Don't wait to run into a wall to figure out a path around it. Our workplace is competitive and changing rapidly, it is important we retool ourselves
My favorite question to folks I was interviewing both internally and externally was - “How much time have you invested in yourself in the last 2 months?”
Most of the time, I received blank looks. Some brave ones ventured with a “oh! Yes I took Christmas and New Year to be with the family” and the smart alecs piped in saying “every day is an investment…!”
The real answer after some posturing is; most hadn’t even attended a day’s training, leave alone read a book in their career area.
The answer that kept coming up was “oh! I am so busy I don’t have the time to go for training or attend that seminar.”
Clearly, investing in ourselves, reskilling or just getting a fresh perspective was not on many of our priority list.
I am no saint either… I ran down the same path. I was too busy to take time out to invest in myself. I was too busy to attend training or take time off to just read a book or meet someone in my career area.
As a consequence, I hit a wall a few years ago.
My style of management and decision making that I had developed over years of trial and error, and by role modeling had not kept up with the growth and demand that my expanded role demanded from me.
The result was that my thinking was the same, my approach to problems assumed a certain predictability that the law of diminishing returns started kicking in.
However hard I worked, my results were not changing. It was almost like banging against a wall – the wall wouldn’t give in and I was hurting myself.
Fortunately for me, my manager realized this and suggested I take a study break! My first thought was he was trying to get me out of the system the easy way!
The truth remains, I had played the game, I had played it well, and won many, but was now finding it difficult because the level of the game had changed. I needed to retool myself to play the game at a new level and be prepared to even change the game.
I took the timely offer, to do my advanced management program at INSEAD. I am glad I did this because it allowed me to step back from the daily grind in an environment that facilitated guided introspection and gave me a peer group that was doing the same.
The result: I returned to the workplace with renewed vigor, clear purpose, new perspectives and a solid network to rely on. My colleagues commented that I was approaching problems differently; I was suddenly being pulled into projects, asked to get on the investment committee… and most importantly, I was having fun and feeling good about myself.
Since that experience, I am clear I will spend at least 2 days in a year investing in myself. It could be a training program, a networking event, or a coaching conversation. I mandatorily set aside a certain amount, and time each year as investment in myself.
My suggestion to each one of us would be the same – don’t wait to run into a wall to figure out a path around it. Our workplace is competitive and changing rapidly, it is important we retool ourselves, refresh our networks and update ourselves with new perspectives.
To help you as you think through how to make that investment I am narrating a few examples of friends and colleagues who I know made the investment.
Want to move to a general management role
Currently Vice President with GE, he is doing a weekend management certification course with IIM – Lucknow through a combination of contact and on campus programs. The objective is to learn frameworks and concepts to help strengthen his decision making process which is largely intuitive and based on past experience. This is also to give him the bigger picture; and help him look beyond operations – He is now exploring finance, HR, marketing, sales etc…He would like to move from core operations to a general management role after this.
Need global perspective and a broader network
Currently CXO in an Indian retail company – he did a 2 month Advanced Management Program at Wharton. Objective - refresh concepts, build a global perspective and nurture a broader network. He already had a BE, MS and a MBA before this. BTW he paid the entire fee himself and the company only gave him paid leave and travel.
Mid career shift
Currently, a mid-level executive in an event management company - is pursuing the HR certification program at XLRI. Wants to make a move to HR, either within the company or outside.
Build domain expertise in chosen profession
The deputy editor of this magazine, Rajlakshmi Saikia, is balancing family, editorial commitments and her newly minted social media diva status to pursue the XLRI HR certification program over the weekend.
Break the glass ceiling
A senior executive balanced a sales job, family and an executive MBA from Chicago Booth. He moved from New York to Chicago with family, took a pay cut, paid for the program himself, busted weekends and is now on the Executive Council of a billion dollar size Service Company. By his own admission he wouldn’t have broken through the glass ceiling if not for this investment.
Of course there are many others who started but did not go the full route. Many of them paid the fees, attended a few classes and then just dropped out!
Here are a few tips from, the ones who made it and those who didn’t, on how to stay the course and not drop out.
1. Make sure your family is part of the decision - they need to understand & sign up to weekends away, and late night assignments. Many of them had their spouses as active partners in this pursuit. One of the participants said it took a while but once they realized that it was short term pain for long term gain they got on board.
2. Discuss at work with your manager, their manager and your HR, the reason for doing this and seek their support. Actually I was going to say just manager but one of the successful ones said that it is good to have a broader safety net as managers may change and then commitments will be forgotten.
3. Remember a commitment from family or the company is not permanent - you have to constantly make them a part of the learning else they will lose interest and forget the initial enthusiasm.
4. Write out why you are doing this on a piece of paper and stick it on your bathroom so you know ‘the WHY’ every time you are brushing, shaving or just want to know why!
No advice is ever good enough unless you have the burning desire. Each one of those I spoke with had a burning desire to get that extra learning.
If you don’t have it, don’t bother! You probably need a jolt like a redundancy or a missed promotion or a glass ceiling to get that drive.
While all my stories are around long-term courses you can even just take time off to do day long to week long courses. I have for instance signed up for a course on valuations that is for two days and now lugging Damodaran’s tome on Valuations as reminder of commitment.
Good luck and don’t forget to write your comments even if it is just a wish! Sometimes writing it may get you to do something about it!
Happy investing in yourself!
Elango R, is the Chief Human Resources Officer at MphasiS and author of the book “You Don’t Need a Godfather”. You can read his blog on www.ElangoR.com and follow him on Twitter @agastyasays