrictions so that we can be free to move, create and contribute in more and more awesome ways.

So think about the way you're doing your work and whether any of these outdated rules for success are limiting your enjoyment and your contribution, ask yourself what evidence you're already noticing that those rules for success are outdated. The people who are most successful in this era are the people who are leading their own careers and lives and choosing to go against the grain and invent their own rules. So invent your own rules for success that'll liberate you to expand yourself and be more of the person you want to be in your work and beyond.

Author: Cath Duncan

Cath DuncanCath Duncan is a life and leadership coach and CareerJunction's resident Career Coach. Through one-to-one coaching and projects like the Bottom-line Bookclub, Cath helps people learn the Agile Living Strategies for thriving at work in this high-change era.

Read more about Cath | Get in touch with Cath

Back to Coaching By Cath

What's this?

Options

  • Print

Career Advice


give feedback