‘I’m not a dinosaur’: 5 ways to stay relevant in the workplace

15 March 2019 -

Lightbulb‘Always changing, always growing’. So goes the old saying. But in a world of constant change and disruption, is it possible to reinvent yourself so that you stay relevant in the workplace? We asked the CMI’s community of managers and leaders

Matthew Jenkin & Matthew Rock

In a recent survey of readers of CMI’s Professional Manager magazine, we asked, “which professional and business concerns keep you awake at night?”. We had loads of fascinating answers that are already becoming brilliant career advice articles. (Check out this story, for example, on that perennial ‘keeps me awake at night’ topic, change management.)

Anyway, back to our question – and answers. A number of readers mentioned the challenges of ‘staying relevant’ in a world where all the old norms are being shattered. Are there any proven techniques?

So we decided to ask the CMI’s community of managers and leaders whether it is possible to reinvent yourself.

Here are their first five tips. We’ll be posting more in next Friday’s CMI Insights newsletter.

1. Keep your L-plates on

“The most important thing is to be interested,” says John-Paul Flintoff, former FT correspondent and author. “Without that, you can only pretend to be relevant. If you're interested, you'll talk to a wide range of people, of different ages and backgrounds, and you'll continue to learn without even trying. This in turn provides you with more and more new ideas of your own, and you can't ‘stay relevant’ without new ideas.”

Similarly, Ian Tickle, senior vice president and general manager for EMEA at the software company Domo, has made continually educating himself on the latest digital technologies a priority. He listens to podcasts on his daily commutes to and from London and regularly reads the latest research online.

Hugh Robertson, CMI Companion and founder of RPM: “Stay curious, remain interested and embrace learning to do doing things differently as we are continually evolving and can never stand still, other than when you take stock, before moving forward again.”

2. Watch start-ups

Mhairi McEwan is a co-founder of Brand Learning (now part of Accenture), one of the UK’s most exciting marketing consultancies. Her advice to the relevance conundrum is simple: “Get up to speed on the potential new solutions that innovative technology offers brands and businesses in your industry.”

Tamara Littleton is entrepreneur (and TEDx speaker) who keeps a close eye on new trends and technologies: “I always have several business books on the go,” says serial entrepreneur. “I read Harvard Business Review and I put time aside every day to read articles and viewpoints on social media. I use all the research and advice from my agency [The Social Element] to fine-tune what we’re doing and to help create new services for our clients.”

3. Have a beginner’s mind

“Staying relevant starts with having a ‘beginner's mind’ – approaching your career/life/situations with a sense of openness and a lack of preconceptions,” says author, organizational psychologist and CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting Nicole Lipkin. “That way, you approach your career with a sense of agility and a mindset open to learning. Those people that ‘know it already’ or have ‘been there/seen that’ lose out on seeing and learning new things or new ways of approaching situations. The cool thing about being human is that we are constantly forming neural connections meaning that we learn until the day we die. Using that knowledge to embrace a growth mindset keeps us learning and open to new possibilities and ways of thinking, the core of staying relevant in any area of our lives.”

4. Mix in different circles

Nick Worthington CMgr FCMI, leader/manager/teacher: “Engaging with people outside of your normal work/social circle. Either face to face through community volunteering, or via social media platforms. Listening and learning from different sources enriches a Leader's perspective.”

5. Know enough

Professor Nelson Phillips is an expert in leadership and digital innovation at Imperial College Business School. He claims all organisations in all industries will be transformed by four main technologies – big data, blockchain, AI and robotics. Automation, he points out, is predicted to replace 40% of roles by 2030.

An understanding of these new digital technologies is critical. You don’t, however, need to become an expert. Managers simply need to be confident enough to be able to have conversations about these innovations with people who are, in order to make sensible, informed decisions and allocate resources.

The first challenge, Nelson believes, is to overcome any fear or embarrassment about not understanding. Not many people know how their email system works, he says, but they are not afraid of it. It’s the same principle with new technologies.

“Figure out what the core idea behind the innovation is,” he advises. “What can it actually do and what is the vocabulary so you can have a confident conversation about it. Don’t let it overwhelm you or make you feel afraid in a way that makes you avoid the issue and not engage with it.”

There are lots of opportunities for learning about new technology without undergoing formal training, he adds. “This is a period where a lot of what leaders learn, they learn in the workplace and through experience. But some of these, they need to get further training for. But that can be watching a TED talk or reading online resources.”

CMI members enjoy many continuing professional development tools and advice. Or just sign up for our weekly Insights newsletter for a Friday hit of wisdom

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