On 1st November 1994 a fresh-faced, newly-married young man, with a full head of hair, reported for his first professional job, thrilled to have found an opportunity within his passion – the environment. Years before David Attenborough and Blue Planet, he set about trying to reduce plastic waste and to increase recycling. That was me, 25 years ago.
As I look back on my quarter-of-a-century of working life, it is interesting (to me, at least) to think about what I learnt in each role (I’ve only had three!). So, a brief career resume: that first job was at a consultancy (Babtie), providing waste regulation and recycling promotion services to the people of Berkshire. I was headhunted from there to Biffa, a leading waste management company, to work in the emerging field of packaging waste producer responsibility.
I ended up running a small team with a big financial turnover under a great boss and with amazing colleagues. After four or five years there I was getting bored, and tired, and I heard of this new profession called coaching. An opportunity came to work part time in sales for a coach training business, and to build my own coaching business part time. I started that in 2002, and 17 years later I’m still doing it (and still writing newsletters every month!)
If I were to meet my 22-year-old self, what advice would I share, based on what I have now learnt?
It’s all about people – be connected
Whether that be mentors who share their knowledge and develop you without you realising, or whether it be the teams you work with, the customers you get to know or the wider network who provide support and opportunities for you, it’s about people. I am indebted to two bosses (both called Phil) for the starts they gave me, and am then indebted to hundreds of others who have helped me over the 25 years. The coach training school I worked for had a mantra that “People Grow By Connection” and I have always believed this.
When I mentor young people growing their businesses, or just developing their careers, I am always keen that they create, maintain and develop their personal network – within their firm, within their marketplace or within their support community (other professionals, suppliers and even competitors).
How well connected are you? What could you do build your network more deliberately?
Make every day a school day
I am reminded of my school days every morning, having married my teacher, but in those 25 years I have always been learning. My professional field has always been developing, my management and self-development skills have always benefitted from polishing, and we’re routinely exposed to new situations that we can learn from: if we choose to.
Some of the value I bring to clients is the range of other clients I have talked to: the diverse spread of industries, belief systems, methods of working and management theories that I have seen and experienced. They didn’t all work, but they all provided feedback and intelligence on what might be worth a try next time.
How do you learn every day? What opportunities do you have to work smarter, be better, have more impact?
Inputs are important, but success is about outputs
One of my pet frustrations in my career is that professionals are often judged by how many hours they put in, not by how many outputs they create. When I was at Biffa my business unit made more per head than most of the units managed by my peers. But they would judge me on whether I worked an 8, 10 or 14 hour day, not by the profit I produced (or the brand value I created from great customer service).
Don’t get me wrong, throughout my career I have put in a shift when it’s been required. But a business that requires key personnel (or any personnel) to work 50 or more hours a week isn’t successful, it’s broken. As a coach I am forever stretching business owners to build a business that is sustainably successful – and that isn’t true of a business where people have to work long hours. If you can’t make money working 45 hours a week or less, charge more or stop faffing about…
And if you require your teams to work those sorts of hours, you’re out of touch with the modern workforce and will hamper the progress of care-givers and others, who may be your brightest talent.
What’s your own relationship between inputs and outputs? Are you getting out what you want? Are you putting in a sustainable amount to get it?
Slow and steady wins the race
At school, I was a long-distance runner. Not for me the 100 metres, I much preferred the cross-country or the 1500m. Business, or a career, is much the same – it is rarely about short bursts of pace but more often it is about gradual, determined, planned progress towards a goal. I have worked with some very financially successful people, and none of them got there overnight. For one or two there was a “hockey-stick” of sales or profits where it suddenly jumped, but that was always after many, many other nights building up to it.
My interest in personal investing has meant I have come across all manner of get-rich-quick schemes, stock tips or “overnight-millionaire” ideas. Yet the person I worship in the field is Warren Buffet, who has spent decades quietly and determinedly building possibly the largest personal wealth in the world. Small, repeated steps over a LONG time, allied with the power of compounding, delivers unbelievable results. Whether that be in building a career, investing for retirement or in growing a business. So, I would tell my 22-year-old-self always to have patience, always be moving forward and always keep an eye on the long-term goal.
What’s your long-term aim? What slow and steady steps do you need to take action on to get there?
What about your career lessons?
These are my thoughts after 25 years. What have you learnt in your career? I’d love to hear! I