The CEO of Dracula Corp regretted calling a meeting of stakeholders
Here is another bit of management theory that could be usefully applied to careers work…
Many career theories address the influence of other people on an individual’s career choice. For example, Community Interaction theory looks at the mechanisms by which peers, parents, ethnic groups, etc., influence individual career decisions. Clients often have to take into account the views and needs of significant people in their lives. Does management theory have any light to shine on this?
It’s a new year — the end of one chapter and the beginning of another — a time to change.
The more dramatic the change, the more likely it is to lead to a transformation of your identity. Some changes involve integrating into new environments, building new relationships and developing new behaviours. You may have to leave behind some of the things that currently help you to define yourself and incorporate new things. This can be especially true if, like many of my recent clients, the change is something that has been forced upon you and is quite dramatic — such as redundancy.
Such a change may bring about a transformation of identity. A lot of clients undergoing this kind of process struggle with how to describe themselves. ‘I used to be a… What am I now?’
What makes for a successful identity transformation — whether it is voluntary or imposed upon you?
What happens if your crystal ball is full of gloom?
Way back in 2009 I wrote about the social rejection self-fulfilling prophecy. This relates to the unfortunate fact that, if you expect someone you meet for the first time not to like you, you tend to behave more distantly towards them. This increases the chances that they won’t like you. The reverse is also true: if you assume that you will be liked, you tend to behave more warmly and thus increase your chances of being liked.
People who have high levels of social anxiety tend to fall into the trap of negative expectations. They are particularly sensitive to the possibility of social rejection. This threat triggers an avoidance approach which makes them behave defensively in unfamiliar social settings, leading to less than warm responses from the strangers they interact with. This, in turn, confirms their fears and insecurity about social rejection. A vicious circle.
This self-fulfilling prophecy can be a major handicap when it comes to career development. It means you are less likely to engage in appropriate professional networking, cutting off potentially useful sources of information, insight and advice which could boost your career. It makes you less likely to create a positive first impression during an interview. It can also affect your ability to establish important relationships in the crucial first few days of a new job.
A recent paper by G. Arulmani (2011) expands on some of the cultural concepts that underlie this approach to careers work. I have my reservations about the research presented in the paper which claims to demonstrate that grounding career education in a culturally relevant framework is more effective than applying more universalist approaches.
This may well be true, but it’s really hard to tell from the details give of the differences between the two approaches used in the research whether the greater effectiveness is down to the cultural relevance or just down to providing a more coherent conceptual framework for the career development activities.
Aside from these concerns about the research methods, I do find the concepts derived from Asian spiritual traditions very thought provoking, especially when comparing them to equivalent concepts from Western career development theory.
Apologies in advance for my over-simplification of these concepts.
Quite a few of the journal articles I scan in order to generate material for this blog get filed under “Well, duh!”. They usually report studies that have gone to great lengths to prove something that was blindingly obvious to anyone with common sense. To be fair, these studies can be completely valid; they are providing concrete evidence for things we assume to be true. However, they don’t really make for interesting blog posts — ‘Here’s proof of something you knew already’.
The article by Köpetz et al. (2011) could easily fall into that category. The findings are not exactly startling. Here’s the abstract:
In the presence of several objectives, goal conflict may be avoided via multifinal means, which advance all of the active goals at once. Because such means observe multiple constraints, they are fewer in number than the unconstrained means to a single goal. Five experimental studies investigated the process of choosing or generating such means for multiple goals. We found that the simultaneous activation of multiple goals restricted the set of acceptable means to ones that benefitted (or at least, did not harm) the entire set of active goals. Two moderators of this phenomenon were identified: (a) the feasibility of identifying multifinal means, which was dependent on the relations between the different active goals, and (b) the enhanced importance of the focal goal, which resulted in the inhibition of its alternatives and the consequent relaxation of multifinality constraints.
The report quotes some depressing statistics about social mobility in the UK.
Only one in five young people from the poorest families achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with three quarters from the richest families.
25% of children from poor backgrounds fail to meet the expected attainment level at the end of primary school, compared to 3% from affluent backgrounds.
Almost one in five children receive free school meals, yet this group accounts for fewer than one in a hundred Oxbridge students.
Only a quarter of boys from working-class backgrounds get middle-class (professional or managerial) jobs.
Just one in nine of those with parents from low income backgrounds reach the top income quartile, whereas almost half of those with parents in the top income quartile stay there.
Only 7% of the population attend independent schools, but the privately educated account for more than half of the top level of most professions, including 70% of high court judges, 54% of top journalists and 54% of chief executive officers of FTSE 100 companies.
The influence of parental income on the income of children in Britain is among the strongest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Parental income has over one and a half times the impact on male incomes in Britain compared with Canada, Germany and Sweden.
I came across the Contextual Action Theory (CAT) of careers and counselling quite a while ago. It was developed in the 1990s by Richard Young and Ladislav Valach.
When I first read about it, my immediate reaction was ‘I like this. It appeals to my penchant for simple, well-constructed, easy to remember theories’. But there was one problem. I couldn’t for the life of me think how it would be useful.
Actually, that’s not quite true. It was quite obvious that this was a useful theory and that it was already being used… by researchers.
Valach and Young have been using CAT as a framework for investigating individual’s career choices and the career counselling interaction for a number of years.
However, I couldn’t work out how it might be used by career practitioners in their work with clients. As usual, it was lack of imagination on my part, rather than lack of potential in the theory.
Now, I have come up with two ways in which thinking about this theory might enhance my practice.
I wanted to share with you a eureka moment I had recently while running a workshop with a group of speech and drama PhD researchers. It was a full day workshop on career planning and we were reaching the dreaded dead zone (after lunch but before afternoon coffee) and moving into the discussion on networking.
Networking seems to invoke fear in the hearts of many, the idea of self-promotion really does go against all things English (and most other English-based cultures). I got the conversation going by running the following clip:
This clip always leads to great conversations (and usually a lot of laughing) about awkward networking situations that people have experienced.
A few concepts that I blogged about have been floating round in my head for a while. A recent discussion with a client made them come together.
She was talking about how her educational background in Africa had given her a particular mindset about career success. She explained that in her home country, passing a relevant professional examination pretty much guaranteed an appropriate job. When she came to the UK, it was a great shock to her that just having good qualifications was not enough. She had been surprised at the emphasis placed on demonstrating acceptable personal qualities and the importance of networking. It had taken her quite a while to overcome this mindset, and even now her initial reaction when faced with a career challenge was to think about what training she could obtain.
She was quite surprised when I told her that it wasn’t just people from outside the UK that suffered from this blinkered attitude to employability and career success.
The survey suggests these intentions are linked to the actions taken by the employers dealing with the effects of the recession. Continuing measures such as redundancies, recruitment freezes, pay freezes and restrictions on training have led to reduced morale and diminished job satisfaction.
In the public sector almost 40% of employees reported that morale was worse than the previous year.
Throughout the recession a lot of attention has been paid to the obvious victims — those who have suffered redundancy and job loss — but what about the survivors, the ones who have kept their jobs but may have suffered in other ways?