Your career needs at least as much maintenance as your automobile. With the recession thawing and companies expanding, new career opportunities are emerging, but the landscape for hiring and promotions is different than it was even two years ago. Are you prepared for the new realities? Maybe it's time to get a jump on that promotion or the job you've had your eye on. The publishing industry has put out over 500 career management books in the first half of 2010. We have identified a handful that are worthy of your consideration. In case you don't have time to read the whole book (and who does?), we highlight the chapter or chapters in each book that offer the greatest kernels of wisdom.
The Compromise Trap by Elizabeth Doty. $17.95.
As we learn more about how the financial services industry imploded, it's clear that at the heart of the matter were pelnty of well-meaning people who engaged in behaviors that were reckless, self-serving, and dishonest. Many of the participants acknowledged initial misgivings about their behavior, but went along for the ride anyway. The Compromise Trap examines what to do when you feel pressured to play by rules that undermine your sense of fairness or integrity. How do you know when to compromise, when to resist, and when to resign? Based on the 50 case histories in the book, it's harder than it first appears to separate constructive flexibility from soul-damaging or illegal concessions.
Takeaway Chapter 3: Ten Misconceptions about Compromise at Work. Misconception: You have to go along to survive. Reality: Going along can be a self-depleting trap. Misconception: The company sets the terms. Reality: More is negotiable than you think. Misconception: You'll always know if you're crossing a line. Reality: Compromise is more likely to be gradual because blinders make it hard to see at the time.
Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack. $16.95
Contrary to expectations, half of financial advisors are introverts. The expectation is that the financial services industry favors extroverts who are better at networking, selling, managing relationships, schmoozing, cold-calling and all the other tasks required for success. Not so, says Devora Zack, who in this “field guide for introverts, the overwhelmed, and the underconnected” insists that introverts can succeed at the same level as their extroverted counterparts. All they have to do to succeed in the networking game is to play by a new set of rules. Zack is an introvert and a professional, so she has learned to thrive at networking events, but she admits that “when I go to an event, it is always because I coerced myself. I am generally pleased with the results; yet I head there under duress.”
Takeaway Chapter 6: Network Event Survival Kit. Networking-haters can make the most of networking events if they keep a few simple principles in mind. Pre-registering makes a big difference because it allows introverts to plan ahead. Volunteering to do something is good because introverts are comfortable when in a designated role. Other survival techniques: get in line, focus on others, write it down, follow up.
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. $25.95.
Seth Godin says that his many books are merely “trophies” of a reader's encounter with the ideas that he is content to give away for free. Still, I'm old-fashioned enough to think that the physical manifestation of the idea is indispensible to the idea. Godin's central idea in Linchpin is that if you want to succeed, you have to make yourself indispensible. It's not as easy as it sounds. The idea of just showing up for work and doing what your boss tells you to do no longer works. Most of the stuff that white-collar employees do can be automated or outsourced. The same, increasingly, goes for what bosses do. The solution: become an artist. The modern-day corporate artist doesn't work as a painter or a musician. Instead, he or she is someone who is willing to do things differently to see results.
Takeaway Chapter 5: Becoming the Linchpin. The linchpin is an individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen. Every worthwhile institution has indispensable people who make differences like this. Linchpins are not waiting for instructions, but instead, figuring out what to do next. If you have a job where someone tells you what to do next, you've just given up the chance to create value.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. $26.00.
The authors scored a big hit a few years ago with Made to Stick. Now the Heath brothers focus on the perennial problem of why implementing change is so difficult. The authors argue that to be successful, change agents need to do three things at once: 1) acknowledge that change is hard, 2) provide crystal clear direction because what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity, and 3) change the situation. The book can get a little too cute for my taste, with its extended metaphor of the Rider (our rational side), the Elephant (our emotional and instinctive side), and the Path (the environment in which change takes place). But the authors pepper the cuteness with enough research and personal anecdotes that the whole thing works.
Takeaway Chapter 6: Shrink the Change. How does a change manager change the path? There's a great story of a car wash that wants to change customer behavior through a loyalty program. The traditional approach was to give customers a free wash for every eight paid washes. But then management tried something else. Before customers could get a free wash, they had to get ten paid washes, but with a head start: Their cards were pre-stamped with two free washes. The goal was the same for both sets of customers, but the “head-start” customers redeemed their cards at twice the rate.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. $26.95
Conventional wisdom has it that the best way to motivate other people is with external rewards like money or perks. Not so, argues Pink, who says that the secret to high performance and satisfaction — at work, at school, and at home — is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. Pink draws on four decades of scientific research on human motivation to expose the disconnect between what science knows and what business does — and how that affects every aspect of life. Drive examines the three elements of true motivation — autonomy, mastery, and purpose — and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action. The book profiles companies and entrepreneurs who are taking unconventional approaches to lighting fires under their workers.
Takeaway Chapters 4 (Autonomy), 5 (Mastery), and 6 (Purpose): These coordinated chapters outline the minimal requirements for intrinsic motivation. Autonomy is first. Employees must have choice as to what they do and with whom they partner. They must desire mastery of tasks or skills that matter to them. And they must see their work as contributing to a greater purpose.
Smart Pricing by Jagmohan Raju and Z. John Zhang. $34.99
What's a book about pricing doing on a list of career management books? Think about it. A salary negotiation is about what price you set on your services. This book is ostensibly about how companies can use pricing for strategic differentiation, but all the lessons it draws from Google, Priceline, and other pricing innovators can apply to the way employees set and maintain prices for their services.
Takeaway Chapter 9: Pay If It Works. Introduces the concept of “performance-based pricing,” which makes guarantees about the performance of the product or service so as to remove one barrier of the buyer. Such a pricing structure creates partners, with both sides committed to the success of the long-term relationship. Is there a better definition of the employer-employee arrangement?
Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson. $22.00
Jason Fried co-founded the Web-application company 37signals and Hansson later joined as a partner. For the past few years, they have produced a high-quality blog which they mined to produce this book. The authors, big believers in simplicity and transparency, take aim at dozens of practices thought to be useful for entrepreneurs (what they call starters) and systematically demolish them. The ride is very satisfying. The unifying theme is doing less and embracing constraints, leading to such counterintuitive advice as stop tailoring your product for existing customers and deliver less than your competition.
Takeaway Chapters: Rework has about 50 short chapters with titles such as “Learning from mistakes is overrated,” “Scratch your own itch,” and “Workaholic.” (The authors are against them.)
John Kador is a frequent contributor to Registered Rep. and the author of more than 15 books. His latest book is “The Flawless Interview“ (McGraw-Hill, $16.95). His web site is www.jkador.com.