Weekend Poll: Your professional development amid a prolonged pandemic

Maintaining focus amid challenging times

To paraphrase John Lennon, “Another COVID year over, a new one just begun”. How are you feeling about 2022? You may have seen memes half-jokingly reflecting a cautious approach (“Before I agree to 2022, I want to read the terms and conditions”) to our new year. That’s understandable, given the way the ‘20s began … and even more so when we consider how omicron brought a jarring, jolting close to 2021.

You’ve likely been spending time undoing or changing well laid plans

More than a few people reading this may have found yourselves in the position of putting a screeching halt to carefully developed plans, after a two-year absence, for a return to in person office or personal holiday celebrations. You or your colleagues may be among those whose business trips or family holiday plans were disrupted by airlines’ need to cancel flights. Extreme weather and the omicron variant were both factors.

We have reports that, in the US alone, more than 10,000 flights were cancelled in the last eight days of 2021. Globally, over 7,200 New Year’s Eve flights were cancelled in a single day. An additional 1,900 flights were cancelled for the first day of this year.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley

It was the Scottish poet Robbie Burns, whose birthday we’ll mark on January 25th, who penned those words in 1785. In his poem, To A Mouse, Burns was acknowledging something we’ve all learned: even plans we’ve undertaken with great care can still go astray. This is something I mention in my project management and risk management presentations, and it also applies to the early ’20s!

Given the state of our world, you may have postponed or cancelled business and personal plans for early 2022. You may be reworking travel and meeting plans yet again this month, perhaps making the task appear effortless. It’s understandable, then, if you find yourself treading lightly as we embark upon this year. It could be highly tempting, after all the upheaval, change and accommodating you’ve managed in the last while, to lay low rather than embarking on any new career undertakings.  

We need to move forward

The thing is, though, we can’t put the world on pause, no matter how much we could use a well-deserved breather. You may well be coordinating and attending remote and/or hybrid meetings for some time to come. For all of us, we’ll continue to encounter matters beyond our control. 

Let’s control what we can

That’s why it’s all the more meaningful to be intentional in taking control over what we can when it comes to our careers – and that extends to our professional development, which can be rejuvenating.

The importance of the so-called “soft” skills

If nothing else, these times have demonstrated the value of having colleagues who bring strong “soft skills” to their roles. Quantifiable skills and expertise with various software programs were relevant in helping you attain your role. It’s the soft skills, though, that can make or break your success once you’re through the door. 

Our soft skills can be differentiators

I believe soft skills are anything but soft. We know that readily quantifiable skills such as keyboarding accuracy and speed, and skills with relevant software programs impact career success. So, too, do the less quantifiable soft skills. Our ability and readiness to effectively communicate and contribute as team members combine to impact colleagues and other stakeholders. The extent to which assistants leverage influence and flex emotional intelligence (EI, or EQ) skills also impacts success in the career.

Adaptability, a growth mindset, self-management, capacity to prioritise

If you think about some of the conflicts you’ve witnessed over the course of your career, it’s often an absence of soft skills that led to such conflicts. A LinkedIn Global Talent Trends report shows that, as we approached the 2020s, 89% of 5,000 HR professionals and hiring managers surveyed believe that their organizations’ “bad hires” typically had poor soft skills. It’s unsurprising, then, even as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are on the rise, that 80% of the same group said strong soft skills are becoming increasingly important to company success. These soft skills can be differentiators.

Emotional intelligence, empathy, communication skills

In its latest Global Talent Trends report, Mercer highlighted the concept of winning with empathy. In a survey for its report, Mercer identified a few skills and asked executives which of those skills are critical for future resilience. Adaptability/growth mindset (openness to change) came out on top, followed closely by collaboration skills. Self-management/prioritisation skills ranked third. We’re back to emotional intelligence, accompanied by communication skills.

When it comes to communications and your career, you may choose to focus on anything from assertiveness to negotiating skills, developing influence and promoting yourself, or establishing or honing your personal brand.  

Readily quantifiable skills still count

We can and should continue to pay attention to skills that are technical in nature. It makes sense to identify and work on any gaps between our current skill levels and expectations. It’s also wise to continue to develop and utilize expertise with software that’s in demand and in which you already shine.

Minutes: the bane of some assistants’ careers

If I was to ask everyone reading this to identify your favourite aspect of the career, I’d be surprised if many mentioned minutes. I present training sessions on minutes twice every six weeks or so, as even the best assistants can be daunted or frustrated by this aspect of the role.

We shouldn’t be complacent about skill sets we brought to the role

In other instances, some people have been preparing minutes for so long that it’s easy to assume standards that were entirely appropriate a few years ago reflect today’s standards and expectations. As with other aspects of the career, we shouldn’t be complacent that the skills that landed us a role should be left unpolished over time.

Supporting both personal and organisational resilience

Employers across sectors are paying attention to organisational resilience. We as individuals would be wise to pay attention to both personal and career resilience, and how to nurture both. If you’d like to up your game in 2022, it  can be advantageous for you to invest energy in understanding both the challenges and opportunities your organisation and its leaders are facing. 

Have you read your organisation’s strategic plan?

ESG, which represents environmental, social, and governance, is a prime example of an issue that can represent both a risk and an opportunity for employers.

Your strategic acumen

Your current role may or may not involve matters such as risk management or strategic planning, yet these – along with ESG, project management, cybersecurity, and even the governance structure of your organisation – can add to the level of strategic and business acumen you bring to the role. Paying attention to your organization’s strategic planning process may not be something you’d traditionally think of as professional development. However, familiarising yourself with your strategic plan can be informative – and it may prove useful in conversations where you can demonstrate your awareness and engagement.

Have you identified your professional development focus for ’22?
Please add your voice, and share this poll

I designed this poll so you can add your voice in just a couple of minutes; there are only two open-ended questions. Thanks as always for participating, and I appreciate it when readers share my polls with colleagues and friends. Let’s get to it, shall we? I’m asking … 


Please take a couple of minutes to complete the poll below. As always, I look forward to hearing what you have to say and will publish the results here.   

I'm doing wellThe pandemic has brought challenges, but overall I'm doing fineI'm having a difficult time
Yes; I've already identified priorities as part of my performance reviewYes; I've begun identifying my areas of focusI have ideas and am sorting out funding or approvalsI'm waiting to see what catches my interestNo; I'm just keeping up as best as I canIt isn't even on my radar right now
soft skillsbecoming more proactivehard/technical skillsminutesstrategic/business acumenROI; ideas, practices I can apply in my rolefuture focus/trendsformal educationother
soft skillsenhancing professional presencebecoming more proactivehard/technical skillsminiutesstrategic/business acumenformal educationother
I maintained my usual commitment to PDI learned a lot, primarily because of changes to how we workI attended a mix of webinars and in person eventsPD has been a lower priority since the pandemic beganI dedicated more time/energy to PD than pre-pandemic
Yes, and I hope to do so in personYes, and I'd like to do so virtuallyI'm not sure; it depends on fundingI'm not sure; it depends on what happens with COVIDNo; I don't usually attend conferences
I doMy employer doesIt’s jointly funded; my employer covers a portion of the expenses and I fund the balance:
YesNoIt's not necessary, as these are typically outside office hours
In personVirtualA mix of both in person and virtual conferences; both have advantages
none1-56-1011-1516-20more than 20
YesNo
I doMy employer doesIt’s jointly funded; my employer covers a portion of the expenses and I fund the balance:
Yes; I read assistant-related websites, books and publicationsYes; I read materials that are relevant to my principal's role/executive level materialYes; I read sector-related materialsYes; I read business publicationsOnly occasionallyNo
YesNo
high school diplomapost-secondary courses; no credentialassociate degreepost-secondary diplomaundergraduate/bachelor's degreegraduate/master's degreedoctoral/PhD
Yes; routinelyYes; occasionallyNo

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