Missing Secret to Career Success- Business Savvy

I came across a great article posted in the Boston Globe called Getting Ahead: Makeup, gemstones, and Jimmy Choo aren’t enough. The article states that despite the large volume advice going to women about resiliency and authenticity, about building interpersonal and leadership skills, and even about work/life balance tips, women are not being given everything they need to achieve career success.

To advance, women need the missing 33%- business savvy

For years, conventional wisdom has delivered to women a two-part career success equation that goes something like this: Interpersonal skills plus personal/professional excellence equals career success.

While this pretty much holds true for men, it isn’t the equation that moves women up the ladder.

In reality, the career success equation is a three-part equation: Personal excellence plus interpersonal skills plus business acumen equals career success.

Because the traditional success equation is missing 33 percent, many corporate leadership development programs overfocus on teaching interpersonal skills and personal attributes. But these are the areas where women are consistently rated as outperforming men.

Sadly, these programs underemphasize (or completely ignore) the most important career driver: business acumen.

This works to your disadvantage because study after study shows that men who make decisions about advancement expect that men have business acumen and women don’t.

I thought about this one for little bit, and I completely agree with her point.  With all of the webinars, conferences, workshops, panels, and sessions I attend, none are focused on business acumen.  I know that before I became a project manager, I had no idea about the “business” behind products.  Financial terms were mysteries to me.  I had little clue how interactions with customers went and how we made trade offs on product features.

I’ve learned my business acumen by asking to be included in meetings where it is discussed, listening, and posing questions to people who do it well in one-on-one meetings.  I can certainly say I have a long way yet to go.

I also think it’s interesting that the article points out that men are by default thought to have this business acumen, and women by default are thought not to have it.  Sadly, I think this is true.  I think it is similar to technical skills.  When most people first meet me, they do no immediately think I am technical.  On the other hand, most men in my group are by default thought to be technical or have technical backgrounds.

The article goes on to give some good advice around building your business savvy:

1. Learn the business of your business. Understand how what you do contributes to cash, growth, return and customer service and acquisition.

2. Develop strategic acumen. Understand how external forces, internal capability and financial and other outcome goals drive your organization’s strategy.

3. Develop financial acumen. Know the story behind the numbers and the actions needed to deliver on financial goals.

4. Speak the language of outcomes. Don’t focus on how hard you work or what you’ve done. Instead, speak the language of cash, growth, return and customer – and the ways you’ve significantly impacted your organizations goals in these areas.

These are 4 big areas that certainly take dedicated time and effort over years to gain the knowledge.  I better get going on them…

Blogging Mistake

Dear Readers,

Turns out I’m not quite the masterful blogger I thought I was.  I was tinkering around with settings and realized that all of my posts for the past 2 weeks have been posting privately only for me to read and none of you.

I think I have gotten them all up and public now.  Now you’ve got reading to catch up on!

At least I learn from my mistakes…no more private posts.

Tell Others What You Want…sometimes several times

I was reminded today about how important it is to tell people where you would like your career to go.

I have found over the last few years that the best way to get the job you want is to tell other people you want it.  Not necessarily that you need to scream from the rooftops and tell everyone you bump into walking down the hall.  It is important to tell the key people who could help get you there.  The ones how have influence in knowing when that position might be open and help advocate to get it for you.

The pattern that seems to work for me is to get into a job and concentrate on doing very good work in that job for about 1-2 years.  Then start letting people know where you would like to head next.  Maybe while having a coffee or lunch or just catching up, I ask them about what they might want to do after the current project is over.  Usually they will reciprocate and ask me, and I’ll let them know what position I’m eyeing next.  The technique works pretty well.  Now you’ve planted a seed for later.

Usually it takes awhile of continuously planting these seeds for anything to happen.  My experience is about one year.  If you left enough of the right people know what you want to do and if you are the right fit for that job, then an opportunity will open up and one of those “seed” connections will let you know.  You go for it, and hopefully get it.

The key here, which I was reminded of recently, is that sometimes telling someone just once isn’t enough.  Especially since it takes around a year on average to get the doors of opportunity open and the timing right.  People forget (especially since it’s your career, not theirs).  A few reminders every so often helps keep you at the top of their mind.

So what are you waiting for?  Start planting your seeds now…you’ll be amazed at what comes your way.

That 6th Grader Inside

Somedays I just cannot get rid of the 6th grader inside my head.

I leave a meeting and start replaying a discussion in my head.  Over and over again… “maybe I should have said this instead of that”…”maybe if I had phrased it this way the first time around, Will would not have had to jump in and save me”…”maybe if I had started with this piece of data Andy would not have been so confused”.

It can drive you crazy that little voice.

Not only does the voice pop up after meetings, but depending on how harsh I am on myself, it pops up late in the evening when I’m trying to go to bed…replaying over and over again.

The same voice pops up when I am reading and responding to certain emails.  Periodically someone will reply to an email chain in a totally unexpected way.  I can practically feel the confusion or the defensiveness or the scolding as it jumps off my screen.

I start to feel the same way I did when we used to pass notes around friends and potential “boyfriends” in middle school.  (yes…way before text messaging existed, though I’m sure the same feelings and thoughts are there today, just with a different medium)  Why doesn’t he like me?  What didn’t he understand about meeting up by room 203 after school?  Was it something I wore? Something I said?

I wonder how many other people have that 6th grader inside of them…

I can’t make her go away, but I’m learning to tell her to be quiet and let it go.

Looking Back- Networking and Risks

I mentioned earlier that for International Women’s Day I moderated a panel of knowledgeable, well-accomplished women.  One of the questions I asked was “If you could go back any change a decision you made during your career, what would it be and why?”

Almost all the answers revolved around two themes.  I thought I’d share.


Several women commented on wishing they had taken more time to foster their networks and business friends.  As they moved up the corporate ladder, moved between companies, and even went off on their own connections proved to be invaluable.  They needed a people to exchange ideas with, to provide knowledge and expertise, to extend connections, and for support and encouragement.  Most women did have a network to do this, but it was not as extensive or well maintained as they wished when they needed it.

One of my passions is to help people build and maintain their networks.  I chair a women’s networking group at work and am also involved in groups like SWE to work on my own network.  It doesn’t have to be just women- I have plenty of men in my network that I rely on heavily.  Equal opportunity.

Taking Risks

The second item that several women wished they would have done is seized a risky opportunity.  They commented on wishing they had pushed themselves to take on a new assignment or new position when it was offered, even if the timing wasn’t ideal.  Their advice was to go for it, but ask for lots of help.  For many, the reason they were risk adverse at the time was because of young families or family dependencies outside of work.  For some, money for nannies, housework help, flexibility in hours, would have been there if they had asked.  And with that extra help, the risky opportunity would have been more doable.

I think the take away there is that before you say no to something that seems like too much to take on- ask what it would take to be able to do it.  Then ask for everything you need.  What’s the worst that could happen- you don’t get it, and don’t take the opportunity anyway?

International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day!! (www.internationalwomensday.com)

I’m sponsoring a great celebration at work today for IWD- a luncheon with a whole host of senior women leaders.  I thought I’d share a few facts about IWD and my favorite poem 🙂

  • Global Day celebrating the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present, and future. The first IWD was in 1911.
  • There has been an IWD conference sponsored by the United Nations every year since 1918.
  • There is no set theme. A few for this year- Women@ IBM- Success in the Globally Integrated Enterprise & Accenture- Stretch Yourself- Achieving 50:50 in the boardroom by 2020
  • In many countries IWD is a national holiday celebrated much like Mother’s Day is in the US.

And now…my inspiration for all of you….by Maryanne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,

talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?…

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you…

As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people

permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,

our presence automatically liberates others.

Handwritten Thank Yous

Ever feel like someone is trying to give you a message?  In the past week or so, I’ve had several people talk to me about handwritten thank you notes.  For most of the, they were making the point that hand written thank you notes are more important now than ever.

In our increasingly electronic world, thank you notes that come to you in envelopes are certainly rare.  It also takes extra effort to get some stationary, a pen, look up an address, and attach a stamp.  I can see how sending a thank you letter does show you care enough to take the extra time.

Sending a thank you letter for just anything, though, takes away some value.  I think you want to write a letter when the situation really merits it.  Here are a few examples of times I’ve received a thank you letter and it made me feel special and appreciated:

  • When I helped make a connection that eventually led to someone landing a new job
  • When I took time to assist in pulling together an award application and nominating someone
  • At the end of a coordinating or helping coordinate a big volunteer event

I know I treasured those letters and still remember them.  Thinking back on them, I don’t think I take the time to write thank you letters as much as I should.  I know my handwriting is not great and I’m out of practice with all my typing.  But, that is just an excuse.

I think I’ll be stopping by the store on the way home, picking up some blank thank you notes, and putting them on my desk at work.  If I have them nearby, maybe I’ll use them more.