Categories: Lessons from the Road
This month we bring you some Lessons From The Road from a leader at our Canadian partner, IBM. David Best is an Advisory IT Specialist and Accessibility Consultant in IBM Canada's Global Business Services division. He is also the Co-Chair of their People Enablement Network Group, which is a Business Resource group for IBM's employees with disabilities.
As I think back on my work experience, over the past 35 years, I come to realize how poorly prepared I was for confronting the real world challenges. Over that period I worked for six different major organizations, and felt like I was being driven forward by an invisible hand. No sooner did I resolve a workplace challenge, but like a mutating virus, it would pop up again and again in a different place and in a different form. The rapidly changing world, largely driven by the global digital transformation, creates new challenges every day. What worked yesterday may not work today. Like a cross country runner trying to keep up with his feet as he races down a steep hill, we continually struggle with the shape shifting corporate environments. Competition in the modern world is tough, and to succeed a business must be flexible and adaptable to comply with the changing social and legal demands. Today, career success can be measured in many different ways, but fulfilling your expectations, and the expectations of your employer, will greatly depend upon a common set of values. A clear understanding of these values and expectations are critical to your career success.
After graduating from university with a degree in Computer Science, I quickly learned that there was very little job supports for blind professionals and that competition in the IT sector was brutal. Over time, I developed three strategies, that allowed me to compete successfully in the marketplace. I share these, with the hope, that it will be helpful to young professionals preparing their career strategy.
1. A current understanding of changing technology, and how to effectively use the tools.
2. A current understanding of social networking, and building meaningful relationships.
3. A current understanding of educational opportunities, and actively pursuing knowledge and real life experiences.
The digital transformation has changed, and continues to change, the way we do business and how we interact with people and machines. Throughout my career I maintained a close connection with cutting edge technology and leading engineers, so that I could take advantage of new products and skills, that would allow me to be more productive and resolve workplace issues. Although digital technologies have greatly improved the quality of life for disabled persons, the dynamic nature and innovative designs of the beast, have created many more societal barriers, that challenge our stamina. In the past adaptive devices were not only very expensive, but often became obsolete before you had time to learn how to use it, and often created an interactive workplace barrier. I have always preferred mainstream solutions, and I'm very happy to see the emergence of special need devices and commercial products, as the adoption of universal design with accepted accessibility standards, become the new norm.
I cannot live without digital technology, and I cannot impress enough, the importance of investigating new technologies and taking the time to learn how to use your tools most effectively. I often hear people say they cannot take the time to learn the complexities of new products, but if you are serious about your career success then you cannot afford not to take the time. The expectation is that you will take ownership of your productivity, and fully participate in the business growth. With the proliferation of new technologies, this can be an overwhelming challenge. To support disabled employees, IBM has developed and implemented a new tool called the Accessible Workplace Connection (AWC), which serves as a global resource. Employees can browse a catalog of known solutions, and submit a request for accommodations, or request assistance in finding a workplace accommodation. This service reduces employee frustration, management involvement, and lengthy processing procurement time. In times of budget cut backs and increased office automation cost, this is an important tool in the smarter workplace strategy, that boosts productivity, innovation, and levels
Social networking, and connecting to real people, is also very important to achieve career success. We are all dependent on one another, in some way or another, and being independent means knowing when to ask for help. Creating an effective support network takes time, and an understanding of people. Networking with people is not the same as connecting with people, and your career success will depend upon trusting relationships. As the marketplace has shifted from the physical office to the virtual office environment, I have found this challenge to be increasingly more difficult. Hosting conference call meetings has made life a whole lot easier, by hiding the disability and reducing travel, but connecting at the personal level is less likely to happen.
At IBM we value trusting relationships, and Diversity groups are viewed as Business Resource groups that are encouraged to engage in cross team collaboration. Special events bring employees together to celebrate our cross cultural identity and to renew friendships. As the lead for the IBM Canada Business Resource group, for employees with disabilities, I strongly encourage members to actively participate in IBM events and community sponsored activities. This is the opportunity to connect with real people, demonstrate your abilities, express your passion, develop new skills, and build your professional brand. An organization may have a Diversity program, but that does not guarantee Inclusion, and only your active involvement will make that happen.
An ongoing educational strategy, not only in your core skills but in other areas of knowledge, is critical in achieving your career success. At no other time, in the history of the world, have we been given the opportunity to learn and share knowledge and experiences on a global scale. More than any other invention, the internet has freed the blind community from the bondage of ignorance, as we now have immediate access to news, email communications, books, live programs, and much more. However, like the rest of the world, the flood of information will overwhelm you, and a focused educational strategy will ensure your sanity. The shift from the physical classroom to the virtual online classroom, has created new challenges for disabled professionals, but I have found that there are many other learning options available. At IBM we have accessibility experts working on business solutions that will ensure the inclusion of disabled people in the interactive virtual world, as it becomes more integrated into the business environment. I have the privilege of working with IBMers all around the globe, and find this to be a tremendous learning experience. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of mentoring others, and sharing in their successes. Also, within IBM, I can take advantage of the huge resource of online books, multimedia presentations, podcasts, community groups, and much more to advance my knowledge. It is important, as you develop an educational strategy, that you align your skill development with your business strategies. This will help you to focus on what you need to learn, and align your expectations with the business goals.
So, career success is relative, and I believe success is a by-product, not an end in itself. However, since surveys show that about 75% of blind Canadians are unemployed, and about 20% live below the poverty line, I am thankful for a successful career. The key attributes in my career success are flexibility in adapting to change, high level of comfort in using the tools of the job, and good communication skills to build meaningful relationships. I believe the foremost challenge is to figure out where the world is headed, and ensure that you are prepared for tomorrow's arrival. Keep in mind, successes are built on failures, so imagine the possibilities and exploit the opportunities when they arise. I believe, as Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said, "be ready when opportunity comes; luck is the time when preparation and opportunity meet", is the key to career success. I invite you to visit me at: http://www.davebest.info.