My Career Fragmentation Story

In a prior post (De-Fragmenting Your Business), I introduced the imagery of fragmentation to describe how, over time, our professional identities can become cloudy and unclear. Ever feel like your career has been full of bits and pieces that don’t entirely make sense together? Yeah – that!

Have I been through this? Indeed! So…let’s use my pinball-like career history as a brief case study to illustrate the process of both fragmentation and (eventual) illumination…

First, I should say that I have held many jobs that had little to do with pursuit of a career direction – like many younger folks, I exchanged time and effort for a paycheck doing things like delivering newspapers, working a McDonald’s grill, cleaning bathrooms, bagging groceries, construction, and waiting on tables. I even worked in a plastics factory one summer. Now THAT was unfulfilling (and malodorous)!

Actually, the second summer I worked at a McDonald’s, so did the woman who would become my wife. So don’t despise any work, OK? :>}

My first real career job was in sales – specifically, high-tech radiation medicine equipment. I took that job for one simple reason – money. Turns out I was smart enough to learn the field and the equipment, and persistent enough to make sales. That job also began to bring out something that was nascent in my makeup – a talent for marketing and messaging. But I was an introvert, I was not highly confident, I was task-oriented more than people-oriented – really, I wasn’t much of a salesperson. I was not driven by numbers, had little of that killer instinct, and I had to learn how to become outgoing. I did earn trust, however, which can partially make up for a multitude of weaknesses. Eventually I started managing a small field force, but that also was not a strong suit. The whole sales/management role thing was like walking in a pair of shoes that never really fit. Been there?

Around the end of my 10 years there, the world wide web showed up. I was hooked. Without any guidance or mandate, I learned basic HTML and created the company’s first website. Instantaneous, global, visual communication? I was all-in! And I wanted to get deeper into that world for my next career step.

So, I learned that I could handle technical stuff, I enjoyed marketing, and I saw the potential for digital communications. Also, years before, I had gotten an initial taste of what personal strength/makeup assessment was all about. That continued to fascinate my analytical makeup.

The next position, with a software company servicing the pharmaceutical industry, allowed me to continue to get my geek on, and to grow more in the marketing arena. But my primary responsibility was still sales, and I did my best to create new business. However, partway into my 10-year tenure there, we hired a REAL salesperson, and as I watched her in action, I finally realized something – I’m not wired as a classic sales person at all. Hello, mis-matched role! Actually, turns out that I’m a problem-solver. I’m consultative. I like designing new solutions. And, in this job, I got to also taste software design, project management, corporate leadership, strategic alliance development, enterprise IT collaboration – all of which helped me to clarify what was, and wasn’t, in my DNA.

Social media began to dawn during the latter half of my time there, and once again, I saw the future. In some way not yet definable, I knew that a large shift was underway, and I needed to be part of it. And I was beginning to understand more of what my sweet spot truly was. I compulsively saw holes in the marketplace, and couldn’t stop thinking of creative new ways to solve business challenges.

I was a consultant-communicator-builder – who loved digital.

What was happening during these years was both a fragmentation (trying to perform in a variety of differing roles and titles) and a refinement (this I can do; that I cannot do; this I can do really well). My conclusion since then is that many of us can do 8-10 things adequately, but there are typically 1-2 (maybe 3) things that we truly love, and do exceptionally well. It took a long time to figure that out – in all the fragments of ore, our main job is to find our unique nuggets of gold and run with them.

It was my intention 6 years ago to build a company around my specific strengths and long-term vision, and to put aside the fragments that weren’t core. So, my current solopreneur job is designed around me. I consult, I build opportunity networks, and I’m a vendor/client matchmaker. And, in the process of working with a variety of vendors, I discovered something else that had been slowly simmering over my entire career – I am an intuitive identity analyst who can help people and companies discover their DNA and brand themselves. Now my sweet spot has become clear: assess purpose; distill message; define opportunities; connect with targeted others. Or, to put it another way – helping individuals and businesses de-fragment and gain clarity about their sweet spot!

It took a looooong time for that train to arrive at the station.

Lots of trial-and-error over many years got me to those four verbs (assess, distill, define, connect). Various roles and titles  brought certain strengths to the surface, while also creating the discomfort of mis-matched capabilities. And many good friends along the way gave objective input to help gain a 20/20 view. I believe that some level of pinball-like experience is likely for most of us, but many individuals and businesses never seem to get to the point of sorting through the fragments and refining down to a clear roadmap. And addressing that problem is the passion that burns in my soul.

Why should any of us – individuals or businesses – settle for working at 30%, or 40%, or 50% of our true capacity? What is stopping us from finding our sweet spot and prospering there, instead of floundering elsewhere? I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to view the fog of fragmentation as one of the biggest threats to productivity in our entire economy. Too many great people are adrift in mis-matched roles, and too many companies are doing the wrong kinds of work. Maybe we can get that right first, then worry about six sigma and team-building exercises later!

So, that’s my story of fragmentation and gradual illumination. There’s a massive relief when you can distill down to the key verbs that reflect your strength, and also plug in the right coordinates into your professional GPS.

Do your career shoes fit yet? Do yourself a favor – get there quicker than I did!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

___________

Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

>> De-Fragmenting Your Business

Four Reasons Why I Bought a Ford This Weekend

This weekend, I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before.

I went to a Ford dealer and bought a Ford automobile.

We tried getting by with our two cars but, with 2 high-school age kids and the ever-growing list of places-to-go and people-to-see, we finally had to make an addition. The odd fact is, that I never even bothered seriously considering another make of car this time around. This, from someone whose last few business cars were all Mazdas and whose family van is currently a Toyota.

Why? Let me give you four simple reasons:

1. Quality. I don’t care what the item is, or what the argument for domestic production is, if you’re not high-quality, you don’t earn my business. Ford has been making great strides in this area, enough that they slowly but surely edged back onto my radar screen. When my 18-year old and I took a test drive in a gently used 2010 Fusion, we were quite impressed (at the top of his list: the sound system, and the cool blue vanity lighting in the cupholders!)

2. Scott Monty. Scott is Ford’s social media guru, though I became acquainted with him back in 2007 or 2008, before his tenure with Ford. Scott has done a great job putting a more human face on a venerable American institution, and that goodwill (earned over time) translated into, not only consideration, but strong leaning, when it was time to make a purchase. It pays to hire good people. If you’re keeping score, President and CEO Alan Mulally: +1, Scott Monty.

3. Principle. Ford had the guts to refuse the government bailout years ago. While Chrysler and General Motors decided to become state-run institutions (or facsimiles thereof), Ford held to free-market principles. Thousands of us Americans never forgot that, and when it was time to make a purchase this weekend, guess which two companies were not even in the running? Granted, Ford is not some perfect company filled with angelic beings, nor are the employees of GM and Chrysler the spawn of evil. I reserve the right to re-consider GM products in the future, of course – but only if and when they are no longer a ward of the federal government. It’s not personal – it’s principle.

4. Referral. My entire solopreneur business model is based on trusted referrals. When I reached out on Facebook about my upcoming decision, a good friend (thanks, Janice!) recommended that I deal with Tommy Garcia over at Wayne (NJ) Ford. They also said that the General Manager (Troy Mol) was great. I reached out on-line and got an immediate and friendly response from Milca Irizarry, and meeting each of them over at the dealership was a pleasure. Purchasing cars can be a dreadful experience. My time at Wayne Ford has, without a doubt, helped advance my view of the Ford brand. If you’re keeping score, Mr. Mulally: +3, Wayne Ford.

I am not going to change the world of business by one little car purchase, or through any of my social media rants about it (e.g., here and here). But this entire experience simply reinforces the power of what should be obvious, in any business. Make great stuff. Do the right thing. Hire the right people. Treat customers right. And the end result will be the vein of gold that every business seeks – enthusiastic referrals. And sometimes, very public commendations…

(lest there be fuel for cynics, so let me say up-front that I have received no financial or other consideration for writing this post. I just believe in telling it like it is – and that includes the good stuff when it is earned!)

___________

Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

>> How I Manage My Introversion

Discovering Your Professional DNA

Wouldn’t it be nice if each of us, at age 20, got a personalized report and one-on-one counseling session detailing exactly what our professional capabilities and strengths are? What a time- and trouble-saver! “We’ve sequenced your professional DNA, Jacqueline, and here is the career arc you should pursue…”

Dream on.

The reality is, we tend to discover our professional DNA by a trial-and-error process. We move from job to job, finding out what types of roles and work environments seem to bring out the best (or worst) in us.

Some people stumble into their life’s work early on, but for most of us, the process looks something like this:

(horizontal axis equals time; vertical axis represents nearness to DNA sweet spot; blocks represent different job roles)

We often focus on climbing the ladder of bigger titles and higher salaries, when our first priority should be discovering our true purpose and identity. You’ve seen people who absolutely flourish in their roles, right? They’ve hit their sweet spot. Yet many others feel that they’re trapped, working at maybe 50% capacity, and spending far too much time in the grey than the blue (referencing my Ugly Graphic above).

Sadly, some never come to understand what their true potential is, or become stuck in a mis-matched job role with diminishing chances of escape. This happened to my Dad and it set me on a determined quest not to end up in that same position. Hence my passion for Clarity Therapy.

Apple will announce its new iPhone 5 today. What if you rushed out to buy it, with maximum memory and a 2-year data plan, all for the sole use of making one 5-minute phone call a day to check on your daughter in college. Would that be best use of its real potential? That’s what happens when we settle for less than discovering our unique professional DNA, and designing our career around it.

We often need assessments (<–great story!), and outside expertise, to help us figure ourselves out. Take the time to do it. It’s your future. No-one else should be designing it. That’s your role!

___________

Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Finding Your Sweet Spot

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

Don’t Do These Three Things on LinkedIn

You have only a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and get across a clear message. That’s true whether you’re selling a product or service, or if you’re selling yourself in the job market.

That’s why you want your LinkedIn profile to be a help, not a hindrance. Here is an example of three things you should NOT do when describing yourself to potential suppliers (note: all identifiers have been removed):

1. DON’T position yourself as a jack-of-all-trades. It’s your responsibility to be decisive about who you are and what you’re seeking. Have a definite headline!

2. DON’T just talk about yourself – tell us what you can do. Save the “I am such-and-such…” for dating sites. Potential employers and customers are looking through one lens only: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?).

3. DON’T pretend to have a baker’s dozen (actually, 15) specialties. Bullet-point lists like this give one message: “Will work for food!” If you have a bunch of competencies, then package them into one or two directions that someone can more easily digest.

Those three points above? The very same things apply for company positioning also.

LinkedIn can be a great friend to your career development, if you use it to tell your story. Seek to make an immediate impression in the first few seconds. Use word pictures. Say something – clearly. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do when you grow up!

___________

Do you have a clear story and direction? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

>> Please Drop the Jargon

Please Drop the Jargon

I came across one of those About pages on the website for a solutions provider that was unfamiliar to me. However, it sounded suspiciously like a hundred other About pages I’ve seen!

It was a jargon-load of biz-speak phraseology. Here are some samples:

________ was created … in early 2005 to build and deliver world-class online … solutions.  We specialize in delivering highly customized solutions and insight for our clients by utilizing a consultative approach to fully understand their … needs, building processes to support those requirements, and consistently delivering to their exact specifications.

Our people are our most valuable resource (please don’t say this. Please. It’s so cliche…)

Our leading edge platform by which we create and deliver our solutions offers the ability for us to focus on highly customized solutions while creating a foundation for our partners to depend on.

The resulting value in combining (our) strong heritage, a strong core of professionals and an adaptable yet robust infrastructure gives our clients the assurance they need to continually depend on _______ for their critical business needs.

Now I’ll give them credit for not using “leverage” once on the entire page! But when a company name and specific offering can easily be swapped out with a hundred other company names and offerings, employing the same-old biz-jargon (world-class solution…customized solutions…leading edge platform…robust infrastructure, etc.), then any unique messaging is impossible. It’s lost in the fog.

It’s commodity language. This reference may date me a bit, but I’m tempted to publish a Mad Libs book for About pages. Just fill in the blanks to complete the pre-packaged phrases!

How about this instead:

While everyone else is looking, you’re finding. Call us.

Nobody wants your blah-blah – except maybe Dilbert. Customers want an answer. Simply put.

___________

Does your message need to be simply put? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

>> Using Words to Say Nothing

In Six Words, Some of the Best Business Advice Ever

I don’t remember who said it to me first, many years ago, but the advice has always stuck with me:

Not all business is good business.

What does this mean? Simply this: there is business you can take on that will likely hurt, not help you.

We are all tempted to take on certain clients and projects because of one overriding factor: Revenue. I’d like to suggest that you make each of those decisions based on a different factor: Purpose.

Here are examples of business that may NOT be good business:

  • Taking on a project with a client who is hard-nosed, and/or cheap, and/or indecisive. There is such a thing as a bad client. Avoid – let some less wise competitor suffer.
  • Taking on a project that has very poor definition, and in which you cannot seem to get more information. This will become a moving target of scope creep that will frustrate you for months on end – guaranteed.
  • Taking on a project that is a good bit out of your sweet spot, with an existing client. Don’t endanger the relationship with a high-risk-of-failure attempt to keep all the client’s dollars to yourself. Short-term gain often equals long-term loss.
  • Taking on a project or client that moves your company and its resources into a direction that you really don’t need to pursue. Rabbit trails waylay any kind of focused growth and dilute your message.
  • Taking on a project or client despite warning bells of good judgment and conscience. Don’t let dollars delude you into ignoring your better instincts.
  • Trying to compete in an area where you are just one of many potential suppliers, and your offering cannot rise above a commodity level. Find a more narrow niche that you can dominate.

Over and over again, as I’ve counseled small business owners and consultants, I’ve heard the tales of woe that result from pursuing or taking on not-good business. The best way to avoid this trap: have a clearly-defined purpose and highly-focused offering (including the clients you wish to pursue) so that you have a solid basis on which to say no. Otherwise, you’ll dilute your efforts by chasing (ultimately) unprofitable revenue. And that’s a game at which nobody can win.

What would you add to the list? Put your lessons in the comments!

___________

Do you need a clearer purpose and message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Following Your Passion: A Story

>> Using Words to Say Nothing

Using Words to Say Nothing

In a recent guest post (There is No Audience for 50 Shades of Grey Marketing) on Carol Roth‘s Business Unplugged blog, I discussed how a foggy and vague marketing message makes you eminently…forgettable.

If you can’t express who you are and what you offer clearly and succinctly, there is no hope of being memorable in the marketplace.

I thought it might be fun to bring forward a couple of website examples of Grey Marketing, to illustrate what I mean. The names of the guilty companies will be withheld to spare public humiliation:

Exhibit A:

Ummmm…you do what, exactly?

Spouting off platitudes about change and transition does not equal a marketing message. And, offering to help you achieve the results you desire, whatever your needs, sounds more like the message of some mystical self-help book than a clear business model.

Why would I give you a call if I have no idea what you do? I can’t imagine the phone is ringing off the hook here.

Exhibit B:

Huh????

You know, as a business person, I just walk around yearning to find an ecosystem design solution. It’s top of mind, and all of my fellow business people have been asking about how to link adjacent industry landscapes. Every morning I wake up and, with my first cup of coffee, ponder how to catalyze and scale new economic systems. You know, because everyone is competent with the same pieces.

This is a prime example of marketing by obfuscation. It is committing the sin of Fogging the marketplace with impressive-sounding jargon that means nothing to the audience.

At least, in one sense, this guilty party is taking his own advice and “doing things competitors can’t.” He’s effectively destroying any hope of communicating with a potential customer. Who needs competitors when you can drive away business all by yourself?

We’re not going to get our message out without words – spoken, written, and (especially) remembered and passed on. Crafting words that actually say something, and say it well, is not optional if you want to grow a business. It’s foundational.

Anybody can say nothing with words. Time to upgrade your vocabulary if your marketing message resembles one of these exhibits!

___________

Do you need help saying something well? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Why I Don’t Buy the One-Minute Elevator Speech

>> Want to Be Memorable? Use Word Pictures!

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