"Stretching is the future imperative for us all. Whenever people stretch, in any area of their lives, they can achieve unimagined success. Sometimes all we need is a little guidance. You have dreams."
Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace, tackles the important question: “How do we stay relevant in our work lives”? Combining data and personal insight from surveys and interviews conducted with more than 5,500 employees and executives across 27 countries, Stretch uncovers what the future workforce may expect from us.
Authors Barbara Mistick and Karie Willyerd have collaborated together on various research projects for more than a decade. Their latest research, Workplace 2020 Survey, looks at shifts in the global economy and changing demographics most likely to impact career choices and how companies look to hire new talent.
They wrote Stretch in response to issues and concerns they observed that employees and leaders have around the “future workplace”, which is moving at an incredible pace. Filled with practical advice, Stretch helps us understand the options and capabilities we will need in order to realise our dreams and discover important career opportunities.
It’s all on you. Learning a living.
"The importance of keeping our skills and abilities fresh in order to be competitive in the job marketplace is mandatory. To keep nudging our own sell-by date out further, we must be in constant refresh mode."
The hero message of Stretch, for me, as obvious as it may read, came from The Stretch Imperative. At its heart lies three recurring themes for building a successful career in the future. They are: 1. It’s all on you. 2. You need options, and 3. You have dreams.
Imperative #1, It’s all on you, is the reality check we need. No matter whether we have a boss or are in business for ourselves, experience and capabilities for ‘tomorrow’s workplace’ are unlikely to land in our laps. It’s up to us to find them, build and understand them.
But we need options to help us stretch. Options come from diverse networks of contacts and being open to experiencing new things. If we are serious about stretching to our full future potential, we need to have dreams and create a “living of learning”.
To prepare ourselves for a career or business opportunity tomorrow, we need to be individually proactive in learning and understanding what lies ahead of our current role and industry. We must build capabilities that “future-proof” us and set us up for success.
Diverse networks matter
"Having a vibrant, diverse network will be one of your most important resources in seeking opportunities in your job and in being prepared for job changes and job searches."
We cannot easily develop and grow on our own. As we look to the future and think about ways we can remain relevant as an employee or our own boss, it’s important to actively practice building a diverse network. This ‘stretch’ skill requires us to connect in new ways – extending our experience by tapping into the skills of others.
“Networks are not the same as networking,” Mistick and Willyerd remind us. When referring to “networks” the authors describe the different groups we connect with. In contrast, they consider “networking” as the way we intentionally use our individual networks to develop or build personal or professional objectives.
Everyone has two distinct networks:
- Personal networks (‘Close’ or ‘strong’ ties): made up of relationships providing us support and friendship. People in these networks wish the best for us and may be inclined to stop us from taking risks.
- Professional networks (‘Loose’ ties): these usually include business associates who are generally less concerned with mitigating risk on your behalf. Being more removed from us personally, they have a different outlook and usually evaluate risk more objectively.
So how do you build diversity? Use your social networks – both online and offline. Your aim is to connect with people who can make a significant difference to your business opportunities. Discover the people who demonstrate confidence towards risk-taking, can provide knowledge and resources to stretch your existing capabilities and who can introduce you to other helpful connections.
Remember! Build but balance existing and new relationships. Don’t be afraid to let go of connections that are not ‘stretching’ you. Adjust your network to suit your career progression.
Here are some useful tips to get you started building a ‘forward-focused’ network:
- Build for depth through:
- Knowing: personal relationships with a mentoring quality
- Persisting: targeting a specific person for a desired outcome
- Performing: demonstrating competence that connects you to influencers
- Growing: building individual relationships over time
- Bridge for breadth by:
- Brokering: matching people and needs to expand your own network
- Connecting: using your networks to get an introduction
- Joining: building a network via professional, social or cause related events
- Sowing: Meeting as many people as you can
- Identifying five people who will challenge your thinking beyond the here and now.
"The number one concern employees around the world share is that their position will change or their skills will become obsolete."
In Stretch, capacity refers to “a collection of credentials, skills and qualifications that demonstrate accomplishment and potential in a given area” to help you “future-proof” yourself for tomorrow. There are many core capabilities successfully used by professionals around the world to stretch themselves within the workplace and develop their careers. The authors list ten key ones within the book.
- Functional excellence: developing a depth of skills that allows you to understand the bigger strategic picture and contribute effectively to the creative process.
- Emotional intelligence: the ability to collaborate and communicate with other departments and teams without bias or agenda.
- Personal advocacy: building your own personal brand so that people seek you out and put you on their team.
- Cross-cultural dexterity: being flexible to work with and across many countries, ethnicities, genders, ages and backgrounds.
- “Geek” Acumen: staying up to date with emerging and relevant technologies.
- Virtual Collaboration: having the ability to interact with and use technology based communications tools, i.e. Skype or Google hangouts.
- Entrepreneurial Spirit: the ability and willingness to take risks. Being genuinely passionate about your job.
- Creative problem-solving: be adaptable and able to change solutions depending on circumstances.
- Leadership: an authentic desire to be transparent and have two-way communication.
- “Stretchpertise”: adapting your career and experience to meet your personal needs and motivation.
You should begin to build these capabilities through opportunities external to your workplace or, working with your teams and/or bosses to identify projects they can assign you to within your business that can help you develop in these areas. Together, they will stretch you far…
As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try”. Stretch encourages us to consider specific experiences and learning we should undertake as employees or business leaders to ensure we effectively develop individually and within teams for tomorrow’s workplace. The message is clear. Don’t become obsolete. Begin stretching now. Find people inside your business or build networks that can positively encourage and help your personal growth.