A Common Weakness That Holds Back Careers
I just taught an online master class for Ivy Exec on “Break Free of the Mid-Career Slump”. Not only was it great fun (that’s what happens when you’ve got over 200 super engaged people online!), there were some interesting insights into what people are experiencing at that tricky middle point in their careers.
One particular item stood out and I thought you might find it interesting as well.
We did a poll during the session and asked people to identify their strongest and weakest capability from a list of five, each of which are important to develop and demonstrate, no matter where you work.
- Create new business – are you a “rainmaker”?
- See new opportunities – are you a strategic thinker?
- Drive change and get different results – can you lead and deliver change?
- Build and maintain a team – can you lead people and create high performing teams?
- Manage key stakeholders – can you build collaborative relationships and coalitions?
What’s your guess as to the area that people found most challenging?
Drum roll please…
The Capability That People Find Most Challenging
As it turns out, “Creating new business” was rated the most challenging for the group by far – only 10% listed it as their strongest capability, and 40% said it is their weakest one.
Coming from a highly commercial sector (investment banking), I found this fascinating. Even from an early career stage, it was clear that bringing in business, or “making money for the firm” (in the best possible way, of course) was the key success factor for all of us. And you were expected to at least show strong indications that you could deliver commercially if you wanted to progress.
As J.P. Morgan himself said back in the day, we were supposed to do, “First class business in a first class way”.
For most of my career, the primary way was to build great client relationships and expand the footprint of the firm, from which new business could flow. In my staff roles, it was about helping others to serve clients and win new business.
Since most people on the call were not investment bankers, upon reflection I can understand why this capability might be challenging for those in mid-career. Frankly, it was a challenge for those of us who made it a priority! As the saying goes, business doesn’t “grow on trees”.
The reality is that no matter where you work, creating new business is important to your advancement, including in non-profit, higher education and government sectors. You might need to frame the definition of “new business” differently, but the organization is still counting on you to create the “good stuff” that sustains it.
Think of creating new business as bringing in the blood supply that feeds the whole body, or figuring out how to bring water to the crops so they can thrive. You can bet that the organization will value you more if they know you can bring home the proverbial bacon.
If you learn to master this art of creating new business, you can pretty much write your own ticket.
3 Questions to Help You Create New Business
So, here are three questions to help you figure out a way to create new business and make a commercial contribution. Are you ready to activate your creative juices?
1. What’s the lifeblood of your organization? What’s truly valued by the top decision-makers and how do they measure the “bottom line”?
For most organizations, it’s money. When I left investment banking and spent time working with non-profits and higher education, I was surprised to find that they were even more focused on money than the commercial enterprises.
That’s because without money, it’s hard to sustainably “do good”. Everyone needs to be able to support themselves – even Mother Theresa.
If you can figure out a way to bring new money into the organization in the service of good deeds and hopefully even great deeds, then you will be adding great value.
But money isn’t the only thing, and there are plenty of other dimensions that are important to every organization as well: for example, delivering on the promise to clients, building brand and reputation, creating employee and client success, providing the most innovative product or service. It’s up to you to figure out what matters.
Whatever dimension(s) you focus on, remember that the closer you stay to the “lifeblood” of the organization, the more impact you will be able to make.
2. What are the strengths that you bring to your market and how can you use that to contribute to the “bottom line”?
The strengths that you, your group and your firm possess are the “assets” you have at your disposal. Think about how you can leverage these for the benefit of you, your group, your firm and your clients.
When you focus on your strengths – the things that you uniquely bring – you are able to make greater impact while enjoying the process as well.
So how could you apply these to generate new business? Here are a few categories of contribution to consider:
- Revenue – how could you add to the “top line” of the organization?
- Costs – how could you reduce costs, and therefore help the “bottom line” profitability?
- Volume – is there a way to increase the amount of business you do, which can drive both revenue and cost?
- Market share – are you in a lower margin business but one where you can substantially improve penetration and therefore the share you enjoy of the business?
- Ideas/Content – how could you help the organization become recognized as a thought leader in the field?
3. Who could you help or serve, whether existing customers/clients or new ones, and how can you do this more effectively?
When you help expand the footprint of clients and bring new relationships into the organization, it allows you to serve more people and expand your influence while also contributing to the bottom line.
Think about new markets, whether geographic or demographic. And new ways to serve your customers, such as digitally, or through affiliates and partners.
What do the latest trends and themes mean for the way you and your competitors can reach and help your end users?
In the end, it’s all about finding your unique competitive advantage. If you can find the blend between your strengths, the major trends and your clients’ needs, then you likely will have found a way to create new business.
So, what does it take to create new business in your sector and how could you go out and do that?
And what other advice or questions would you add?
Thanks, May! As you know, this is perfect timing for me. It’s exactly what I’m doing to bust that slump.