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Anonymous Career Advice

Knowing it’s time to leave vs unfinished business

This week’s anonymous career advice is going to be applicable for many people over the next quarter, with more people returning to offices and continuing working in the hybrid environment, we will see staff of all levels question is it time to leave or complete your role at your current company.

Dear focus, I have been in a director of role for the last three years and a director of for two years before this at another company, although I feel like I have Unfinished business, I’m not sure if it’s time for me to leave and take on my next challenge. Can you help?

You are encountering something that many people will be wrangling with over the next six to nine months. 

Regarding your specific question, there are a few layers to unpack.

Service:
The job market has shifted a lot over the last 18 months, there are many businesses rehiring, there are many companies growing and expanding headcount, there are others making the calculated risk to hire and mature their teams with more senior hires. 

Gone are the days in many markets you stay with a company for over a decade most tenure is under four years, so you have been with this company in a senior role for a good time period. 

Service and tenure can work for you and against you, one thing to ensure is ‘have you used up your social capital’ and have you become part of the furniture vs adding real value and being listened to? 

Regularly this can be understood by speaking to those around you and those above you, if your influence has declined and you feel like this is hurting your career, it might just be time to explore and get back to high performance and being valued. 

Title:
Many titles can be misleading, it doesn’t necessarily indicate your influence within the company or the level you operate at externally. 

If you are disheartened about the same title or not being able to take a V title or a c-suite title, there might be ways to ask for the timeline when this might be available. 

Is promotion an important thing to you? Are titles important to you where you are at? If yes, you need to understand the timeline and understand how you are considered internally, often this is harder to gain feedback on, however speaking to your boss, your colleagues on the same level and HR can help you understand this. Be prepared for tough questions and honest feedback loops. 

Know Your Worth?
Something an old boss used to say to me and what Netflix tells their employees, take the meeting or the interview see what you are worth or what might be out there. 

An important question to ask yourself is do you doubt yourself or have you lost some confidence in your current role?

If yes, it’s probably time to look at updating your cv/resume and start having conversations with recruiters and headhunters. 

If you have been unhappy in this role and need some help I suggest reading the professional injuries blog post to help you break down what is happening and why. 

To answer if it is unfinished business or time to leave, you will know in your own mind, you will have a feeling, unfinished business is often a reason why many people stay in their role when they don’t know what they want to do or where they want to go next. 

I would really question if you having doubts, you should start proactively making a change,  start with LinkedIn, CV and start having conversations, external conversations will help you make the right decision. 

Sometimes better the devil you know other times it takes the right step forward to catapult your career onwards and upwards.  

I recommend you to use a Risk vs benefits framework you can easily see what risks you have staying and what benefits you might have.

You can then apply the same risk vs benefit analysis for leaving. 

Once you complete the analysis you will be in a better place to answer this question for yourself and for your future. 

I always recommend writing a professional SWOT when you are at a crossroads. This is likely the time to put yourself first.

Consider introducing interview practice runs into your department as it will help your colleagues and help you prepare for what might be to come. 

If you are looking for other advice and tips for virtual interviews read this leaders letter.

My personal experience is, if you feel like you have unfinished business and you can make the changes required, you should map this out in detail and if you have the feeling it is time to leave don’t leave it too late as you will kick yourself and you may feel like your career has gone backwards. 

Best of luck with your decision, if you are asking the right question – you are on the right track. 

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Anonymous Career Advice

How to handle back to back meetings and stressed staff around you

This week, the anonymous career advice form received two questions that were very similar. Being in back to back meetings are taking up all of the work time and two frustrated individuals are facing an uphill battle to actually get their work done and in one case cannot even grab a lunch break. 

Dear focus, I’m finding work impossible, Constantly in back to back meetings, I am struggling to even find time to eat let and sometimes struggle to find time for a toilet break. I am never getting any of my work done and the icing on the cake; everyone is stressed and feel there is no way out.

This is something that really is unacceptable and I feel for you.
I have been there personally in a previous role and it is something that took  me a few weeks to tackle and get out of the other side. 

A trigger warning; this is going to take you 30 extra minutes to review and run through, I suggest doing this when you are fresh and can concentrate like it is deep work. 

Exercise 1: Take to list out the meetings and which ones to: 

  • Keep – essential and have to be a part and running ok 
  • Kill – unuseful, no one is benefitting and is wasting your time 
  • Cure – somewhat useful, can be optimised, review and optimise the parts that can be changed, reduce down the amount of chatter and focus around more actionable agendas 
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Anonymous Career Advice

Is Being Visible And Playing The Game Necessary?

This week’s anonymous career advice we received a big question that is a simple one-word answer but requires more explanation and a deliberate decision to be made by you.

Dear focus, a simple question:
Is being visible and playing the game necessary?

A simple but important question!

The TLDR answer is YES!

Unfortunately, it is more necessary than many people realise. Every business I have ever worked in has had levels of the internal political game, some at low-level others it is all about playing the game at full speed.

The Important Truth

The truth that many companies will not tell you or do not onboard you with and empower you with the most important piece of information: How to succeed in this business.

This is months of detective work, asking questions and for many trial and error. This is where you need to build a strong and safe network around you and understand the motivations and drivers of those around you and above you.

Positive Being Visible

There are often times you will think being visible is a negative but actually being visible can be and should be seen as a positive for you, your career and your team.

Being visible often means you are keeping people informed, you are communicating well and you have ideas, insights and feedback (not just opinions) that will progress the company.
These are all important traits that leaders typically seek out.

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Anonymous Career Advice

Taking Over From A Bad Manager

This week in the anonymous career advice column, we tackle something many managers will encounter when taking over a team or a department.

Dear Focus, I have recently taken over from a bad manager, they have dented the team’s confidence and they have zero trust, what should I do?

One of the guaranteed occurrences in management careers is we take over from a bad manager.

However good a manager you believe you are there will be certain aspects of your management style that will remind someone of their previous manager and open professional scars or wounds that need to heal.

Almost all management styles differ, especially when you come in from another company and take over an existing team that have worked closely together for a year.

The best approach is to create a simple transition plan for the team to move forward and become a trusted part of the team and the company.

Our recommended approach is to listen and ask a number of questions and address these concerns and previous experiences:

StepAction
1 – Ask for insightsAsk your team for insights and examples of poor management. This should not be considered a session to be completely negative but a step towards a proactive therapy session
2 – Acknowledge poor leadershipOne of the most important steps is to identify and highlight there were a number of issues and recommend how you can work to improve this collectively.

Be clear everyone has shortcomings and you will try your hardest to remove these behaviours from your management
3 – Identifier your style and talk it through with the teamOne important step almost all leaders I have worked under or with has called out their style and talked through what they are good at and what they are bad at and how they like to work, especially now you are armed with important information.
4 – Create space The most important step is to take a step back and observe how the team performs and look to come to you with any issues or how they work through their issues when they think no one is watching.

Trust is built through experiences but also knowing they can come to you when they need to. It is vital to be available when they need assistance
5 – Ask for open feedbackOnce you have given the team space and become approachable, ask for open feedback in a form you can keep a record of and show you have made progress.

Recording feedback and keeping open dialogue gives you a way to encourage more open communication.

Know when to take it offline or move to one to one
6 – Meet monthly and celebrate Something that many good sports coaches do is meet with their players and teams directly regularly, this is also a trait some of the best people managers I have worked with or feedback I have received directly.

The next step: celebrate as a group and as a team to build more trust and recognise there has been both business performance improvements and personal developments.

When there have been examples of behaviours being repeated or removed, call it out early.

It is important to note: Good managers set behaviours, set their teams to succeed and help to guide company culture and improve organisational health, bad managers set environments and often create poor cross-functional collaboration and internal fighting. Bad managers can also completely by accident create strong team bonds – this can be great news for you or a challenge to be aware of, tribal behaviour can be combative against a new leader.
Learn when to guide or when just to get out the way.

Best of luck with removing the negative energy and previous leadership issues, this won’t be an instant problem to solve but one with a couple of positive steps and then a giant leap will be made. Think of the first few weeks as a hangover period that will clear and lift and clarity and delivery ensue.

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Anonymous Career Advice

Virtual Interview Failures

In this week’s anonymous career feedback, we tackle virtual interviews and how to handle potential difficulties and how to impress,  

Dear Focus, I keep stumbling at interviews, what can I do to improve my virtual interviews? 

Interviews are difficult, whether they are in person, completely virtual or in the future hybrid, some in-person others virtual.

Virtual interviews should not be too much different to in-person interviews, however, the feel and flow can be offputting and each internet connection and quality of connection alongside the quality of headphone, the quality of your sound via your microphone, the background distractions and how good your webcam is can feel like competitive edges or a negative from the first hello, how are you. 

In 2021 the majority of interviews will be virtual, or virtual first with a second or third in person, if you have worked for a large international business or in a senior role this process has not changed but for many less experienced in these scenarios will feel daunting and hard to gage. 

No interview is ever the same, some interviewers are bad interviewers, some interviewees have off days or days they struggle to interview well. Like a good video meeting or session, there are components you can control and set yourself up for success rather than failure.

The best advice we can provide is: 

Pre-Interview 

  • Be prepared
  • Write down the questions on a notepad so as not to flick between screens or applications 
  • Ask clarifying questions before the interview during interview can take any flow away the interview and talking openly 
  • Arrange your desk and camera so you are looking at the camera and having “dedicated eye contact”
  • Do your research – let the interviewing panel know you have prepared 
  • Get yourself a drink and anything you might need like a tissue etc 
  • If you have a mac switch on do not disturb, there is a similar mode on PCs
  • Download the web client natively, browsers can be slow or need processing 
  • Join on time 

During The Interview 

  • Eye contact as much as possible 
  • Remember you are on camera 
  • Focus on the interview, not interior distractions 
  • Let the interviewers know you are taking notes 
  • Go through your list of questions, it is completely fine to take notes and ask numerous questions 
  • If the tools or software struggles call this out early and recommend logging back in or using another tool, do not struggle through with, own and lead interviews 
  • Answer as openly and honestly as possible 
  • Show you know the deck or document you have created, reading each slide bullet by bullet doesn’t show you are prepared or confident 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and let interviewers know there could be a delay 
  • If you have been asked to prepare anything consider how you can leverage third-party tools to record the video or send a copy of the information before the interview like you might with an important pitch or strategy session 
  • Ask about the company culture and recent failures – this shows you are interested and you ask important questions 
  • Think timelines, budgets and delivery – these are typically the three sections and story arch you have to deliver on 
  • Understand what the timeline is you are working towards 
  • If you have other interviews let the team know

Post Interview 

  • Ask follow up questions 
  • Ask for feedback 
  • Take the time to send through any links referenced 
  • If you wish you had said something, you can liaise with the team to provide more content 
  • Take the time to collate your thoughts and ideas 

Often your best work is not what the interviewing panel is looking for, often you will go over and above and you miss crucial summaries (exec summaries are priceless) or talk in the language of the panel, everyone has different challenges in interviews it is about being prepared, being able to connect with the interview panel and having a direct point and reference to guide your interview towards.

This year won’t be easy but often practise makes perfect and if you can practise with friends, family or a potential management coach or professional mentor.  

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Anonymous Career Advice

Self-Taught Manager Issues?

 This week’s anonymous career advice comes from “middle manager with middle manager problems”. 

Dear focus, I am a self-taught manager and I struggle managing my team and manage my manager’s expectations. What is the best way to develop my management style of managing my manager and managing my team? 

There is something quite important about understanding you can improve as a manager and improve managing those around you and those you come into contact with regularly. 

An issue managers face is typically being able to create time to manage, to do their own work and manage out managers, or at least their expectations. 

Middle management is the hardest area of management, it is often the time you learn most about the work environment, the way people are motivated and what expectations truly are. 

Personally, I have a belief that management is an art form that a tiny per cent of people have managed to crack, it evolves every day and with every interaction, so this advice won’t be perfect but will be a guide to help you improve as a manager and improve communications and expectation management.

Management Advice

Managing up 

Managing up is about relationships and time management, most senior managers are time-sensitive and struggle to have much time to dedicate themselves to one to ones or one to few. 

From experience key to managing up is to communicate the most important aspects and goings-on with clear thought and in digestible chunks. Being able to have an exec summary and a list of objectives and the ways you are thinking of tackling those objectives often puts you on the front foot. 

One issue to countermeasure is handling the requests and helping your manager to know when you can take more work on and when they need to take work off you. This happens with a relationship and having clear one to ones and clear communications around hurdles. 

One problem two solutions framework will help greatly with overbearing bosses as will risks vs benefits framework when going through and managing your communications. 

Managing Around 

Managing around you is an area many ignore as managing those managers in the same position as you are is an important part of your development and building a support network. 

Managing Your Team 

Managing your team is always a challenge, something that has been a help in my career is working out the individual motivations and the way people want to be managed and compare to how you manage them. Surprisingly you will find some are motivated by praise, others are motivated by money and some are motivated by knowing they can improve. 

Being able to have open conversations, help problem-solve together and collaboratively and speak on the right level will help you have better relationships and improve as a manager, being trusted and proving you have their best interests is vitally important. This comes with time and having their back and supporting them by knowing when they need you, when they want you and when they don’t know they require support and guidance. 

An important lesson: saying my door is always open and not being available is something that upsets and frustrates your team far more than you will know. 

More actions you can take to proactively progress as a manager:

  • Hire a professional coach 
  • Ask for internal mentors 
  • Look for external mentors – costs can vary but important to know how much an external mentor will improve and challenge you differently
  • Hire a personal development coach 
  • Join a manager group – some can be particularly useful, be wary of HiPPO bias or admin bias in big groups
  • Build a management group on slack, discord or on LinkedIn to improve your skills and be able to have voice anonymous issues. I have built a number of communities that have helped greatly  
  • Write a professional and personal SWOT – this will help you spot your own weaknesses and build on opportunities you and others see
  • Read lessons from leaders this was an important set of interviews from last summer
  • Bringing those up around you will improve you as a manager, consider is it time for a co-pilot
  • Ask to co-create leadership principles to roll out to your leadership teams if this does not exist and will enable you to understand different situations and working environments particularly if you have access to broader teams, for instance: tech vs non-tech management are completely different challenges.

Leadership is not a linear journey and often you learn more in challenges than you do when everything seems to be going well. 

Keep up on knowing you want to progress and being proactive in developing out your career. 

Finally, never discount free resources on YouTube, LinkedIn and don’t be afraid to invest in books. 

Have Your Own Question?

Our book recommendations can be found 

Focus book recommendations 

5 Business Books To Read 

Ride of a lifetime  – The Disney Chairman autobiography

The Netflix Company Culture Book aka No Rules Rules – – The Netflix CEO book autobiography


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Anonymous Career Advice

Will An Off-Site Help My Team Connect?

This week, we have had a couple of questions around how will team and business leaders get their teams to collaborate together or will specific activities help bring teams more closely together. 

Dear Focus, my team haven’t spent any time together for over a year, will an offset help them to connect? 

For many, the last year has been a year where many have struggled to keep in touch with their colleagues and connect at a deeper level vs when in person.

As humans we are built to connect at a deeper level, small talk and social cues are essential to us to understand where we are and if we are safe. 

Knowing how you connect peer to peer helps bonds form, herding to happen around collective goals and then tribes to form.

What we lost when remote is the connective layers of relationships, we need to start repairing this, creating events where we can connect firstly as people, but then importantly as teams, departments and companies.

For the most part of the last twelve to fifteen months: survival and sanity have been the name of the game. 

High performing teams can take up to and over six months to connect without any changes. We have a year of change to address.

We have had to put ourselves first and ensure we have a job, we have some security and we get through 2020 and 2021 as safely as possible. 

Off-sites are often a brilliant way to connect a small group of people, typically a quarterly event is a great way to organise and create alignment around common goals and important bonds you wouldn’t get to know outside of an organised event. 

Unfortunately, the side many do not talk about is some offsites can be challenging, often hard work and many around the table will not want to open up and trust can be lost, all of these things need to considered and engineered to encourage openness, airing issues and talking through issues. 

There are obviously a few questions you will have to answer: 

  1. Is this going to be safe? 
  2. I haven’t been around a group of people in a year, can you ease teams into this? 
  3. I don’t want to time with these people, why should we?  
  4. Can we not do this remotely?
    Or in hybrid? 

It is important you answer the first three directly, I will help to guide you with 4.

Be Deliberate: Being hybrid will be challenging, you will always seem like a B team player when remote, technology is still not ideal for remote people in offsites, it can however be done by ensuring you have the best tech available, they are asked their opinion and you have signs and a chair to help guide the hybrid event. 

Two More Factors: There are two core factors you should consider when looking at off-site or on-site. 

The first is to connect the team first and then let work talk take over, you will need a schedule but allow it to be more flexible than previous off-sites and have an agenda and pre-reading everyone reads and provides feedback on. 

The second factor is connecting teams around delivering a dedicated workstream that is just for that group. The project is important to achieve a sense of achievement together and build a connection to winning something as a group. 

Wider Company Connections: An off-site or series of off-sites will help form a company subculture, a team bond or leadership team bond, it won’t answer the bigger issue of addressing a company-wide cultural connection issue.

Doing something grand and reviewing strategy will be essential however these have long lead and success time and connecting to a project that you can win around will be key to connecting.

So the TLDR answer is an offsite will be essential when safe to reconnect in person and it will provide you with a way to connect colleagues together.

The important element to success is being able to connect around the campfire, around food, stories and experiences.

Good luck and enjoy planning those on-site and off-sites.

Remember the office as an arena is a way to think about organisational design and success.

Here’s how we can help you.

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Anonymous Career Advice Friday Focus

Friday Focus – 26th March

This week’s five for Friday, aka Friday focus, we showcase our five anonymous career advice articles, we have written helping those who people who completed our anonymous career help form.

Anonymous Career Advice Must Reads

  1. Disconnected from my team, what do I do?
  2. How to prevent burnout and working when my team are sick?
  3. I’m failing to get my message across, how do I improve?
  4. I feel like my career is going backwards, what can I do?
  5. My colleague keeps stealing my ideas, what should I do?

Need some of your anonymous advice?

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Anonymous Career Advice

Disconnected From My Department

In today’s anonymous career advice, we tackle a senior leader being disconnected from their teams and department and how to address their concerns.

Dear Focus, I lead a fifteen person department with four teams, I know I am disconnected from my department and it’s hindering performance. How do I reconnect?

In the world of work we operate in, there will be many department heads who have not thought about how connected they are or are not with their teams and department.

It is a positive sign you understand you have become disconnected or someone in your department has stepped forward and let you know.

You have a number of options that can help you and the teams make progress, the questions you need to answer are:

  1. Have the teams lost trust in you?
  2. Why did you lose contact?
  3. Are there internal influencers who can
  4. Has there been a hidden leader or a co-pilot who has stepped up and taken the rains?
  5. Has the department performance dropped?

Be A Leader

First things first, as a leader your job is to guide, shape and call out and address bad behaviours, as you know you are disconnected, you should call this out, whether this is on a call, a video call or in writing.
The more personal the better for you in your situation.

Secondly, you should connect with your managers but be completely aware that you should skip them and connect with all levels of your team and gain feedback, listening is far more important than talking here.

Take many notes, review and then evaluate where the team is and what type of leader they require currently, often a job of a leader is to get out of the way and allow those around them to flourish and step up.

Understand The Politics

In the workplace, we all experience politics at some level and many middle managers feel like they have to play the game. You should understand if there has been a move to help move you further away from your teams, this could have been a result of your stepping away or a powerplay, truly understand this and give the benefit of the doubt. Read your managers reviews is a great step to understand your manager’s abilities and how they have performed if you have disconnected from your management team.

Internal Influencers

Your secret weapon is likely the best person to connect with, they are typically an internal influencer and hold a lot of weight within the team and see if they are willing to support your move to reconnect. This cannot be fake and has to be for the best of the team.

Performance

Something you will need to ask yourself openly and honestly, has your department’s performance been impacted? Is yes is it positively or negatively? If positively, how will add to their momentum or add to the flywheel? If negatively how will you review, analyse and then inspire.

Be There & Be Present

From being disconnected you cannot then replace that with not being present and not being available in the future, it is important you are available and present in the meetings, in the standup and in planning sessions.

So in short: follow these actions to reconnect:

  • Do not fake your motives
  • Make the time to reconnect
  • Take the time to listen
  • Understand if you need to connect more deeply
  • Or understand if your management team have stepped up or overstepped
  • Encourage open comms and you will be available for coaching, mentoring and guiding those around and below you.

Here are some supporting Focus resources that will help you:

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Anonymous Career Advice

Burnout & Days Off?

In today’s anonymous career advice, it is answering how to deal with burnout and encouraging their team to take time off and it to be ok to be ill.

Dear Focus, a number of my team are struggling with burnout, they fear taking days off and even when they book a vacation they check in on slack and email.
How do I help my team?

This is a common issue many people are struggling with currently.

I think it is important to note this is not unique, however, it is more unique times and therefore it requires more tact, different tactics and more collaboration.

There are simple steps you can take to make things better and there are simple processes to put into place to encourage the right behaviours.

Mental Health Days

In the US there are days deliberately designed for mental health days and they are called out as such. There are more relaxed terms like duvet days that are used to essentially provide someone with the day off to rest and recover. A COO I worked with previously took the bold step at a company townhall and said he would personally sign off one day a year if you were too tired and felt knackered, the only conditioned was to text him and your boss and tell them that was what you were doing.

I am personally a big advocate of calling things out and naming them as such and taking mental health days, especially in various lockdown restrictions.

Agreeing Principles – Clear Accepted Principles

I would strongly recommend creating dedicated agreed principles across the business, what are good principles, what behaviours are not accepted, what looks like the right thing to do and importantly when. One page cheatsheet are essential too.

There are obvious steps to take like speaking to HR, however the majority of the time most managers of department or teams are given autonomy to roll out their own team guidelines, here is where you can lead your team or your business.

Stopping Rewarding People Working On Days Off

Tackling checking in on days off, vacation and mental health days, this is a behaviour that is likely being rewarded and needs to be stop being rewarded by the team and the leadership.
If someone is on a day off, any correspondence should be handled with directions to stop working and check-in when you return to the “office”.

Simple Yet Effective

You can also recommend to teams to remove their work apps off their phones on their days away or turn off notifications. Removing the app from the home screen or to a new screen and removing notifications will help to reduce the anxiety.

Leaders Lead On Important Changes

I would suggest presenting your solution(s) to the leadership team and recommend a company-wide solution for burnout and mental fatigue.

If you struggle with presenting issues and solutions, our one problem, two solutions framework will help.

The most obvious step is following the adage, “leaders lead” and showing that you follow your own recommendations and will not check-in or work when struggling.

Big Companys Tackling Same Concerns

Slack recommend their employees that off a Friday every quarter, there are other firms that slow down in the summer and some firms recently have rolled out Wednesday afternoons off or extra days off.

This could be something you consider rolling out or introducing.

Transition Plan

As recommended in our recent meeting free days require transition plans article, no meetings and extra time off can actually increase stress with deadlines looming or poor internal practises.

These are all important steps to helping yourself and your team. Best of luck!


Read The Other Anonymous Career Advice Columns

What Makes A Great Leader

How To Reconnected The Leadership Team

Improving My Communication As A Leader

Is My Career Going Backwards

Stop Others Stealing Your Ideas