By Whitney Johnson
Driven by discovery.
This phrase sounds magical—evoking images of explorers like Columbus or Lewis and Clark. It seems even more magical when you consider one of the key attributes of a successful executive is curiosity, and that 70 percent of all successful new businesses end up with a strategy different than the one initially pursued. Groupon, for example, started out as an activism platform bringing people together to fundraise for a cause or to boycott retailers (ironic!) while Netflix, the Emmy-winning content company, started as a door-to-door DVD rental service.
But there’s a rub.
Discovery implies the unknown and most of us seem to prefer the safe harbor of the known–even when the known isn’t all that great. So, here’s a hack for putting some structure around navigating the unknown based on theory of discovery-driven planning of Rita Gunther-McGrath and Ian McMillan.
1. Create a reverse income statement. If you are launching a new company, rather than forecasting how much revenue you will generate and what your costs will be and then solving for the profit, you build the income statement in reverse. You decide on your required income, and then solve for how much revenue will deliver those profits, and how much cost can be allowed. When it comes to personal disruption, the question you ask is: To achieve my baseline level of happiness, what do I need to accomplish and what am I willing to give up in order to make this happen?
2. Calculate the cost. With this step, you estimate what the cost will be to produce, sell, and deliver a product or service to a customer. Combined, these are the allowable costs that permit the business model to hold together. As an individual, the question is what kind of time, expertise, money, and buy-in will you need to make your plan operational?
3. Compile an assumption checklist. This checklist allows you to flag and discuss each assumption as the venture unfolds. For example, what assumptions are you making about how much you will sell and at what price? As an individual, if you decide you want to earn $300,000 a year consulting, and last year you earned $270,000 consulting, then conventional planning works. If you’ve never consulted, then you’d want to think about the assumptions behind your ability to earn that $300,000. How many clients will you need? How many hours per day will you need to bill, and at what price point? Do you enjoy the work, and will it be emotionally satisfying?
4. Prepare a milestone chart. This chart specifies which assumptions need to be tested and what you are going to learn by each milestone. In discovery-driven planning, learning is the essential unit of progress, so a course correction isn’t equivalent to failure, as it would be in conventional planning. Rather, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate so you achieve your goals more quickly.
One of the key attributes ascribed to disruptors is that they play where no one else is playing. As a trailblazer, even though you may have a goal or purpose, your path to that objective is yet to be marked.
Being driven by discovery can be scary and lonely, and you will undoubtedly end up in places you haven’t anticipated. But, like Lewis and Clark, you have a plan: to discover and conquer territory.
About the Author
Whitney Johnson is an investor, speaker, author, and leading thinker on driving innovation through personal disruption. Her new book Disrupt Yourself, will be released on October 6, 2015. To learn more, visit http://whitneyjohnson.com/disrupt-yourself.
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“I feel that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.”
~ Jonas Salk ~
Client Leanne Asks: I’ve positioned myself well by creating a number of opportunities which can raise my visibility with my firms’ leaders. Now I’m stuck in the middle. I have to execute on all the new work, build and maintain my pipeline of new projects, and do my actual day job besides. My concern is that I don’t have the band-width or energy to do all these things at once. How do I optimize the time I spend on the high visibility items?
Coach Joel Answers: What got you here won’t get you there. Do the job you want, not the job you have. Here’s the way I see it: You put a lot of things out there that you could work on – projects that have high visibility and put you in the public eye as far as your superiors are concerned. You volunteered for a number of things, thinking only one or two would come through, but instead you ended up with three new assignments. Now what?
These are all projects that will help you in your career with the company because you are creating opportunities to interact with people in other departments and show them how talented and how great you are. Your new projects not only have visibility, they also add influence, impact and value to the firm.
Here’s what I would do: Create a three-column chart on your computer. Lay out all your responsibilities and ask yourself what HAS to get done. What do you need to be doing to continue your success at your current baseline level so you don’t throw up any red flags? You might have one third that has to get done on your current job, one third that relates to the job you want to have—that is your visibility stuff, and the last third is the stuff you might be able to get rid of, or put less importance on. This will equate to more time and energy for the things that count. Think about ways you can eliminate work or delegate to someone else.
And here’s the way to approach the delegation piece of it. Present it as a training process—you’re not only moving ahead in the company, you’re training someone else to follow in your footsteps and learn important pieces of your job, so nothing will be left undone when you move to the next level.
In order to keep moving up the ladder as you want to do, you must do three things simultaneously:
- You must understand what your superiors need and want, not just from you but for the future of the company. And you must understand where you fit into that plan.
- You must empower your subordinates. That’s where the training piece we talked about comes into play.
- You must build relationships with your peers. You’re all on the same team, and when you help other people win, you win too.
If you can do those three things, you’ll increase your visibility and reach the next level sooner than you think.
Are you stuck between the job you have and the job you want? Implement our three-part model this week to determine how you can create more high visibility assignments that will move you to the next level.
Talkback: Have you successfully moved to a higher level of your organization? What did you do to increase your visibility with your superiors? Share your experience here.
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“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.”
~ Margaret Cho ~
Rosie has been with her company for a little less than a year. Last month she had a very positive performance review with Jake, her immediate boss. During the review, Rosie told Jake that she felt she could handle a bigger workload, and Jake seemed to agree, but nothing happened.
Yesterday Rosie found out that Jan, a co-worker with the same job title she has, was promoted—and it’s been only a year since her last promotion. Rosie knows Jan earned it, but now she’s wondering how to ask for a similar opportunity to prove herself. Rosie wonders if she should have been more aggressive in her review with Jake and in following up afterward. Of course Jan’s promotion is unrelated to Rosie’s performance, but now Rosie wants to ask for larger-scale projects and more important work without seeming like she’s jealous or resentful of Jan.
If, like Rosie, you’re feeling stifled at work and would like to take on more responsibility and get promoted, Step One is to share your aspirations openly and specifically with your boss. Don’t be shy. Ask your boss exactly what you need to do to get promoted. The more clarity you have on the specific steps you should take, the easier it will be for you to take action and achieve your goals. Over the next three to six months, schedule time every two to four weeks to discuss your progress.
Here are some of the questions Rosie asked Jake:
- How does the promotion process work?
- What do I need to be doing over the next three to six months to get promoted?
- What kind of data or information can I provide you to document my progress?
- What larger-scale projects can I own right now?
- Do I need to increase my visibility with other decision-makers to improve my chances for promotion?
When it comes to visibility with other company leaders, especially C-level managers, Jake had some specific suggestions for Rosie. In addition to taking on larger scale projects, Jake suggested Rosie look for projects outside her own specific area, particularly projects that were being neglected or that no one wanted to do. Completing an “orphaned” project successfully is a great way to gain visibility. Jake also suggested that Rosie look for one or more advocates, either inside or outside the company who would be willing to speak up on her behalf. An advocate can easily raise your profile with your boss’s boss and other high level executives by publicizing your successes.
Rosie took Jake’s advice and developed her game plan. She volunteered to head up the company’s web site revamp—a project that had been languishing for a year for lack of leadership. She completed it successfully in less than three months, and both Jake and her recently recruited advocate made sure everyone—including the company president—knew what she had done. It was no surprise that Rosie got that coveted promotion at her next performance review.
If you’ve been passed over for a promotion, or even if you’d just like to take on more challenges where you are, now is the time to act. Develop a list of five actions you could take immediately to improve your visibility. Then schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss them.
Talkback: Have you successfully improved your visibility in your company? How did you do it? Share your experience here.
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“It is important that you recognize your progress and take pride in your accomplishments. Share your achievements with others. Brag a little. The recognition and support of those around you is nurturing.”
~ Rosemarie Rossetti ~
Client Matt Asks: I never seem to get the recognition I deserve for my work, but I’m afraid to say anything because it might seem like I’m bragging. Is it appropriate to mention my accomplishments to others at work?
Coach Joel Answers: You know you’re good at what you do and deserve to get more recognition, increased responsibility and a probably even a promotion. But does anyone else know?
Many employees are passed by or completely overlooked simply because senior management doesn’t know how valuable they are.
In a Newsweek article, Sharon Allen, Chairman of the board, Deloitte &Touche USA, said: “Take responsibility for your own career. Don’t assume that others are aware of the good work you’re doing. When I was a young accountant, I was unhappy about not getting a promotion. I went to my supervisor and told him all of these things that I thought I should be given credit for and he said, ‘Well, gee, I didn’t know that you had done all of these things.’ It was a real wakeup call. You don’t have to be a bragger, but I think it’s very important that we make people aware of our accomplishments…”
Your accomplishments are the currency you use to calculate your value to the company. When tracking accomplishments, focus on:
- Business results.
- The value you’ve provided to the company.
- Fact-based, concrete details.
- The specific feedback you receive from others.
- Quantifiable data is especially persuasive because it measures the impact of your accomplishments.
Not only does tracking your accomplishments create concrete examples of your value, the tracking process itself will give you confidence. As you become aware of your progress, you will be more comfortable telling others, in specific terms, how you provide value to the company.
Like Ms. Allen says, you don’t have to be a bragger. Take advantage of opportunities to communicate your accomplishments. If others don’t hear about them from you, they can only operate from perception and second-hand information.
If you’re unsure about how much self-promotion is too much, Joel’s coaching program will provide you with a customized action plan to help you leapfrog your way to the top of the career ladder. Click here for more information.
Talkback: Do you get the recognition you deserve at work? What can you do to ensure that you get credit for your accomplishments?
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“Successful people turn everyone who can help them into sometime mentors.”
~ John Crosby ~
Virginia is hoping to be promoted soon. She approached me to find out what she can do to increase her chances of getting the position she desires.
As I told Virginia, there is one thing you can do that is so important, you are practically shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t do it.
Studies have shown that a mentoring relationship with an influential individual can increase your chances of being promoted by more than 80 percent. So if you don’t have a mentor, it’s time to get one now.
A mentor can help you understand the culture and inner workings of the organization. He or she can work with you to create career plans, improve areas of weakness, provide honest feedback and introduce you to other supportive people.
Katherine Klein, a Wharton management professor, says that mentoring is “a sounding board and a place where it’s safe to be vulnerable and get career advice. It’s a relationship where one can let one’s guard down, a place where one can get honest feedback, and a place, ideally, where one can get psychological and social support in handling stressful situations.”
Klein adds, “Mentors also should have an understanding of the organization’s values, culture and norms so they can pass these along to mentees. The mentor should be sensitive to the mentee’s needs and wishes, and enhance the mentee’s career potential, while simultaneously looking for ways the mentee’s potential can benefit the organization.”
Often, when initiating the mentoring relationship, you may feel like you are invading your mentor’s space and time. You may be hesitant to reach out and ask for help. However, the mentor also gains from the relationship; says Klein “You get the satisfaction of seeing somebody develop. And don’t forget that mentees may be in a position to help the mentor at some point.
“Mentees may also make the mentor look good.” Terri Scandura, a management professor and dean of the graduate school of the University of Miami, says, “Dealing with a person who is your junior improves your network. Mentors know more about what goes on in lower levels when they deal with mentees. Junior people can provide information to mentors…. [They] are up on the latest technology and knowledge. So it’s an interactive process: Mentors and protégés become co-learners.”
Here are some tips for selecting a mentor:
1. Choose someone you (and others) respect.
Identify an individual who you admire who has accomplished things you hope to accomplish some day.
2. Your mentor should have influence and power in the organization.
This, along with their knowledge, experience and competence, will help to open doors and introduce you to other influential people in the organization.
3. He or she is willing to invest time and is committed to your success.
Look for a respected person who is your senior and is willing to invest time in – and take responsibility for – your success and development. Likely candidates are executives with a reputation for helping others succeed.
4. Good mentors ask tough questions and hold you accountable.
Honesty and trust are critical in a mentoring relationship. He or she will offer constructive criticism when necessary, but will also take joy in your triumphs. The situation is considered ideal when both individuals – the mentor and the mentee – learn and grow as a result of the relationship.
5. Work with a mentor who is positive and enthusiastic.
Your goal is not just to learn from a mentor, but to be inspired. A good mentor is upbeat and optimistic. If you’re energized and raring to go after meeting with him or her, you’ll know you’ve selected the ideal person!
Are you ready to take action to make that next promotion happen? Sign up for Joel’s Career Advancement Coaching program and learn exactly what you need to do to take your career to the next level.
Talkback: Do you have a mentor? How did you find him or her? Do you have any tips to add for our readers?
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