25 Simple Work-life Lessons: Value Your Skills

Tags: SSON

Is there a secret formula for success in business – and in your career? Probably not. But I believe it makes sense to learn from the people I respect and who have been successful themselves.

Case in point: Ira Fialkow was the Executive Vice President for Shared Services at CEMEX, until recently. His career spans 25 years and he is a highly respected leader in his field. This series marks the culmination of 25 business lessons documented and developed by Ira over the past 25 years of his career. Ira used to distribute these lessons to the team every year. In this series, I will endeavor to share the 25 business lessons that I've learned from Ira and our shared services team.
This is part five of the series.

Read 25 Simple Work-life Lessons: Lesson 1

Read 25 Simple Work-life Lessons: Lesson 2

Read 25 Simple Work-life Lessons: Lesson 3

Read 25 Simple Work-life Lessons: Lesson 4

Business Lesson 5: Understand the skills and abilities that differentiate you from everyone else. Whenever you have an opportunity, use them.

It is common in business that companies conduct SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to assess themselves in the current environment. However, it’s rare that you see individuals pursue similar SWOT analysis to assess their own skills, talents, and opportunities. Uncertainties created by ever changing economic conditions and shifting technology means companies must continually adjust to meet the needs of their markets and ensure they have the skilled resources to innovate and deliver more value than their competitors – or risk extinction. It thus becomes imperative that you recognize those skills and abilities that set you above the rest. Not only does it help place you above your competition, but it enables you to know what other skill sets you can fall back on, if and when necessary.

When creating your personal SWOT analysis, be sure to include all your skills and talents – even those that may not be directly related to your current job description. This lesson is actually the flip side of Lesson 3 – "Be your own toughest critic". You can’t forget the areas where you already excel. You need to use those skills often, develop them, and create an outlet for them. At the same time, you need to be able to develop new skills. This is especially true for dynamic fields that are impacted daily by changing technology. The technology (and the skills related to it) available when you were in university could be years away from today’s technology. If you don’t keep abreast of current trends and skills, you’ll be obsolete.

It’s especially critical for yourself and your organization to avoid a scarcity mentality, where you tend to protect the skills and talents you have in an effort to "stay employed". It’s easy to fall into the trap of rationalizing: "I have been doing it this way for twenty years, we’ve been successful and it works; so why change?" A rude awakening lies in store when you find yourself and your skills obsolete – possibly, your entire organization.

A healthy, innovative perspective is that of an abundance mentality, where the thinking is: "We need to share our skills; there’s more for everybody because when we collaborate we are creating something new and different, something better." Think of shareware and how people not only learn from one another but also build on each other’s work, knowledge, and experience. The end product is, as Ira used to say, "ideas that build on each other," which is always better and more useful than the original product ever can be… and collaboration brings a sense of ownership and pride to all involved; which leads to another benefit: the pride of ownership and the culture of caring that goes along with it.

Take advantage of skills you are good at, but which are not necessarily expected of you
While you may think organizing community events has nothing to do with your job as an administrative assistant, you are wrong. Skills do not always have to be work-related. As long as your skills are beneficial to the company and to your group in some way, it becomes advantageous to you. However, it is not enough that you know what you’re capable of. You need to let other people, especially upper management, know about your other skills and how they can add value. What’s the best way to do this? Just like extracurricular activities were important in school, so it is at work. If there are opportunities for you to use or exhibit your talents, then volunteer. For example, if you are naturally community minded, offer to be part of the committee for the company’s annual food bank drive for the local church, or volunteer to organize a fun and healthy community benefiting activity, like the March of Dimes Walk-a-thon.

Some people consider joining committees or groups outside of their job description a waste of time. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to showcase and develop your other skills. This helps management get a broader sense of who you are and what you are capable of. In addition, these committees or groups help you connect and work with other people in the company you would otherwise not be able to. This is especially true of large projects, where you tend to get more exposure.

Part of accountability is continuous self-improvement. Not only do you look at what you’re already good at but also what else you can develop. For example, if you have an affinity for languages, why not learn a new language (especially one relevant to your company)? I know of friends whose careers opened up because they could speak a third (and even fourth) language. You should always seek to develop new skills. In this way, you and your skills will always be relevant and up-to-date.

As a manager, encourage your people to use and develop their skills
If you want your company to take advantage of your people’s talents and abilities, you need to develop a company culture that allows people to leverage their skills and benefit the company. This means getting to know the people you work with – beyond job descriptions. It makes sense to find out what your employees enjoy doing in their spare time. Are they involved in community projects? What sort of activities or hobbies do they enjoy? You need to learn what people’s talents are and help develop them. People need to feel comfortable in speaking up about their talents and creating opportunities to develop them. If the boss is not open to seeing beyond his employees’ job descriptions, many talents and skills that could be beneficial to the company will go to waste.

Business Lesson 5 Takeaways:

  • Do not forget things you’re already good at. Use them, develop them, and find an outlet for them. It is important not only to know your strengths, but also to create opportunities to use and expose them.
  • Develop an "abundance mentality" versus a "scarcity mentality." Skills can become obsolete, so you need to learn how to adapt and develop new and more relevant skills.
  • Take advantage of the skills you are good at but which are not necessarily part of your current job description.
  • As a manager, you need to develop a holistic approach to a person. There needs to be a company culture where the people are encouraged to hone and develop their skills.

About the collaborators:
Ira Fialkow
is the SVP of Member Services at Peeriosity. Prior to this, Ira was EVP of Shared Services at CEMEX and Rinker Group (acquired by CEMEX is 2007) from 1990 through joining Peeriosity in October 2010. Rinker Group was the initial recipient of the Best Mature Shared Services Award in 2003. Ira lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and has been the champion of his fantasy football league in three of the past five years.

Glenn Remoreras is an IT Manager at CEMEX. He brings over 12 years of experience as an IT director, business processes manager, project leader, and consultant. He has focused on enabling business solutions through the use of IT capabilities. Glenn has been involved with various international post merger integration projects.

Ivy Remoreras is a marketing professional with eight years of extensive experience, particularly in product management, communications and promotions as a manager, university instructor and consultant. She believes in constant learning and has a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA). Having resided in Europe, Asia and North America, she speaks four languages.