Objectives and Benefits of a Business Plan

Business plan for a start up refers to the written plan of how the business will be established and developed. The biggest benefit of the business plan is that writing it forces an entrepreneur to consider all important areas of the business, which otherwise may be overlooked. Research regarding whether business plan contributes to success of the new venture shows mixed results. The key factor is not if businesses has a business plan but if such a plan was carefully prepared and if it is being implemented.

In certain circumstances it may not be needed to have a business plan. This can happen when it is vital to act immediately and there is just no time for planning or in situations when the business is very small and there are no plans for growth.

Objectives of a Business Plan

Most importantly, the goal of a business plan is to recognize and explain the new business opportunity.

Another objective is to present, in a written format, how an entrepreneur intends to take advantage of the business opportunity.

Business plans must provide descriptions of key success factors which will determine whether the business opportunity will be successful or not.

Therefore, part of the second objective of the business plan is to be a managerial tool to be used to ensure successful pursuit of the opportunity.

Yet another objective of a business plan is to allow entrepreneur to obtain funds necessary to establish a venture. Suppliers of funds usually include banks as well as potential investors.

Business plans shows to lenders of funds how well an entrepreneur thought about each aspect of the potential new business. Business plan also provides potential lenders with information that they require in making a decision about whether lending or investing funds into the venture is a suitable action.

Benefits of a Business Plan

Financing: Business plan helps entrepreneur to obtain financing for the new venture. Lenders and investors demand business plans from entrepreneurs before they would even consider lending or investing their money. In the past, business plans were mostly prepared by large businesses. In current times, business plans are prerequisites for entrepreneurs who seek funding from lenders and investors.

Indication of success: Business plan also provides an indication to the entrepreneur and other interested parties of whether a prospective new business will be a successful venture.

Writing a business plan allows entrepreneur to be certain that the prospective venture is really worth the entrepreneurs’ time and other resources. Writing a business plan also allows entrepreneurs to think through and decide on various key areas. A well written business plan is an indication that the entrepreneur researched the prospective venture well.

Identifies key success factors: Another benefit is the fact that it allows to identify key variables that will determine whether the business will succeed or not. This will ensure a more effective management of the business; as such variables can be closely monitored by interested parties.

Provides performance standards and milestones: It provides a roadmap that management can follow in implementing and establishing a new business. Business plans provide milestones and other performance standards against which actual performance can be measured.

Helps to build relationships: Well written business plan helps to build relationships with potential business partners, potential as well as current customers and suppliers. Many large companies will not even consider dealing with a small start up or small growing company unless a well written business plan is presented. Furthermore, the written plan can help small business to obtain trade credit from suppliers. Trade credit refers to suppliers providing product with agreement that payment will be made within certain period, usually 30 days or at the end of the month.

Helps to attract better employees: It allows potential employees to see that the company may have a chance to succeed and is a promising place to build a career.

Improves motivation of employees: Business plan helps to keep all employees informed and excited about where company is now, where it is going and how it is going to get there.



Entrepreneur Mindset

Entrepreneurship and development go together. Learning to think like an entrepreneur, whether you run your own business or work for an organization, is a critical skill to be successful in business.

Entrepreneurs need to have a mix of skills at hand: knowledge of marketing, leadership, basic finance, operations, talent management, business management, technology and other skills. They need to have these skills since initially their companies usually consist of 1 or 2 employees and they do not have the luxury of having specialists.

Learning enough of these skills will give you an advantage. You do not need to be an expert in all of these areas. You just need to have a basic knowledge and be able to see an opportunity from all angles so you can have an overall picture. An entrepreneur’s mindset is a great advantage in business. Thinking like an entrepreneur forces you to look for opportunities which otherwise can be overlooked.

If you surveyed employers today, the vast majority would say they wish their employees were more entrepreneurial. This has been something employers have sought for the last 20 years and it will continue to be highly sought after.

There is another more compelling reason to think like an entrepreneur. No matter how happy you may be in your career today, there will likely come a time when you will want to make a change. This could be due to having a terrible manager, poor working conditions, a faltering company or you may just have outgrown your job. Either way, you need to have options. Thinking like an entrepreneur and having the skills of one, allows you to see opportunities and to exploit them.

Reasons to act like an entrepreneur

1 – One of the reasons is because you need to keep your options open to someday run your own business.

On average, you will never be as wealthy as you could be by working for someone else.

Moreover, you never will be “FREE” and, at some point in your career, being “FREE” may become a requirement for you rather than a preference. This happens very often with successful employees of corporations of all sizes and types. Consequently, many of them leave to start their own businesses to satisfy their need for freedom, personal satisfaction, the feeling of building something of their own and the opportunity to spend more time with family, amongst others.

2 – You need to learn to think like an owner and entrepreneur. If you adapt your attitude and acquire a feeling of accountability that comes with being an owner – you will stand out amongst peers and have a greater chance for accelerated career development.

3 – Learning to think like an entrepreneur helps you to see the big picture and this is crucial for your career development. The higher you move up along your business career ladder, the more conceptual skills you will need and the less technical skills you will need. Conceptual skills refer to the ability to think strategically and see the big picture.

Entrepreneurship, DEVELOPMENT and Innovation

It can also be argued that entrepreneurship and development of the economy as a whole go together. The distinguished Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalism exists in the state of “creative destruction”, where innovation leads to new companies replacing old ones. Entrepreneurship leads to development. He viewed entrepreneurship as a catalyst for growth of the economy. He argued that it is entrepreneurs who are the driver for the sustainable long-term growth of the economy. Therefore, he argued that entrepreneurship and development of the economy are inseparable.


Most employees know their job well, but they are weak at understanding the overall business. Acquiring the mindset of an entrepreneur will allow you to see the big picture. You can set yourself apart.


Writing Effective Emails

The ability to write effective emails is an essential skill. This skill will be required throughout your business career. It is required when applying for a job, throughout each day of your employment and up until your letter of resignation and good-bye emails are sent out. In other words, without the ability to write effective emails, you could enter a company at a disadvantage and leave at a disadvantage.

Being able to write effective emails which are concise and professional is a “must” for successful business career.

The way you write creates Brand “You”

In our day and age, the way you write emails comprises a large part of your communication with the outside world and contributes significantly to the way people see you. In other words, it is part of your personal style. Every time you send an email at the office, people form an image of you. This image is negative, positive or neutral.

Writing effective emails is one of the ways you market yourself and your skills. It has been the case where previously ignored employees rise in their employers’ eyes based on the power of one well-timed and insightful email. While not all emails present the opportunity for such career shifts, every email you send should be building the image you want to project and should be creating the right corridor chatter about you.


Given the numerous priorities your colleagues face, an effective email should achieve its objective in the shortest possible time and with the least distraction to people. One way to do this is to be as explicit in the subject line as possible.

For example, if you want to see if a report is ready for the General Motor’s Efficiency project, some people will write “Project” or “General Motors Project” in the subject line. This is time consuming for a number of reasons.

Since the purpose of the email is unclear, your colleagues need to open it to read it. This takes time, especially if there are bandwidth problems at the office, they have older laptops, you have attachments in the email or if they are reading it on their Blackberry. It is much more effective to write the purpose of the email in the subject line.

Here are some examples:

1 – Will the General Motors Efficiency Report be ready by 5pm on Tuesday?

2 – Do you need any more help on the General Motors Report?

3 – Let me know if you can meet the GM Report Deadline? Not Urgent

Look at the examples above. They are specific. The recipient can quickly decide if he needs or wants to respond. The third example is even better. You are asking a question, but telling the recipient to respond when they have time. Colleagues appreciate this and see you as a person of action who values their time.

Here is an example of an effective email:



Feedback needed on GM Efficiency Project Extension, Deadline by 4pm today!



We are unable to include the financing numbers by the agreed deadline period. Given the importance of the numbers to the client, I am proposing I contact the client and move the deadline back by 48 hours. I have until 5pm today to do this. Is everyone in agreement?

These are reasons why the numbers are important and why we are unable to verify them in time for inclusion:

1 – The client cannot make a financing decision without the financing calculations.

2 – All other proposals will have the financing numbers.

3 – The client has stressed that we must include the financing numbers, even if we postpone the delivery of the proposal.

4 – We cannot finalize the financing numbers since marketing is unable to secure the market projection numbers from Reuters.

5 – Reuters can only get the numbers to us tomorrow due to a server problem on their side. We then need to check them before including them.

6 – There are no other available sources for the market projection numbers.

Given the above, I propose I will contact the client by 5pm to ask for a 48 hours extension. I will state the problem and request the extension only when Reuters can guarantee the new delivery time.

Best Regards,



Did you notice the following?

This is a very powerful way of writing a professional email.

1 – The subject is clear. Your colleagues can decide if and when they need to respond. They can understand the email without opening and scrolling through the text.

2 – The very first sentence summarizes the email perfectly. You state the problem. You list the solution and timing. You state exactly who is accountable for each step. There is no confusion. Again, this is a perfect summary and your colleagues can then read the details should they wish to.

3 – Notice the details are listed as succinct points. It is very difficult to read dense long paragraphs. Write for your audience and write clearly.

4 – Notice point six clearly states where the problem lies. You need to be effective at stating why something is changing without laying any blame. State it as a matter-of-fact (if it is) and be tactful about it especially if the delay was caused by a co-worker. If you are not clear why the delay occurred, state so and outline the steps you will take to determine the cause of the problem.

5 – Place enough facts in the email for the recipients to make a decision. This way there are no to-and-from emails which create an annoying email trail. Write just enough details for the recipients to understand the reasons for the change but not so much that there are unnecessary details.

The style you use in writing an effective email can differ, but always write clearly and concisely consider. This will show you are a person of action.

Six ways to enhance your personal style

Dress code as seen at a London Club in the Soh...

Image via Wikipedia

Your personal style significantly influences perceptions that people have of you. Moreover, it rolls up into being your brand or personal image. Often perceptions that people have of you are very one-sided and heavily affected by one negative or positive characteristic which is the so-called “halo effect”, which is one of the biases that people have when forming perceptions of others.

You can definitely influence how people perceive you. You need to adjust your personal style to build your brand the same way as Coca Cola and amazon.com builds theirs. You can be anything you want to be and make people think anything you would like them to.

You just need to consciously manage your brand. It must be of the highest caliber, consistent and credible. You can call it your personal style, your personal image or personal brand. It does not matter. Everyone has one and you need to control your own.

Below are six ideas which can significantly help you build your personal style and, hence, your brand.

1 – Over invest during the first 6 months

You probably noticed when you join a new company or when you start a degree in university, a perception about who you are and what you are capable of develops and is usually based on what you do over the very first few months. Therefore, if you give everything you have over those first 6 months, you will lay a great foundation upon which to build your success.

2 – Appearance counts

Numerous studies have indicated that people prefer attractive and neat people. The way you dress, the way you walk and the way you communicate are all part of your personal style and contributes to the way people see you.

3 – Dress a level higher than the majority

You need to always dress for your next job. If you are a business analyst in a consulting firm, dress as a consultant or even a senior consultant or a manager. Even if more senior people in the work place are dressed very casually, but the overall dress code is business casual, you should be dressed just a level higher than the majority of your colleagues and superiors.

This generally will show that you take your job and career seriously, that you are here to do business and you intend to go far in life. This sends a message that you come to work not to socialize and make friends but to bring great value to the company and the customers. This will make you stand out.

Of course, there are exceptions. Some companies specifically stay away from a professional dress code. A good example is Google, employees of which follow a very casual dress code. But in most cases, this guideline will make you stand out and get noticed. Of course, your other actions, such as the quality of your work are also ingredients of your personal style and should support your overall message of excellence.

THERE IS ONE IMPORTANT WORD OF CAUTION. Dressing well must make you feel better internally and present a confident and positive message. Never ever confuse dressing better to acting better than your co-workers. Your professional dressing will generate attention, so it is very important you go out of your way to indicate that this is your preferred dressing style only and you DO NOT think you are better than your co-workers. Show this in your actions and be sincere about it. If you dress well but act better than your co-workers then you will harm your reputation.

4 – Reputation

Your personal style should be aligned with helping you to build a reputation of credibility, competence and reliability. Your superiors need to know that if there are trouble and they need someone reliable and competent, they should go to you.

5 – Always keep your word

Staying true to your word must be an important part of your personal style. Take on only what you can handle and feel free to renegotiate deadlines, where necessary and where possible. Your personal style must clearly show that you are someone who takes requests and promises seriously.

Your attitude should be one that if you promised to do something – you will do everything in your power to ensure that it gets done, one way or another. For example, if you promised to deliver a certain document by the deadline, and an unexpected and more important assignment came up, you need to do everything you can to find someone to do the first deliverable for you, and be accountable for its quality.

After you find such a person, you need to approach your superior and confirm with them if they feel comfortable with the other person taking responsibility for the deliverable that you were assigned to do.

If you have done everything you could to find someone and there is just nobody available, than you can approach your superior and describe the situation. He or she may then make a decision on how best to proceed.

The bottom line is, you need to be proactive, reliable and feel ultimately accountable for any work you promise to do. Keeping your word must be seen by others as an important ingredient of your personal style. It is also important to be consistent in your personal style across different parts of your life, which includes your personal style in your relationships outside of work.

6 – Under promise and over deliver

This simple technique can help you greatly in establishing an image of competence and excellence. Furthermore, this technique is useful in any area of your life: in your studies, in your career and in your personal life. By following this simple rule, you will consistently exceed people’s expectations and will, therefore, have the reputation of someone who always exceeds expectations.


The above ideas are really important and rarely implemented. If you will adapt it to enhance your personal style, this alone will set you apart from the crowd.

Business ethics

Strong business ethics is vital to ensure a successful long-term career. One single thing that you can do that will make you stand out in life and in business is to cultivate very strong fundamental values and make it define who you are.

In practice, strong business ethics is not a common trait in employees, as you may have noticed yourself. If ethics were common we would not need so many laws and enforcement agencies. We could simply expect employees to do what is right. This, however, gives you a competitive advantage. In business, strong fundamental values could include many things but the underlying value is integrity at all times. Integrity must guide all dealings with internal and external stakeholders.

More important than integrity is the image of having integrity. It is a halo which can protect you from accusations. It takes years to develop this halo but it can be lost in one act, lasting just one second.

To cultivate strong business ethics, one needs to acquire or strengthen several business values that are vital for anyone who would like to succeed as a professional and as a leader.

Guide to business ethics

Be ethical regardless of the consequences in dealing with stakeholders of an organisation.

Do what is the best for the company. Sometimes it can mean doing what is the best for the client, if you work on projects for specific clients, such as in management consulting. Doing what is best for the company sometimes means forgoing immediate profits for the company, and even upsetting your co-workers.

  • Take pride in your work at all times.
  • Do your best work at all times.
  • Never say anything negative about someone behind that person’s back. If you have issues with someone, approach them directly.
  • Do not gossip or spread rumours. Do not take part in gossiping. Rumours have many untruths to them and you do not want to damage anyone’s reputation.
  • Be professional at all times.
  • If you promise something – deliver it as promised, but when needed, use opportunities to renegotiate the deadline.
  • Do as you advise others to do.
  • Respect your time and that of others.
  • Promote justice. Give people credit for their work and never accept credit for work done by somebody else.
  • Stand up for what you believe in. If you see wrongdoing, especially the kind that can be damaging to a company’s reputation or performance, do whatever you can to change it and refuse to be a part of it.
  • And last, but most importantly, remember that family and the people you love always come first. This does not mean that one can miss a deadline if there is a birthday coming up. In such situations you will have to negotiate with both parties and use your best judgment. What it does mean is that, in all your decisions, you need to keep your family’s interests as a highest priority. For instance, you cannot neglect your husband, wife or children for a few years while you are building your career. This will cause irreparable damage to your life. You have to incorporate their interests now into your schedule.


Ethics vs. Personal Commitments

Take care of yourself. Always remember that if you work yourself to the point that you will get ill, regardless of how outstanding your performance was, you will be replaced. Your employer and management may feel very sad that you are leaving, and may even have to hire two people to do your job, but they will replace you and in time forget about you.

Therefore, always remember to put your health and your family first. Those are the real assets of your life, not your title and the corner office. If you cannot reconcile the needs of your family with those of your career, then you need to think long and hard, and possibly walk away from your career.

Do not go against your values to accommodate behaviour which is not ethical.

The above points on business ethics were probably just a reminder, as they are intuitive. As you go forward, you can incorporate other guidelines that you feel are important. However, it is important to make sure that your values are not negotiable. That is why we call them values. As people often say; if you don’t have values – you don’t have anything. Values and moral principles only count when they are tested. Everyone has them unless they are put to the test. Then only a few truly have them.

Strong values will always make you stand out and are vital for your long-term success and happiness in all areas of your life.

Building yourself

When building yourself, you need to eliminate non-necessities from your life and give 100% effort to necessities. A necessity is defined as something absolutely essential to helping you meet your objectives. You also must learn to identify activities that directly contribute to building yourself and activities that are “noise” that you have to go through.

Examples of activities that are noise include laundry, cleaning, driving, and shopping and so on. It refers to anything that does not improve your tomorrow and does not improve your value as an individual, as a professional, as a partner, as a parent or as a friend, but have to be done anyway.

Individual circumstances, priorities, goals and dreams will affect which activities are “noise” and which “build your value”. So you need to use common sense and personal judgment. Spending time with your partner during shopping may be the only time you spend together, so this is a necessity. Notice in this shopping example it’s not just what you do that determines if something is a necessity, it is also important to determine why you do it.

Ask yourself

What do you need to be successful in your business career training?

Do you have all the tools and skills to succeed?

Do you have sufficient time to succeed in your career?

If not, can you create more time for building yourself? In other words, which activities are “noise” and can be eliminated or delegated to others? Are your social activities preventing you from reaching your goal?

What needs to change to achieve your goals?

Do you have the courage, conviction and diligence to make the change?

Using the Answers

These are all good questions! Numerous people go through these questions when considering their goals and inspirations. Many of those people are not willing to make the investment of time, effort and trade-offs to get the result they want. They consciously choose to settle for an average or below average life. However, some remarkable people find the courage to face the challenges and find a way to succeed. And so can you.

This is easier than many people think, but only once you develop a mindset of focusing on what is needed for your future success, focusing on what is needed to have a better tomorrow and eliminating non-necessities which we call “noise”.

You should continue setting more challenging goals for yourself and keep building yourself into the person you were born to be. Along the way, though, don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

What do you want to be known for?

You are a brand. What kind of brand are you?

When people look at you, think about you, or work with you, they inadvertently often distil you down to a catch-phrase. You may have heard the following similar phrases in the office:

“Speak to Paul, he’s the numbers guy and can help you”

If you have any trouble, Dianne understands the marketing side best”

“If we’re going to make this client pitch tomorrow, we need Angelica involved. No one can pull it off like her and certainly not in the time we have”

For these catch-phrases to mean something they cannot be once-off references. If Paul is generally the person people go to when it comes to finance problems, if Paul positions himself as a finance specialist, if he is recognised as the finance specialist, then that is what Paul is known for. Whether he likes it or not, Paul’s actions have resulted in his brand choosing him.

Meet Diane in Sales

What you are known for within the office can be flattering or unflattering and intentional or unintentional. For example Diane may think of herself as an upcoming sales star, but the perception around the office is that she tries too hard in sales meetings and flirts with customers.

Diane may think this is all part of making sales, and feels her colleagues understand this. They may very well introduce her as a sales star when she is within earshot, but it’s what’s said when she is not around what counts. And when she is not around she’s known as the one who flirts to land a sale. This is an example of an unflattering image. Again, Diane may be asking herself, “How do I choose my brand?” However, her behaviour and choices resulted in a brand image she may not like.

Meet Preston In Health Care

Preston has been doing the same job of loading data at a hospital for years. Yet there should be no doubt, he is a stellar performer. As a business analyst he was far more interested in the operations side, but due to staff cuts and data problems he was asked to fix this problem. He did a great job, probably too good a job. His superiors kept him in this role and even the CEO, John Hennessey, mentioned his work in the quarterly report to employees. Unfortunately for Preston he is nothing more than a data jockey. It makes him unhappy and despite his efforts to break out of this role, he feels stuck. This is an example of an unintentional image. Its flattering, but not where Preston wants to be. Preston never wanted to be known as a data jockey but circumstances have led to this. Despite Preston’s dreams of moving into another role, he has been boxed into being known as a data jockey.

Is your career choosing you?

If what you currently known for is not what you want to be known for, what should you do?

  • Keep a record, over a month, of the work you are asked to do, review and/or advise upon. Make a list of the type of meetings you are invited to and the emails you receive.
  • Record the jokes people make about you (“Oh, Ria is not free on week nights. She is the super hero guardian of our data servers”). Lots of truths are conveyed as a joke.
  • When you offer co-workers any help, record the type of help they request. They usually jump to the one thing they believe you are best at.
  • Track both technical and non-technical things. Do people view you as trustworthy, honest, reliable, respectful etc.

Once you have this information, you can build a portrait of yourself. Take a clean sheet of paper and draw two columns. One is labeled “technical” and the other is labeled “non-technical”. Be sure to use only half of each column. You will need the second half later.

On one side of a page write down all the technical things that were linked to you and on the other write down all the non-technical things. Be brutally honest with yourself.

Look at the list. Is this who you thought you were? How do you feel about this? Are you happy? Do you feel proud?

It is okay and normal to be surprised at your co-workers perception of you. Especially if this is the first time you have done the exercise. All is not lost. This difference in perception is normal and happens in everyone’s career at some point. Usually it happens more than once. Take a deep breath and go make yourself some tea or coffee.

Once you have your coffee or tea, let’s do another exercise. On the same sheet of paper, on the half which is blank, write down the technical and non-technical things for which you want to be known for. Be careful when you do this. Focus on one or two things. Like any good brand you cannot be known for everything or too many things. That is not possible. A classic mistake is to focus on the technical skills only. In business, things like values and honesty are usually very important. Make sure you pay proper attention to these. Once you have this list, save it and come back to it in a day or two. This gives you time to think about the list and ensure it is complete in your mind.

Now compare this list to the list with your colleague’s perceptions. Is there is a big difference? In what way is there a difference? Write these down as well. Now think about your typical work week. How can you do things differently, or do new things to show a change in your behaviour. You cannot tell people you have changed, you need to show them.

When you get into the office, you need to keep the new list at the back of your mind and consciously think about the image you are conveying. If you do things correctly you will notice a change in your colleagues’ behaviour. In fact, you will feel a difference in your own behaviour because you are changing.

In about 3-4 months repeat this exercise and see if there are any changes in your co-workers perceptions. Remember, perceptions take time to change so don’t be disheartened if it takes too long. The important thing is to be conscious of your image and actively manage it.

Over time, co-workers will notice you are a different person. At this point you may want to actively enage your manager about a new role. Show him or her a summary of your analyses and explain why it is ineffective using your skills. Remember, you need to show why both the company and you will benefit from the change in roles.

It is a misconception that this “boxing-in” of what you are know for happens to weaker employees. Even the best performers can be stuck in a career loop. It requires self-awareness to identify this and build a way out. These steps will definitely help you.

How do I find a mentor?

One of the most important things you should do, at any stage of your career, is to find a mentor. Without a mentor, your climb up your career ladder may be a bit shaky, or you may even fall off.

Some companies already have mentorship programmes in place. Once you join, the company assigns a mentor to you. This mentor’s role is to help you develop yourself professionally. Assigned mentors are good but usually not great.

Since assigned mentors must carry out this role, they usually lack passion, are over-burdened and simply go through the motions. Therefore it is important that when you join and have the option of having a mentor, you should try to have some influence in the process.

If you are assigned a mentor who is not very helpful, work with them, but try to find yourself another informal mentor. There is no reason you cannot have more than one mentor.

When you are new, you are not aware of all the rules and processes, therefore having two mentors allows you to have checks and balances in place. Two mentors serve as a healthy sounding board.

How do you choose a mentor?

First, as much as you need to select a mentor, he or she also needs to select you.

Avoid mentors co-workers recommend as:


“John has been here for 30 years and knows this business inside and out”, or

“Shirley is easy to work with and people like her”.

People who are friendly sometimes try to be “liked” too much, and at the expense of providing good advice. Good advice is not always popular or well received and they may be unwilling to do this.

Usually it is a subconscious style and they don’t even know it is happening. Either way, you do not benefit. You want a mentor who has demonstrated real success in the business, is respected for those skills and will push you to reach your potential rather than make you feel good about yourself.

Do not confuse a mentor and a friend. Friends in the office are the nice people who show you around and go for coffee with you. Mentors push you to be your best.

Look for a mentor who knows how to succeed and someone who wants you to succeed. If you are mentored by someone who took 8 years to be promoted, the odds are they do not know how to progress, or worse, they think 8 years in one position is normal. That will just slow you down. You need to find someone who is open-minded and if you progress faster than they did, they are fine with this. They need to want to see you succeed.

Find a mentor who does not have a big ego. Some mentors like  the role since it implies they are guiding junior employees. These are not mentors. They are employees who seek to feel important by working with junior people.

It is best to find a mentor who is not involved in your business unit. Your mentor must not be involved with you on a day-to-day basis. They must be able to offer a fresh perspective and this is not possible if they work with you on a daily basis.

Your mentor is not your champion. Do not expect them to come out and publicly support you or champion you. That person is called your “champion” or your “sponsor”. Your mentor guides you to help you achieve your potential.

Do not pick mentors based on their so-called “political” networks in the business. Whether you like it or not, you are too new to the business to understand the “in-crowd” nor can you trust a co-workers judgement on this. Remember that political “parties” come and go, even in business. It is better to operate outside this circle.

Your mentor is not someone you speak to daily, weekly or even monthly. At best you may speak monthly but it’s usually less frequent. A good mentor is not going to get involved in the details, and you should not expect them to. They are helping you plan the arc of your life and career. An arc is developed over many months and usually years. They want to discuss your plans and ideas, and strategy to achieve your goals.

Things about which you should be extra careful

“How do I do that?” is probably the sentence that annoys mentors more than anything else, especially if it is the standard response you have to their advice. Mentors do not like getting into the operating detail. They do not have the time and do not have access to all the information you know to answer this question correctly. Moreover, having to answer this question tells the mentor you are likely not worth their time.

Mentors will provide guidance and ideas. It is your job to find a way to execute this advice. If a mentor tells you “it is important for you to build a good relationship with finance director”, it will really annoy your mentor if you will ask “How?”.

Your mentor is not there to hold your hand. If you want a good mentor, make sure you are at the state where you are capable of using the knowledge and guidance you receive. Simply having a good mentor is not enough. You have to be a great mentee.

When your mentor outlines an idea, it is your job to figure out how to make it happen or at least present your high level thoughts.

Demonstrate respect and courtesy to your mentor at all times. Show your appreciation. They are not paid to do this, it takes away their time and they are making an investment where the payback is not at all clear. Show that you are actively using their advice. Make them proud of you. Validate their decision to help you.

Picking a mentor post-crises

If you want to be really successful then it is very important you find a good  mentor or two.

In my experience, don’t be hasty to pick one as soon as you start. Take a few months to find one. In fact, wait until after you have been through a small crisis at the office. When there is a problem then the internal power structure of an organisation shows itself and you can quickly see how and who makes decisions. You need this to understand how the company works and the guidance you specifically need.

Developing a career track

A career track is important to develop. When I join a company, like everyone else I am very excited and prepared to focus on building myself to move ahead. I think long and hard about my career track. Both my employer and I need to benefit from the relationship.

However, before I can start discussing my planned career track with my boss, I need to show my employer that I am excellent in my current position and due to the excellence in my current position I have permission to start thinking about and planning my career.

Jane’s Career Track

Let me give you an example. Jane is a 29 year old business analyst at a paper company. Jane is a public certified accountant and holds an MBA. She is bright, ambitious and well liked by her colleagues. Jane arrives at work promptly at 8:30am every day and leaves at 6:30pm. She is a great colleague and her co-workers like socialising with her. Jane has been an analyst for 6 months and is desperately trying to have a conversation with her manager, Karl, about moving ahead to the next level. Karl politely sidesteps these discussions and simply tells Jane she needs more experience. Jane is puzzled and keeps pressing the issue. She believes her career is on track to be Karl’s “lieutenant” in the department.

To Karl Jane is good at her work but not great. He still needs to check and sign-off all her work. She is not creative enough. While her work is good she is usually at her best when she knows what needs to happen and “disappears” for 1 to 2 weeks to complete the assignment.

To Karl Jane needs to have better attention to detail, she needs to be more creative and understand the business better. In Karl’s opinion, Jane does not act as if she is a senior business analyst and therefore does not yet have his permission to start transitioning her career to the next level. To Karl, she needs to focus on being better in her current role first. If anything,

Lessons for Jane

Jane should sit down with Karl and understand his expectations of her.

Jane must distinguish between explicit (“complete the businesses cases on each product launch, review the material for the management meeting etc”) and implicit expectations (“the team has been down recently so we hope to inject some confidence with your arrival, the analysts and marketers do not get along so I hope you can help us bridge that gap etc”).

Understand what is most important to Karl and the business.

The expectations must be clear to Jane, and where possible, be measurable and have milestones.

Jane should also discuss with Karl her expectations of working with Karl. What support, guidance, and feedback she needs.

They must agree to proper feedback meetings at regular intervals and after each major piece of work is completed. They should also agree to a performance discussion every 3 months.

This is important, Jane must determine at which point Karl will be open to discussing her career progression. It is important to note that not all companies have formal career paths, so it is not a bad idea to be proactive.

Once this meeting is over, it is best to transcribe the discussion and send an email to Karl for his records. Jane must keep the email friendly but specific. Many people forget discussions. Capturing key discussion points protects both Jane and Karl.

How should Jane use this discussion with Karl?

Over the first six months of her job Jane must be laser-like focused in ensuring she is meeting Karl’s agreed on expectations of her. Her objective now is not to focus on her distant career track, but to make sure she excels in current role. Jane must document her progress and where possible have tangible evidence of her successes.

Three months after the expectations discussion, she should arrange a discussion with Karl to discuss performance. Prior to such meeting it will be helpful if Jane summarizes her performance on a single piece of paper.

Jane’s objective in this meeting will be to determine if she is meeting or exceeding Karl’s expectations. She needs to gain clear and constructive feedback. Jane should probe for examples and areas of improvement. If this first feedback meeting will not go well, then Jane needs to buckle down and fix those problems.

If it will go well, Jane then needs to focus over the next 3 months on fixing any small development areas. In these next 3 months Jane must start acting as if she is at the next level. Now she can start thinking about her career track.

She should be careful not to overstep her authority, but must use every opportunity to show she is already at the next level. For example, if the next level requires liaising directly with clients, should that opportunity present itself, Jane should engage a client and build a good relationship for the company.

If Jane does this well, then in Karl’s mind she is exceeding expectations in her current role, shows ambition and accountability, and he will likely be open to discuss her career plans. Karl will himself start thinking about Jane’s career track. He will not want to lose a talented employee and may even initiate the discussion himself.

This is a more effective way to progress in a company. Ensure you have the implicit permission of your manager to start thinking about the next level of your career track, and start acting as if you are already at the next level. Yet before you can do this, you must over deliver in your current role. No one wants to promote an employee who cannot perform in their current role, to a more senior role.