Five New Year’s resolutions that will boost your career in 2020

KUMESHNEE WEST - 2 January 2020

People are notoriously bad at following through on their New Year’s Resolutions - in fact, research shows that 25% of those who make them, give up within the first week of the new year! But instead of making up vague and generally difficult-to-realise resolutions, how about putting a bit more thought into it - and setting achievable goals that will help your career?

Studies show that when people have realistic and specific goals that align with their abilities and expertise, they can be achieved and lead to greater personal and professional satisfaction. Here are five things to consider when setting your career goals for 2020.

Expand on your skills set

According to Benjamin Buckingham, Managing Director of HFMTalentIndex in South Africa, the workplace is increasingly demanding more skills from graduates. “The actual skills needed by graduates will change significantly over their careers. Thus, the ability to develop new skills is key. We have seen a resurgence of focus on not just cognitive capacity, but the will and natural predisposition to harness it.”

Employers give preference to those with superior soft and technical skills. Soft skills include leadership and communication ability, a growth mindset, creativity and innovative solution seeking. In addition, the Udemy for Business’s 2020 Workplace Learning Trends Report: The Skills of the Future, rates technical skills at the top of the desired skill set for the coming decade - predominantly those around AI and the various tools for data science management like Python, React, Angular, TensorFlow and OpenCV.

Network more - and more effectively

Going for drinks after work may be the last thing you feel like doing after a busy day, but it is here where you are building the relationships that will help you progress in your career. Women especially tend to underestimate how much networking can help them professionally. “There are many misconceptions about networking,” says Liz de Wet, a leadership development expert and convenor of the Executive Women in Leadership programme at the UCT Graduate School of Business. 

She says, “Women often tell me that they prefer working in their hotel room to going to the conference dinner. Ironically, the chat over a meal with a colleague may help them in ways that all the extra work might not have done." The inability to network can actually hurt your career. Joanna Barsh of McKinsey & Company says that women’s lack of access to informal networks is a real obstacle to their career advancement, comparable in impact to lacking a mentor, or appropriate coaching and training.

Manage your stress better

A Gallup study of 7,500 employees in 2019 revealed that 23% often felt burn-out at work, with 44% saying they sometimes felt burn-out, which translates into two-thirds of individuals feeling burnt out. In South Africa, one in four employees have been diagnosed with depression and a study by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group found that more than 40% of work-related illness is due to stress in the workplace. There are links between working 55 hours a week and a whole range of medical conditions like strokes and heart attacks. 

While organisations definitely need to do more to ensure their employees’ wellbeing and mental health, individuals must also take responsibility for how they deal with stress at work. Take a leaf from the book of some of the world’s most successful business leaders - from Oprah Winfrey who takes some time out to go somewhere quiet to “turn inward and breathe” or Michele Obama, who prefers to exercise to burn off the extra steam. Linda Kantor, a psychologist and mindfulness trainer who teaches mindfulness as part of the EMBA at the UCT GSB says that developing a mindful practice of some kind can help people to develop more resilience in the face of pressurized workplaces and challenging workplace dynamics. You can also organise your day and make time for family and friends. There are many examples of executives like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who leave work at 5pm every day to fetch children from school to go home and cook dinner. Her secret? She gets up early. She’s organised.

Listen more - talk less

A CNBC report reveals that the average person remembers only a quarter to 50% of what they hear. Most people are bad listeners, which is really insightful when considering that they spend the majority of their time at the office communicating. Poor listening skills cause conflict in the workplace, lead to a lack of productivity, bad teamwork and poor performance.

Good leaders know how to listen, they ask questions and show genuine interest in the answers. Highly regarded leaders like Nelson Mandela are known for genuinely connecting with people, listening to their answers and responding warmly. But listening skills are also valuable for those starting out in a career. Communication expert Judith Humphrey says when going to a job interview - listen more than you speak. She says people who don’t talk too much about themselves make a better impression. A Harvard study shows that people spend 60% of their conversations talking about themselves. By listening more and asking informed questions, you show interest as opposed to looking self-absorbed and narcissistic.

Fight your fears

Fear affects everyone - from young people starting out in the job market, to successful executives uncertain about new roles or strategic directions. Being more ambitious or shooting for a promotion or salary raise can be a situation that induces fear in many professionals. Women in the workplace face many fears and there is some evidence that a fear of failure and taking risks affect professional women more than men.

This may be a contributing factor to why there are so few women in senior management roles around the world. Leadership development expert Sue Von Hirschfeld says that often a lack of confidence and limiting self-beliefs can keep a woman from progressing in her career - but by developing critical skills, finding useful networks and working with a mentor and developing social capital, these can be overcome. Mindfulness can also play a role in helping here, helping you to recognise limiting beliefs and reframing them. 

Author of The Bravest You: Five Steps to Fight Your Biggest Fears, Find Your Passion, and Unlock Your Extraordinary Life, Adam Smith, says there are many kinds of fears that hold people back - the fear of getting hurt, of not being good enough, of failing or being rejected - even of change. But the good news is that these fears can all - and should all - be conquered. He says, “Fear is the number one obstacle you will face in life: The most difficult challenge you will ever be put to and the most important one to overcome.”

Kumeshnee West is the Director of Executive Education at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB).

Self-mastery | Career planning

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