About six months ago, I set up a network, “young and in gov” for bright, ambitious people working in and around local government.
When we held an event in Hertfordshire recently, three talented officers from the County Council came to speak to us, and shared the lessons they’ve learnt from their combined years in local government. Far from being any other generic careers talk, full of bland advice about the range of opportunities within that specific local authority, or how well everything had gone for them through “sheer luck and hard work”, we were treated to an honest, direct and inspirational session which is worth sharing more widely for others starting out in their local government (or indeed any) career:
1) ‘Orbiting’ is ok – one of the best questions we had at the event was from a woman concerned that she had been working for six or seven years, and was no longer on the same steep learning curve she had been when she first started her career. She felt like she was no longer on a rocket-fuelled journey to the top of the ladder, but was instead ‘orbiting’. Was that ok? Yes, was the firm answer from the speakers. Sometimes, you make a conscious choice to be comfortable in your career for a few years. You may have other major changes going on in other aspects of your life – a new house, perhaps, or a baby – and to succeed in life (rather than just your career) you can’t be fighting fires on all fronts
2) Leave when the stuff that used to annoy you doesn’t anymore – we had many variations on the “should I leave my job?” question. There is obviously no hard and fast answer to this notoriously difficult issue, but this point really stuck in my mind. You know the processes you wish you could change, the ones that would make your organisation more efficient, or a better place to work? Think for example of the form that needs to be signed by three people which you really ought to be able to do yourself, online, the “that’s not in my job description so I’m not doing it” mentality of the person next to you? When they no longer annoy you, but instead you accept them as part of the quirks of the job, then it’s time to leave.
3) Don’t be afraid of difficult messages – especially if they’re backed up by sound data and competent analysis. Instead, if you’re in the position of delivering an unwelcome message to an individual or group, say what you have to say and say it quickly and clearly – most people will stop listening once you’ve imparted the bad news.
4) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable – putting yourself in challenging situations at work can be stressful, awkward and exhausting, but this discomfort is a key tool in progressing and developing throughout your career. Finding the right balance of uncomfortable new projects or activities, and more comfortable familiar tasks will mean that you are stimulated and enjoy your work more, however stressful it might initially seem.
5) Some people can be difficult to work with, but that could be a help, not a hindrance – we all love to moan about our irritating colleague or clueless boss, but it was interesting to hear the speakers’ perspective on the emotive and often difficult issue of under-performing colleagues. Dealing with issues of peer underperformance sensitively and ensuring that the quality of the team’s work is not unduly impacted can be a huge challenge, but being exposed to a situation like this earlier in your career will increase your resilience later down the line. A key tip is to remember not to dismiss 100% of what a difficult colleague might say, though you’re tempted to, as that could mean you miss the 20% which is insightful and will help you. When struggling with a lack of leadership, it is important to recognise the opportunities this presents too. Having less senior presence on a team or project presents a real chance for you to develop your own skills and to step into that role where you can, without micromanagement or frustration.
I look forward to putting these useful and practical insights into practice personally, and hope that my fellow ‘young and in gov-ers’ will do too. We’ve got lots more plans in place for the future of this exciting network (including a data-focussed summer party next month!), so do get in touch if you’d like to get involved.