Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Learning from Diversity

On the West Coast of Canada, we are surrounded by diversity. I live in a village just an hour from Vancouver – our community is rural, much of the local work is agricultural. Some of our neighbours have lived here for generations; others have recently arrived from India, Viet Nam, Mexico, or China. There’s a Vietnamese Buddhist Monastery on the corner of our street and the first Mormon Temple in BC nearby. Along with countless Christian churches, a Sikh temple is also an important spiritual centre for many members of the community.

Sadly, however, members of each of the ethnic communities tend to live in isolation. Although children attend the same public schools, many other community activities tend to be less integrated. Of course there are a few intersections – for example, the produce market that I shop at has an extensive selection of ethnic foods from India, Mexico, and Germany. However, even most workplaces are quite homogenous – resulting in many local residents never learning to speak one of our official languages (in the West, more typically English than French).

Within the Life Strategies team, we speak and write about diversity and have developed tools to support diverse workplaces (e.g., www.embracingdiversity.ca or www.diversityatwork.ca). We teach courses on Managing Diversity, Understanding Diversity, Global/International Careers, and The Immigrant Experience and have a multicultural specialist stream in our Career Management Professional Program (http://www.lifestrategies.ca/services/courses/career-management-professional-program-cmpp.cfm). It continues to amaze me, however, that the students we attract to those courses tend to be those who themselves come from minority cultures, have immigrated to our area, or are already working with immigrant clients. It’s difficult to reach “mainstream” students...

The 4 Stages of Learning Model reminds us that we simply don’t know what we don’t know. Therefore, until we experience the benefits of diversity at a personal level, we likely won’t choose to learn more about it or advocate for more inclusive workplaces or communities. I’ve recently returned from attending the Jiva conference in India – Jiva means “life” - the photo on this blog is me arriving by auto-rickshaw on the first day of the conference. The conference was co-sponsored by the Promise Foundation in India and the International Association of Educational and Vocational Guidance. There were 442 delegates from 32 countries – many of them knew nothing about Canada, just as I humbly realized I knew very little about most of their countries.

On our return from India, we visited the World Expo in Shanghai, China, with contributions from more than 242 countries and international associations. Think about that number! Gerry and I have visited, lived, or worked in only 55 countries (and, that’s quite high compared to most people we know). In 3 days, it wasn’t possible to visit more than a few of the pavilions, but we learned much about countries and cultures that we knew little about before. As a result, we’ve been inspired to add Kazakhstan to our future travel list – their pavilion was great!

So...how can you learn from diversity? First, I encourage you to put yourself in a position of being a minority. Take opportunities to travel (and don’t stay only in Western hotels or all inclusive resorts – mingle with the locals!). If travel isn’t feasible, eat at ethnic restaurants, attend cultural events or festivals, read books (I’ve just finished Echlin’s “The Disappeared” about Cambodia), or take a course that will help you better understand the amazing gifts that diversity brings to our lives in Canada.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Value/Goal Alignment - An Important Component of Employee Engagement

Some of our recent entries have introduced factors from our model of employee engagement – Appreciation, Contribution, and Commitment. The remaining factor – Alignment – relates to the need for workers to align their values and goals with the organization.

A wide range of career development literature exists which outlines the importance of connecting personal values with organizational values. The popular Wheel framework (Amundson & Poehnell) lists values as one of eight factors to consider in career decision making. As career practitioners, we are very aware of the importance of values when it comes to career “fit.” Whether through formal standardized “tests” or informal checklists and card sorts, we encourage clients to reflect on their values and ensure their work (i.e., specific job/tasks) and/or their industry or employer of choice will share those values. Or, at least, not impede on those values to any great degree.

Alignment of personal and organizational goals is just as important. As individual workers, we set goals for our careers – from wage increases or promotions to achievement of educational goals or industry certifications. Do we ever consider, however, whether those goals make sense when aligned to what our organization is hoping to accomplish? For organizations, this notion of alignment is often called goal cascading – goals are cascaded down from leadership to management to department, to work teams or units. From an employee engagement perspective, however, it’s important to take one more step – checking in with individual employees to ensure that they each understand how their jobs align with organizational goals.

Consider your organization’s future goals, vision, or strategic direction. Is there alignment with your personal and professional goals? If not, explore any disconnect. While you may be able to influence your organizations’ goals, if you don’t find sufficient alignment it may be time to examine whether or not your personal and professional goals can be met within the context of your present workplace. Organizations benefit from engaged employees – if there isn’t alignment between you and your organization, it will be increasingly challenging to stay engaged. You may need a better understanding of your organization’s goals and direction in order to get excited and buy-in. However, if the new direction simply isn’t a good fit for you, it may be time for a gracious exit. Either option is good career management.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Surviving in Transformational Times

Career practitioners in BC are experiencing transition, just like the clients they serve, due to changes in funding to career service centres, where many practitioners are employed. Contracts are ending and without funding renewal, many programs/businesses are shutting their doors. As such, practitioners themselves need to adapt to survive in the new framework. But adapting isn’t an easy task, and in changing times, it’s difficult to know what needs to be done and what skills are necessary to be successful.

It’s important to remember that, “change always comes bearing gifts” (Price Pritchett). For career practitioners, this transition has sparked a renewed commitment to professional development and professionalization of the field through certification (i.e., BCCCDP). It has also spurred strategic partnerships and alliances among existing organizations seeking shared contracts under the new framework.

However, more importantly, these changes have highlighted the value for career practitioners to “practice what they preach.” To be planful and open to new experiences, to engage in networking and learning opportunities, and to face change with an open heart; all concepts of Krumbotlz’s Planned Happenstance Theory, an emerging career theory practitioners use with their clients.

The forthcoming publication, Leadership Lessons for Transformational Times by Life Strategies’ Deirdre Pickerell and Roberta Neault, will engage the reader in examining leadership beliefs, experiences, and goals, as well as support leaders and managers through change, regardless of the sector.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Commitment in the Workplace

In previous blogs we’ve highlighted appreciation and contribution, but why include commitment as an element of career engagement?
These two quotes speak to the importance of commitment:
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes... but no plans.” --Peter F. Drucker
"Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." --Vince Lombardi
Several weeks ago our blog talked about appreciation and it’s important for leaders to understand the relationship between appreciation and commitment. It appears that employers, rather than employees, are tasked with the job of appreciation. Employees need to know that their employer will go to bat for them and respect their well-being. However, workplace commitment expands on the concept of appreciation in that it is a two way street: not only do employees need to know their employer is committed to their well-being at work, employers want to see examples of workplace commitment in employees.
Gone are the days when employees would spend their entire working life with one employer. Does it follow that employees are less committed to their workplace than their predecessors, or are other factors, like corporate downsizing or sluggish economies, to blame? The answer is not clear, but what seems apparent is that an individual’s commitment contributes to the success of a company. In return for a regular paycheque, benefits, appreciation, professional development, opportunities to succeed and positive working conditions, it seems only fair that a worker commit themselves to the success of their workplace.
What comes first the chicken or the egg, employer commitment to their employees or vice versa, I’m not sure of the answer. What do you think?