Success ain't success without work-life balance
For many of us, the pre-credit crunch years were about measuring success in financial terms or, at least, in the accumulation of material possessions. Changing business and personal circumstances are a fact of life. Technology has moved the goalposts, made many routine tasks a lot easier and delivered a revolution in the way we communicate. As a result, work is entering our homes and affecting our private lives as never before, making it difficult to relax, switch-off and identify a natural working equilibrium. Expectations have changed about when and where we are contactable, along with the speed at which we are asked to make important decisions. Managing technology and the interface with our workplace have become cornerstones in the battle to work smarter, not harder.
I interviewed many highly successful businessmen and businesswomen during the research for my latest book: ‘Get a Dog – Don’t Work Like One’. A key finding was a pronounced shift in awareness that long-term career success only comes with a proper, healthy and sustainable balance between work and the rest of our lives. Many expressed this as a win-win situation, not just something beneficial for ourselves and to the detriment of the business we were in. Competitive advantage is now increasingly concerned with thinking differently and fostering a culture that promotes innovative solutions and new approaches at every level of an organisation.
The workplace is changing - fresh approach
Einstein was right when he famously stated: "We can’t create change with the same level of thinking that created the problem". This new twenty-first century workplace requires us to throw out many preconceptions and outdated knowledge to make room for contemporary stimulus and solutions. This is about challenging ourselves to acquire new skills, work in a different way and step out of our comfort zone, enabling us to identify what we want to do and how. For myself, the manner in which I work has to be a true reflection of my personality, not just a watered-down version.
I was quizzed recently by a good friend who I have worked with for almost 20 years as he wanted to know the easiest way to improve his work-life balance. I asked him to write on a piece of paper his dozen or so key business relationships and we chatted about the impact they had on his accomplishments, fulfilment and sense of achievement. A critical influence on our level of success and balance is how these relationships impact our working lives. If he could increase the flow of information and inspire others to look at problems from a broader perspective, he would see a dramatic improvement right across his area of responsibility.
Be flexible - build up your portfolio career
I do a lot of work with younger people including the techno-savvy group who think differently to the rest of us and are not always the easiest to deal with. I have helped many of them to consider their careers in the way a fund manager spreads his investments.
Carry many eggs in your career basket and keep a number of alternatives alive at the same time. This approach is equally valid for those of us with a few more years experience and supposedly secure jobs. If for any prolonged period of time our reservoir of transferable skills does not increase, it means we are falling behind. We are missing key trends and thinking, not responding to the right stimulus or seeing the opportunities fast enough. Having a portfolio career can take place while being with a single employer but it does mean we need to actively look for things outside our usual remit and responsibility.
Thinking like an entrepreneur is now not just for the next generation of Richard Bransons, it's for all of us who want to find real purpose and fulfilment from the rest of our working lives. This is often about trying to become a magnet for good ideas and working with people to help develop new approaches. "Change is the law of life and those who look only at the past or present are certain to miss the future", JFK.
Success - more than just cash in the bank
The other great advantage of running down the path of exploration on a regular basis is having the opportunity to evaluate what we enjoy, find stimulating and what we are good at. This is a continually moving feast. A business colleague of mine was made redundant from a blue-chip firm last year and while looking for opportunities he did some part-time work in the local coffee shop and also with a charitable organisation. He was used to spending all his time with very similar high-flyers and this spell really opened his mind in unexpected ways. He called me one evening to say he had a new job and a large part of his interview process was spent discussing his recent experiences. His new employers were really impressed with his outlook and new found perspective.
A large part of success is actually identifying what things we want our working life to encompass. If we take money out of the equation things often appear very different. We obviously need to earn cash as it is the fuel which turns many of our wheels but it shouldn’t be the sole driving force. Any time we feel as though someone else is steering our work ship, it leads to frustration and usually a wholly unrewarding experience. If you feel like this, it’s time for change.
Make time to find work-life balance
When I left the world of big business to set up my first company over 10 years ago, it was fuelled by a need for greater flexibility. I still needed to be mentally stimulated, to interact with bright people that I wouldn’t otherwise meet and get a real sense of achievement from my actions.
However, I did yearn to work in an environment that reflected my desire to have enough time to think and not just react to a constant stream of emails, texts, video conferences and plain old-fashioned calls. I had felt for a number of years that I wasn’t able to give enough quality attention to important matters: it was like all I could do was skim over the surface.
It was time to see whether I could be more self-sufficient and respond faster to the meteoric changes in our workplace. The great benefit of this step into the unknown was having the ability to write my own rules and place the importance on finding the right work-life balance.