Five more ways to stay relevant at work

21 March 2019 -

Relevance at workThere are proven ways to remain relevant in the ever-changing modern workplace

Matthew Rock and Matthew Jenkin

You’ve heard the whispered criticisms. “Too much baggage… blocker… legacy thinking”. But deep down, you know that you and your skills are as relevant as ever. Here are five more ways to stay fresh, stay positive and stay relevant...

1. Embrace new ways of working

Ian Tickle, senior vice president and general manager for EMEA at the software company Domo, was brought up with very different expectations of employees. Now in his late 40s, he began his career in sales where the working culture was one where staff come into the office early, work at their desks and stay late.

Now, however, younger workers expect more flexibility in when, where and how they do their jobs. Anyone with access to a reliable Wi-Fi connection can close a deal in their pyjamas and tailor their hours to better fit around family life. Tickle says he’s had to learn to adapt to this new world.

“I still have challenges today with the desire for individuals within the organisation for far more flexibility than I was used to when starting out,” he says. “I do believe there is a balance we have to find between employers’ needs and desires and employees’ desires. I don’t think I have found that yet, but I am certainly aware that I need to.”

2. Keep reflecting on what you’re doing

Yvonne Harkness is college student services lead at University of Glasgow. Her job is to make sure students have a great experience. How does she stay relevant – and, thus, stay in tune with students’ needs. By reflecting every week on how she’s performing.

She keeps an “achievement log”, containing three things she’s learned; three things that have gone well; and three things that didn't go as planned. “It takes about five minutes on a Friday morning,” Harkness says, and is a way of “pushing myself towards increased awareness of my practice.”

3. Be consciously collaborative

To stay relevant, leaders need to dump their old-school top-down management in favour of a more open, collaborative approach.

“It is very much about engagement and the ability to contribute,” says Ian Tickle. “The ability for people to have their views heard, listened to and respected. If you can do those things then when you have to take a corporate decision people are far more likely to accept it because they understand that you actually listened to them.

Everything to do with the Domo business – metrics, processes, projects, data – is managed through the company’s Domo's real-time data dashboard. This means Tickle always has advance access to the numbers behind people’s challenges. “I'm up to speed and we can then work on solutions together in person. It also means I stay present and ask the right questions, rather than consuming information that was already available to me.”

4. Crowdsource your knowledge

Rob Pellow, head of digital design experience at CRM agency Armadillo, manages a team who are on average 15-20 years younger than him. Like other leaders we spoke to, he says that listening to his team and understanding what they need from a manager is far more effective when leading the next generation of workers.

“Staying relevant is a full-time job, but it’s not the job of one person,” he says. “It’s a collaboration, like everything else is when you are part of a team.

“So I partly crowdfund my knowledge – we have regular share-and-enjoy meetings where everyone brings inspiration and exciting things from all around the marketing world – sometimes tech, sometimes creative – and we talk about how we would apply this, what we need to learn to do it and how we could sell it as a solution.”

Sourcing knowledge using polls, surveys and other traditional forms of market research are also becoming increasingly obsolete. Nelson claims instead managers looking to stay ahead of the curve should follow the lead of startups by running fast, cheap experiments. That is both what young people working in organisations expect, he says, and also the nature of doing business in an increasingly uncertain and volatile world.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos explains the power of experimentation on the basis of a “truncated outcome distribution”. If you fail while experimenting, there is a capped downside. However, unlike baseball, where the most runs a player can get when they step up to the plate is four, he explains that an experiment can have 1,000 returns in business.

5. Upskill

Employers need to think about how people stay relevant, too.

In an important paper, ‘Retraining and upskilling workers in the age of automation’, the global consultancy McKinsey examined how major employers intend to respond to a new age of automation.

Their key finding? Employers understand the importance of keeping their own people relevant. “[E]xecutives increasingly see investing in retraining and ‘upskilling’ existing workers as an urgent business priority—and they also believe that this is an issue where corporations, not governments, must take the lead,” the report concludes.

You may ask yourself, how did I get here?

Ultimately, managers wanting to stay relevant need to look at the way they got to their current position and be prepared to re-evaluate how that would take place in today’s environment. Tickle says people today consume information and educate themselves in different ways, and if we want to build generations of the future who come into leadership and be successful, then you need to be prepared to re-evaluate your own learning styles. He adds the skill sets that got you to where you are now might not be the ones that will take you further in your career.

“The workforce now is a far more creative and diverse environment than it was five years ago and that is fantastic and should be celebrated,” Tickle says.

“Therefore the way we manage and lead, guide and develop has to also take that into consideration. Because in leadership we should be setting a vision for everybody, so everybody can come on a journey.”

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