Mitigating risk at work

It all sounds a bit corporate, doesn’t it? ‘Mitigating risk’. It’s usually a term associated with project management. You don’t need to hold a title of ‘project manager’ to manage projects; in theory, most of the tasks you carry out in your day-to-day role are either short- or long-term projects, and with each of these projects come various degrees of risk, i.e. factors that can make a project go wrong.

These factors include:

  • People – the skills, capabilities, behaviours and attitudes of those who are actively participating in the project
  • Resource – the amount of people needed for a successful project
  • Stakeholders – a step beyond ‘People’, but those who have a degree of influence and interest in the project but may not actively be involved in carrying out the project
  • Money – whether enough is available or not
  • Logistics – the logistics and scheduling needed to carry out the project
  • External influences – the economy, politics, environment, and customer behaviour.

And many more. Effective communication throughout the entire process promotes a seamless synchronicity and ensures red flags are brought to the right people’s attention at the earliest possible time.

Risk management

To quote from the aptly-named project management blog Project Manager:

“At its most simple, risk management is a process of forecasting and planning for potential challenges to your business or project. When done correctly, risk planning enables you to prioritize risk and work to eliminate or lessen the impact of the potential risks on your project or business.”

For projects, for work or for our careers, avoiding risk means that we:

  • Identify the risks, listing out all worst-case-scenarios, potential dangers and any hiccups that might and will crop up
  • Analyse these risks to determine the impact they have and which of these hiccups are in our control
  • Prioritise these risks by the likelihood of them happening
  • Mitigate these risks by putting in the appropriate and proportionate anticipatory measures – or safety nets – so that if the risks were to have an impact despite your efforts to avoid them, you can prepare and lessen the impact. This could even include a contingency plan
  • Monitor these risks, and the efforts we make, to ensure they’re always on our radar so that we are always ahead of them.

This is a standard, non-fancy risk management model. Applying this model is useful for us in two ways. Firstly, managing risk by following this model is a useful skill for anyone in any role. Managing risk from the beginning of any project you work on will help you do your role much more effectively and with minimal disruption. Not only will this promote better mental well-being (as you experience less stress from avoiding, preparing or lessening the impact of hiccups), but you also establish a reputation of being organised, credible and reliable. You are much more on top of things.

Secondly, risk management also plays a role in managing and developing our careers if we recognise it as an ongoing project. Being able to identify risks in your career trajectory means that you can adopt a more proactive approach to development, rather than winging it and dealing with hiccups as they present themselves. This is particularly helpful for those who are in an industry that’s prone to fluctuation (and really, what industry isn’t?). Being able to identify the risks that may influence your field means you can start making the necessary arrangements to mitigate that risk. We need to predict to the best of our ability where our industry will be in 5 years’ time, the demand for our skills in the market at that time, and the skill gaps that may become apparent.

For example, there’s a (necessary) focus on AI at the moment and the associated risks it brings to the job market. If you assess that your current role or career progression against this risk, you can begin now to readjust accordingly, for example upskilling, developing new skills that don’t rely on AI like soft skills, or, in really bad (but opportunistic) situations, changing careers altogether. Determining the likelihood of each risk and how it will impact your career means you can lay down the ground work in time, long before you would feel the impact and influence.

Horizon scanning

This approach to your career trajectory can be coupled with another corporate doozie: horizon scanning.

Olivier Marteaux, Principal of Horizon Scanning at the RSSB, puts horizon scanning eloquently as:

“the intelligence gathering part of strategic foresight, concerned with emerging trends, issues and uncertainties that the future may bring, and assessing their potential impact on organisations.”

While this could be seen as the same to assessing risk, I’d like to think as horizon scanning as something that scopes out opportunities, as well as risk. The quote mentions ‘emerging trends, issues and uncertainties’, and forever the optimistic as I am, their ‘potential impact’ can be just as positive as risks are negative.

Adopting this foresight means you can spot the uncertainties that lie ahead of us and see them as opportunities to learn in anticipation which can be enormously positive for your career.

Look past the corporate jargon and realise the advantages of mitigating risk and horizon scanning. Your work-life, professional reputation and career will reap the benefits if you put the effort into these.

I’m writing a book!

I’ve been writing for The Avid Doer for just over a year now, and most of the material touches on the developing transferable skills, the importance of these and how we can develop our careers with the application of a little extracurricular effort. 

There’s so much more to write on this topic but I feel that blog posts somehow don’t seem to be the most effective medium for it – or at least for articulating them into the depths that the topic deserves. I’ve been struggling to produce new material simply because whatever I want to write just can’t be fully explored in a blog post (or even a series of posts).

After umming and arring, I’ve decided to carry on writing about this topic…only as a book. 

Record scratch!

I know. It’s a big task and I’m not taking it on lightly. It won’t be an e-book or something that might be seen as an extended blog post either – it’ll be a physical good old-fashioned book (my personal preference for reading material). Writing the material as a book will also incentivise me to conduct the appropriate research the topic needs, and in the process learn and share my findings on the important aspects of career development in such an uncertain environment that is the current and future workplace. 

As a writer I’m also looking forward to the process of improving my research and writing skills that I feel can only be developed in the way I want by writing this book.

I want to focus on the particular element of career development that I predict being a pertinent part of career management in the not-too-distant future – career mobility. There’s currently very little written on this particular subject so I don’t want to give away too much at this stage but what I will be giving away are the behind-the-scenes peeks of writing the book. 

I want to keep The Avid Doer live and usable with multiple purposes – for existing advice and guidance I’ve already written, as well as an account of how my book is coming along.

Writing this book will also allow me to divide my time more evenly towards my writing for HR Zone and my own past times (all work and no play makes Charles a dull boy), including painting; those who know me from a couple of years ago will know that I’m a keen portrait painter and I’m donning the painting apron once more now I have my art mojo back. 

So please stay tuned with The Avid Doer as I still very much want to keep it going and share the journey with you all, along with my discoveries on career development through my research! 

Productive communication

Effective communication plays such an important part in working life and a solid skill to develop for greater success at getting your point across, expressing your opinions, and leading yourself and teams.

What I’m keen to explore though is a deeper step into effective communication: productive communication. It’s great that people can understand what you’re saying, but is it productive? Is it progressive? Is it helpful?

Effective communication needs to be productive; it needs to have a purpose; it needs to have a point for it to be necessary.

Of course, effective communication can also be productive; Leadership Choice lists 4 productive benefits of effective communication, for example mitigating conflict and workplace tension. They explain that whether tension is derived from misunderstanding, not understanding how others communicate, or feeling that emotional needs are being disregarded,:

‘[…] Regardless of the conflict, communication is usually an underlying factor.’

Researching into effective communication, you’ll find somewhere that explains that there are 4 main components to it.

Sorry, 5 components.

No, 6 components.

Wait, 8 over here.

Or are there 9 to be on the safe side?

Whatever the number, there doesn’t seem to be anything about the usefulness and purpose of the communication within these. Adhere to the 4, 5, etc. components and you will no doubt be an effective communicator, and I’m not here to pooh-pooh them. But what’s the point if you don’t have a point?

Your communication needs to have a purpose and intention. If you want to be an effective and productive communicator, check out a really helpful post I read on productive communication which includes these two significant elements within its 10 tips on being strategic about productive communication.

Know your point. Know your intention. Know the outcome or product of your communication.

Underused skills – reasons, consequences and solutions

Mingling within HR circles, there’s a lot of commotion about underused skills in the UK workforce at the moment. A report from the CIPD has found that nearly half of us are completely mismatched in our roles which means we are more likely to leave our jobs and less likely to be promoted.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in the grand scheme of things, we have people leaving roles to better use their skills, and by doing so leaving their now-vacant role for someone who will be more suited and satisfied to fulfil it.

Essentially, one of the main reasons this happens in the first place though is down to job design; whether the role was designed at the point of application (and the employee applied for the wrong reasons or elements of the role weren’t evident up front) or after a natural period of time, the role evolved into something else in response to the organisation’s goals or industry changes.

As avid doers, we may find ourselves in this situation at some point or other in our careers (or multiple points, sadly). Self-initiating change within our roles – and indeed our lives – is something we do to remedy job lolls and where there’s restriction to change and a large portion of our skills aren’t being used, this can be incredibly frustrating.

With frustration, comes disengagement, lack of motivation and a sense of resentment. We may forget the fact that change is our responsibility and instead place the blame elsewhere (mostly our employer) which just breeds more negativity.

So what can you do (after of course you talked it out with your manager)? Multipotentialite leader Emilie Wapnick calls the first suggested solution as The Einstein Approach which means you have a day job unrelated to your hobbies or interests and so allows you to have the mental/creative/physical/etc. stamina to work on your true skills and talents outside of work. I’ve written about this before in my article about not having one true calling, ultimately finding outlets for all your interests without relying on your day job to fulfil these entirely. Who knows – these can end up being the foundation of a bigger and better career that supplements your skills developed in your day job.

Or over at Corporate Rebels – the awesome rebels who are challenging how things work in the corporate world – they much prefer the concept of ‘job crafting’. While they write about it from an employer’s perspective, my take-away from this is that there may be some wiggle room in your role to influence it to go into a certain direction to further use those untapped skills of yours. This will benefit you, your team and your organisation by being happier, more productive and engaged, and using skills that improve the team’s spectrum of abilities. The Corporate Rebels go on to quote Wrzesniewski and Dutton (2001) who say that job crafting is a:

“self-initiated change behaviour that employees engage in with the aim to align their jobs with their preferences, motives, and passions”

Pretty good huh? No new role, you get to stay where you are AND be happier!

But then of course you do have the option to look for a new role that uses your skills better if Einsteining or job-crafting aren’t possible. Looking elsewhere would be the best option for those who feel they aren’t performing their best in their current role – you might just not have the right opportunity to perform the great skills you have rather than being a poor performer. Think about that possibility the next time you give yourself a hard time at being pants at your job.

Skills transference is a big theme with The Avid Doer blog, so surprise! The option of getting a new and better job also allows you to transfer skills that are both used and unused to combine together in an innovative and unique way, one that will provide a lot more job satisfaction and fulfilment (and set you apart in the application process).

So while the employers are doing what they can to address this workforce issue, there are ways or us to address it to.

Do you feel your skills are underused in your day role? Are there any of these solutions that stands out to you the most?

Book review: ‘Mind Flip’

As you may know I’m a feature writer for HR Zone, and doing this on a regular basis means that I don’t usually share a link to what I’ve written on here; instead, I have a link to a list of my articles on my ‘Publications’ page.

But, I’ve recently written a book a review for HR Zone which I think readers of The Avid Doer (like you!) would find interesting. The book is called Mind Flip, written by Zena Everett, and is a great resource for people looking to develop their professional persona, as well as for those who are looking for the next step in their career.

I’ve given the book 4.5/5 but I’ll let my review do the talking!

Check out the review here!

No dramas – Resilience at work

There’s a lot of stuff out there on building resilience which suggests it’s an arduous step-by-step process of laying down the foundations before you can even begin to feel the benefits.

I much prefer the concept and practice of maintaining resilience. What is a simple language shift means that my perspective has shifted to my existing resilience and I just need to take the reins and follow it through.

I’ve read an excellent piece by Barry Winbolt – trainer, coach and psychotherapist – on resilience in the workplace, explaining that this is an active, not passive process. This means it requires ongoing effort and conscious decisions.

The article includes an eloquent quote from Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba’s book Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you (American Management Association, 2005) about the attitudes that come with resilience:

“Simply put, these attitudes are commitment, control, and challenge. As times get tough, if you hold these attitudes, you’ll believe that it is best to stay involved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than to give up, and to try to discover how you can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate.”

What challenges are you avoiding or struggling with? Identify these challenges and, as Winbolt says, “develop the habit of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills”.

Clarifying your career’s direction through volunteering

I get frustrated with the tired advice of ‘what could you do for free?’, given to those who are seeking clarity on their career’s direction or specialism. With a lack of focus on money-making skills, and more attention on unrealistic daydreaming, this exercise can sometimes provide very few practical solutions.

Applying for a volunteering role takes this exercise a step or two further, and it’s interesting to see how this commitment can really help you be specific about the skills you want to offer.

Careers blog The Muse talks about how:

“[…]volunteering helps you find clarity about the things you love (or don’t) in your career[…] Long story short, the more experiences you give yourself, the better chance you have of learning about the type of work you love doing and the types of environments you excel in.”

This, to me, makes sense. When making your application to volunteer, you’re committing yourself to take on roles for free. You will be accountable to do those all…for free.

As such, you’ll put yourself forward for only the things you can do (your existing skills and experience), the things you will like to develop (a good understanding but having a desire to develop a skill) and within the environment you’re most comfortable (your preferred place of work).

So I’ve given this ago myself for my local CIPD branch – with absolute commitment – and was surprised to see the selected skills that made it through to the final cut in my pitch email.

Give it a go! Are you surprised by the skills that make it through to the final cut? Are there fewer/more than expected?

A new word for ‘weakness’

We are often told we need to work on our weaknesses in order to develop our skills and progress our career; or at least traits that are labelled as ‘weaknesses’.

This isn’t the case. At the very least the word ‘weakness’ in this context needs to be re-defined to something more accurate. By way of example, a ‘weakness’ of being a poor public speaker is not a weakness. There’s a gap there – of confidence, skill, knowledge, ability, trust, authority – rather than a weakness.

A great Medium article I recently found on this topic talks about how weaknesses and strengths are the same thing, and warns us of the damage that may occur when we try to see them as two separate traits. Umair Haque writes:

“When we try to divide them, that is when we fail at both. We are principled, so we try to be less judgmental. And now we are not even principled. We are compassionate, but easily hurt, so we try to be harder, but lose our compassion.”

I thoroughly recommend reading the entire piece.

This takes me back to when I completed the 16 Personalities test, a free online test that’s based on Myers-Briggs testing (I don’t buy into the criticism that MBTI testing is similar to horoscopes – like most things in life, the results are only as strong and true as your input).

The results of the test are compiled into comprehensive lists by topic, including your weaknesses. Two of mine, as an ‘Advocate’ (INFJ, FYI) for example are: needing to have a cause in something I do and; being too sensitive.

Do these not contribute to my strengths, which, according to my results include being determined and passionate? Could they not therefore be considered as standalone strengths? Are my labelled ‘strengths’ not jeopardised if these weaknesses are worked on?

I’m interested in looking further into re-wording ‘weakness’ in the context of skills development.

In the meantime, focus on your strengths, the things you’re good at, and don’t bother too much about your ‘weaknesses’ until they have been correctly reworded.

The Avid Doer 2.0

Thanks for holding! It feels really good to be back after a couple of weeks of rejigging The Avid Doer. As you will notice, the site has had a bit of a makeover in terms of design and content.

As mentioned in my post before the brief redesign, the focus of The Avid Doer will still be on career management and the world of work, but from an entirely new perspective. Not necessarily my own comings-and-goings – this isn’t going to be a diary.

Instead of me providing advice from a (supposedly) ‘learned’ point of view, I will be sharing insights into the world of work, career development and independent learning from a ‘learning’ point of view.

If you haven’t already, check out the ‘About’ page which explains this concept much more comprehensively.

To give you a taster of the ‘feel’ of the content going forward, I’ve uploaded four new posts in one batch (well, I have to make up for lost time!)

New posts will be added more often but not to a specific schedule unlike the weekly posts before. So what better opportunity to ‘Follow’ the blog! Wink!

The neuroscience around change

“If someone is finding change hard, it’s not a sign of weakness, but their brain registering discomfort with something it is not designed to like” so says Hilary Scarlett in her article for HR Zone “The impact of organisational change on the brain.”

HR Zone is a good, trusty spot to read up on other HR professionals’ insights and advice (and I’m not just saying that because I write for them too!), and my latest fix is this beauty of an article. What hits me the most is that the concept of change on a neuroscience level, which is quite comprehensive, is explained so clearly and accurately, sans jargon.

Hilary says that while some parts of our brains have evolved, there are other parts that haven’t, and these are the areas triggered when there’s a change a-brewing at work. The brain actively seeks out threats that may or may not exist in order to convince yourself that change is dangerous, and it even impairs our memory. This is a scary time for the brain.

Focussing your efforts on explaining the change to employees at an early point, and on an ongoing basis, helps these thoughts become informed. Even if it’s bad news, Hilary says “To the brain, bad news is better than no news.”

If you’re starting to get an interest in neuroscience in the workplace, I think Hilary’s article is an excellent first port of call.