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Crafting Sustainable Careers — Monique Valcour

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke Monique Valcour, Professor of Management at EDHEC Business School in Nice, France about crafting sustainable careers.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Tell us about your work on crafting sustainable careers.

Monique Valcour: MoniqueValcourCareers and Work/Family are both long-term interests of mine. Over time I’ve combined the two.  I think crafting a sustainable career must start from a foundation of deep self-awareness, understanding, for example, what am I good at,  what do I really care about, how can I keep learning, how can I follow my passions and make money from it so it’s truly sustainable.  This is about a work/life integration over the life course.

SF: Exactly,and this is what we’ve been doing here at Wharton and elsewhere with Total Leadership.  Asking people to clarify what’s really important (their vision and values), who’s really important and then asking them to try small experiments to better align their actions with their values. How do you help people know themselves better, to figure out what they are good at, to clarify and articulate what they care about, so that they can continue to grow, pursuing what maters? How do you help them gain the insight and the courage?

MV: It’s the importance of being proactive; reflecting and tracking. Everybody needs to be a social scientist and study their own experience.  I like to recommend an end of week review; what have you accomplished, what feedback did you get, when were you most engaged, what are your goals for next week? I suggest that people keep a file — word doc or email folder – of positive mentions or positive feedback, what was high impact.  Later they can bring these little threads together to better understand themselves.

SF: This is precisely what our guest last week, Gretchen Spreitzer, was reporting on from her own research at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business’ Center for  Positive Organizations and her new book with Jane Dutton, How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact. She reported that their study included tracking regularly and looking for patterns. This may be easy for us in academia with our students. But does it require a classroom, accountability and support? Without structure how do you maintain the discipline?

MV: Teresa Amabile, Professor at Harvard Business School, says it’s very powerful to have the experience of making progress. So, you can use goal oriented programs, note your progress, and give yourself a boost on a daily basis as you move toward your goal.

SF: Amabile’s Progress Principle is all about the benefits of identifying progress. So, how do you align your career with what you care about, what you value, what you are passionate about and make a living doing it? That’s challenging.

MV: People struggle with the feeling of being overloaded, having too much work, doing one-and-a-half jobs. With all that how can they get more training, how can they get out?  So they stay the course.

SF: How do you help? What can be done?

MV: Most of your career growth and learning happens in your job, not necessarily in school.  So it’s important to consider how to refocus, even slightly, at work.  How can you learn about other projects in your company, how can you work with others who energize you?

SF: People and projects are both opportunities for growth. You want to look for who you can connect with. What about our earlier caller who was seeking advice for his millennial niece on job crafting?

MV: Get your head out of the hole and look around. It’s up to you. See and learn what’s going on in your company. In what direction is your company going? Too many people feel as though they’re waiting to be picked off, which is frightening and stressful; the fear of being let go. She should have lunch with others outside her immediate circle, use LinkedIn to see what others do, use a company intranet to connect and post to it; spread her own capital. Brian, another caller, felt overwhelmed and felt that he couldn’t pivot.  I recommend that he try to find a mentor, a local association, to gain inspiration and to connect.  He can ask others about innovative ways they scaled their businesses.  He can try to identify those people, perhaps through industry events.  People are open if approached by someone who wants to learn.  You want your social network to reflect, not where you’ve been, but where you’re headed. Do informational interviews with others. Use LinkedIn and blogs in specific areas. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are often more effective if they are in a network that includes complimentary services/goods. It’s good to get and to receive help.

SF: So it’s useful to consider related fields and people in them. What other small changes can help get someone’s “head out of sand?”

MV: Figure out and understand what is it that you have that’s unique and valuable. Be curious so you can become more knowledgeable. Connect two disconnected networks, curate knowledge and share. Information is a classic source of power and reputation. Synthesizing is wonderful skill. Or find someone who can synthesize information and learn from them. Talk to as many people as possible, read, listen, learn. Listen to yourself, know yourself and what fuels you. Listen to your inner voice.


Monique Valcour isProfessor of Management, EDHEC Business School in Nice, France.  She previously served on the faculty of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.   Her research program focuses on careers, work-life integration, human resource and performance management, and management practices that support well-being and performance.  She is currently writing a book on managing sustainable careers. To learn more about her work, follow her on twitter: @moniquevalcour

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests

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