Advice for young people starting their careers…

I recently gave a talk to a group of Kickstarter training young people who are just starting out in their careers. Here’s the advice I gave them – and more advice my colleagues added.

1. Be good to people – business is all about people, and your relationships and reputation are everything, so be nice to people, help people, work well with people, and you will be successful.
2. Work well no matter what the task – we all start off doing jobs we don’t like, but no matter what you are doing, if you do the best possible job, you’ll learn to do it well, and people will appreciate your work.
3. Ask for help – most people actually love doing someone else a favour, so if something’s hard, if you don’t understand, if someone’s being mean to you, ask for help early and you will find people to give you advice and support.
4. Focus on solutions not problems – if something’s not going well, suggest better ways to do it, you may come up with something no-one else has thought of and improve it for everyone!
5. Look after your health – great work takes energy, energy comes from being well looked after, body and mind.
6. Be on time – respecting your commitments, other people’s time, doing what you said you would, and being reliable are all important behaviours that will help you build your career.
7. Pick up the phone – especially when we spend our lives emailing and texting, an actual conversation can solve all sorts of issues and save time too.
8. There’s always something to learn – being good at your work requires a lifetime of learning, and there’s always something (or someone) interesting to learn about, so be open to evolving and improving yourself through the whole of your career.

After I posted this on LinkedIn, here are some of the other useful points my colleagues added:

9. Listen carefully – when people are talking, really focus on them, and ask lots of questions. Write notes of everything you hear – not only does it make a huge difference as you learn, it makes you appear interested and engaged too. (thanks Sarah Mahoney, Jonathan Williams and Ross Antrobus)

10. Be patient with yourself – be open to finding the work and topics that you find interesting and rewarding and see where they take you. Stay curious about what feels meaningful and rewarding in your work – while more linear careers may still feel more in keeping with convention, there’s so much opportunity to express your full potential by taking detours, even though they may feel a little icky at the time and don’t always happen on your own terms. (thanks Peter Harrison, Vanessa Rosado and Conny Weyrich)

11. Openness to change is key to thriving in today’s working environment. That includes not staying in the same role or company too long so you keep learning and have fresh eyes, appreciating how other or alternative approaches can tackle the same issue in different ways, in working so you don’t settle and potentially become stale. (thanks Richard Matthews)

Pam Hamilton is author of Supercharged Teams and The Workshop Book and MD of Paraffin, a human-centred capabilities agency.

My Top 5 Books

People always ask me which business books I would recommend, and here are my top five


Culture Map
by Erin Meyer

“Whether you work in a home office or abroad, business success in our ever more globalized and virtual world requires the skills to navigate through cultural differences and decode cultures foreign to your own”

This is a brilliant book that is enormously helpful in improving empathy and teamwork in cross-cultural teams.

Buy book

by Greg McKeown

“The intricacy of modern life has created a false dichotomy between things that are ‘hard and important’ and those that are ‘easy and trivial’. Everything has become so much harder than it ought to be”.

In a world full information and attention overload, this book is an essential reminder to prioritise the important things, and avoid wasting our energy on those that have less impact. This is especially important for busy teams who can get bogged down in process, bureaucracy or box-ticking instead of what really matters towards their goals.

Buy Book

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader.
Herminia Ibarra

“What kind of work is important; how you should invest your time; why and which relationships matter in informing and supporting your leadership; and, ultimately, who you want to become.”

This book offers a simple, powerful revelation – that our relationships with peers, stakeholders and leaders are just as important as our team’s productivity on tasks and projects.

Buy Book

The Checklist Manifesto
Atul Gawande

“The volume and complexity of our knowledge has exceeded our ability to consistently deliver it – correctly, safely or efficiently”.

As technology advances, we are required to remember more and more process to get things done. It’s impossible to do this by memory and good intentions alone – creating checklists means essential tasks are not forgotten, mistakes are avoided and we have more time to focus on improving our teamwork.

Buy Book

Atomic Habits
James Clear

“People think that when you want to change your life, you need to think big…but real change comes from the compound effect of hundreds of small decisions”

For individuals and for teams, it’s the small, every day, repetitive things that add up to long term results. This book reminds us to constantly re-evaluate how we spend our time on a daily basis, and where we can spend it better to work better together.

Buy Book


Why successful learning is all about earning people’s attention

There are so many different things competing for our attention that we have to invest our time wisely.

Illustration by Jorg Von Reppert-Bismarck, in “Reading Into The Picture” by Edward James, Duckworth 1932

When you study creative writing, you learn that the best stories have something called “narrative traction”.  This is the way the story pulls the reader in, posing questions that need answering and creating dramatic situations that the characters react to.  In a successful story the reader is willingly led along a journey towards a resolution that feels both inevitable and yet surprising.  Powerful stories deepen our understanding of the human experience and teach us something about ourselves.  We emerge changed for the better.

When it comes to training adults, it’s too easy forget this.  Whether it’s a new framework we want people to learn, or a new behaviour we want colleagues to adopt, too often we assume that all we need to do is tell them about it – and they will change.  One of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned in my years of designing adult learning journeys is that it’s not enough to write a good toolkit and hope people will read it.    To misquote Field of Dreams, if you build it – they will not necessarily come.  People don’t read anything anymore.  And they don’t often listen either.  Are you still reading this paragraph?  Good – just checking!

Why don’t we read anything anymore?  Too much information, too little time and change fatigue have led to low motivation levels.  It doesn’t matter whether a new toolkit is brilliant or if a new framework is going to make you better at your job – none of us have any attention left to invest.  We talk about “paying attention”, and it’s more difficult than ever to do so.  There are so many different things competing with our limited attention that we have to invest our attention wisely.

Businesses today face a tsunami of learning needs, but we are seeing traditional training and online learning are falling well short.  In a recent McKinsey study, 87% of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in their workforce, 70% of employees say they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs and 41% of the global workforce are considering handing in their resignation.  However, Harvard Business Review says that 75% of 1500 managers surveyed from 50 organizations were dissatisfied with their company’s Learning & Development, function with only 12% of employees applying new skills learned in L&D programs to their jobs; and only 25% believing that training measurably improved performance.

I’m sure you will agree with me – every adult learning journey seeks to create behaviour change – but you will also admit that we are creatures of habit and behaviour change is hard.  If we are going to change people’s behaviour, first we need to change how they feel.  We have to draw them in, tempt them, surprise them, entertain them, delight them.  We have to simplify it for them.  And we have to earn people’s attention to do all of that. 

At the Global Education Summit in 2021, Seth Godin said “Gamification will continue to play an increasing role in how education will adapt in the future’.  We have to gamify learning, we have to entertain our learners.  To combat attention deficit, provide learning in bite-sized chunks.  To draw people in, use visually powerful materials like infographics, films and animations.  For entertainment, encourage peer cohorts, a sense of a shared experience.  To gamefy, use quizzes, competitions and develop skills in teams.  And to cut through, boil down to the bare essence of the learning message, and then allow people to pull themselves along the learning journey because they want to understand more.

In today’s competitive corporate environment, almost every company has access to the same information but it’s how that information is brought to life, actioned and applied that ultimately makes all the difference to performance, whether as individuals, teams or at a company-wide level.  The same goes for adult learning.  We can teach people new frameworks, approaches or toolkits, but it’s how we bring them to life that will make them memorable and behaviour changing.

Learning journeys for adults need to create a sense of narrative traction, engaging you on a journey from the start and pulling you along, keeping you motivated through the whole narrative arc until you reach the end. And like any good story, you reach the end, still yourself, but also somehow changed for the better.

First published by Unleashed in March 2022

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There are lots of tools and training courses for bosses on how to manage people, but we hardly ever talk about how people can manage their bosses.   “Managing up” is being able to speak up to your boss about how they can support you more, for example to ask for help, to share your concerns about your work or team, or even to ask them to change how they work.   Finding the courage to speak up to your boss can be difficult, but it is more important now than it ever was before. 

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