Make the workplace work for you

It's your life, and your career takes up a big part of it. So why waste time following the wrong track?
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The Independent Culture
ARE YOU the kind of person who always means to sort out your working self, but never quite gets round to it? Maybe it's a better salary you're after - or more responsibility, a change of career, or simply a better balance between work and play.

"All of us have got to take charge of our careers and take responsibility for what we want from an organisation - more than ever before," says Angela Edward, policy adviser at the Institute of Personnel and Development. Working life throughout the Nineties, she believes, has been epitomised by a single concept: "empowerment". Of course, many employers have used this term as a useful way of packaging downsizing and job insecurity. But there are ways of making the current employment climate work in your favour, she says.

The first step is to identify your goal - and the key here is objective self-analysis and honesty. "If you feel like you need a fresh start, ask yourself why. Only by being completely straight with yourself can you begin to work what you want to change, and how to bring it about."

Every Nineties employee can gain from practising this, agrees Alan Margolis, managing consultant at Hampstead Training Consultants. "Otherwise you end up working to someone else's agenda - to help someone else achieve their goals."

In fact, claims motivational expert Jurgen Wolff, although it's an obvious starting point, it's one where many of us go wrong and consequently give up. "One of the biggest problems many of us face is being stuck with old objectives. We foster an outdated image of ourselves. Ask yourself, is this something I still really want to do? And if it's not, don't be afraid to admit it, and move on."

The next step is to develop a campaign of action. "Identify what talents or skills you have and what you will need to get to achieve your goal," Ms Edward says. "Will you get these opportunities where you are currently working, or should you move elsewhere?"

Dividing your overall goal into a series of smaller, easier, and quicker- to-attain steps can help. "The step-by-step approach makes your goal more attainable," Mr Wolff advises.

Backing up your strategy by making practical changes on a daily basis is essential. If you want to be more assertive, for example, develop a more confident outward appearance. This will also help you prepare to ask for that pay rise you want. It's all part of developing a positive mental attitude, Mr Margolis says.

"Visualising success is a useful trick. If you imagine doing what you really want to do - how you would feel, what you might say - you are more focused on it," he explains. "Imagine yourself running like Linford Christie: you might not end up running as fast as him, but chances are you'll end up running faster than you did before."

Negative thinking is a common stumbling-block. To help overcome this, Mr Margolis advises modifying your speech. "You can use language to fuel your engine," he explains, "Use `I' instead of `one', `it' or `people' to be seen as more decisive and direct. Use `how', not `why'. Don't say you `can't' do something, say `I can if...'. Use the situation to negotiate."

Failure typically comes as a result of being typecast by other people. "For all the talk of embracing change, people don't much like having it thrust upon them," comments Mr Wolff. "It can take time for people - even friends - to accept you in a new role. For some, then, it's best not to trumpet it, but to get on with what you want to achieve: quietly."

Alternatively, he adds, people can give up on their goals prematurely as a result of failing to understand the delicate balance of performance with expectation: "When you start on something new, such as learning a new language, it's exciting and you learn a lot. But after a while, performance begins to plateau and your expectations race ahead. This is the point when many people give up - when success is just around the corner. Understanding this relationship is the key to overcoming the desire to give up," he says.

Making the time needed to realise your goals is an aspect of change that many people don't plan, adds Mr Wolff. "Many people fail to follow through their resolutions by overlooking the fact that learning something new will eat into your day."

Regularly monitoring your progress is fundamental - and also makes a good excuse to reward yourself on a regular basis, which will spur you on. Some people work on achieving their goals alongside someone else - perhaps in the workplace - swapping plans, monitoring and encouraging each other along the way.

In addition, talk to people who have already done or are in the process of doing what you want to do. "If you want promotion or to change your career, are there any professional bodies or associations which might be able to help?' says Mr Wolff. "Amidst all the talk about the importance of skills, it's easy to forget success often also comes down to who you know."

Ultimately, achieving your goals will come down to a combination of courage and perseverance. Forget all those reasons you used to put it off last year, Ms Edward says.

"January is a brilliant time for a fresh approach. So do it now."

Resolutions For Change

Identify your goals and prioritise them. Make a list - putting it down on paper can help the thought process.

Ask yourself, "How realistic are my goals?", "What do I need to do to achieve them?" "Am I willing to put in the time and effort?" Self-improvement comes at a price - are you prepared to pay it?

When you have honed your list, draw up a plan of action. Break the process down into smaller, more achievable steps.

Work on your goals on a daily basis, and monitor progress. Once you feel more confident about your decision, discuss your advancement with a colleague, friend or expert in the field - the two of you can offer each other constructive criticism, gentle encouragement and regular updates.

It is vital to keep a flexible approach, since there are often unforeseen opportunities and pitfalls. Adaptable people tend to achieve what they want far more quickly than those who doggedly follow a plan of action they set down 18 months ago.