6 timeless intangibles for career success

2 March 2015
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MANILA, Philippines – Just yesterday at a large forum of young(er) business leaders, I was asked the most commonly asked question I have received over the years:

“What advice do you have for millennials  for career success?”

We live in a fast-paced world. As I tell my teams in BAT, “It’s FMCG for fast-moving consumer goods; there is no ‘slow’ in the name.” Marketing concepts like “SEO” and “digital marketing” that did not exist when I started my marketing career 30 years ago are now absolutely crucial to success. With all the change going on, we can often fall into a trap of believing what it takes to be successful has changed as well.

While the nomenclature may have changed, and the technical skill sets have changed, the core fundamentals, those “intangibles” that make one employee a keeper and another expendable, are still the same. They were the same in 1985. They are the same today. And they will still be the same in 2045. They are the intangible skill sets. And they are timeless. And there are six I would advise anyone who wants to be successful in today’s business — or tomorrow’s, for that matter — to embrace.

1. Reliability — I once had a senior manager working for me. He was responsible for providing timely updates on his critical project and keeping people informed of the progress. I asked him for the report once as it was late and he told me, “Tomorrow. I am working on it.” Fine. A few days passed and I asked again. And I got the same response. This went on and on for over two weeks! And at the end of it, I had lost confidence in the reliability of this manager. Reliability means you can be counted on to deliver what you say you will deliver. As I tell my young people today, “How would you feel if I told you I would pay your salary on the 21st of the month, and then when that day rolls around I miss? And then I keep telling you, ‘I will pay you tomorrow’ but I never do. Would you accept this?” They probably would not. So if you expect the company to be reliable in its commitments to you, then don’t be hypocritical about it. Deliver on what you promise. Simple. That’s called reliability.

2. Writing — I was fortunate to grow up in the P&G world of the “one-page memo” and I mastered the art of effective business writing. Writing was important 30 years ago long before we had globalization and everyone worked across multiple time zones. Today it is far more important. Great writing can move mountains. It sharpens your thinking. It helps one to lead across time zones and geographies. It can represent you and either build, or erode, your personal brand equity. Nothing is more crucial than learning to write effectively and put your thoughts down on paper in a concise manner. If you can’t write well, practice! Take a business-writing class. This is actually an easy skill to acquire; it simply takes practice and diligence.

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3. EQ or “social intelligence” — Again, even more than 30 years ago, we live in a world of matrix structures and collaboration. No man is an island anymore! This means you need to know how to deal with people and understand how others are impacted by your actions or lack of action. It still blows me away to see young people who don’t return phone calls or emails, like they are too busy to do so! And some of them are wondering why they can’t seem to land the great jobs, or keep a job. Not knowing how to treat others, how to win the hearts of people, is a sure career killer, no matter how smart one is. Only a fool fails to recognize that “nobody is smarter than everybody.” Learn how to respect others. Make others feel dignified and appreciated. The world we operate today in is more about influencing vs. “power” than ever before. This means one must master the art of dealing with others.

4. Professionalism — This is a wide area that encompasses everything from dress to behavior to one’s approach in the workplace. Do you act professional? Do you look the part? We can cry all we want about the “unfairness of judging people based on appearance,” but this is often the way it is. When you dress like a slob, people wonder how serious and disciplined you are. When you are always late, people resent having to wait and they speculate on your ability to get the job done. Just do this simple test. Stand in front of a mirror before you head to work. Would you hire you? Would you entrust your company to you? Get professional. Act the part.

5. Oral presentation — This goes hand-in-hand with written communication. Can you take your thinking and translate this into a cohesive presentation that is simple, easy to follow, and makes sense? It’s all about communication, and if you cannot communicate well, you are going to struggle to succeed. But the good news is, like writing, this is easy to master. It just takes practice. Give me 90 days and I can turn anyone into a great public speaker!

6. Attention to detail — As they say, “The devil is in the details.” Details matter in a business. One extra zero can mean the difference between P1 million and P10 million. Missing a detail can be a killer for a career. I have long held the principle that if I receive a CV with typos, it goes straight into the garbage can. If an individual cannot even seek perfection on their own résumé, which represents them, then why would I expect this person to have good attention to detail on my business? Too often I have seen careers go down the drain due to missing a detail, failing to verify information, and the company losing millions of pesos. A wrong order. An improper keypunch. Lack of follow up. Wrong figures and math in a presentation. It’s small … but it’s huge. And the best know this.

The great thing about the intangibles is, it all comes down to choice. It’s not genetics. It’s not education. It’s not pedigree. It’s human choice. We choose to be professional. We choose to be reliable. We choose to attend to details. We choose to improve our written or oral communication skills.

Make this choice, and you will never have to worry about great employment for the duration of your career. Fail to make these choices and it’s going to be a struggle filled with bitterness and frustration.

The choice is yours.

 

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