Monday, September 24, 2007

Mentors: Answers or Guidance

Recently I've been juggling several open orders, sales visits, a marketing push and my usual hectic home life. On my drive home today after a string of sales visits, I was reminded of a previously overwhelming point in my life when a great mentor had invited me to start up a new venture with him, and I was also facing a promotion at my current employer.

The new venture was a dream opportunity, and a chance to work with a great group of industry visionaries. It was a huge compliment for my friend to ask me to join him. But as is true with any start up, I would be taking on a high level of risk, both financially and professionally.

The promotion was a logical next step for me, but would require more travel and more responsibility for me. The company had always treated me very well, and I knew that as long as I could handle the job, I would be rewarded financially. But juggling travel, staff management, and a busy home life was a concern. I could stay in my current role and continue to enjoy my job--although always wonder what "could have been"

Feeling overwhelmed, I asked an experienced female entrepreneur to dinner to discuss my situation. She had been a good sounding board in the past, and I thought she might be able to shed some light on my predicament. Over a meal and a good bottle of red wine, we talked about our families, our career accomplishments, and aspirations. She had built a successful career while raising three daughters and maintaining a strong relationship with her husband. She had opened new companies, headed business groups and consulted on new opportunities.

I asked her what I should do, and as maddening as it was, she wouldn't just tell me what was the best option. She did say that starting up a new company was a big endeavor, and that my children wouldn't be young forever. She said I was sure to have plenty of great opportunities down the road, and not to feel like I was passing up on my one chance to do something special. She also said that I was probably ready for more responsibilities, as long as I had strong systems in place at home to handle situations when they arose.

Heading home I was disappointed that she hadn't of told me what to do. But I also realized that a true mentor can't simply tell you what makes the most sense. A mentor is there to show you the road ahead, help you understand the challenges and also how to overcome obstacles. So go out there, build some relationships with mentors, and listen to their advice. Then make your own decisions.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Talking about Compensation at Work

Yesterday Sue Shellenbarger's Work and Family Q&A column in the Wall Street Journal addressed talking with co-workers about compensation. While Ms. Shellenbarger confirmed my thought that it is inappropriate to discuss salary directly with your co-workers, she had a very interesting insight about people who do discuss salaries at work. Ms. Shellenbarger stated that "bringing up salaries, bonuses or raises can be a veiled power play, a way to belittle or intimidate others, or just a way to stir up trouble." I do encourage people to do their research on what market salaries are, but agree that it is never helpful to talk about it with your co-workers. It has only led to trouble among co-workers and feelings of resentment either of peers or management.

Being Promotable

All too often I get calls from people who feel underappreciated at their employer. While many times this is very true, managing your own promotability will help you both at your present employer and at future jobs. Here are some tips to make you a most valued employee.
-Keep up with Industry trends and technology: Know what's going on in your field and the technologies available to help improve efficiencies and market position
-Stay Marketable: Attend industry classes and seminars. Volunteering for new projects will help you participate in company initiatives and put you in front of new colleagues who may be useful in future positions. Keep an up to date resume handy in case you find out about a company opening—you want to be ready in case a application deadline is days away.
-Become an industry expert: Joining industry associations and attending events will increase your presence in the wine world. Reading up on industry issues will make you a resource for your co-workers. When a discussion comes up at work about something that was dealt with at a recent meeting you will be able to bring outside insight to your company's problem.
-Be proactive: As a recruiter I always had posted "Ask for the order". It's the same with your employer—let them know you are interested in new responsibilities and are ready to make the next step.
-Find a mentor: Mentors are a very helpful ally in your career. Finding an internal mentor at your employer can help you navigate office politics and gives you someone else who is keeping an eye out for possible career advancement opportunities.
-Build a relationship with your boss. Many times working on your interactions with your boss can reap huge dividends. If your boss starts feeling that you are an asset to your company, and also that you are highly valuable to the group, she will be more likely to keep you engaged and put you on new projects. This will allow you to add new items to your resume and keep you highly promotable.
-Dress for the position. I can never say this enough. If you want to step up the company ladder, make sure you are dressing the part. Too often I have seen A+ candidates who technically are ready for a step up, but dress like college students. Although dressing for success may not be comfortable for you, looking the part makes your supervisors and peers take you more serious. This puts you a step ahead of your competition and outside candidates.
- And most importantly, do a good job. Without proving to be a worthy employee, no grooming or industry insight will move you up.