In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, I had the great pleasure of keynoting the Women Who Transform event in Guadalajara hosted by Volteo.
When most women’s conferences focus on strategies for work-life balance, breaking through the glass ceiling, and on outsmarting men, this event was refreshingly different. Volteo chose to highlight and celebrate women who have transformed their teams, their companies, their businesses and society.
Kudos to Volteo for having the foresight and vision to host such an important event!
I focused my keynote on five superpowers women need to increase their personal, professional and career agility. I’m recapping my remarks here, in this post, to extend the conversation to an even wider audience.
Superpowers can really come in handy in the workplace. As for myself, I’d like to be able to leap tall piles of data in a single bound. I’d also like to be able to make silos disappear. Which superpower would you like more of—mind control? invisibility (at times)? superhuman endurance? time manipulation?
The reality is we all have superpowers. Your unique talent is likely what makes you the go-to person in your department. One thing for sure: superpowers don’t come accidentally. They come from knowledge, intention and hard work.
The good news is that you don’t need to adopt all of them to be successful. Even developing one or two of these traits will set you on an upward career trajectory, and help you break into the management ranks.
THE POWER OF ASSOCIATION
Surrounding yourself with people whose traits you admire and from whom you can learn is what I call the power of association. Consciously and subconsciously, their actions and behaviors will influence your everyday choices.
Jim Rohn, author and motivational speaker, wisely notes: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” While you can’t always pick your family, boss or CEO, you certainly can choose the employees you hire, the suppliers you work with, the teams you form, the coworkers you have lunch with or hang out with after work, the people you mentor and who mentor you, and the professional associations to which you belong, among others.
A good friend of mine set a goal for herself to add one new friendship every year. And she’s been doing it for the past 20 years. As you know, maintaining a friendship—a true friendship—requires nurturing as well as an investment of time. It’s not that she’s abandoned her childhood friends, or her high school and college buddies, but she’s made a conscious decision to form new associations with people she admires and from whom she can learn at each stage of her career.
What got you here won’t get you there
Same is true of your associations—the ones that got you here, most likely won’t get you there. That’s why the power of association is so important… and it is entirely within your control.
Associating with people who inspire you and can help push you further on your career journey is a valuable superpower to hone.
If you want to develop your professional and career agility, surround yourself with colleagues who have a track record for successfully challenging the status quo without being perceived as rabble-rousers. The power of association is very effective and completely within your control.
THE POWER OF EXPERIENCE
Another superpower that can propel your professional and career agility is seeking out new experiences and perspectives. New experiences, especially those that are challenging or even a bit uncomfortable, can stretch you in new ways. This doesn’t necessarily mean switching companies or changing careers, though these options are also viable. If you are a career marketing professional, you can seek out a number of new experiences within your chosen profession.
For example, if you work behind the scenes in a marketing operations or automation role, pursuing a customer-centric position can help you gain valuable up-close-and-personal insight into customers. If your marketing roles to date have been strictly U.S. based, seeking out experience in different parts of the world can expose you to new buying habits, workplace practices and customs. If you’ve been at corporate headquarters for many years where long-term planning and governance is valued, switching to a product group can help you develop experimentation and high-speed iteration skills. If you support a business group with quarterly sales in the tens of millions, rotating to support a struggling startup division will help you stay nimble.
These are just a few of the many ways you can purposefully choose to expand your experience and perspective. In the words of the late Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” That is why experiences are a powerful and proven way to enhance your professional and career agility.
THE POWER OF YES
Another method for increasing your career agility—and trajectory—is to develop the habit of raising your hand. Whether it’s tackling a current business obstacle or seizing upon a new growth opportunity, companies are never short on things to do. They do, however, often struggle to find the resources to get it all done. That’s why managers generally welcome it when employees volunteer to lead an initiative, take part on a project team, participate in a brainstorming session or otherwise offer their time and expertise to assist.
Sometimes you raise your hand, other times you are drafted
Over my own career, I frequently served as a volunteer, and a draft pick, for special assignments. Most of the time I willingly accepted. Some assignments were company-wide initiatives; others were leading a project management office (PMO). Some took me out of marketing; others put me squarely in the center of transforming marketing. Some were full-time assignments; others were in addition to current duties. And, yes, some were downright dogs. But all of them were tremendous opportunities to develop new leadership skills while having an active hand in designing and implementing an initiative management had deemed important. Each new assignment provided opportunities to observe, listen, ask and learn. They gave me new insights, perspective and skills. And, by doing so, they accelerated my personal and professional growth.
A lesson from Richard Branson
Self-made billionaire, and all-around nice guy Richard Branson, is adventurous both in his personal life and in business. That’s why he’s a huge fan of always saying “yes.”
Branson says, “Even if I have no idea where I’m going or how to get there, I prefer to say yes, instead of no. Opportunity favors the bold.” Branson admits that saying “yes” can be a risk but that it’s often well worth the reward. “Life is a lot more fun when you say yes!” he says. “It’s amazing how that one little word can lead you on an incredible adventure.”
THE POWER OF LIFELONG LEARNING
Another superpower for achieving greater professional and career agility is a commitment to lifelong learning. While the majority of learning comes through on-the-job experience, mentoring and coaching, a percentage also comes from self-initiated training, courses and reading. The learning and development community have a name for this framework: the 70:20:10 model.
The majority of learning—70 percent—is through doing or on-the-job experience. 20 percent of learning is through mentoring and coaching. And 10 percent is through more formal classroom courses, seminars, and webcasts. The 70:20:10 model continues to be widely employed and adapted by organizations throughout the world.
Sometimes we are fortunate enough to work for a company that promotes and invests in continuous learning, or live in a country, like Singapore, where the government encourages the adoption of new, in-demand skills to fuel their country’s continued growth and prosperity. The government of Singapore incentivizes its citizens to stay ahead of technology change by giving vouchers—worth a few hundred dollars—to each adult over twenty-five. Citizens can use these financial incentives to pay for online training from more than 500 approved providers.
But more often than not, we’re on our own.
2.5 weeks of training per year… now just eleven hours
According to research by Wharton School professor Peter Cappelli, in general, businesses provide less employee training than they previously did. In 1979, the average young worker received 2.5 weeks per year of training; a few decades later, the average had fallen to just eleven hours. As a result, employees must take it upon themselves to increase their knowledge base and upgrade their skills.
Learning is no longer something you just do in schools; learning agility is something today’s successful business leaders embrace to outsmart change and future-proof their careers. The goal of every company should be to have agile leaders who can innovate and drive change, at every level. It takes more than education and experience; it takes a commitment to lifelong learning.
THE POWER OF SCALE
The final superpower is the ability to drive your initiatives and programs at scale. Scale gives you greater reach and impact—across geographies, across business units and across departments. It allows you to influence change not just within your team, but systemically and at scale.
This may sound daunting at first, but it’s absolutely doable. I’m not talking about going viral; rather, I’m talking about sparking a movement—internally—within your company, for your ideas, your programs or your initiatives.
Granted, not all of us are in a position to influence change company-wide. But if you are, the National Research Council’s five-point agility competency scale is an excellent resource to assess your readiness to drive change and further develop your professional agility competency.
NRC’s 5-point agility scale
The National Research Council is the Government of Canada’s premier research organization. They developed a five-point scale to evaluate an employee’s professional agility competency. It progresses from Level 1, “changes when required,” to Level 5, “enables an environment that fosters personal agility.” At the lower levels of professional agility, employees adapt to new approaches when explained why and how while maintaining a positive outlook as pressure increases. At each progressive level, employees are evaluated on how proactively they model their own change behaviors as well as how they encourage and create an agile work environment.
You can download a copy of the NRC’s personal agility five-point scale from my marketing agility resource center at www.marketingflexology.com.
NRC’s competency model is excellent for defining, measuring and evaluating professional agility across a large group of employees. Additionally, it sends a message to the organization that agility is valued as a core leadership trait.
The pace of business has accelerated over the past several years and shows no signs of slowing. It’s time to take control before someone else does. Honing these 5 superpowers will boost your professional and career agility, and put you on a path to outsmart change and future-proof your team and your career. But remember, these principles are only valuable when they’re applied.
Once you do—and I know you will—you can step back and watch the career magic unfold!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
With every corner of every industry being disrupted, Engelina Jaspers helps business leaders build nimble marketing organizations with customer insight and speed to execution at its core. You can read an excerpt and download a free chapter of her book, Marketing Flexology: How to Outsmart Change and Future-proof Your Career, at: www.marketingflexology.com.