On the 11th of September, I did my first face-to-face workshop since the start of the coronavirus lockdown. Last summer, I had honestly never imagined that I would have returned to the classroom so soon.
The online version of our course, which we had adapted to the lockdown situation, has achieved results that are both exciting and unexpected. Indeed, we’ve seen a 15% increase in our feedback score averages.
Despite the positive outcome, I’ve really missed interacting directly with those bright MBA students! Coffee, lunch breaks, peeks at their classwork, and direct interaction with at least a dozen different cultures are aspects of face-to-face work I love.
The workshop in question was the first of a series of sessions at the Career Center of the University of St. Gallen Business School (HSG) we were encouraged to run. Of note is the fact that the University of St. Gallen Business School has the largest business faculty in the entire German-speaking zone of Switzerland.
This year Ewa Maciejewski, Head of Strategic Projects, Corporate Relations & Careers and Sander Markiet, University of St.Gallen Career Development Manager, decided to use our Professional Innovation process as the basis for MBA and EMBA student career coaching. The Career Coaches then continue to build relationships with the students by using our tools along with the results obtained during our workshops!
MBA and professional innovation
Between one anti-covid-19 measure and another, I found myself in front of a group of MBA students, all eager to learn more about the methods I apply daily at companies to help employee career planning become more self-directed.
Performing Professional Innovation effectively means learning a new skill: the ability to vary the way in which a professional acquires, creates and distributes value in an ever changing context. Now fundamental is the capacity to take the countless decisions required with the appropriate levels of awareness and agility required by careers today.
Professional innovation applies Design Thinking principles to professional development along with concepts of digital transformation, and the most modern paradigms of personal marketing, such as personal business models and Personal Branding. It is essential to talk about design thinking and strategic marketing, which form the basis of all contemporary career decisions. In today’s working environment, the acronym VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) sums up the situation perfectly.
In relation to one’s starting point, understanding just what the outcomes of future actions are likely to be, is impossible. We need to move in a more agile fashion, to focus on experimentation and design. This is even more important in the Covid era where trying to find work via job adverts is almost a “mission impossible” — millions of CVs from people left at home by the health emergency are reaching companies whose ATS scanners are working at full tilt.
Career goal or scope?
As I often find myself repeating, the real career goal today is having a goal, or better, being able to design the best possible goal. Faced with this realisation, some of the students, who worry about the uncertain world in which they live, are relieved to learn that although a few of their colleagues’ ideas are crystal clear they are sometimes flawed. In terms of their careers, the scope of most postgraduate course students tends to be quite broad, and points them in a certain direction. Five years ago, how many of us answered the classic “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” interview question wrongly? Quite a number of us, I imagine.
This is why a Business Design perspective comes naturally, even to those who apply to people many of the concepts that were formerly only employed for large companies. Actually, using specialised marketing terminology with MBA students is not a problem, because they are constantly on the look-out for anything vaguely related to strategy.
Our Business School training program
We begin by developing personal business models as these ensure the participants gain a better understanding of today’s labour market. Using tools included in our Professional Innovation Toolkit (Personal Branding Canvas, Personal Business Model Canvas and Networking Canvas) we have implemented a Personal Branding strategy prototype and, at the same time, have developed a Networking strategy for course participants that serves to reinforce their career goals.
The 3 module process was developed in conjunction with career program manager, Sander Markiet, and career coaches, Luca Allaria and Dominique Gobat.
In more detail:
Module 1 – Business Modeling
The organizational and personal business model paradigm was ideal as it helped the participants understand the inner-workings of the companies they wanted to work for (and encouraged them to ask the right questions) and of the various roles in companies (which, as we all know, tend to be described poorly in job ads!) In turn, the participants were able to understand whether or not they would be a good fit for the role on offer.
The Personal Business Model we use is the only tool in the world that ties key resources, such as skills, talents, values and know-how, to value transferred to “customers”. By “customers”, we mean everyone for whom value is created or transferred, such as managers, colleagues, or an organization’s customers, and relates these values to, often overlooked, tangible and intangible costs and revenues. Doing this is key to orienting oneself in the world of work and of business in general. Participants create a simple and effective map that aids considerably them in the decision-making process. In fact, this map helps them define an effective Personal Branding strategy.
Some of what the students learned:
- How organizations work and the criteria required in order to identify the core elements of their strategy
- How to analyze the roles of companies and understand which company roles are the most important, the actual Key Human Resources
- How to read job adverts correctly to understand whether or not they would be a good fit for the job and learning how to ask the right questions at interview
- How to take advantage of the “invisible” job market by networking with the right people
- How to see themselves in their potential target role and to understand whether or not they are able to create value
- How to develop new value and innovate their careers continually
- Agile Career concepts and applications
- Which criteria to use to evaluate the usefulness of each module of their current Master.
Module 2 – Personal Branding for postgraduate and MBA courses
Personal Branding in this context was applied primarily in a “projective” fashion. Thanks to the Personal Branding Canvas, students were able to imagine / design a strategy for growing their credibility for a specific position at the end of their chosen postgraduate course. This led to a prototype that helped them generate awareness of elements requiring further development — for example, a specific list of projects or postgraduate course subjects or of elements that may be a poor fit in terms of their career goals.
Some of what the students learned:
- The reasons, guidelines, tactics and tools they can use to consolidate their professional images
- How to identify their target audiences
- How to generate trust and credibility
- How to differentiate themselves effectively
- How to identify coherent communications initiatives
- How to manage their online image
- Which of their postgraduate course modules / projects are likely to be of particular interest in terms of their professional image
- How to develop a concrete work plan which matches who they are as people.
This generated a process and list of skills that the students can reactivate the moment their goals become clearer!
Module 3 – Networking
A professional’s reputation and career is closely linked to the quality of their contacts network. We facilitate work on Networking skills through the use of our Networking Canvas, a tool that both takes inspiration from and serves to advance the pioneering work made by Rob Cross of Connected Commons.
The key idea that emerged from Cross’ research is that successful people possess, in his words, “diverse but select networks, made up of high-quality relationships with people who come from several different spheres”.
Thanks to our Networking Canvas, the students were able to evaluate their networks on the basis of their career goals (or rather, their scope!) and then decide how to develop their contact networks strategically.
Here are the “hot from the press” remarks of Luca Allaria, Career Coach at St. Gallen:
The experience of returning to the classroom was fascinating: the guys, and the girls faced up to the reality of the constantly changing market exuberantly and constructively. They have become more aware of their professional identities and how to present them effectively to the market. In addition, they have sharpened up their ability to analyse job offers more critically because they now have a framework with which to interpret job postings and understand which skills and characteristics, explicitly or implicitly, are required.
An intense, thrilling, and informative day that perfectly complemented the personal development path of St. Gallen’s MBA students.
Of note: the same skills are also useful for employees in our organisation who want to be more self-directed! Indeed, we also apply these concepts in many of our own Talent Management programs.