Managing your career … in context

“If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” Thomas Edison Johanne Houle, Director, Organizational Development, had some sound advice for those attending a recent Management Forum. Citing the latest research by the Human Capital Institute, a global association for talent management, she gave the audience an up close and personal look of key considerations in career management and how the University can help. Read more »

“If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” 

Thomas Edison


Johanne Houle, Director, Organizational Development, had some sound advice for those attending a recent Management Forum.  Citing the latest research by the Human Capital Institute, a global association for talent management, she gave the audience an up close and personal look of key considerations in career management and how the University can help. 

Here is an excerpt of her presentation:

You are the very best person to manage your career.  Only you can truly answer what you want to accomplish in your professional life.  It helps to seek other people’s advice but self-awareness and awareness of your ever-changing environment are critical factors in maximizing your outcomes. Managing your career is about cultivating this awareness every day in your interactions with your boss, your peers, your colleagues and your clients.

The first element of self-assessment is to consider your strengths and how they measure up in terms of your impact, your aspirations, your skills and areas for development.  Experts in career development explain that career unhappiness often results from lack of focus; lack of focus stems from limited self-knowledge and self-management. But self-knowledge takes time, introspection and effort.  So it’s easy to avoid.

Some compelling numbers

The Human Capital Institute recently conducted a study on strategic talent management in the U.S.  These experts say that added to the complexity of career development is the pace of change and globalization, creating major challenges in today’s work environment. 

Consider this:  40% of employees have been with their current employer less than two years. Every day, 55,000 baby boomers turn 55. Up to 60% of jobs in the 21st century require skills possessed by 20% of the workforce.  Seven of the top 10 jobs projected for 2010 did not exist six years ago. Current job entrants will average 11 to 13 companies or positions in their career.  How does one cope?

Nobody is exempt from the pace of change.  Your power lies in your ability to understand it, anticipate it and adapt to it. Career advancement is based on the fit between the evolving needs of the organization and the strengths of the individual.  The fit addresses tangible know-how but it is also affected by culture, politics, trust, etc.

Career development – a shared responsibility

Career development is up to you but the University has a responsibility in terms of recognizing, developing and managing talent.  According to the Institute’s findings, only 20% of employees are well-suited to their roles, generating high turnover, which is costly. Organizations cannot afford to have the wrong people in the wrong positions. 

Most employees are hired with the credentials and technical skills sought.  But challenges emerge in managing soft skills related to culture, power and handling unrealistic expectations and conflicting priorities. Often, managers are ill prepared to deal with the soft skills, which is often why they are let go. 

A priority at McGill is to attract, recognize, develop, reward and retain talent. What does this mean from a University perspective and from an employee perspective?   We need to know what’s important and how we are doing.  Both formal and informal feedback mechanisms are important.  In a culture that values politeness and collegiality, are we really receiving the substantive feedback we need to challenge ourselves and determine our next developmental steps?

Technical AND behavioural competencies weigh in

As an institution in these changing times, the University looks increasingly at trends and evolving changes in expectations of students, employees and the community at large.  More and more, it must rely on feedback mechanisms, benchmarking and best practices in its development.  The employee is also encouraged to look at trends, evolving needs and related competencies that will be valued as we consider succession planning, career development, etc.  Employees are encouraged to develop transferable skills – behavioural competencies – to adapt to a context of constant change.

Both technical AND behavioural competencies should become the common language and the measure used to hire, develop, coach, reward and promote our people.  We have identified seven core behavioral competencies that we look for in our managers. They are:

  • Change agility
  • Resourcefulness
  • Teaming
  • Managerial courage
  • Self-awareness and management
  • Client service orientation
  • Performance orientation

These competencies were derived from benchmarking and through a series of interviews with our leaders.  There are three to four levels of mastery described for each of them, making concrete the kind of behaviours an employee may want to display in the workplace.

Performance Dialogue – an opportunity

Behavioural competencies should also form the basis of discussion in Performance Dialogue, a key component of talent management and career development.  Use Performance Dialogue to empower yourself:

  • Set learning and career goals
  • Recognize how you learn best
  • Track your progress
  • Keep records of successes
  • Document your learnings with examples
  • Seek what you need to learn
  • Ensure that you are discussing your career aspirations with your supervisor and   understanding the behavioural and technical competencies required to pursue them.

At the MForum we surveyed managers about Performance Dialogue:

  • Many said Performance Dialogue should be made mandatory for all supervisors and managers
  • Only a third said that developmental goals are being identified and discussed during their Performance Dialogue
  • Only 37% said that behavioural competencies are currently part of the discussion

Our managers are telling us that these competencies are important in their own and their teams’ skills development. They are also weaved into our Strategic Reframing Initiative (SRIs) and other key initiatives.

 Tips and tools to consider in your career development

Know your behavioural and technical competencies upfront.  They may be why you were hired or promoted.  What is your edge in this evolving picture? How can you put your strengths to good use?

Use Performance Dialogue to set developmental goals – assess behavioural and/or technical know-how against the backdrop of our changing needs at McGill.  Have career conversations about where you see yourself in three years.

Seek coaching and develop mentoring relationships.  Develop your network.  Be open to continuous learning.  Learn from those who do well what you wish to do.  Be a part of their experience.

Seek out an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes and allow them to do the same.  You’ll strengthen understanding, knowledge, skills and collaboration.

Don’t always think upward. Lateral transfers open doors and build confidence. Increase your visibility.

Self-directed learning can be positive if you can self-manage AND ensure that your learning is acknowledged by those who care about your skillsets.  You may be able to enlist them in your learning journey and have them document your gains in your Performance Dialogue.

Formal training is always an option and can be part of a bigger plan for yourself, with your boss or through others who can influence your thought process.

A changing landscape

With younger generations joining the University, we are seeing a culture shift.  They value being supported in competency development rather than being rewarded for longevity. That said long-standing values are still important to our people, such as the sense of community, which is a definite asset in shared knowledge.

While budgets are being cut back, we are being asked to be more resourceful.  It is only through heightened skills/competencies, the capacity to prioritize and streamline processes that we can meet the demands.   This happens best through collaboration. As we put our clients and key stakeholders at the centre of what we do by active listening and dialogue, we learn and grow. 

Be a part of the different learning communities: 

  • Leadership Development Program
  • Network of change agents
  • Within faculties (lunch & learns, Coaching Ourselves sessions, etc.)
  • M-Forum
  • Create learning triads with peer coaching
  • Become a mentor
  • Enrol in the University’s career development sessions

It is important to realize that behavioural competencies – the soft skills – weigh in the balance of a successful career.  Technical expertise may get you the job, but that’s a given. You’ll want to keep your technical skills up-to-date.  Your soft skills are especially what recruiters are paying attention to and what will give you the edge toward a successful career.   We hope it will be a long and rewarding one here at McGill.

Dare to make your mark.  You may astound yourself.