Guest Post: Leveraging Change Into Career Success

One thing is for certain, everyone experiences change. Change, whether anticipated or not, can be difficult.  It elicits feelings of excitement, fear, stress and/or happiness.   In today’s world, change disrupts the flow of what has been, evolving current situations or making them irrelevant.  Those who have thought themselves invincible now must confront vulnerability.  Whether broken and bruised or strengthened and motivated, they can continue on their path, look for another way, or quit.

Many IBM executives can attest to the frequently changing nature of the consulting world and how those opportunities (whether favorable or not) were leveraged to accelerate their career path.

In his 14 year consulting career, Srini Attili, a Partner in the US Federal Healthcare Team, experienced a lot of changes as he navigated his career path from a Junior Programmer to an IT specialist to an IT architect to a Client Partner and Capture role.   Many of Srini’s career changing moments actually resulted from people believing in him.  His credentials and reputation caused people to seek him out for new opportunities, which gave him a chance to prove he could be successful in new territories. In a microwave generation, many find it difficult to be patient and take the time to understand business needs and goals, often shying away from the unfamiliar, but it was the unfamiliar that allowed Srini to grow in the depth and breadth of his knowledge base.

“Instant gratification is good for all, but sometimes you have to be patient, step back and look at it from the perspective of the people who are accountable for the overall delivery and see what impacts them.”

– Srini Attili

Application Innovation Services Leader, Andrew Fairbanks, is no stranger to change either.  In the late 90s, Andrew was thriving in his career and enjoying working on a series of short strategic engagements with a variety of higher education clients.  After winning a $500 million proposal to design, build, and operate an online university, Andrew was approached to be a part of the delivery team.  Making the transition from short term engagements to working on a large complex delivery for a sustained period of time would grow to be something that Andrew enjoyed.  Moving past the initial impulse of fear and being open to the risks that come with new engagements would open up a number of opportunities for Andrew that enabled him to move through the ranks from a Program Manager to a Program Executive to a Senior Program Executive.

“When your leadership comes to you and ask you to do something, be willing to take the gamble.  They are usually doing it for a reason, because they think it’s in the best interest of your career and it’s what the business really needs of you.”

– Andrew Fairbanks

Many career changing moments find us in a place where we experience new people, subjects, or clients.  Speaking with Lori Feller, IBM Interactive Experience and Mobile / Social Business Leader, it was clear that the theme of collaboration repeated throughout her career experiences.  A support system is needed to help endure changes, whether planned or unexpected, and being able to identify those resources is critical to managing transitions in one’s career.

“I really couldn’t do it without the support of my mentors, my peers, and the people that I work with everyday.”

-Lori Feller

There will be many defining moments in someone’s career that can either propel or hinder their success.  One of the most common ways to deal with change is to adjust your thinking.  Approach change as a process – reframe how you think about change and be flexible.  Every successful person has encountered unplanned changes at some point in their career.  Their success comes from how they dealt with it.

Whenever you encounter change in the workplace:

  1. Recognize that change does happen
  2. Be aware of your surroundings and subtle clues that change is coming
  3. Recognize the stages
  4. Communicate with others
  5. Do a self assessment
  6. Be flexible
  7. Continue to do your work
  8. Be positive in actions and attitude
  9. Maintain your network
  10. See the big picture

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”

Gail Sheehy, Author

 This post was written by: Jelece Morris, Consultant for IBM.


Guest Post: Leading Across Boundaries in an Era of Complex Challenges

From budget reductions to a struggling economy, disasters to pandemics, the seemingly intractable challenges facing government leaders extend far beyond the ability of any one agency or leader to respond. These are complex, often non-routine, challenges that are increasingly cross-cutting, interagency in nature, and go to the core of effective governance and leadership – testing the very form, structure, and capacity required to meet them head-on. Many are difficult to anticipate and in most manifestations, they do not follow orderly and linear processes.

As Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, observes, “There was a time when leaders shared a sense that the problems they faced could be managed through the application of well-known rules and linear logic. Those days are gone. Most of today’s important problems have a significant wicked component, making progress impossible if we persist in applying inappropriate methods and tools to them.”

There are different types of leadership approaches, from transactional to transformative and beyond. A survey of leadership experts and government leaders I have interviewed on The IBM Center for The Business of Government’s radio program makes one thing clear—there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership.

What does seem evident is the importance of context when honing one’s leadership approach. It becomes apparent that effective leaders must possess and exercise a certain level of contextual intelligence. As Professor Joseph Nye stresses in Leadership, Power and Contextual Intelligence, “Understanding context is crucial for effective leadership. Some situations may call for autocratic decisions and some require the exact opposite. There is an infinite variety of contexts in which leaders have to operate, but it is particularly important for leaders to understand culture, distribution of resources, followers’ needs and demands, time urgency, and information flows.”

Given today’s context a specific kind of leadership approach seems to be most effective. It is an approach that recognizes the importance of:

• reaching across agencies,
• connecting networks of critical organizational and individual actors,
• mobilizing the whole of government’s capabilities, and
• achieving a result greater than the sum of the agencies involved

Some have come to call this collaborative or shared leadership. I highlight examples of collaborative leadership in action in the IBM Center special report, Six Trends Driving Change in Government. Whether leading the Human Genome Project, establishing the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), or ensuring the proper implementation of the $840 billion Recovery Act, we draw eight lessons from the leaders profiled in the report:

1. Leaders need to act quickly with strategic intent
2. Attention from the top is paramount
3. Collaboration maximizes speed of execution
4. Use different leadership styles when necessary
5. Define and focus on your goals and objectives
6. Articulate a strategy for moving forward
7. Engage employees and put customers first
8. Seize the moment

Though these lessons are drawn from the experience of public sector leaders, they have applicability to leaders across all sectors. Leaders are responsible for envisioning, shaping, and safeguarding the future, creating clarity amidst uncertainty. This is no small feat and it is made increasingly difficult in the 21st century, where rapid, unforeseen change seems to be the only constant.

b502cfad70cf3442f441aa6115a31102This post was written by: Michael J. Keegan: Host, The Business of Government Hour & Editor, The Business of Government magazine

Guest Post: What do you want to be known for?

Personal branding is all about marketing yourself.

I’m honored to be invited to blog on a topic I’m passionate about, but first a little background on my branding experience. As a graduate student, I co-founded the GW Certificate in Responsible Management in which students created personal blogs documenting their community service.  From this, I learned first-hand the impact that branding can have for a student, especially in a competitive job market.  I then went on to IBM where I helped a Partner develop a branding campaign using Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and blogs.  This post provides lessons I’ve learned from these experiences and tips for improving your personal brand. 

Why is branding important? A strong personal brand sets you apart.  No matter what stage you are in your career, you will face competition.  Whether you’re applying for a promotion or new job (or even a new roommate!) having a strong brand will help you get ahead. A key point to remember is that branding is just as important for you in your current career as it is for your next, so don’t put it off until you are looking for a new opportunity.

The first step in personal branding is determining what your brand should be.  Do you want to be known as someone who can turn-around troubled projects?  Have you lived abroad and want to share your cross-cultural knowledge?  Think about what makes you unique.  What do colleagues come to you for help with?  What are you passionate about?  Identifying what you want your brand to be will help focus your efforts.

Remember, your personal brand is much more than your profession. Don’t limit yourself. “An employee who brands himself does not let his job title subsume him,” says one CEO. “He might be in accounting now, but I’ve stopped thinking of him as an accountant. I’ve come to think of him as a problem solver or a strategist. These people are identified more with the company’s goals than with any current slot in the organization.”

So, are you ready to start “being your own brand?”

  1. First, assess your current brand.  Google yourself.  What do you find? What does it say about you?  “Before anyone asks to see your resume, they’ll undoubtedly have checked you out on the web. What others say, true and false, is visible 24/7.  A Google search of your name is essentially the resume the world has created for you,” says executive job search consultant, Debra Feldman.
  2. Build your brand.  Identify places where conversations about your areas of expertise are already happening.  Volunteer, be authentic, and add value to the conversation.  For example, are you an experienced mentor or coach?  Then volunteer to be a guest blogger on a human capital blog such as “Human Capital League,” and share your expertise with others.
  3. Remember it’s a constant process.  Update your resume and online profiles regularly – You’ll want to include recent accomplishments and stay timely. Consistency is critical – it helps others to understand that you are dependable and focused, so no, there isn’t such a thing as being “done” with branding.

Thanks for reading.  Now for some personal branding… follow me on Twitter @Lisa_518 or connect on LinkedIn


This post was written by Lisa Manning, Organizational Change Management & Social Media Consultant at IBM.

Guest Post: 5 characteristics of effective change agents

A global economic crisis, U.S. Federal government sequestration, increasing healthcare costs, an ever-more interconnected world – we live in a challenging world where the pace of change gets faster every day. A change management program isn’t just a nice-to-have anymore. It’s mandatory to succeed.

Those who go beyond just adapting to change to become change agents set themselves apart in this kind of environment. Having worked with both public and private sector clients over the last twenty years, I’ve observed a few characteristics of successful change agents:

  1. Effective change agents have deep knowledge of their environment. This understanding of rules and guidelines helps change agents learn where they have flexibility in their decision-making and gives them the confidence to push boundaries.
  2. Effective change agents have a plan. Successful change agents systematically execute against an action plan. They consistently engage with stakeholders across the organization, follow through on their promises, and deliver what’s expected, when it’s expected. They aren’t afraid to adapt their plan to evolving circumstances if the impact to the workforce doesn’t play out exactly as expected (and when does it ever?).
  3. Effective change agents understand change is personal. Each person impacted by a change makes an individual decision to move forward with the change or to resist it. There is not a universal strategy – a single communication medium, one leader, one key activity – that will unilaterally move all affected staff forward through change. Successful change agents use different techniques to help different people move forward and always respect the individual in the process.
  4. Effective change agents use data. Whether it’s through formal surveys on communication effectiveness, measuring process improvement or reduction in cost, change agents use data to measure success. If the program has not achieved its goals within a reasonable time frame, they dig in to understand why and adapt plans accordingly.
  5. Effective change agents are not afraid of failure. In fact, they learn from their failures and move on. Rather than stick to the tried-and-true, effective change agents look for opportunities to engage the workforce in new ways, even when unproved. They are smart and prudent in how they do it, and they start small and persist even when things don’t go as planned.

We all have a role to play as change agents, whether it is helping a customer learn and accept a new process or leading a program for our organizations. What are you doing to help others around you be successful in a rapidly-changing world?

This post was written by Emily Craig, IBM Organizational Change Management Leader.

Guest Post: How IBM Cultivates Leaders

Over the past few years, IBM has continuously been recognized as one of the best companies for leaders.  With so many amazing brand-driven companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Coca Cola, it is remarkable that a traditionally information technology company that used to produce adding machines and typewriters is the beneficiary of such prestigious recognition.  Yet, as an IBMer, this recognition comes as no surprise to me.  Since the mid eighties, IBM has made our primary business one of continuous self transformation.  We have recognized that technological products and innovative services have discrete and temporary life spans that are often too short.  We fundamentally understand that the world around us is moving far too quickly for anyone at the top to call down plays for the teams below to execute.  Out of necessity, we have learned the value of leadership at all levels of the organization to drive the business transformation necessary to adapt to continuously changing conditions.  We have learned that great leaders are cultivated and grown through a process that often takes years and involves a combination of experiential, formal, and informal professional development.  It is not a process for the impatient and undisciplined.

As a Partner in the IBM’s services organization, I have been privileged to be the recipient of IBM’s investments in me as a leader.  What makes IBM’s approach to leadership so remarkable is not just what they do extremely well, but also what they don’t do.  IBM has exemplary leadership development programs, strong processes for identifying-tracking- supporting our leadership pipeline, and amazing resources for providing our leaders with performance support and mentoring solutions.  Only at IBM could a program for cultivating leaders (our Corporate Service and Executive Service Corps) result in the development of thousands of leaders with direct experience leading teams in emerging markets.  Each of these programs are worthy of their own discussions.  However, what’s more important are the things that IBM does not do.  At IBM, leaders are mandated to lead.

Leaders should lead…of course.  What this means is that every current leader and emerging leader is given a share of corporate responsibility and it is up to us to develop, manage, and grow our businesses and service lines.  We are given the parameters, talent, and resources and chartered to succeed, but we are much like franchisees or owner-operators within the IBM enterprise.  As leaders we must create alliances, establish markets, develop teams, and execute plans.  Though IBM is one of the largest companies in the world, the atmosphere among the teams is significantly more entrepreneurial than one would expect.  We are strongly encouraged to ask for help when we need it, but at all times we understand that the responsibility for success remains with ourselves.  By not allowing the shifting of responsibility and accountability, leaders are allowed to lead and become better leaders in the process.

The lesson to take from IBM is that yes, developing leaders is about formal education and experiences you give to your employees, but it is also about getting out of the way and letting your leaders be just that, leaders.

This post was written by Robert (Bob) Osmond is the Partner and Leader for the IBM GBS Public Sector Organization and People Development Service Area.

Note: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not those of IBM. 

Guest Post: 13 Ways to Inspire Employees From the Employee Perspective

As per Webster’s dictionary, “Inspiration’ is an action or power that moves the intellect or the emotions.” Inspiration leads to discoveries and inventions; Einstein was inspired by a pocket compass at the age of five!

Image source: Google Images

Image source: Google Images

In the midst of technological changes and dynamic environments, what keeps an employee inspired towards analyzing, discovering, inventing and innovating? Consolidating responses from an email survey, I found the following factors to be most significant:

  1. A long term goal: “The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. And an employee who sets a long term goal and has a directional sense of his efforts and achievements is motivated when his employer understands and supports his plan.
  2. Short term goals:  As the old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a small step.” Short term goals are the building blocks for long term goals. Achieving these milestones ingrains confidence and self-belief.
  3. Planning: Good planning provides a clear-sighted vision to the employee. It doesn’t require micromanagement, and employees are able to assess the value of their contributions for a successful delivery.
  4. Challenging work: Challenges sharpen the mind. ‘Smarter Thinking’ happens when intriguing work stimulates the brain cells and improves the decision making ability. Employees yearn for a sense of accomplishment. Those who develop innovative strategies are more curious and marketable than those who do tedious work.
  5. Rewards: Recognition in the form of appreciation notes, monetary and non monetary awards, and verbal encouragement provides positive reinforcement. Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, rewards help employees understand that they are respected by others.
  6. Work environment: An employee spends half of his lifetime at work and work environment makes a big difference. A positive environment is made up of positive leadership, positive thoughts, positive approach, and positive people. Besides healthy competition and intelligent negotiation, cohesiveness and teamwork are very important. Respectful relationships lead to emotional balance and open communication. A supportive team is a strong team. Support from the employer, especially during a personal crisis generates security.
  7. Regular feedback & training: Employees who receive regular feedback have the opportunity to work on their strengths and weaknesses. Easy access to training, reminders and custom course suggestions are a positive catalyst. Negative feedback should be accompanied with learning opportunities and a chance to grow.
  8. Interactions with leaders: If the leaders are accessible, employees feel connected and heard. Valuable employee surveys provide an avenue for voicing their opinions.
  9. Work-Life balance: Helping employees understand how to balance their work hours and providing benefits like flex hour options, healthcare, gym memberships, team lunches, etc. will rejuvenate the employees.
  10. Mentoring: Through mentoring, employees can tap into valuable in-house resources. Employees can become multifaceted through cross-functional and cross-business unit mentoring.
  11. Policies: Streamlined, clearly documented and easily accessible policies encourage employees to stay informed and ask questions.
  12. Equality: All employees must be considered equal. Favoring an employee may de-motivate another employee’s performance. Factual and criteria-based performance evaluations motivate the employees.
  13. Camaraderie: Interactive sessions lead to networking and knowledge sharing. These are especially critical for remote employees.

To me, the most important factor is knowing how my accomplishments are helping the community at large. How am I making a difference? When an employee is encouraged, he performs, but, when an employee is inspired, he excels!

This post was written by Preeti Tikia, IBM Requirements Analyst 

Guest Post: The Executive Mindset

Sam Palmisano, former IBM CEO, spoke at the 2012 Johns Hopkins University Commencement Ceremony and provided advice to graduates planning their career: Think independently, be passionate about something, and go where the learning will be the most intense. Looking to build on Sam Palmisano’s advice, I interviewed four IBM executives to gather their own advice on career advancement.

All of the executives agreed that the most common misconception regarding career advancement is the existence of a magical set of steps that any individual can follow to guarantee becoming an executive.  Each executive had their own unique career path, yet it became immediately apparent that they also shared a similar mindset that directly contributed to their career advancement.  This post compiles the advice, tips, and lessons shared in order to identify an executive mindset that any individual can use to create their own path for career advancement.

  • Focus on your current job responsibilities: Career growth is built on core success, so your primary focus should always be to exceed current expectations – nobody is ever promoted if they have not met their expectations.  Strive to add value each day to make yourself invaluable to your clients and colleagues.  The rewards will follow the results.
  • Think independently & look for ways to contribute: Leaders do not rely on the thoughts of others.  Doing only what is asked of you is not enough.  Opportunities will not find you, but they are ALWAYS around you – you need to be aware of the most important problems facing your client and/or company, recognize the opportunity, and determine a solution.
  • Find ways to say yes: It is very easy to say, “I can’t help right now.”  While you may have to find time to complete the task, saying yes will create another opportunity to develop a stronger relationship and demonstrate your ability to deliver, your dependability, and your commitment to the success of the project.
  • Learn: There is ALWAYS something to learn in whatever you are doing, no matter what it is.  Be a “sponge” for knowledge, information, relationships, and new challenges – you never know when you will need it.
  • Find something that you are passionate about: Those who excel will advance, but you will struggle to excel if you are not passionate.  Find the areas that really excite you that align with the needs of your company, and then grow your expertise in those areas.
  • Build relationships: Don’t just be “heads down” in your work.  It is important to make an effort to build relationships, especially with senior colleagues, who will help you advance your career in two ways:1) The network that you build can be leveraged to connect you to new opportunities that directly align with your interests/passions. 2) Observe their behavior with clients and colleagues and try to learn from them by emulating the good and eliminating the bad.
  • Take ownership of your career: No single piece of advice can guarantee success, but you should research and learn about career path options and professional growth opportunities available to you. It is each practitioner’s responsibility to take ownership of their career.  Nobody will ever tell you how to shape your career.

The advice above portrays a common mindset that exists in all executives, and while there is no way to advance your career overnight, adopting this mindset will allow you to maximize how far you can advance in your career.

*Special thanks to Eric Grorud, Zbynek Krobot, Jim Comfort (note: not the author), and E.J. Matto for their contributions.*

This post was written by: Jimmy Comfort, IBM Business Transformation Consultant