Career Readiness: Excelling on the Job

“Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work for it.”

~Author Unknown

It’s day one on the job, and we can’t wait for our corner office, leather chair, and stunning view. Not so fast! Success on the job (including the perks!) takes hard work, and no one is entitled to it. In today’s competitive workplace, employers are managing their staffs with greater scrutiny than ever. Consequently, we must continually justify ourselves by adding value to our employer.

There’s a BIG difference between the MVPs in an organization and those whose careers stagnate. So for our students’ benefit, it’s critical that our career readiness training includes the secrets of workplace superstars. With so many teens and young adults lacking job experience, this segment offers a vital glimpse into the demands of the workplace. The better our students understand this now, the better equipped they will be to knock it out of the park from the first day.

Here are our recommendations for setting students up to excel in the workplace:

  1. Pursue a well-matched career. All-Star employees play to their strengths, and that begins with selecting a career that matches their skills, interests, and personal preferences. This is one reason why students should conduct a comprehensive assessment of themselves and career options (described in an earlier blog) before making a decision. It is also why parents and educators should play a role of guiding the process rather than directing it toward a particular outcome. There is no substitute for loving our work, and that can only be possible if it fits us like a glove.
  2. Model the qualities of workplace MVPs. Career success goes far beyond skills and smarts. Ask employers to identify what stands out among their most admired employees and you’ll hear qualities such as high standards of excellence, integrity, dependability, relational/communication skill, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation/strong work ethic, resilience, humility, loyalty, professionalism, focus, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond. Encourage your students to take these to heart.
  3. Deliver excellent job performance. It’s critical that students understand how they will likely be evaluated on the job. Their performance will link directly to their pay, promotion potential, and overall satisfaction. Generally speaking, their job reviews will include rankings on subjective criteria such as communication, attitude, teamwork, and dependability, as well as on specific goals for the performance period. We recommend sharing the following strategies with students starting on their first day:
  • Ask their supervisor to define excellence on the job and in each of the evaluation criteria. This offers invaluable insights how he/she will be rated in these subjective areas. Then, of course, deliver it!
  • Ask their supervisor to identify the one to three most significant accomplishments the employee could achieve in the next six months. Then, deliver them!
  • Ask their supervisor to share how he/she and the department are being evaluated and how they can contribute to their success. Then, deliver!
  1. Contribute to their employer’s success. MVPs go above and beyond. They proactively seek ways to build value in the eyes of their employer. And, the best way to do this is to positively impact the organization’s success. There are many ways to do this, but here are some of the most powerful:

Improve sales. This can be achieved through adding new customers, building customer loyalty, developing new products/services, and supporting the sales effort.

Reduce expenses. Lowering costs and improving efficiency directly benefit the bottom line.

Innovating. Whether it’s new products or services or better ways to position the company in sales settings, these efforts contribute to the employer’s brand and revenue growth.

Leading. Whether it’s leading projects, teams, or people, the potential for significant impact and reputational value are huge. Seize the moment and use every opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

By knowing how to deliver excellent job performance, your students will be poised to reach their full career potential!

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Four

Millennials—you’ve probably heard some pretty strong statements about them. “No work ethic, too dependent on their parents, irresponsible, addicted to technology…” But in this four-part series, I’ve been addressing what steps we can take as parents, secondary educators, and college educators, to better equip them for a long line of success. And today, I’d like to talk to those on the fourth leg of the relay race—our employers. (If you missed the first three parts in this series, you can find the links to them below.)

Employers, I take it you’ve already received a few new, younger workers from parents, high schools, colleges/vocational schools, etc. Some of your new hires have arrived well prepared with the skills and attitudes you value, while others are lacking. It’s with these latter cases that many of today’s unflattering stereotypes about Millennials are being formed.

I know some of you have even resorted to specialized management training to deal with interfering parents of young employees. Many of you are also experimenting with ways to help your more experienced staff members relate to incoming “needy” Millennial co-workers. Some workplace consultants are even advising companies to adapt in all kinds of (often unorthodox) ways order to accommodate/pacify Millennials—as if they arrived from some other planet. Yes, it’s come this far. How sad.

What to do? Here are some recommendations that can serve all employees, including Millennials, in your workplace:

  1. Build a contagious culture of excellence with high expectations and standards for all. Develop an inspiring mission, vision, and values statement with the input of employees. Then, through relational management, set each employee up for success by defining excellence on the job and coaching employees to achieve it. Management should be invested in the success of each employee, providing feedback and guidance along the way. While less experienced employees have a longer learning curve ahead, workplace standards should not be compromised for them. Nor should invaluable constructive feedback be withheld because of a coddling view that they can’t take it. Let them rise to the occasion. Most will.
  2. Incorporate mentoring as a part of new employee training. One of the quickest ways to workplace success is tapping into the wisdom of experienced and highly valued employees through personal relationships. A mentor program, where younger employees are paired with seasoned personnel, is an invaluable asset for onboarding, professional growth, and network building. It will also help reduce the generation gap among older and younger employees.
  3. Partner with schools and colleges in your community to offer real world perspectives from the workplace. Since many students lack the work experience our generation enjoyed decades ago, insights from the professional community can be especially beneficial in filling the gap. Also, your company and area students will benefit tremendously from an internship program.

 

This article was intended to call out some of the issues we are facing regarding the training of our young people for life success. Because so many parties are involved—parents, primary and secondary educators, colleges, and employers to name a few—it’s a complicated subject. Evidence indicates that we’re missing some key training components, in part because of a mistaken notion that someone else is covering the territory. Our young adults are bearing the brunt.

Excessive coddling is also taking its toll. The pendulum has swung from the “sink or swim” parenting mentality in my generation to one of overprotection and control today. We need to restore a healthy balance.

Our younger generation has so much to offer. With holistic, relevant, and sustainable training methods that cover all the bases, guided by an attitude of empowerment, they will soar. Let’s all do our best in making this happen.

If you missed the first three parts in this series, you can access the article in its entirety here, in our resource center.

 

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Three

Our nation’s colleges and universities have a powerful, two-fold influence on preparing young adults for life success. On one hand, they play a role as receiver of our high school graduates. On the other hand, after four plus years of educational effort, they serve as senders of their graduates to employers, communities, and independent life. They’re rather like the third leg of the relay race from parents to schools to colleges to employers.

The implications of this positioning are profound. College educators, via their admissions criteria, have an enormous influence on the high school agenda, especially in the area of course requirements. They are the proverbial tail wagging the dog when it comes to high school academic programs. Frankly, I believe this is an undue, and not always beneficial, influence.  Academicians, who often lack work experience outside of the classroom, are setting the agenda. Based on their actions, they seem to undervalue practical leadership/life skills training (e.g., personal finance) that is so relevant to students. Otherwise you’d see these courses reflected in their admission requirements! Not surprisingly, high schools design their course menus to satisfy the demands of colleges. That’s an issue. I would argue, a big issue.

Secondly, college course offerings and their own graduation requirements are often lacking in practical life training. Rather, their first few years emphasize traditional academic subjects that are often redundant from high school, and irrelevant to life after college for many students. In other words, college course requirements appear disconnected from their role in preparing students for independent living. This is also a big issue.

Thirdly, colleges are often shortchanging students in the area of employability and job acquisition. Despite their massive investment, students are not always required to take career readiness and job search courses to help them achieve a positive return on their college experience. Today’s graduates are increasingly ill prepared to navigate today’s recruitment process. If colleges aren’t accountable for this training, who is?

Several of my recommendations to colleges echo what I shared in my thoughts for high schools. However, because of the unique positioning of our colleges in preparing young adults for real life, others are specifically directed toward them.

 

  1. Apply my points 1-3 and 5-7 from the secondary school educators’ recommendation list to your college/university institution. Unlike the high school setting, the next step for most college graduates is a well-suited career. Accordingly, this should have significant ramifications on college programs, rather than predominantly focusing on academics for academics’ sake. However, based on employer feedback, this is not generally the case. I encourage colleges to allow employers to command a voice on this topic to do a better job of representing the end users receiving your graduates. Invite them to share in your classrooms—to offer valuable perspectives outside of the academic bubble. Most importantly, solicit their views on what constitutes a well prepared graduate for life and reflect their perspectives in your program. Just as your views are influencing the secondary school agenda, so should employers be influencing yours.
  1. Focus more on leadership and life-relevant training and (comparatively) less on redundant core requirements that are often found in high school. While a broad-based educational foundation is important, far too much of the college experience (and dollar!) is devoted to courses that are simply not as relevant or practically beneficial to students. The opportunity cost is too great.
  2. Completely revisit the academic admissions requirements imposed on our high schools. Aside from a base of core academics, it would better serve all students to incorporate leadership and practical life training to a greater degree. (Does anyone really believe that a two-to-three-year foreign language requirement for high school students is more important to life than financial literacy?!? Yet, the former is usually required, and we’re silent on the latter.)
  3. Assume greater accountability for student career success. All colleges and universities should be required provide success measures of their graduates in landing a job (both within and outside of their major). This would not only be beneficial to families in the college search process, but it would also help students in selecting their major. (Wouldn’t it be helpful to know the percent of students who landed a job in each major?) Also, students should be required to take a comprehensive career-readiness course involving career exploration, qualification, marketing, and excelling. With the lack of jobs for youth and young adults, many are entering the workforce extremely green. All colleges should seek partnerships with area businesses to offer students real-world perspectives, internships, and recruitment for future jobs. The bottom line: colleges need to take more ownership in providing graduates with a significant return on their sizable investment.
  4. Dispense with the political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, segregated dorms, and disrespectful guest speaker treatment/disinvitations. These efforts merely delay students’ ability to relate/communicate with others, resolve conflict, problem solve, handle adversity, and respectfully consider differing views and perspectives. Unfortunately, this heightened form of coddling has become routine on campuses, and it will only inhibit your students’ ability to navigate life. (Thank you Dr. John Edison, Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, for your example.)

I truly believe that if we all made a conscious and concerted effort to make some changes, we would see the next generation thrive. Isn’t that something we all want to see?

You can access parts one and two of this series here and here, or, you can read the full article in our resource center.

 

 

Connect! (Part 3): Why Hope Matters

pathwaytodestinyforblogWhat does it take to “succeed” in life? This is a question we often ask not only for ourselves, but also for the young adults in our life whom we want to see thrive, succeed, and achieve their destiny.
In our work with teens, educators, and parents, we’ve developed a helpful diagram that illustrates the path that most of us travel throughout life on the road to accomplishing our goals and “life purpose” (aka “destiny”).

You can see it starts off with our personal development, which combines our education, experiences, and nurturing. Next, comes a healthy self-awareness (i.e., Who am I? What do I have to offer? What are my passions and interests?) The invaluable outgrowth of these two steps is a sense of value, hope, and belief in ourselves and our future. Buoyed by these three steps, we can now develop a positive vision for our lives that, through daily implementation, determines our DESTINY.

More often than not, as parents or educators, we tend to jump in at the “vision” or implementation stages when we want to motivate teens (i.e., “You can be whatever you want to be,” or “Study hard; clean your room; stay out of trouble!”). But, when there’s not been enough time spent on the preceding stages, the child may “check out” at the Value, Hope, and Belief step—which makes it exceedingly difficult to impart vision or teach implementation skills. All too often, they drop out of high school or become involved in high risk behavior and groups to find a sense of belonging. Bottom line, when kids don’t feel valued, they lose hope—and may miss out on reaching their full potential as a result. Their destiny is compromised.

Research and experience inform us that the best way to build value in people of all ages is to connect with them—to affirm, relate, and encourage in a relational way. So, how can we do this with our children and/or students, and particularly if our relationships are strained?

For one thing, we have to get to know them as individuals. A good relationship between any two people rests on the platform of mutual respect and valuing the other’s unique gifts and contributions. Each person has characteristics that make him or her special and that set him/her up for a unique destiny. Teens vary remarkably in their needs, reactions, communications, and behavioral styles. This impacts how they respond and relate to the world around them. As famous football commentator and coach Tony Dungy wisely said, “It’s hard to lead someone you don’t know.” This is just as true in educating (or raising) teens as it is in coaching football players!

That’s where connection comes in—and with it, value, hope, and progress toward a successful future. Connection leads to understanding, which can help you:

  1. identify what motivates (and discourages) them
  2. appreciate their strengths and be empathetic toward their challenges
  3. communicate in such a way that they receive your messages in the manner intended
  4. respond to them in such a way that they feel safe, heard, and understood
  5. have realistic expectations of them
  6. respect differences
  7. develop strategies that work best for all of you

Ultimately, when we connect with our kids and students, we foster a sense of hope and expectation they need to thrive. Hope has the power to buffer people from stress, anxiety, and the effects of negative life events. More than that, neuroscience tells us that hope actually changes brain chemistry! Hope motivates learning and enables kids to move forward to their destiny, and to absorb and apply the valuable lessons and skills they need along the way.

Bottom line, the next time there’s a challenge with a student or a child, take a step back. Consider the Pathway to Destiny and see if you can identify where that child has the greatest need right now.  Is it really for a pep talk or a how-to lesson? Or is there perhaps a need to back up a few steps, to focus on the foundations, to communicate, relate, and connect? When we do, we plant HOPE—which has exponential power to propel kids forward on the path to their destiny.

This was Part 3 in a series on Social Emotional Learning; visit our blog archive to see Part 1 and Part 2. Also, check out LifeSmart’s What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources for developing life skills, college and workplace readiness, and a strong personal leadership foundation in high school and middle school students. Conversationally written, and designed to impart life wisdom and practical skills in a relational context, our resources will help you make social emotional learning a vital part of your classroom or home environment.
 

Leadership for a Lifetime: Vision

If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.

~Lawrence J. Peter

For those of us who grew up in the Sixties, July 20, 1969 will go down as the most inspirational day of our lives. We gathered around our TV sets in wonder as Neil Armstrong spoke these immortal words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Our nation was brimming with pride.

A mere eight years earlier, America’s new and charismatic president had a vision. As far-fetched as it seemed at the time, JFK challenged Congress to support an initiative to put a man on the moon (safely returned) by the end of the decade. Amid a pool of skeptics, the vision was cast and NASA would successfully achieve this unimaginable mission with months to spare. It was one of the greatest moments in world history.

Question: would this have played out as it did if JFK hadn’t offered his bold vision? Not a chance. It illustrates so well why history’s greatest achievements and admired people are guided by an inspiring vision or purpose.

We might not be in the same league as JFK, Lincoln, Jobs, Disney, Edison, Franklin, Columbus, Mandela, MLK, Gates, Graham, or Mother Teresa, but in our own ways, we can all live with vision, too.  And when it comes to training our younger generation, it’s one of the most important leadership lessons of all.

During the high school and college years, a young person’s focus is clearly on the next step and specifically, on their eventual careers. While this is understandable, it can be argued that a more holistic approach to vision casting is essential. After all, a career is only one aspect of our lives and many if not most people change careers several times.

Is vision just one of those things that you either have it or you don’t? Not necessarily. Environment, training, and role modeling can have a huge impact on a young person’s inclination or ability to live with vision. Here are some suggested topics for parents, educators, and mentors to cultivate vision-mindedness in the young people we’re influencing:

The Big Picture:

  • What difference would you like to make in this world? Describe your dreams.
  • How would you like to be remembered? (The eulogy/tombstone ideas might be a little morbid!)
  • What does “success” mean to you?
  • Whose lives inspire you the most?
  • How can your passions and interests intersect to have the greatest impact?

College:

  • How will you define “success” in your college years?
  • What will you like to have accomplished in terms of academics, career, credentials, experiences, skills, relationships, and personal growth?

Career:

  • Knowing that the career decision needs to be one of the most well-researched in life, describe your 1) interests and passions, 2) natural skills and strengths, 3) personal preferences (on the job and in the working environment), and 4) ability and willingness to fulfill training requirements.
  • What perspectives can help determine that the careers you’re considering would be a great match for your skills and interests?

Service:

  • Reflecting on your passions and talents, what are some ways you can serve humanity?
  • What problems, community needs, and people groups do you feel most drawn toward?
  • When have you felt most fulfilled when helping others?

Family:

  • What are your hopes and dreams when it comes to family?
  • What do you consider the most important elements of a strong, healthy, and purposeful marriage and family?
  • What qualities will you be seeking in a lifelong partner?

Personal Growth:

  • Knowing that great leaders play to their strengths, what are your greatest assets and areas for improvement/growth? (A recommended resource for discovering your assets is this personal balance sheet assignment.)
  • Who do you admire most and why?
  • What are the traits of the person you wish to become?

As the young people in your life develop answers (and some guesses!) to these questions, it’s important to emphasize that our vision evolves over time…few are cast in stone. The key is cultivating a visionary mindset that reflects their entire life and recognizing that each vision is uniquely valuable. No one’s vision is their vision and no one can impact this world like they can.

Great leaders live with vision.