T-Shaped Career

I’ve been asked many times whether I’m a generalist or a specialist, and I’ve always struggled to put my self on one side or the other of the divide. Turns out there is a way to describe someone who has elements of both in their career.

T-shaped. The stem of the T applies to the specialist part of your career: your field of expertise or the subject you can go deep on. For me that’s digital. The top of the T applies to the more generalist part of your career, the areas across which you have some knowledge and can collaborate on, often with more of an emphasis on the soft skills.

In my case I know something about, and have worked on projects in, branding, design, marketing communications, human resources and content creation. Most often these projects have had a digital dimension, although I worked on a marketing campaign for Schiphol airport many years ago that was distinctly not digital. (But included a visit to the air-side of Schiphol without buying a ticket which was cool). So the top of my T is communications.

It occurred to me the same pattern exists in relation to other fields. Someone might be interested in sports generally but fanatical about football, another person may love art, but have significant expertise in a single period of art or focus on one medium. Even social justice issues might land the same pattern. If you are against one form of justice then you are against all forms of injustice. That’s the top of the T, but there’s very likely a particular cause that you go deep on: in my darker moments I suspect it’s whatever part of your identity is most likely to get you killed.

But thinking of my career as T-shaped helped me rethink where to focus a recent job search and where I want to spend time developing new skills. It’s also changed how I look at the careers of others, going beyond the title and the narrow skills list to think about cross over skills for teams and ongoing work. It’s been a liberating way to think about careers, more holistic than box-ticking.

What’s in your T?

 

 

Image: Doors choice   |  via pixabay

Breaking Down Silos

The metaphorical silos in a company can be seen as representing boundaries put up by an organisation to keep a group of people focused on accomplishing their goals, and preventing interference with progress by outsiders, so there’s a positive purpose.

But we talk about breaking down silos because when silos are rigidly maintained within a company it creates problems. Silos form in large companies to support the hierarchical structure of the company. It rests on an old model of thinking about work; that managers know what needs to be done and are responsible for directing all those under their responsibility to complete that work.

For me silos are are an outcome of an overly hierarchical company culture, one where people are unwilling to share knowledge, solve problems together or co-operate in any way.  The business directory defines silo mentality as;

a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.

Visible signs that your organisation is in silos;

  • people talk about “us” and “them” meaning different departments within your company
  • you need agreement from management of two departments to get co-operation from another department
  • you need permission from a manager to approach someone in another department
  • departments in your company store their information online in team sites or shared drives that are only accessible for department members
  • you do have lunch with colleagues, but only ever from your own department
  • your personnel directory is searchable by name, or department, but not by expertise
  • when you look for specialist expertise, for example a Spanish-speaking tax expert with experience in Latin America, you start by emailing someone who speaks Spanish

Yes there is a need to focus on the work, and that may mean that a project team shuts itself off from the organisation in some way. Yes in regulated industries there may be a need to put boundaries between certain parts of the organisation; the term used for this in banking in Chinese walls. In agencies temporary boundaries are often put in place around a project to prevent sharing of client information.

In general I wouldn’t consider anything temporary as a silo; just as you don’t move a grain silo easily, silos within companies take time to be established. I agree that there are regulatory boundaries to be considered, and while I’m probably guilty of understating those in my enthusiasm for improving knowledge sharing across a company, I’m certainly not thinking of them when I call for us to “break down the silos”.

I watched a TED video that talked about what might be one of the greatest silo breakdowns ever, and it comes from the US military. General Stanley McChrystal states;

The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it.

He explains that it’s almost impossible to know who is the best person to use each piece of information, and that the army therefore moved from a “tell only who needs to know” to “we need to tell, and tell them as quickly as we can“.

It’s this philosophical shift I am referring to when I talk about breaking down the silos.

In some companies the need is urgent, and in those cases the phrase needs to be upgraded to “tearing down the silos”.

Moving the Needle

I was reading an article on Wal-Mart’s e-commerce business recently and I came across the term “to move the needle”. Since I spend more time sewing on buttons than I do driving cars at the moment the first mental picture I had was troubling. Turns out not that needle.

The expression refers to moving the needle on some instrument of measurement such as a car speedometer, possibly more specifically the analogue Vu meter used in audio recording. In a more abstract form asking whether something “moved the needle” is just asking whether there was a noticeable improvement in the results.

In the Wal-Mart article they were referring to the e-commerce side of sales, which at 0.3% of US sales (by value) is barely impacting the billions in total sales. So although sales are at over $200 million it’s not yet moving the needle. I may not be the only one unfamiliar with the term, the headline reads “Wal-Mart’s e-commerce business: Can it move the needle, be material?” I’m pretty sure those last two words have been added since I first saw the article.

In another take on moving the needle, Lisa Earle McLeod applies the term to personal changes, and shows how making small, consistent changes is significant. She says “You don’t accomplish big things overnight; you move the needle every day.” Exactly.

What are you doing to move the needle today?

Image; Pixabay

GDPR – Privacy Data in the EU


If you’re in the EU you will have been bombarded with messages in the last few weeks, emails from everything you’ve ever subscribed to, forced logged out of apps, and screeds of new terms and conditions to read. It’s all because of GDPR, the European General Data Protection Regulation.
The GDPR is a new law on data privacy in the EU and it relates to companies, individuals and organisations processing personal data for commercial use. It’s meant a lot of work over the last 3 years for anyone working in digital and a lot of lawyers. It grants citizens very specific rights over their personal data, here’s the list of rights from the EU official site:

The responsibility rests with companies to obtain clear consent from you, and you must opt in to receive information from them, the law states that “pre-ticked boxes are not considered to be valid consent under GDPR”. The law also recognises that consent is not always possible, for example an employee cannot consent to be supervised by CCTV for a productivity issue – since there is a power imbalance between the employer and the employee. The penalties for companies are steep, up to €20 million, or 4% of the worldwide annual revenue of the prior financial year, whichever is higher. No wonder companies are working hard to set up good privacy systems.

As an individual, a consumer and an employee I like the principles of the law. I’m glad to see a comprehensive overall of how our data is used, and that the EU is using its power to counteract the power behind US tech giants who haven’t taken as much care of my data as I’d like. But oh boy it’s exhausting to read everyone’s terms and conditions and sort out what I’m going to agree to. And not all companies present it in the easiest way. Here’s the notification on data sharing from FastCompany

Seems OK right?
That’s until you scroll and find out that there are 53 companies other than Fast Company who get access to your data, and they get your data not just from Fast Company but also from other sites which use these companies – that’s code for tracking cookies being set on your computer so they know which site you use. I work in digital and I have heard of about 8 of these. There’s no way anyone has time to look through the conditions of all these sites and evaluate what is being done with the data.

Some companies weren’t able to make their sites GDRP compliant in the two years since the law was passed and I got this message

Me: “You promise??!!”

Win-Win Situation

We’re often encouraged to look for the “win-win” outcome, or a situation will be described as “win-win”. Generally it’s used to point teams to look for outcomes where all parties will benefit.

It’s common parlance now but it comes from game theory, specifically from “non-zero-sum” theory. That is a game some outcomes have a total greater or less than zero, best illustrated by the prisoners dilemma.

Imagine that two prisoners can either betray the other or remain silent with the following potential outcomes.

Rationally prisoners will betray, since that gives them the best outcome when they don’t know how the other will behave. Which gives you an indication of how hard it is to get to a win-win situation between two parties with competing interests.

The above table becomes abstracted and generalised to the following;

In addition the win-win should be a new solution that delivers positive outcomes to both parties, in practice a compromise can be called a win-win when it delivers less to each party and is in fact a lose-lose, but with both parties losing less than in a dual defect situation. Given that there is a rational advantage in defecting, and often in defecting early, it can take tricky negotiation to get both parties to co-operate.

Image: Adventure via Pixabay  |  CC0

Hotwash

This came up on a powerpoint slide of the day’s agenda “4 – 5 pm Hotwash”.

Evidently it means immediate review, according to Word Detective it comes from the US Army where it describes the debrief that occurs immediately after a mission or patrol, possibly from the literal talking while showering, more likely from the practice soldiers have of dousing their weapons in hot water after an exercise.

I’d never seen it before, and nor had any other colleagues in the room. So I’ve asked people what it makes them think of, most people said either laundry or hot tubs (which might say more about them than the subject). But the most descriptive was “hotwash sounds like a painful spa treatment involving large muscular women twisting your body in weird ways”.

In this case it was referring to the last hour of an assessment day, when all teams will discuss their assessments and we’ll check any major inconsistencies.

If I’d been writing the agenda I would have put “4 – 5 pm Review Assessments”, but then, I’m not a management consultant.

Image: Weekly Laundry | Stefan | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Cyberslacking

Perfect subject for a Friday!

Cyberslacking refers to the use of a company’s computer and internet connection for personal activities when one should be doing work.

It’s not the occasional email, or lunchtime Facebook status check that’s deserves the name, it’s the excessive use of work time to play on the internet. Those times when you look up one little thing and 30 minutes later you’re in an internet black hole arguing, or buying another light sabre or watching cat videos. And of course mobile phones make it even easier.

It’s not a new thing, as early as 2000 reports flagged the cost of lost productivity as more than 50 billion USD in the US. The same report notes that companies were already taking action, putting in place specific internet use policies and firing the greatest violators – such as employees spending as much as 8 hours a day on gambling sites. More recent estimates put the costs to a business at 35 million per year for a company of just 1000 people, if each employee cyberslacked for an hour a day.

Some companies see this as a loss of productivity, effectively money down the drain and seek to monitor or to limit access to all non-work internet sites for all employees.

Employees find their own strategies; blocking access on work machines means they’ll use their own devices, trying to watch over their shoulder leads to cheeky solutions like the “look busy” button on Last Minute’s Australian site (it used to be on more of their sites, but apparently only the Australians kept their sense of humour).

There is some research showing that people who take internet breaks at work are more productive. I’m inclined to agree,  if people are busy with meaningful work and producing great results, brief internet breaks are not going to cause a dramatic drop in productivity. In fact if managers focus on results the fear of productivity loss goes away.

This holds true even in extreme cases; the guy playing on online gambling sites all day is unlikely to produce the expected quality of work – addressing that issue early could have a better outcome for both the company and the employee.

This focus on results is one of the key principles of the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), in fact in a ROWE the time spent on the job becomes irrelevant, employees are trusted to use their judgement to plan their workdays. In my view it’s a much healthier than putting increasing layers of monitoring on employee’s use of internet.

I guess I’m in favour of mild cyberslacking.