Archive for February, 2010

Why am I here? (Part Two)

The Thinker

Still thinking about this…

In Part One I outlined four triggers that have started me thinking about the purpose of guidance. In this post I want to share some of those thoughts. They are not complete thoughts by any means and are mostly in the form of questions.

How green is my guidance?

When Bill Law started making comments on Twitter that an awareness of climate change should be a key component of career guidance, I had an uncomfortable reaction. ‘How is this my job?’ I thought, ‘Surely, we should be responding to the client’s priorities rather than forcing them to think about global/societal issues if they don’t want to.’

I suspect a lot of careers advisers would respond the same way. Many of us have been brought up with a client-centred, non-directive approach (dare I say indoctrinated?). We have a voice in our heads which says, ‘We are not here to influence the client. The client knows best what they want. We are merely facilitators.‘ But is that entirely true? Has it ever been true?

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Why am I here? (Part One)

Recently, I have been asking myself what is my purpose as a careers adviser. I’ve been examining a few assumptions about what my role is and should be. This questioning has been prompted by various things, amongst which are: a reminder of something I had forgotten, a self-imposed target, a good read and a constrained conversation. I would like to describe those things in this post and then talk about my thoughts in relation to them in the next post.

The reminder came in the form of a blog post by Tristram Hooley on The Politics of Guidance in which he describes Tony Watts’ typology of guidance ideologies. Check it out and then come back.

When I saw the post, I remembered reading about Watts’ framework when I was slogging through the theories module of my guidance qualification. At the time, I was struggling to get to grips with working with clients. I didn’t pay much attention to this bit of thinking because I couldn’t see how it would help me in my immediate day-to-day work.

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Believe it or not

Believe

Some beliefs are junk

The recent post on Transactional Analysis looked at certain belief patterns (or scripts) that can determine the way people live out their lives and their careers. Beliefs are also at the heart of the highly influential Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) developed in 1994 by Robert Lent, Steven Brown and Gail Hackett. This was based on the broader Social Cognitive Theory proposed by Albert Bandura.

The two key types of belief in SCCT are:

  • Self-efficacy — Your beliefs about what you are capable of — your confidence in your ability to perform certain tasks effectively.
  • Outcome expectations — Your beliefs about what is likely to result from behaving in certain ways or taking particular actions.

This is great. I find it really useful to work with clients’ belief systems and a handy way of analysing them is good. However, it’s a bit broad. I would quite like a slightly longer list of common types of beliefs to be on the look out for.

John D. Krumboltz (who had a hand in Planned Happenstance) also developed a theory based on Bandura, which he called the Social Learning Theory of Career Decision Making (SLTCDM – snappy!). Linked to this he developed the Career Beliefs Inventory. This has 25 different scales intended to diagnose potentially problematic belief areas.

This is great too, but it’s a bit too big (and expensive). I want something simpler that I can carry around in my head.

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(Not-so) model behaviour

Push to success

Is coaching/guidance always such a positive experience?

In an early post I suggested that the popularity of coaching might be attributable to the fact that coaching models all seem to have positive, sexy-sounding acronyms.

I have just come across another model with a cringingly appropriate name. Based on the popular GROW model, Saul Brown and Anthony Grant from Australia have come up with a coaching model for working with teams called…GROUP.

Brown, S. W.  & Grant, A.M. (2010) From GROW to GROUP: theoretical issues and a practical model for group coaching in organisations. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 3(1), 30-45.

GROUP stands for:

  • Goals
  • Reality
  • Options
  • Understanding others
  • Perform

I can’t really tell you much more about it because my Athens account doesn’t give me access to Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, so I can’t read the whole paper. Although, I did notice in the abstract they refer to ‘Scharma’s U process’, by which I assume they mean Theory U developed by Otto Scharmer. I mentioned this in my article on levels of listening. They also allude to ‘double-loop learning’. This is one aspect of transformational learning which was an inspiration for the Zones model.

I think Seasonal Affective Disorder has set in because I had a bit of a grumpy week last week. As a result, I’ve decided that I’ve had enough of positive, chirpy model acronyms and want to invent a few that reflect the sometimes disappointing reality of coaching and guidance.

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Planned happenstance brainstorm

Yesterday my colleague Vanessa and I ran a day workshop called ‘Can Career Theories be Useful?’. Among the participants were trainee careers advisers trying to get to grips with career theories for their professional qualification and experienced advisers using the course to refresh their theoretical knowledge and bring it up to date. We also had frontline administrators and information officers joining in the fun.

We spent the morning exploring and discussing various sites of interest in the landscape of career theory. Afterwards, participants tried to get to grips with a couple of particular theories by putting them in their own words and applying them to client case studies.

The final activity of the day was a short brainstorm on ideas for what a careers service would look like if it was based solely on the idea of Planned Happenstance and you didn’t have to worry about money.

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Are you following the script?

A script of Hamlet

Let's hope your script doesn't end up like this one.

In preparation for a day-long workshop for doctors on interpersonal communication I have been refreshing my memory on Transactional Analysis.

TA (as it is known to its friends) first endeared itself to me when it helped me to understand a bizarre pattern that would happen with certain clients. Some people seemed to take a strange delight in shooting down every idea that I came up with. Every single suggestion about how they might make progress was found to have a fatal flaw. At the end of the session I felt exhausted, frustrated and a complete failure.

Thanks to TA I now recognise that this could an individual trying to engage me in the ‘Why Don’t You…Yes But‘ game. It was a bit of a revelation to me that someone might prefer the disappointing pay-off confirming their belief that they were beyond help to the more positive pay-off of actually being helped.

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Are you a career pioneer?

One of the questions I am frequently asked by other career professionals whom I train and mentor is ‘Can you recommend a good book on career theory?’ Up until a few years ago my answer would have been Career Theory and Practice: Learning Through Case Studies by Jane Swanson and Nadya Fouad, two professors of psychology from the States. I liked it because it was aimed at guidance practitioners. Each of the theories covered was applied to a client case study.

Understanding careers - book cover

I'm not jealous!

I still think it is a very good book, but a few years ago it was supplanted at the top of my list of recommendations by Understanding Careers: The metaphors of working lives from New Zealand professor of management, Kerr Inkson. I have a love-hate relationship with this book. How can you not love a book on career theory which starts a chapter on the narrative approach to careers with a quote from the 80s hit Don’t you want me, baby by the Human League. It is very comprehensive, thought-provoking, practical and exceptionally readable for a book on career theory. I hate it because… I wish I had written it!

However, this book was not the first time I had come across Kerr Inkson. Read the rest of this entry »

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The benefits of pessimism

Normal Distribution

Normal distribution - thin tail

Last week I learnt a new piece of jargon. A ‘fat-tail event’ is something that you thought was virtually impossible, but it happened anyway. In theory, it could be very good or very bad, but it usually refers to something extremely unpleasant, such as a financial crisis.

The phrase comes from statistics. Many randomly occurring events (such as the height of the person you sit next to on the bus) are assumed to follow what is called a Normal Distribution (the classic ‘bell-shaped curve’). So you are more likely to sit next to someone around average height and less likely to sit next to someone really short or really tall. With the Normal Distribution the probability of something really unusual happening tails off really rapidly the further away you get from the average — it has a thin tail.

Fat Tail

See the fat tail!

However, some things in the real world don’t follow the Normal Distribution curve. Instead of a thin tail, they have a fat tail. This means that certain extreme possibilities are more likely than you might think.

I was quite pleased to be able to use my newly discovered jargon in a session on negotiation skills I was running last week. I was talking about the usefulness of assessing any negotiated deal by imagining how it would look if subsequent events turned out a lot better or a lot worse than you were expecting (e.g. your fixed-rate mortgage doesn’t look so good if the Bank of England cuts rates to zero).

A black swan

Does this black swan have a fat tail?

A related term for unexpected events is a Black Swan, coined by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is the unexpected event which you could not have predicted based on your previous experience and derives from the fact that, until they were discovered in the 17th century, most Europeans thought that black swans could not exist.

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