When you want to pivot your career: 9 things to consider

Perhaps during these times, some of us are considering a new career path. This could be in response to external factors happening to us, like a job loss or a change in daily schedules and responsibilities, like kids being home for school.

Sometimes, it comes from within. We find that we spend so much time “working” that what we are spending 40+ hours a week doing is not aligned to our values or interests. Perhaps during these times, we are getting to know ourselves and reflecting on what matters. We might find ourselves thinking that we are not putting our time and energy where we want it to go. Whatever the motivation, we might be thinking about trying a new line of work.

As an aside, I have written about this before…focusing on your Ikigai – the ultimate Venn diagram of what I like to do, what I am good at doing and what I can make money doing. In case you don’t think so, now is the right time to do this self-exploration to make sure you are living in alignment with yourself – values, interests, skills, principles and philosophy. I highly encourage you to take time to reflect now.

If you find yourself wanting to pursue a different path, it may feel overwhelming to figure out how to start anew. Here are some things I have learned along my career journey.

  1. Don’t quit your day job. Some may give different advice here. Some may suggest to quit corporate life and start your own “thang”. This has worked for some; I cannot say this never works. However, if you are a tad trepidatious about leaving a job for something else, don’t do it. There are many things you can take action on to crystallize a new path without sacrificing a paycheck. That paycheck can give you some security while you are exploring your new adventure. If you want to make a big switch, you may need savings to do this.
  2. Do your research. One thing you can do is a little research. If you know what you want to do, do some research to find out what those people do, what education they have, what organizations need people doing this work or, perhaps, this is about being independent. If so, then what is the market like for independents in the area you want to pursue. If you want to become a lawyer, what is the market for lawyers. If you want to move into technology, what is that market like (which I think is pretty good today!).
  3. Connect with others. The best way, outside of a good Google search, is to try and use your network to find people who actually do what you want to do. Perhaps you are in marketing but want to shift to education. This shift is a lot easier to make as there are many transferrable skills. But, if you’re in finance and want to become a doctor…well, this is a much bigger shift to make. Connecting with others is the best way to assess if this is a life and career you want. I know a couple of doctors and they are rewarded by what they do but it was a long road in terms of time and money to get there. Learning this will help you determine if you’re willing to jump in. For the longest time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Then, I worked in a law firm early in my career and decided…mmmm, maybe not.
  4. Get smart. If you want to pursue a vastly different path like finance to doctor or sales to architect, you will need to pursue external education. Even if you want to move from HR to Technology, acquiring new skills will be important to make that shift. Luckily, today there are so many options for education. Unless you need an MD or JD, you can consider other options than a university, like Coursera or Udemy, or an online degree that will equip you in a cost-effective manner that is designed for working adults.
  5. Start where you are. If you want to shift from Marketing to HR or HR to Technology, consider trying to make that shift with your current employer. They know you best. They might be more supportive of this type of switch because you have knowledge of the company and culture. Look at your internal job boards and talk to Recruiting. You’d be surprised how committed a number of companies are to seeing people move across departments. This type of movement can be very valuable to a company. Moving from the field to HQ or from being client facing to a support function ensures different knowledge and experiences gets transferred from one group to another. Recruiting can also tell you, specifically, what education or experience you need to qualify. This can be invaluable to helping you to get started.
  6. Begin on the side. If part of the reason you want a change is to try something completely new, try doing it on the side. Do you want to freelance in writing, editing, web design, app development, life coaching? All of these areas and many more can be “tried out” on the side while working. Find one group or person you can do this for at a discounted rate to not only build your portfolio but see how you like it. Connecting with others is a great way to get an idea of what that career is like but, obviously, there is no substitute for real, first-hand experience.
  7. Consider pro bono. One of the best ways to get real experience in something new is to do it for free. If you want to write, write your blog or write an enewsletter for the animal rescue down the street for free. If you want to move into finance, help your church finance committee. If you think you want to move into health care, volunteer at a hospital. If you want to become a programmer, design something for a not-for-profit and see how you like it. There are so many groups who need services but can’t afford them. This is a mutually beneficial way to explore your desire. Even if you want to move into archaeology, which was one of my loves, you can try this out. I did a day trip with the Field Museum once to see what that was like. Turns out it was very tedious work reliant on grant funding and donations, and it wasn’t for me.
  8. Go part time. Companies are moving more toward flexible work arrangements. This was happening before our current circumstance but is becoming more heightened now. I know many friends who have gone to a part-time work schedule while they took care of their kids or pursued what they love. I had a friend go to 4 days a week so Fridays could be spent writing her novel. I had another friend flip to be a part-time consultant so he could spend two days a week building his life coaching business. More than ever, people want to diversify their income streams or have time to try out something new. Take advantage of that, if you can.
  9. Go in eyes wide open. I have read many a tale of people quitting corporate life, moving to Montana and starting their own not-for-profit that is highly successful and rewarding. I am not saying these stories don’t happen. They certainly do. But, the majority of switches may not go exactly as planned. I had a colleague quit his job to become a real estate agent and he struggled to build a clientele. He found himself going back to what he liked (but didn’t love) while he figured out his next move. I have had multiple friends go independent to find out they hated business development and went back to being internal to a corporation. This is all okay. How do you know until you truly try something?

While not every situation ends happily ever after, I have seen a lot of success stories too. I had a childhood friend move out of sales and become a lawyer in her 30’s and she loves what she does. Another friend left a high-level corporate job to go back to school to become a Physician’s Assistant in her 40’s. She is thrilled with her life choice. It can be done. If you focus on the tips above, your chances of success are good. The above will help you learn a lot about your new career path before you cut the cord from your current one.

If you do make a change, do your homework and upskill yourself to prepare. If it doesn’t go the way you want, you can always go back or evolve into something new. I made a change in my career from Learning & Development to Knowledge Management back to Learning & Development. I missed Learning. Developing people and helping them find their career is what I am committed to do. I carry my lessons from my Knowledge Management days with me. They have only helped me. Sometimes, a change can help you figure out what you really want or not want. Sometimes, this clarity can only come from action and trial runs.

When you need to get out of the way: 7 mistakes to avoid as a leader when your team needs to shine

As a leader, sometimes we think we need to have all of the answers. Being that go-to expert in everything we manage makes us feel valuable. We sometimes think the way to really shine is to be the one answering all of the questions, delivering all of the presentations, being the face of everything your team is working on.

Unfortunately, some cultures can reward this behavior. The one out in front is the one that gets recognized through awards, pats on the back and even promotions. However, being a good leader also means getting out of the way – giving your team their day in the sun. Good companies and healthy cultures support this behavior and reward the manager for being a coach, mentor and advisor to their team members. When a team member shines so does the manager.

This behavior is especially hard for those new to management. When you are used to being the doer, you are the one representing the project. When you transition to management, you need to become less of a doer and more of a coach. It can be difficult to move from being the star on stage to directing behind the scenes.

This is why I caution people who want to become a people manager. It can be very rewarding but the role of a manager can be quite different. You now orchestrate instead of doing. You coach instead of play. You assign work and hold accountable instead of doing it yourself. You delegate and trust instead of depending only on yourself. These are tough switches to make.

But even seasoned leaders have a hard time letting their people deliver the message to senior leaders instead of delivering it themselves. This can create bad feelings for your team. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you put in lots of time on a project only to have someone else share it with the world? Maybe you know this feeling. It is tempting….but resist the urge.

Here are seven mistakes to avoid when you think you should do something yourself as a manager:

  1. Don’t respond for them. We still communicate quite heavily over email. While we have tons of virtual tools today to communicate, we still rely on email to deliver one-way messages. If someone asks you a question about a project your team member is leading, either respond and copy them so they can add to the response. Or, respond by stating that Bill on your team is the expert and he can answer their question. Let the expert field the question.
  2. Don’t make up an answer. When someone asks you about a project your team is working on, it is okay to say you need to check with them to get the answer. Some leaders think it is a weakness to say I don’t know. It isn’t. It is weaker to make up an inaccurate or half-complete answer because you think the asker believes you “should” know the answer. As managers, we juggle a lot. Sometimes, we juggle our own projects as well as help manage projects others are working on. You can’t possibly know the details of everything. Admitting you don’t know, but that someone on your team does know, is much more helpful.
  3. Don’t hoard work. Most of us are high performers and perhaps it is our performance that got us promoted in the first place. The key to being a good manager is to spread the work. This is the most classic challenge I see with new managers – going from doing all the work to assigning, coaching, steering, managing the work. If this is a problem for you, start small. Start by giving your team member a chance to lead one project. Have status updates with them but let go of one thing to start.
  4. Don’t steal the spotlight. Like above, perhaps being in the spotlight is what got you promoted to a manager. If so, it will be tempting to remain there. My favorite book title of all time is Marshall Goldsmith’s: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He has a lot of points in this book about driving your career and being successful. But, one theme is you need to do something different to continue growing. Moving into a people manager role is one of these career changes that requires new skills and mindsets. Resist the urge to steal the spotlight. Share it with your team. They will be engaged in their work and loyal to you.
  5. Don’t put your ego first. Ego is tricky. Even the most humble of us have a little ego that can get bruised or puffed up from time to time. We may feel threatened by a star team member who gets lots of attention. This is normal. This is human nature. We need to put our egos in check here, however. Remember: When your team member shines so do you. Also, if your team member does a good job, your team may be handed more work, trusted to take on more, asked to lead the critical project. These are all positive outcomes. It is even possible, that you are recognized as a great leader, which could mean more promotability for you as well.
  6. Don’t be afraid. One manager I had years ago felt if he wasn’t the star of the team, he would be let go in deference to his right hand, which was my peer at the time. Unfortunately, when we move into a sense of fear, we get desperate. When we get desperate, we fall into old patterns and go into survival mode. Try and identify if this is your circumstance and head it off. I have always said, no matter where I work, that there is significant work to be done. There is more than enough work to go around to keep people busy. If you live in fear of losing your job, you may not make the best decisions.
  7. Don’t be absent. All of this said, you should not be absent either. I have come to learn that there is more than one solution for every circumstance and that the one in the middle, the compromise, is usually best. So, instead of choosing between yourself, as the manager, and Bill, your team member, to deliver the presentation to senior leadership, do both. As his manager, you can set the stage, kick it off and be present while he delivers the crux of the message. There are many ways to be present and to be seen as part of the winning solution but not hog the spotlight.

As with many areas, being a manager is a delicate balance between so many things, including doing the work, getting recognition, and being the one to present/be seen as the face of an effort. Deciding what works to give fair credit to everyone involved will be the best path for your career and your team member’s. Find ways to compromise and balance your needs and your team’s. Success lies in the middle.

When you want to influence a change: The 5-part model that works for me

Getting others to buy into your idea, plan or pitch for budget is a regular occurrence in the corporate world. Especially, if you are in a corporate support group, you are constantly striving for people to love the product, process or service you provide and continue to see value in what you are doing.

For years, I have tried to influence higher levels to agree with or adopt my proposal for many different projects. Some involved investing money; some did not. But, all involved changing something – either a process, technology or behavior. In order to get “buy-in” or support for your proposal, I highly recommend viewing this exercise in influencing as a change management project.

There are many change management methodologies you can choose. I am certified in PROSCI and believe in their ADKAR model (Awareness of the need – Desire to support change – Knowledge of how to change – Ability to demonstrate skills and behaviors – Reinforcement to make change stick). I have used this model to help craft my change management plans to work through this fairly linear path in changing behavior.

I am not huge on models. There are models for everything these days. Just pick up any article on business and you will stumble on another model to organize a strategy, philosophy or process. However, I do put stock in the PROSCI model and another “model”, or really acronym, that I learned years ago when studying change. It is called the SCARF Model created by David Rock, the head of the NeuroLeadership Institute.

The SCARF model, like ADKAR, is an acronym that stands for: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness. Rock’s model focuses on how to use this in managing teams and working with others pretty broadly. I have applied this model in a slightly different direction toward managing change.

When I try to influence for change, I think about all of the decision-makers and what matters to them. If I don’t know, I find out. At least one of the above five areas matter to your decision-makers. So, understanding how to lessen concerns in these areas, will help you manage the change and combat resistance.

  1. Status – This one can be important. If someone feels like their status in the organization is being threatened by what you are proposing, they will resist the change. This may be inevitable but if a leader feels this way, your job is to provide real assurance to their status. Give them a large role in the decision or review of your project milestones. Get them involved.
  2. Certainty – If your change leaves things uncertain for them, you need to educate around the why and spend more time on sharing details to help them feel more comfortable and turn the uncertain into certain for them.
  3. Autonomy – Not everyone, but many of us, value our autonomy. If your change threatens that, you will get resistance. Look at what you are proposing. Does it create more oversight that might “pinch” someone? If so, is that necessary? If it is, then help manage this resistance by involving that leader in the oversight tasks. No one likes bureaucracy. But those who value autonomy really don’t like bureaucracy. Re-visit your solution to see what can be tweaked. If nothing can be altered, then communicating “the why” and the impact of the change will be most important to get this leader on board.
  4. Relatedness – Some people greatly value connection and collaboration. If your solution somehow cuts them out of the solution, you may see resistance. Think about how everyone may play a role. Think about how teams can work together. For someone who values relatedness and feels this is being challenged, it will be important for you to focus on the people side of the change. Explain, as part of your pitch, how people will receive rewards or gain huge benefits as part of your solution.
  5. Fairness – If your change creates a sense of inequity for employees, your leaders may push back. Especially now, equity and inclusion are essential to a healthy working environment. Leaders are growing more and more conscious of this. Pay attention if your solution inadvertently creates inequity and address it. Talk about equity as part of your pitch to proactively address this.

The goal is to know what your leaders value and what they might resist if they perceive their values are being challenged. When you uncover that, either make some changes to even out the imbalance of your solution or spend time on educating and addressing these concerns proactively. You will be more influential if you appeal to what matters most to the people you are pitching to.

And, above all, remember that people support what they create. So, if you think you may have a high resistor to your idea, involve them early and throughout the solutioning process. You will have an ally for life if you are more inclusive.