Best Practices

Best Practices


Almost all big stock market gains and drops are concentrated in just a few trading days each year, and missing the best (or worst) of these days can have a dramatic impact on returns. For example, calculations show that missing just 20 days with the best returns during the 20-year period from 1998 to 2017 (5,036 trading days) would have reduced your average annualized return from 7.2 percent to 1.15 percent.

I think there is an analogous situation with regard to your career: You have to be invested in those key career moments that occur maybe once a year, and then make the most of those opportunities.

What do I mean by a key moment? These are the points in time during which you have a unique opportunity to make a significant impact on your company, and also on your personal reputation and career.

Of course, you can positively impact your career by doing a great job each year, setting and exceeding challenging goals, hiring and promoting great staff, acting as a role model for integrity and leadership, and so forth. I am not minimizing the importance of steady performance, but by seizing and succeeding in your moment, you can stake out a more significant step change in reputation that could catapult you to the next level of your career.

First you have to recognize the moment, and you have to do this early enough to have the best chance of success. In my experience, the key indicators of such a moment are the following:

The outcome will have a material impact on the companys overall reputation or financial performance.

The situation is challenging, and this is recognized at a high level within your company or industry.

The situation is complex and requires significant resources, teamwork and leadership to be successfully concluded.

The outcome will be evident and measurable within the short- to medium-term, say three to 18 months.

The situation can either be one that is created by circumstances out of your control, or one that you or your company have purposefully created. Examples of the former could be a supply crisis due to some catastrophe, such as a weather event or a supplier problem; a customer or OEM-driven challenge to deliver a new product on a tight timeline; a company- or board-driven challenge to deliver a difficult level of profitability improvement, etc.

Examples of self-driven situations could be the delivery of a significant new product line, launch of a new marketing campaign or execution of a significant efficiency program.

Once you recognize the moment, you have to decide if this is indeed a moment you want to seize. It may be that the situation is squarely in your bailiwick, and in such a case, you have to seize the moment and turn it into success. Sometimes you have a choice, such as in a situation where the company intends to set up a new team tasked with resolution of the problem or opportunity.

Perhaps you have been asked to step into the leadership position of this new team, or maybe you are considering volunteering to do so. Being offered such an opportunity is usually a compliment and shows that your company has confidence in you, and you should happily accept the opportunity. The only circumstances in which you might turn such an opportunity down are if the position is clearly a step down in responsibility (in which case you need to understand the message being sent), or if the position creates an undue level of personal hardship that you can explain.

Once you have seized the opportunity, you need to clearly define your mission and get agreement from management. It will do no good if you believe you have delivered success but your management expected an even better outcome, or one delivered in a shorter time or with much less resource. Set some expectations with your management team as to what success looks like and how it will be measured.

Next, evaluate the type and magnitude of skills and experience that you need on your team and get approval so that you can proceed with staffing. Be sure not to skimp on either quality or quantity of the initial team so you can get off to a fast start. You may need to modify the staffing requirements as the project proceeds.

Set up the process for upward communication to your management, as well as to your team and to the wider company, if necessary. Be sure to consider the decision-making process for your team and how they will interact with the rest of the organization, as this can be tricky and contentious. Do a risk assessment early on so that you have a grasp on the biggest risks to the project and how they can be mitigated. Share the risk assessment with management so they are on board. All of these steps are part of the overall execution of the moment, and are key to achieving success.

It is important that you not declare success too early in the process. Be sure that the mission has met or exceeded its targets and that its outcome is sustainable. Then you can turn your attention to winding down the team, handing off activities and communicating the outcomes. Here are some tips for this phase:

Ensure that your staff are properly taken care of and phased back into their former roles or promoted to better ones. A truly successful outcome should enhance the careers of all key contributors.

Pay attention to the recognition process and consider whatever special bonuses or other tools you have to reward those who have contributed.

Make sure that if activities are handed off to others, they are done with full understanding of the situation and what actions are needed to ensure continued success.

Write a close-out report on the overall project and review it with your management team. Consider gathering and sharing lessons learned.

If you have successfully recognized, seized and executed your moment, you should be recognized and rewarded accordingly!

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Email her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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