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Our previous post was the first part of a very insightful piece by Duke MEM alumnus Charelle Lewis.  It was very well-received so I am particularly happy to post Part B.  For Charelle’s bio and Part A of her Career Development Insights please see the previous post on this blog and enjoy her additional insights below.

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Career Development Insights – What I Would Tell Myself at 22 (Part B)
by Charelle Lewis

Be Mindful of Your Reputation

This seems obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of people who commit reputation suicide. Keep your “Digital Image” clean, this means Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In. While you might not agree with it, employers ARE monitoring their employees’ activities on social networking sites. Remember, once something is out in the digital universe, it’s almost impossible to get it back. Play it safe, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.

Learn how to be a Team Player. . . You need to follow before you can lead.

Know Where You Stand

Career Development is YOUR responsibility. Take the time to create a Development Plan and make sure you keep it current. Constantly ask for feedback (real feedback, not the fluff that is often exchanged).  Tell your manager about your career goals and get their advice on next steps.

Whenever you are given advice, remember to “Keep the meat, and spit out the bones”.  Translation: Not all advice is good advice. Respectfully listen to the advice, but only act on the things that make sense given your situation and desired outcomes.

Keep a file of your job history, rewards & accomplishments.  Job applications are much easier when you have all your personal information in one place and you can copy and paste to tailor the application as needed. Also, keep your resume up-to-date. Updating your resume is a lot less painful if you have a 6 month cadence around it.

Learn The Art of Bragging

Learn how to humbly publicize your accomplishments.  “Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horne w/o Blowing It” is a great book on this topic. Once you learn how to brag, find Advocates/Mentors who will do the same.  The REAL difference between an employee making $40K and one making $400K is perceived value.  If you are not perceived as valuable, you won’t last long. Share stakeholder feedback about your performance (especially unsolicited feedback) w/ your manager (and their manager) to confirm your strengths.

You’re Not Supposed to Know it All                                                            

You Don’t Have to be an Expert, but Learn Who the Experts Are. Surround Yourself with “Smart People”. Like the President, build a strong Cabinet of knowledgeable individuals who can advise you on every aspect of your responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to borrow shamelessly (as long as you provide credit). Don’t reinvent the wheel; spend your time and effort on things that don’t already exist.

Last but Not Least…Know Where You Draw the Line

At some point in your career you will probably face a situation which causes you to question someone else’s actions and/or integrity. Make sure you take the time to get all the details and act according to your moral compass.  Document everything! By focusing on facts and data, you eliminate the confusion emotion often brings. Your integrity is one of your most important assets, once it takes a hit it is really hard to restore.

These key principles have helped me acclimate and excel in many different roles, but this of course is not the only recipe for success. As mentioned previously, “Keep the meat, and spit out the bones”.

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We are very fortunate to have guest blogger Charelle Lewis provide numerous insights on Career Development for this post and the next. Charelle is a PMI certified IT Project Manager for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Durham, North Carolina. A native of Houston, Texas, Charelle moved to Durham in August 2000 to attend Duke University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics. After graduating from Duke, Charelle entered the IT Development Program at GSK. While in this program, she earned her Six Sigma Certification and gained experience as a Business Analyst, Process Improvement Analyst and Project Manager. Charelle then began working in the Strategy, Architecture and Information Group in North America Pharma IT (NAPIT). In this role she served as the Program Administrator for the NAPIT Innovation Team, founded and chaired GSK’s Global IT Innovation Committee, and Co-Founded the Early Career Network for GSK’s Research Triangle Park campus. She currently serves as the Program Manager for the “IT Transformation” initiative which will launch multi-functional Business Service Centers in Kuala Lumpur, Poznan, West London and Delaware Valley. During her 8 year tenure at GSK, Charelle earned a Master of Engineering Management Degree from Duke University.
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Career Development Insights – What I Would Tell Myself at 22 (Part A)
by Charelle Lewis

As I continue to progress in my career, I find myself giving advice to not only recent graduates, but frankly anyone who will listen. I am far from an expert in career development, however, as I reflect on my career I can think of so many things I wish I had known when I first started. In an effort to spare others from the pitfalls of my journey, I would like to share the following advice. . .

Get Acclimated As Quickly As Possible

When you start with a new company, it is imperative to get acclimated as quickly as possible. You will be expected to start contributing far before you become an expert in any given area, so you will need to quickly understand the landscape. Start networking immediately! Find a mentor or a buddy that is not afraid to tell you the truth about the Dos and Don’ts. This should be fairly easy since everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, loves to give advice. (Side Note: The quickest way to make a friend is to ask for advice)

Get a clear understanding of the Company Culture and learn as much as you can about the Corporate Politics. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking of Corporate Politics as a negative thing, but rather an opportunity to understand the motives and objective of your stakeholders. If you don’t understand the underlying objectives of your stakeholders, you will never be in a position to influence them.

Look for Extracurricular Activities that will expose you to people and areas outside of your immediate group. People come and go and organizational structures change often so don’t get too attached to the group you are initially assigned to. It is also good practice to work in several different areas throughout your career to broaden your network. The broader you cast your net, the better.

Finally, ask about Periodicals on the Industry/ Subject Matter. This will help you bring the big picture into focus by not only giving you insights into your company but helping you understand where your company fits in the broader industry.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

You will never know what you are capable of until you force yourself to move out of your comfort zone. Actively seek-out challenging assignments. Have you ever heard the phrase “All you can do is ask, all they can say is no”? Sometimes understanding the worst possible outcome gives you the courage to ask the question. Don’t shy away from asking for challenging assignments even if you think the answer will be no. Get your name on the “Next in Line” List by asking your Manager, Director, and Vice President to consider you for the next challenging opportunity (and trust me, there is always an abundance of challenging opportunities). Make sure you Manager (and Advocates) know your interest. Most companies have ”Open Door” policies so take full advantage of one on one sessions w/ members of your management. You want to make sure when new opportunities arise in your area of interest, your name is the first thing that comes to their mind.

Don’t be afraid to try things you aren’t sure you will like. Knowing what you don’t like is sometimes more valuable than knowing what you do like. Don’t be Afraid to (respectfully) challenge the Status Quo. Your company hired you for your new ideas and fresh perspectives so don’t be afraid to share them. Remember it is better to phrase opposition/challenges as questions, not statements. Statements make people defensive while questions make people think.

Stay tuned for more advice from Charelle in the next post…

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Self-awareness is critical in any organization. It has been determined to be a key attribute for great leadership. This is also true for “leading yourself” which is a critical step in becoming a leader of others. For example, when you are trying to maximize productivity it is important to understand how you work best. In particular for the theme of this post, how do you react to deadlines? Do they increase or decrease your productivity? I was reminded of this over the holidays when there are no real work-related deadlines. Is this good or bad for your work style? I noticed how I managed this and thought I would share it in this post.

So how do you react to deadlines? Some people lose focus and judgment when under excessive stress with a looming deadline and their productivity drops dramatically. They are less able to prioritize tasks and solve problems that arise. They need to constantly monitor deadlines to ensure that their tasks are done far in advance to manage their stress and maintain their productivity. I have worked with many excellent people who fall into this category. On the other hand, I have also seen many who ONLY work well when a deadline is upon them. They support the old cliché, “if it were not for the last minute, nothing would get done.” Admittedly, I fall into this category. I work best with a deadline. Fortunately, I have also always wanted to accomplish as much as possible, as quickly as possible. In fact, I really beat myself up if I procrastinate. These two traits are somewhat orthogonal. Thus, over the years it has been critical for me to develop strategies whereby I can accomplish as much as possible every day even when I do not have a significant looming deadline. It turns out this isn’t so hard. It requires a little self-deception or brainwashing but it is all for the good of your work and career! I simply give myself a series of deadlines every day. In fact, I work from one deadline to the next constantly. Usually I work best with at least two deadlines in the morning and two in the afternoon!

So what kinds of deadlines am I referring to? The deadline can be simple and even artificial: “I need to finish replying to all my emails by 10:00 a.m. when I have a conference call” or “my course syllabus needs to be completed before lunch” or “I am going to finish this report before I leave work.” The point is, deadlines that are somewhat artificial and fairly short-term still work extremely well at keeping me motivated. They work almost as well as a “real” external deadline. Meetings, phone calls, etc. can act as great time barriers for me to queue on; working hard to complete some other task before I am required to begin that next activity. Of course, when a report is due to your boss by a particular time then there is nothing artificial or simple about it. In that case, the trick is not to start on the report too early or too late. Too early and you will procrastinate or unnecessarily refine the report and too late will create too much stress or a low quality report.

Another interesting and important aspect of how you respond to deadlines is understanding how your colleagues respond. When people who respond in opposite ways to deadlines are on the same team, it can be problematic. Don’t misunderstand; it can be very good for the accomplishments of the team if managed well but if not, it can waste time and cause interpersonal conflict. The person who does not want to ever be caught near a deadline manages tasks and priorities well ahead of the deadline to ensure everything is done early. The other type of person is wondering why their teammate is wasting time when the deadline is days (or even hours!) away. They are not motivated to work on the project until the pressure begins to build as the deadline approaches. If the team mates know themselves and can articulate their needs, a work flow can be developed that takes advantage of both styles. Early efforts can ensure that no surprises catch the team at the last minute and efforts near the deadline can be used to polish and refine the work product so it is an A+ effort. Diversity is good.

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The holidays offer us time and perspective for reflecting on our activities in both our career and personal lives. In today’s world, it is difficult, and perhaps not even desirable, to maintain a rigid separation between your work and home life. This is particularly important during the holidays;

Many of us have both business and personal (family and friends) holiday parties to attend. In fact, our business parties are likely to have friends in attendance. There are a few mistakes to avoid during this time of year with respect to these parties. First, for the business holiday party, don’t assume that because it is a party, many times with alcohol, it is OK to drink too much and act unprofessionally. Of course it is fine to have fun and even be more casual than usual. But you need to think about where to draw the line; use your judgement and consider the organizational culture. Err on the side of caution if you are not sure.  I have literally seen careers derailed due to bad behavior at a party. On a related note, don’t assume that because it is an optional party that it is fine to skip it. A holiday party offers an excellent time to build relationships and develop trust with your colleagues, many times by sharing more information than you can at work. Attendance may be less optional than you think.  With respect to your personal gatherings with family and friends, early in a career it is easy to feel that you are too busy at work to take the time for the family gathering. Be careful. Of course you need to be putting in the extra hours and the fact is, the more hours you are able to work (at peak performance), the faster your career will progress. On the other hand, you cannot get that time back. Be sure you consider the consequences of skipping the family gathering. All choices have consequences so it may still be the right choice for you but consider; what if time were running out for you or your family, would you make the same decision? Since time IS running out (none of us know how much time we have!), think hard about this choice.

This brings up the bigger question of balancing work and home life. This balance is never more omnipresent than during the holiday season. I believe your goal should actually be to make this balance very difficult. Not because you have too much work to do or because you have tremendous ambition and don’t want to take a minute away from your career – either of which are likely. The goal should be to have both a personal life and work life that you love! Thus, during the holidays the only complaint you should have is that you are having too much fun. This is not as hard as you might think but it requires a relentless focus on creating consistency between your values and your activities. It also requires substantial self-awareness to understand what is consistent with your fundamental likes and dislikes.

Another holiday activity that you should consider is the chance to reconnect with people. We all have many business acquaintances and colleagues that we meet over the years but rarely have a chance to interact with. The holidays offer a wonderful time to briefly catch-up with such colleagues through a short holiday note letting them know what you have been up to and expressing appreciation for your past interactions.

Another part of the balance required for an effective career is the balance between short-term and long-term activities. Many times the short-term and urgent items on our plate crowd out long-term but more important items. The holidays offer a great opportunity to examine this balance and ensure that long-term activities are not being ignored. Of course this includes the relationships you build and maintain over the years but can also involve items such as training, reading those books and articles that you have been putting off, organizing your task lists and even your cleaning up your office just to name a few.

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My Top Ten Management Concepts

A few weeks ago we had an exciting “first” for not only the Duke program but all of the programs that are members of our Master of Engineering Management Programs Consortium (http://www.mempc.org/) It was our first joint alumni event which we held in Silicon Valley. You can read more about it in Northwestern’s Blog: (http://memnorthwestern.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/genuine-connections-lead-to-great-ideas-mempc-meet-up-reflection/)

Although the programs in the MEMPC have differences, for me this event highlighted the many similarities between our programs and our alumni. It was easy to move seamlessly from conversations with Duke alumni to MIT alumni to Northwestern alumni and so on. This was a great affirmation of the many common goals our programs share. The common interest among our programs illustrated by the MEMPC and this event led me to wonder if a top ten list of management concepts could capture the commonalities in managing people despite large variations in individual characteristics, situations and organizations. So I reached back into previous blogs, courses and experiences I have had for the following:

• Never attribute to malice what can be attributed to cluelessness (so many times we ascribe intention and malice to an action that was actually just an oversight or a different perspective).
• Don’t delay giving bad news, it is generally worse for everyone involved when you do (even for the recipient, it is usually better to know early and move on).
• Praise in public, reprimand in private (if your goal is to actually affect change in the behavior of the recipient, it is rarely best to publicly admonish someone).
• Trust can overcome many sins in an organization (and lack thereof can cause productivity in an organization to grind to halt).
• Management is about managing expectations of employees, customers and stakeholders (it is amazing how reactions to the same situation can vary wildly depending on the expectations generated by previous communications; you can actively manage this).
• Understand and respond to perceptions, not your own reality (everyone has heard that perception is reality but believing it and using it as a basis for communication is difficult).
• Achieving the right balance for a given situation, environment and desired outcome is critical in all management decisions; empowering vs. directing, cost cutting vs. investing, objectivity vs. passion, listening to your customers vs. blazing a new trail, etc. (understanding tradeoffs between these different dimensions in a world where there is no such thing as “one size fits all” is an important part of successful management).
• Fairness is usually more important than outcome (even when people get a decision that they want, if they perceive the process used to make the decision was not “fair” they are more unhappy and less productive than when the decision went the opposite way but a fair, inclusive process was used).
• Being a good leader or manager is about “Emotional Intelligence” and the foundation of emotional intelligence is self-awareness (the intellectual ability we value in academia is not the key to managing or leading our employees and students).
• Sarcasm is almost never a good choice for humor in the workplace (humor is great but keep sarcasm out of it or you will be surprised how it is interpreted by some of your staff).

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The topic of networking comes up quite often for our early career alumni and our MEM students. I like to emphasize that networking is about relationships. This means it is about giving and receiving value from another person. It is about sharing information and experiences. It is not about how big your contact database is or how many business cards you have collected. Unless you are just building a distribution list, it is more important to have a limited number of strong relationships than innumerable unknown contacts. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with having different levels of relationships: acquaintances, colleagues and perhaps close friends may be one way to classify them. You probably have parallels in your personal life. In fact, as the relationships get closer, the line between friendship and business relationship can tend to blur (there are dangers to this but I’ll save that for a future post). Building these relationships, even high quality acquaintances, requires that you have a genuine interest in the other person. I have a number of acquaintances who I do not see often, not even once a year, but when we do get together it is wonderful to catch up and hear about what they have been up to and share experiences. I learn a lot from these interactions and I believe it is mutual.

Which brings me to the most frequently asked question I hear from early career alumni and students – How do I bring value to a relationship with someone who has much more experience and responsibility? First a word of caution.  Don’t force the relationship.  Let it evolve naturally and if it does not, then let it go. It is not a task that needs to be accomplished; it is an exploration. So back to the question.  Below is a list derived mostly from students have provided to me at times even when my experience vastly overshadowed theirs (i.e., I was old, they were young!). Sometimes these have led to continued interactions and sometimes to simply an occasional (but enjoyable and fruitful) contact between two acquaintances:

• Articles of interest to your acquaintance
• Information about the school they would not otherwise know if you are both from the same school
• A comment about how their company is perceived by your peer group
• An experience you had with one of their competitors that they might like to hear (obviously this should be an open, public experience, not something the competitor reasonably thought was going to protected or private)
• Information about a person of interest to them you may have read about in the media, especially if it was not broadly publicized and was something they are likely to have missed
• A new product of interest that you observed or even that you tracked down (i.e., from a start-up or university such that they would not have seen it)
• A market of interest they may have missed, for example, in your home country where they do not have significant presence.

With today’s social media and various organizations’ databases, the logistics of keeping up with people is easy but the relationship building is as hard as ever, maybe harder given the demands on our time.  Utilize the social media before you need it and don’t expect the media to build the relationship for you.  (For our MEM alumni, I hope that you take a moment to join our Linked-in group and the MEMPC Linked-in group – but not because you expect it to do your relationship building for you!).

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For those of you who are aspiring engineering managers AND music festival fans, this post might be particularly interesting. Hopefully it is of interest to everyone as it illustrates how we can find lessons on business and management everywhere we look.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a very popular festival in the Appalachian Mountains near the town of Floyd, VA. The Appalachians have a long history of music from Blue Grass to Folk to Country (e.g.; see http://www.crookedroadenterprises.com/) and for the past decade have hosted an outdoor music festival called FloydFest (https://www.facebook.com/FloydFestVA#!/FloydFestVA). Those of you who know me probably don’t picture me at an outdoor music festival with 14,000 of my closest friends but several things came together to make this a special opportunity, including; the artists, special interest from members of my family and the location. Thus, despite it being a bit out of character, I attended all three days of the festival (well, a couple of hours each day anyway). Headliner artists included Jackson Browne, Brandi Carlile and Michael Franti making it of interest to even those who are not hardcore music festival fans.

But more to the point, as I attended the festival I realized how many exceptional business and management lessons could be gained from observing the festival and studying its history. FloydFest is particularly interesting because it has grown from a small local venue to a national event with 14,000 attendees, seven different stages for musicians, and VIP tickets costing $600 per person (although I don’t know the exact number of VIP tickets sold, it appeared to be hundreds rather than dozens). Thus, I compiled the list below while sitting on the grass listening to music on a beautiful sunny day in the mountains. These are not new but the context is quite unique:

Develop a portfolio of products – The festival is truly innovative in its vision for the type of music that it provides. A portfolio of artists in at least two different dimensions was presented to the audience; (i) both early career artists and well established artists, and (ii) styles ranging from traditional country to reggae. It struck me that this is a wonderful portfolio but has the potential problem of being interesting to such a diverse audience that making a strong, focused value proposition might be difficult. However, the organizers understood their customers extremely well which brings me to the next point.

Understand and segment your customers – Despite the large diversity in types of music, all of the customers had one general and important trait in common. They wanted to listen to music and be outdoors. The attendees ranged from children to people in their 90’s. (I’m not making that up, one of the musicians brought a ninety-something year old onto the stage to celebrate their birthday). Thus, as long as the organizers delivered an outdoor experience with high quality music, diversifying the types of music offerings is beneficial; enhancing the experience and bringing in more customers. Of course, the organizers must be aware of any correlation between people who like the outdoors and what type of music those people enjoy. As far as I could tell, there were no classical music offerings at the festival.

Know what your customers value – This means know what your customers are willing to pay for! In reality, there were many things about the venue and the festival that were rather primitive and frustrating for those of us who were not regular festival attendees. From the food choices, to the restrooms, to the parking; there were logistics that limited the quality of these services throughout the weekend. On the other hand, the sunsets, beautiful blue sky, and even the downpour which occurred in the middle of the weekend were all unmatched. Couple this with the diversity/quality of artists and the personal feel of the venues and you have delivered great value to your customers. Even the VIP customers obviously feel that these “product specs” are more important than the logistical challenges compared to a nice concert hall with real restrooms!

Organic growth – there is certainly nothing wrong with growth by acquisition or growth by significant external investment. However, the benefits of organic growth are difficult to match in many situations. Organic growth, like the growth experienced by FloydFest from the time it was a one stage local outdoor gathering to the 14,000-person seven-stage extravaganza that currently exists, allowed for knowledge capture, flexible response to the market, and word of mouth advertising to the customer base. There are still no FloydFest signs on the road at the venue – everybody has already talked to someone about where to turn – now that is organic! And again, the organizers know what their customers value; high quality music in the beautiful outdoors (with a diversity of outdoor cultural activities for young and old alike thrown in).

Find synergies in your product lines – one of the most interesting observations about the musical sets was the obvious friendships and partnerships that existed between the artists from different locations and musical genre. Most artists I observed had another artist from the festival come onto the stage as a guest for a song or two at some point during their set. In many cases they described a long and storied friendship. This provides all kinds of benefits such as making the experience unique for the customer, ensuring that the artists themselves have a good experience, and optimizing the efficiency of the “product” by utilizing artists in multiple ways.

And last but not least…..

It’s all about the culture – Every organization has its own culture and what we saw at FloydFest was how that culture can impact customers. There is a “peace, love, joy” culture that has been cultivated from the early days of the festival and this has permeated the environment even as the venue has grown by an order of magnitude. This culture is passed down by word of mouth, PR and direct advertising. It manages the expectations of the customers as well as the performers. It probably encourages some would-be customers to screen themselves out of the event if they do not subscribe to a mellow, things may not be perfect but you will have a great time, environment: a little mud, some poor lighting, too many people in some lines, and some acts starting a bit late are all part of the experience and nothing to get upset about. After all, it’s about making music in the mountains. For the most part, the audience reaction was very consistent with the culture and a good time was had by all.

So the next time you are doing something unrelated to your business, see what lessons you can learn. Many so-called “breakthroughs” come from importing ideas across industries and product areas. It has been said: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed” (William Gibson). You might learn about the future of your business by some “outside of the box” observations of the others.

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