Maximize Your Learning in Short-Term Assignments

January 14, 2018 § Leave a comment

The number of short-term assignments in companies has been increasing, and the trend is expected to continue. Within large corporations, secondments, short-term transfers, and functional or geographic management rotation programs often thrust full-time employees into short-term jobs. Many companies employ temps or interns to supplement those working full-time. Even consultants may engage with a client for a period of weeks or months.

For individuals who take advantage of them, these positions can be rewarding development opportunities. These workers are rapidly introduced to new geographies, functions, and cultures. They meet new colleagues from whom they can learn and with whom they can connect. And there’s never enough time in the job for learning to stagnate.

But short-term assignments can also pose daunting challenges. Typically, short-term positions come with little or no training. Sometimes managers lack the long-term incentives to set clear development goals for short-term employees or to offer them reviews or feedback. So, learning in these contexts requires dedicated effort on behalf of the individual taking on the assignment.

As someone taking on a temporary role, how do you take advantage of short-term assignments for your long-term learning and professional development? I recommend four tips for creating a learning environment in the context of a short-term role, based on written responses from around 20 professionals ranging from mid-tenure to senior in a variety of fields, a review of some of the management literature, and my own professional experience. Of course, each environment, firm, person, and job is different, but this advice should serve as a starting point as you seek to create a learning experience.

Set short-term goals. HBR author Dorie Clark mapped out how establishing professional development goals each new year is essential to focused and effective growth. The same principles apply to those charting goals for short-term assignments. At the beginning of your experience, sit down and write out what you hope to accomplish during your tenure—both the instrumental (e.g., receive a permanent position) and the personal (e.g., develop expertise in my industry). Think through how you will reach those goals and the success factors to make them possible. Ryan, an executive in a large municipal government advises, “Set three tangible goals, no matter how simple, and track your progress relentlessly.” Alison, an executive at a small technology firm, adds, “Hone in on one or two skills — not all of them. Maybe work on a known weakness but then continue to really improve and develop ‘expertise’ level in an area that you excel in.” Importantly, these goals should align with the longer-term goals you’ve set for your career—either those you set annually or those you’ve thought through on a 5-10 year basis that lay out what kind of person and professional you’d like to become. Maintaining this alignment between the short- and long-term can assure focus and continuity. « Read the rest of this entry »

6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship

January 14, 2018 § Leave a comment

Around 75% of college students, at some point, work in an internship. These experiences can be tremendously valuable, providing young workers the opportunity to build skills for their resumes and meet people who are working in their preferred industry. Increasingly, they are the likeliest route to full-time employment and are even offered year-round rather than only during summer months. But they can also be difficult adjustments for young people who have little to no experience in professional offices. It can be hard for someone to stand out and make the right impression during a three-month stint spent adapting to such a new environment.

How can interns learn what they need to know, impress those they work for, and secure a job recommendation or full-time offer in such a brief period of time? I consulted 20 professionals who have worked with or supervised interns in higher education, business, law, and nonprofits, and compiled the most valuable advice for interns from their stories, my own observations, and management literature. This advice won’t cover everything, but it does offer a starting point for interns.

Start with relentless punctuality. Show up on time (or early) in the morning, arrive for meetings before they begin, and complete tasks by their deadlines. When I asked professional contacts for their advice to interns, they consistently listed punctuality as a critical success factor. Ryan, an executive in a municipal government, says, “Always be on time. Summer internships are for a short, defined period of time, so give it 100%. Be willing to get to the office early and stay late.” As an intern, you are both a guest in a new environment and a colleague on whom others must rely — make sure that you respect those colleagues by being on time. « Read the rest of this entry »

Why Businesspeople Should Join Book Clubs

January 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

One of my favorite regular activities is participating in a book club called Six Pillars, hosted by my friend Stan. Stan initiated the group several years ago to convene friends, diversify his own reading habits, and make new connections. Six Pillars is so named because each year we read six books in six key disciplines. The group meets every two months, Stan hosts and cooks dinner, and for two hours in a group of 10–12 people we discuss the book we’ve read.

Of course, we’re not unique. From Oprah Winfrey’s famous club to popular online sites like Goodreads, book clubs are all quite common. Because book clubs are informal, it’s hard to know how many exist, though one source estimates that more than five million Americans are in one (not including online groups).

Reading is an essential component of leadership development. I’ve argued the benefits of reading extensively at HBR – broad and deep reading habits can sharpen intelligence, make you a better communicator, and improve emotional intelligence, among other benefits. For business leaders, the most impactful reading extends beyond explicitly “business” books to include histories, biographies, novels, and even poetry. The best lists of “must read” books by leaders in business are often incredibly diverse.

But reading is often viewed as a solitary activity. Can leaders benefit from the book club wave? I believe they can. Book clubs are a uniquely effective way to enhance the benefits of reading and come with a number of additional benefits. These benefits can be reaped by businesspeople who join book clubs composed of friends and community members, as well as those who join clubs composed of professional colleagues at work.

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