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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

MY MUMMIE AND ME 2016

Conventional wisdom tells us that children learn from the good example of their parents.  But something went haywire when my mother misbehaved in the office of the Prime Minister.  She defied the leadership of the Jamaica Civil Service Association by raising a topic that was not on the agenda in a meeting with the Prime Minister.  In less than 10 minutes, my mother secured an important policy change that gave women in management positions in the public service the same benefits as their male colleagues.

It was 1976, the first year of the United Nations’ Decade for Women.  The Government of Jamaica was committed to implementing gender equity policies.  Ironically, only male public service managers with over 10 years’ service could benefit from the payment of 50% of family vacation travel costs.  There was no justification for this discriminatory benefit.

The male-dominated executive of the association struck down every attempt my mother made to have the assisted vacation benefit extended to women.  These men also refused to have the elimination of gender-based discrimination listed among the Jamaica Civil Service Association’s priorities for change.  When the courtesy call visit to the Prime Minister was being planned, my mother was told that it was not the proper forum in which to raise “these controversial topics.”

Not one to burn bras or launch a public campaign against men, my mother chose to use her position of leadership to influence and create change by ‘properly’ misbehaving.  This meant taking the risk of crossing the line of political correctness in the highest office of political power. 

Three things I learned

  1. Don’t ask for forgiveness

Political correctness is the biggest hurdle to progress.  Being disruptive doesn’t always have to take the form of raucous demonstrations in the streets. My mother’s way of fighting for the cause was to secure a seat at the table, by getting elected and getting involved.   Going off-topic in the board room is a very valid and powerful tactic to militate for change.  My mother chose to break the rules of protocol.  She made no apology for doing so.  I learned from her, to never ask permission or apologize for doing the right thing.

  1. Know who holds the power

There is strength in numbers, that’s why enlisting the support of influencers is important.  However, in order to win, you always need to know who holds the power to make change happen.

The Executive Committee’s mandate was to make representations to leaders in government on behalf of public service employees.  My mother was not discouraged by the unwillingness of the male-dominated executive to advocate for gender equality.  She knew that it was the political directorate that held the power to make changes in policy.  Her ultimate goal was to get the Prime Minister’s attention and incite him to take action.

  1. What’s in it for them matters too

My mother presented the issue of employee benefits as a blind spot in the government’s policy of gender equality that could no longer be overlooked.  The Prime Minister understood from her intervention that changing the rules was the right thing to do, particularly at a time when the issue of women’s rights was high on the public agenda.  Removing gender-based discrimination in the public service would reinforce his commitment to women’s rights and earn for his government, greater credibility both locally and internationally.

The BIG picture

All of this happened over 40 years ago.  Although assisted payment of vacation travel is no longer a benefit in the public service, my mother’s commitment to the cause of gender equality continues to be part of her legacy.  She didn’t just take personal pride in fulfilling her professional ambition or sit on her hard-earned status of being among the first women in public service management.  She saw the big picture and decided to fight for a better and just world, so that many other women and men would have equal access to opportunities to achieve their ambitions and enjoy the benefits of their service.

The most valuable lesson I learned from my mother is that women should never be reticent about pursuing their ambitions or shy away from dissenting voices.  Aspiring to positions of leadership is one of the best ways to fight for a cause and create meaningful change.   Effective leadership requires the courage to take risks, even if it means you may have to ‘properly’ misbehave.   The outcome may surprise you.

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com 

@Camille21162

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Dharma

Throughout his life, my father was a teacher, even though he didn’t spend all his years in the classroom.  High school and university students, business people, social workers and children in foster care all benefited in one way or another from his knowledge of physics, mathematics, human resources and guidance counselling.  In the last ten years of his life, even when dementia robbed him of most of his cognitive abilities, he was teaching his family, friends and caregivers, about the value of human life and the importance of living in the present moment.  I am convinced that teaching was my father’s dharma.

In his book, The Great Work of Your Life, Stephen Cope explores the meaning of dharma – each person’s unique calling and life’s purpose.

Knowing your dharma makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, eager to get to work, which, when done well, makes you sleep comfortably at night.

Just like my father, we can all live up to our dharma in different ways and through various stages of our career and life.

Cope’s book got me thinking about my own dharma – as a leader, I help people and organizations to be better and do better.  The book also made me reflect on the ways in which leaders can help or hinder people to fulfill their dharma.

People do their best when their work is valued and they feel personally fulfilled doing it.  Leaders are challenged to ensure that they have the right people in the right positions doing the right work.  That’s why I believe that hiring, promoting and retaining talented employees are critical points at which leaders can help or hinder their employees find and fulfill their dharma.

  • Hiring – Motivation is the qualification

Early in my career, one of my colleagues was hired to provide marketing support to the sales team.  As it turned out, she found it difficult to work with sales people.  She did her best work when she was sorting out administrative issues and working on client service protocols.  Frustrated with her working relationships, she confided that helping sales people close sales was not her ‘thing.’ She was motivated by the deep-seated belief that outstanding customer experience determines long-term business success.  By listening to her deep-seated convictions and motivations, we both agreed that serving customers exceptionally well was her dharma.

I haven’t forgotten that conversation.  Whenever I am hiring, I always ask questions to find out the candidate’s personal convictions and motivations. In this way, it is possible to validate the alignment of their values and work ethic with those of the organization.

  • Promotion – Expanded responsibilities should not be a reward for past success

The Peter Principle states that some managers rise to the level of their incompetence and stop being promoted. This happens when the promotion is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on their ability to fulfill the requirements of the role to which they are being promoted.   There are many ways in which leaders can help to prepare their people for promotion and professional advancement – additional training, job rotations that expand employees’ skill set, encouraging innovative thinking and action, to name a few.

Not all high-performing employees want to be promoted.

This possibly explains why some top sales people, when promoted to people leadership and management positions, ask to return to a sales role.  They will tell you that selling is what excites them – not managing people and writing reports.

Nothing is wrong with not wanting to be promoted, provided that the employee continues to be engaged, is productive and contributes to the mission of the organization.

  • Retention – There can be a downside to investing in talent retention

In their zeal to retain talent, employers can be blinded by the brilliance of a technically proficient employee, but who is not suited for leadership roles in the organization. For example, an employee may function best as an internal consultant, not as a people manager.  What usually happens is that competent employees feel pressured by the organization’s leadership to stay within the organization by climbing the corporate ladder.  On the other hand, the organization’s leadership feels that providing an upward career path is the best way to retain exceptionally talented employees.

I recently spoke with a former colleague who made the decision to step off the corporate ladder in one organization where she could have had progressively more high-profile positions.  The stress, corporate politics and added responsibilities were not supporting her deep need to fulfill her dharma.  As a professional writer, she does her best work when she is creating compelling communications material.   She found employment at another organization where she feels that the opportunity to do her best work, not the money or status, is what counts.  Her courageous choice to make this change is benefiting her as well as the organization where she now works.  She is happy and feeling valued.  The organization is happy to have found and retained her talent.  A win-win situation!

Holistic people management

Every leader wants to have the right people work with them to ensure that the organization’s goals are met.  Hiring, promoting and retaining talent is challenging, but can be best achieved when leaders take a holistic view of people management.

Understanding the motivations and aspirations of potential and current employees should be an on-going process.

Encouraging employees to be purpose-driven in their efforts and allowing them to define and work towards their aspirations will enable them to fulfill their dharma.  When this happens, the organization, and its employees benefit from the alignment of a shared mission and vision of success.

What is YOUR dharma?

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

 

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August 15, 1993, was to have been the luckiest day in my life.  I landed in Montreal, Canada, as a permanent resident with a job already lined up!  Fluent in French and with a degree from a North American university, I was hired as a management trainee in a major Canadian institution.  Unlike most new immigrants to Canada, the obstacles of language, foreign qualifications and Canadian work experience were not standing in my way.  As you can see from my first professional photograph, my big, long hair framed a bright-eyed, smiling face that was filled with optimism.

Six months later, I was telling a different story.

I was struggling in an unhappy work environment with colleagues who were unhelpful and insensitive to my efforts to ‘fit in.’   And it was nobody’s fault.

I came from a hierarchical, formal workplace culture in the Jamaican public sector where ”junior officers” were expected to learn by listening attentively and taking notes in meetings with their “seniors.”  Meritocracy, the quality of written reports and giving the right information when it was asked for, put you on the path to promotion and success.  In Canada, I didn’t understand that it was okay and expected of trainees to speak up, participate and ask challenging questions in meetings with clients.  The feedback I got from my politically correct Canadian colleagues was that they viewed me as shy.  A few others bluntly questioned my level of interest and enthusiasm for the job.  This all came as a surprise.  Far from being shy, I have always been passionate about my work.

Caught in a mire of cultural misunderstanding, my experience was a source of bewilderment for both me and my employer.   According to a 2012 report by the Progress Career Planning Institute, the challenge persists to this day.   Workplace acculturation – the adoption of behaviours that are in harmony with the corporate culture – is a major hurdle for professional immigrants when trying to establish a career.

There is tremendous focus on attracting immigrant employees, language learning, cultural educational programs, fast-tracking foreign students’ permanent resident applications and, most importantly, guiding immigrants through the job search process.  But once the job offer is accepted, it must not be assumed that all is well.

‘Diversity’ is a politically correct buzzword 

During my job search prior to migrating to Canada, virtually every organization listed diversity among its corporate values.  Job postings and brochures had standard statements announcing the organization’s commitment to diversity, surrounded by photos of groups of smiling multi-ethnic employees.  There was no mention of workplace acculturation programs in recruitment materials and I didn’t feel the need to ask.

Now that workplace diversity is commonplace, diversity statistics may provide a breakdown of various groups within the employee population, but the experience of employees, whether reported or observed, can tell a different story.

Focus on workplace integration – for all employees

Rather than focusing primarily on hiring a diverse workforce, Canadian employers should take specific steps towards creating an integrated workforce – a place where everyone feels that they “fit in.”  When my colleagues joked that I was “different,” I didn’t quite understand what that meant.  It left me wondering quite often whether being different was a good or bad thing, and if I was fitting in.

Every employer wants a good fit between new employees and company culture.  This can be complicated when the new employee is an immigrant; and yet, how well current employees integrate with new immigrants is equally important. There is a case to be made for new immigrants and their Canadian colleagues to participate in workplace acculturation programs.

Based on my own work and integration experience, I would have the following recommendations for employers of new immigrants:

  • Avoid setting up programs designed specifically for ethnic groups, as this may lead to the creation of silos and a source of resentment for other employees.
  • Provide immediate peer support and allow for an adjustment period to allow new immigrant employees and their Canadian colleagues to work on integration.
  • Guide new immigrants towards social media networks and professional groups and encourage participation in the organization’s social events.
  • Stop giving and accepting “cultural differences” as an easy excuse for poor integration. Provide cross-cultural workshops and forums for open communication and conflict resolution.
  • Give new immigrants opportunities to apply their foreign experience: it may provide the organization with new ways of doing business, and even provide a competitive advantage.
  • Build mentorship programs for new immigrants, especially those in leadership positions and who are people managers, to ensure that cultural differences do not affect team-building and performance evaluation.

In my case, I was fortunate to meet several business contacts early on, and they introduced me to professional networks and associations.  It was through interacting with a good mix of foreign-born and Canadian colleagues that I learned more about the Canadian business environment, expanded my network and progressed in my career.  While I may still seem “different” at times, I work effectively with my Canadian co-workers, and they value my contribution and international experience.

Immigrants are here to stay…and more are coming

The Conference Board of Canada  says Canada will have to rely on immigration to fill gaps in a workforce depleted by slow growth and an aging population.    Statistics Canada predicts nearly half of Canada’s population will be immigrants, or children of immigrants, in less than 20 years from now.  In other words, the need for workplace acculturation programs is not going away.

 

Camille Isaacs-Morell came to Canada nearly 24 years ago from Jamaica and the USA where she gained extensive experience working with persons of various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.  She is a marketing professional and volunteer, passionately committed to making an impactful contribution to the creation of a truly integrated global village, where everyone has a fair chance to be successful.  

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

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This is the text of an article I wrote which was published in the Sunday Gleaner in Jamaica on 23 April 2017.

The article is one in a series sponsored by the University of the West Indies, highlighting the relevance and value of an education in the arts and humanities.

multi_mon24

It came as no surprise when I told my parents that I wanted to study foreign languages at the University of the West Indies (UWI). My father, an educator specialising in physics and mathematics, and my mother, a career civil servant in the financial stream, always encouraged my sister and me to excel academically and develop our talents in a wide range of extra-curricular activities. They believed that this was how we would find out what we really wanted to do in life.

During my years at Immaculate Conception High School, I learnt foreign languages easily and excelled in history and English language and literature, where essays and term papers were frequently assigned. I was at ease meeting and speaking with foreigners in Jamaica, Europe, North America, and the Caribbean, and these experiences piqued my curiosity about foreign cultures and would later serve to complement my love of languages in a way that would benefit my career.

The sweeping social and political changes in the 1970s during my teenage years gave me the burning desire to ‘do something’ to change Jamaica and the world. By far, the best years of my life were spent at UWI, where I pursued a bachelor’s in language and linguistic studies. Like my batchmates, I was ‘in my element’ learning from an interesting mix of professors from Germany, France, Spain, El Salvador, Haiti, Colombia, and Guyana. In the course of study, we were required to research foreign and local issues and to express our opinions in all of the foreign languages we were studying. We were graded for accuracy in grammar and vocabulary as well as for depth of analysis and critical thinking.

I remember my father telling me that although it was important to master the foreign languages, it was even more important for me to master the skills of critical, innovative thinking, effective communication, and the ability to quickly adapt to new business situations in order to be a successful applicant for a job. I gained all this and more during my time in the BA programme at UWI.

Beyond the academic training, there were other experiences at the UWI that were to shape my view of the world and my career. Along with my classmates, I was deeply involved in organising student-exchange programmes with the Universidad AutÛnoma de Santo Domingo, French Students’ weekend retreats, German Days, Foreign Language Students’ concerts, lectures, and language club activities with visitors from various embassies in Kingston.

Immersed in a sea of intercultural experiences, our minds were opened to diverse political thought and philosophies. As much as we learnt about other cultures, we also taught others about our own.

SOUGHT OPPORTUNITIES

Along the way, I met many people who questioned the value of studying foreign languages and an arts degree. Instead of trying to provide them with the ‘right’ answers, I actively and eagerly sought opportunities to put my training to work. I was a liaison aide at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference and the Organization of American States General Assembly, which were hosted in Jamaica. I spent my summers as an intern at the Jamaica Tourist Board. Many people I met had studied the arts and humanities and told me how they had forged successful career paths in business, government, and international relations. I realised then that the options were many and that my proficiency in foreign languages gave me an advantage.

After university, I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade in the Protocol and Consular Division. There, I had the opportunity to translate official documents and serve as the interpreter in meetings with very senior officials. This is where I learnt about the main issues of the day in international politics, trade, travel, tourism, and law. I observed first hand how language and communication in all its forms played into business deal-making and international relations.

With this experience, I gladly accepted new challenges to serve in the Economic and Foreign Trade Divisions in the ministry and represent Jamaica at international conferences in the Caribbean and the Americas. I witnessed the emerging trends in globalisation and the increasing role of the private sector in international trade.

I decided to do an MBA in international business and marketing at the University of Miami, where at that time, the focus was on preparing a new generation of global business leaders. This degree opened doors to a career in the private sector in Jamaica and then in Montreal, Canada, where I currently reside. My academic training in languages at the UWI continues to be of great value. I communicate daily in French, which is the language of business in Montreal, the largest city in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

My desire as a teenager “to do something” for Jamaica and the world has morphed into a career in marketing in global institutions. In the various roles I have played, I have been involved in the creation of multilingual marketing communication programmes, international trade finance and credit-risk assessment, and the development of global brands, while managing teams of persons with diverse backgrounds.

Over the years, I have been, and still am, a committed volunteer, where my training in business and in the arts has been considered to be of added value. I currently serve on the board of directors of the YWCA-Montreal, an organisation whose clientele consists of a large number of immigrants who are being equipped to become fully integrated into the society. I have been invited to write articles and speak in English and French at churches to youth groups and professional associations, mainly on topics related to personal and professional development in a multicultural society.

In a world where technological innovation is held as the gold standard for progress, and where students are encouraged to pursue purely technical degree programmes, it should never be forgotten that technology is only valuable if it meets people’s needs. Often, my colleagues and business associates who do not have any formal training in the arts and humanities express appreciation for the broader perspectives and recommendations that I have brought to technical projects, particularly with regard to clients’ needs.

I truly believe that my foundation in the arts, more specifically the degree programme at the UWI, has led me take an analytic approach that presents diverse opinions and perspectives of various stakeholders, which is critical to understanding and successfully meeting clients’ needs.

With a career spanning more than 30 years in Jamaica, the USA, and Canada, I know that I will never retire. There is so much more work to be done to make the world a better place. I am truly grateful for the education in the arts, which has shaped my view of the world and has served to support all my professional pursuits. The knowledge gained and the skills that were honed in those early years are still relevant and of value in a changing world and will continue to equip me to contribute to building a truly integrated global village.

– This article is one in a series that seeks to promote and highlight the impact of the arts and humanities on the individual’s personal development and career path. Please send feedback to fhe@uwimona.edu.jm

 

Visit camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.

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Lessons Learned From a Career Crisis

learning

Although it was a dark rainy night in fall, in my mind everything was as clear as day.  That was back in 1994, a year into my first career in Montreal, Canada and I was having the most difficult, in fact the most traumatic experience of my life.  It was I who made the decision to change my life completely.  I migrated to a new country, started a new career and a new life, all on my own.  But on that dark night, the rubber hit the road and I had every good reason to be afraid.  However at the end of another dreadfully difficult day at the office, I was determined to stay the course.

I was struggling in a professional field that was not quite the right fit for me.  My colleagues were unhelpful in an unhappy work environment and it was affecting my performance.  I was in a foreign country with no close family, a very limited social circle and no professional network to help steer me towards other opportunities.  This had never happened to me in my life.  I always fit in, rose to every challenge and succeeded.  In spite of it all, deep down in my soul, I knew I had to keep going.  I wouldn’t “just quit.”

What was ironic was that I really was letting go.  I was letting go of the fear-driven “what ifs?” that had been scaring the living daylights out of me.  On that dark rainy night, I made the decision to change my inner dialogue by courageously answering my “what ifs?”  with “so whats!”

“What if this job doesn’t work out?” – “So what!  I will find a better job.”

“What if I can’t pay my bills?” – “So what! There’s my savings, unemployment insurance and… my parents.”

“What if people think I am a quitter?” – “So what! What people think about me won’t change the world.”

I was determined to allow the Universe to let this messy situation unfold and to make sense out of it.  I just knew that I would be okay.  Here’s what I learned –

  • We all know our truth. Being authentic can be difficult.

The fear and angst were rooted in my struggle to fit the bill of an educated, young, confident professional.  I was supposed to live up to everything I was taught – strive to achieve my goals, to never ever give up, be strong in the face of adversity.  The reality was that I wasn’t being authentic, even though I already knew my truth – I was not in the right professional field and my soul was dying.

Many people don’t live authentically.  We live in a world that describes what success ought to look like.  By staying in a job that was not right for me, I was keeping up professional appearances and what I thought were other people’s expectations.  It takes guts to step off the beaten path and take the road less travelled.  Not everyone will understand why, and they will tell you that you are making a mistake.  If you listen to your inner voice, you will find your truth – what’s right and meaningful for you.

path

  • It’s not worth the effort to hang on because of the fear of losing what we think is valuable.

The job paid well and I could afford a very good material quality of life.  On the other hand, I was holding on to a job in which I wasn’t able to give of my best talents and gifts in a work environment that was wrong for me.  My soul was dying a slow, painful death.  If I quit, there was the real risk of financial hardship.

So it was decision time. I had to choose between fear and courage.  I chose courage.

It was the courage to see beyond the surface and to dig deeply within to find out I really wanted, what really mattered to me and what were the next steps I needed to take.  I knew that I had to leave that job and get on my own path.  And I did.  Once I had honestly confronted my fears I was ready to take a leap of faith. In the face of uncertainty and risk, I made some responsible decisions about how I was going to leave and move my career forward.  While introspection was the starting point in all of this, I actively sought help to support the process.  I was amazed at the number of people who were willing to offer good advice and who had “been there, done that” and could help me find the things I needed to get through this crisis.

courage

  • Never let a crisis go to waste. There’s always something to learn.  Some good will emerge in the aftermath.

As it turned out, this personal and professional crisis not only taught me some important life lessons, but I gained some very useful work experience.  I eventually moved on to another company where I had a very satisfying and rewarding career in marketing.  I can safely say that much of what I learned in my previous job has given me the business acumen needed to make critical decisions, manage budgets effectively and lead with greater confidence.  All of this has taught me to never let a major crisis go to waste.

crisis

Throughout my career, these three lessons have guided me to make decisions that are right for me.  It’s all about finding my life’s purpose and living authentically.  The organizations where I have worked, their clients and the community have all benefited because I am offering my best self, serving passionately and using my talents to the fullest.

I do believe that we’re all in constant evolution and that it is through life’s events – whether times of crisis or calm – that we somehow find direction for our life’s journey.  It takes courage to confront the fears that compromise our well-being and prevent us from living authentically. It’s well worth it.

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