Saturday, September 22, 2012

When to take a role that’s not a promotion

By Jo Miller 

“Should I stay or should I go now?”
- British punk rock band The Clash, 1981

Your next great leap forward in your career might not be a step up. Imagine you were offered a truly great job opportunity, but with one major catch: it is not a promotion. To further complicate things, the role has no apparent path to a promotion in the near future. Should you take the job?

President of Strategic Regulatory Partners, Wini Wu, is passionate about mentoring technical women and has advised mentees in the United States, Indonesia, and Australia. I asked Wu what guidance she would provide to an up-and-coming woman who found herself in the running for a role that was not a promotion. What are some reasons to consider taking the role?

Wu’s advice to women in such a situation is to assess the opportunity in the context of their life as a whole. “During your career and your life, your situation changes” explained Wu. “One of the things you want to consider is what is important in your life in this moment and in the next couple of years?”

Next, Wu encourages women to consider how the role might expand their career horizons. “You also want to look at the role” she said. “Does it expand your responsibilities and (give you) opportunities to go into new areas, such as a different functional area, different industry, or skill set?” There is also the learning opportunity to consider Wu pointed out,“Is it a challenge in a good way?”

Does the new opportunity expand your professional network? “Consider opportunities to learn new skills and network with new people” said Wu. Her bottom line, “Take risks and if it feels right, just do it!”

Liza Cuevas is Senior Director of HR with Citrix Systems bringing over 20 years of experience as a strategic business partner to engineering organizations. While knowing that she is currently in a role that she finds very satisfying, I asked Cuevas to imagine that someone offered her a lateral move. What are some of the criteria she would use to evaluate the opportunity?

“One thing to consider is that starting a new role does take time and energy”, she pointed out. "So consider the scope of the role. Value creation is a big deal to me; the opportunity to do something creative, innovative, and help the business to move things forward.”

“People and relationships are also very critical to me”, Cuevas explained. Ask yourself, “Can I learn from them and are they a dynamic group of individuals? We spend half our lives in our jobs and I really want to be with people I respect and that I can learn from.”

Finally, Cuevas suggests considering “Does it fit my life today?” For example, do you want to be able to work remotely at times or telecommute, and have some flexibility?

Wini Wu and Liza Cuevas were guest speakers in the webinar Alternate Career Paths: Up is not the only way forward, part of the Emerging Women Leaders webinar series.
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Are you climbing a ladder or a lattice? The surprising answer from three senior-level women

By Jo Miller

In a recent webinar, I interviewed three executive women who have carved out unique and nontraditional paths to career advancement.

These women have made great choices that ultimately led them into to leadership roles and rewarding careers. I asked them to consider two competing career-advancement philosophies, and describe the approach that has molded their career path thus far.

There are two alternate paradigms for forward-moving career paths: the ladder and the lattice. The traditional approach, the career ladder, you’re already familiar with. It is characterized by a single pathway upward through a corporate hierarchy. The second paradigm is the “career lattice”. Cathy Benko, Vice Chairman with Deloitte, coined the term to refer to a career trajectory that offers multiple pathways for career growth. This includes upward, lateral, and even downward moves, where ladder-climbing can play a secondary role to other factors such as skill acquisition, long-term career, job satisfaction, and home life. With the career ladder model, you either move up or you stop moving. In the lattice model, there is greater flexibility. There are options that might fit better with different phases in your life and career. You can move faster or slower, change directions, or switch tracks.

Which of these paradigms fits best for you at this phase in your career? Climbing a ladder or a lattice? In the women’s leadership webinar, Alternate Career Paths: Up Is Not the Only Way Forward, I asked the three guest speakers which model best fit their career path to date. The answers surprised me! Not one of these executive women felt that their career path had been a linear ladder climb. Their career paths were lattices or a combination of ladder and lattice.

Liza Cuevas is Senior Director of HR with Citrix Systems, bringing over 20 years experience as a strategic business partner to engineering organizations for technology companies including Yahoo!, Palm, Brocade, and Apple. In her early career, Liza Cuevas’ path closely resembled the ladder, as she set out to establish her career in human resources management. When she had made her mark and built her brand as a strategic HR business partner, Cuevas’ priorities shifted. “With time, I found it was really more about a lattice.” Cuevas now looks for opportunities where she can add value, have influence, and work with great people. “I have shifted over time from going straight up.” Her preference now is for building her capabilities, creating value for the organizations she supports, and maintaining versatility in her toolkit of skills and expertise. “I have four children, including two adult children, and a ranch down in southern California.” Cuevas added, “I want to be able to work remotely at times and to have enough flexibility to also enjoy life and have fun. Those are the big criteria for me right now.”

Mike Fitzgerald is VP of Research and Development at JDSU where she leads a global organization of 500 engineers. Her career of 29 years includes leadership positions in general management, mergers and acquisitions, operations, and engineering. Fitzgerald characterizes the first half of her career as “all lattice”. “I was interested in having jobs that were challenging and as long as there was a good challenge, I was happy” she explained, “I only started looking around if I got bored. I loved product development so I was really interested in learning the various aspects and roles that would help me understand how to do product development better at my company.”

In the latter half of Mike’s career, she found her path narrowing down to more of a ladder. “There is not very much lattice left—pretty much only ladder at this point. So I would characterize it as first half lattice, last half ladder.”

Wini Wu is founder and President of Strategic Regulatory Partners. She serves as a strategic advisor to the medical product industry, helping them integrate business and regulatory strategy. Prior to starting her own company, she had a 17-year career with Medtronic, most recently as VP of Regulatory and Medical Affairs. Wu considers her career path to have been mostly a lattice. “I moved between industries. I have taken roles in large and small companies in different functional areas”, said Wu, who is quick to point out that her upward career movement was probably slower than if she had chosen to stay in one company and functional area. But, Wu explained, “The experience of moving across always expanded my scope, increased my professional network, and increased my learning. Right now with my consulting, it’s truly a lattice. I am having a lot of fun.”

Which paradigm best fits the phase of your career that you are in today? The ladder or the lattice? Either model can lead you on a path to career growth, leadership, and a successful and satisfying career. The choice really is yours.

Watch the webinar recording of Alternate Career Paths: Up Is Not the Only Way Forward.
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Friday, September 7, 2012

From the Article Archives: Four Tips for Becoming a Visionary in Challenging Times

Four Tips for Becoming a Visionary in Challenging Times

During a recent women’s leadership webinar, I asked Krista Thomas, Vice President, Marketing and Communications for The Calais Initiative at Thomson Reuters, how a person should determine what their organization needs in these challenging economic times. In addition to answering the question, she addressed a more intriguing issue – how to provide visionary leadership during challenging economic times:

1. Don’t keep your head down / check in often

“You really can make a mistake by keeping your head down and staying quiet, because sometimes you get caught up in a stream of activity that really isn’t core or strategic to your company” said Thomas.

“My policy is to check in often” she added, “Make sure that the goals and the metrics that you’re measuring are still priority number one in executing on your goals for the company. Also, don’t be afraid to raise your hand, go personally to your management, and really make sure you’re still on target.”

2. Be adaptive and go with the flow

“It can be tempting in troubling times like this to get flustered and frustrated and be upset when things go off-plan, or when the plan changes. You may not necessarily always be in the loop. If you’re not at that senior level, you may not know when some of the strategies change, which can happen in real time.”

She continued, “The key is to be able to be flexible, to demonstrate your ability to not get stuck in the old thinking when the thinking has changed. Check in, know what’s going on, know where others’ thoughts are going, and show that flexibility. Show your adaptability and ability to go with the flow.”

3. Move toward the next opportunity

“Things are going to be chaotic, especially in this economy. We saw this when ‘Web 1.0’ imploded all around us. The way to survive was to look for the next opportunity and walk towards that as opposed to being afraid” she explained.

4. Create an environment of calmness and creativity

In a final point, Thomas emphasized the importance of generating new ideas. “Nothing is more helpful in a difficult time than creativity. If you’ve got creativity and you can bring problem solving or people skills, you’ll help mitigate other people on the team being upset. If you’re one of those people who can come in and calm people down, and get them re-focused on new priorities, you’re very valuable right now.”

Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc. which offers women’s leadership seminars, webinars and coaching programs.