Sprinting to the Starting Line

Finish-Start-RoadCelebrating 2015 and preparing for 2016.

As we approach the 2015 FINISH line, we run straight into the START line for 2016. There should be a break between finishing this year’s holiday dash to New Years Eve before the pistol fires signifying the start of the New Year, but alas, this year’s FINISH line and next year’s START line are one and the same on life’s racetrack.

As we look back on 2015, we also look optimistically forward to what 2016 holds for us, but too often with a fragile determination. It’s difficult to keep our resolve throughout the year – keeping up a frantic pace through the whole race. One of the problems is that we tend to sprint right out of the starting blocks – a pace that is not sustainable for the entire 365-day dash. We become disheartened when we start to lose our breath, and after a few unexpected obstacles re-route the course that we had rehearsed in our minds, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Runners have a race strategy. They pace themselves and are prepared to adjust their game-plan as needed. Here are some strategies for running your race – whether it be personal, professional, or a combination of both:

  1. Celebrate what you’ve already achieved. Take time to reflect on your successes over the past year. Reflect and acknowledge what has gone well. Start the habit of a positive outlook – viewing successes and victories. Look through your calendar and list the highlights. If you have had performance reviews from your workplace, look through them and take note of your progress, your accomplishments and achievements. For those of you who tend to focus on the negative, suppress that tendency…for at least a moment – celebrate what went right! Enjoy the progress that you’ve made.
  2.  Visualize your finish. Have you ever watched athletes visualizing at the top of a ski run or the beginning of a gymnastics routine? They pre-rehearse in their minds every step of their performance. They are visualizing success, not what could go wrong. Many will also visualize themselves on the podium, seeing themselves as the victor. What does your victory podium look like? Where do you want to be 1 year from now – next New Years Eve? What specifically would you like to have achieved? What does it look like, sound like, feel like? Don’t worry – your visualization isn’t cast in stone, but it does serve as a motivation for striving forward. As Steven Covey exhorts in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Start with the end in mind”.  Know where you want to go, then you’ll have a better chance of actually getting there. For you, it could be mastering a new skill or area of knowledge. It could be obtaining certification or earning a promotion.  MAKE SURE YOUR END-GOAL IS MEASURABLE! It isn’t very effective to set vague goals like, “I want to exercise more”, or “I want to keep my desk tidier”, or “I want to be more generous”. Instead, make your goals measurable:  ”I want to be able to do 100 push-ups, 200 squats, 300 crunches and 5-minute planks in one workout, and run 25 kms per week”; or “I want to keep my desk tidy for 90-days straight”; or “I want to have donated $3000 to various charities by the end of the year”. Those are concrete and measurable. With concrete goals you can track your progress and easily determine when you have succeeded.
  3. Break your end-goal into smaller goals. Standing 365 days away from your end-goal can feel overwhelming, especially if it is an ambitious goal. It’s hard to see your progress and stay motivated when when you are only focused on a distant ambition. If you want to improve your sales numbers by 100%, merely measuring yourself against that end-goal will most likely make you feel frustrated if you only achieved 9% during the first month – “only 91% to go…arghh!” But if you break your goal into smaller chunks, in this example months, you would realize that 9% is well on the way to SURPASSING your end-goal, which would only require 8.4% per month to be reached. Take whatever your year-end goal is and determine what sub-goals would be required to achieve the end-goal? What would you need to achieve in the first month? Second month? If you stumble and miss a milestone, you can make it up by the next milestone. Don’t let yourself be syched out by the how far away the end-goal is – focus on the next interim goal!
  4. Have an accountability partner. It’s easier to maintain momentum when someone is either working with you or is helping to stay accountable and on the desired path. My wife and I exercised for a year-and-a-half together. When one didn’t feel like getting up early to start our routine, the other would push (or pull) the other out of bed. Just hearing my wife get up and start to get ready had a magical pull on me to get up and get ready even though I didn’t feel like it. You might notice that I am speaking in past tense! When our schedules changed and we started working out individually, it didn’t take long until neither of us were working out. (I can assure you that getting back into shape is on my list of goals for 2016!)  Your accountability partner isn’t necessarily someone who will roll you out of bed in the morning, but rather someone who you can meet with on a regular basis and report your progress. You want them to be encouraging, understanding, helpful and a cheerleader. When you miss an interim goal, they can help you refocus. When you make an interim goal, they celebrate with you. This could be anyone: a spouse, a friend – especially if they have similar goals, a boss, a colleague,…or a perhaps a career/leadership coach (a shameless plug).
  5. Re-evaluate at each milestone. At each milestone briefly ask yourself, “do I need to adjust my end-goal?”; “Do I need to adjust my interim goals?”  Perhaps you need to INCREASE your end-goal objective? Or maybe it’s more realistic to lower the expectations if you’ve missed a number of interim goals in a row. Each milestone is a natural place to adjust and re-focus if need be.
  6. Celebrate along the way. Don’t wait until you’ve reached the end-goal to reward yourself. As you meet your interim goals, ensure that you celebrate your successes. It will help propel you through the next interim goal. Enjoy the journey!


Kevin SchaferKevin Schafer is a Career & Leadership Coach, Principle at Cardinal Career Management Services, and an Ambassador with Career Professionals of Canada. He has 16 years experience in High Tech and 10 years experience in the Career Development field. Kevin has worked with over 500 clients and facilitates workshops for various job search topics.




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FROM GOOD TO GREAT! Attracting and Keeping Clients

Client HandshakeLast week I had the privilege of co-presenting a workshop with Wayne Pagani (W.P. Consulting & Associates) at CANNEXUS 2014 – the National Career Development Conference in Ottawa. The title of our workshop was “FROM GOOD TO GREAT! – How to Attract and Keep Clients”.

As a group, we first did some brainstorming, listing the general characteristics of POOR service delivery along side the characteristics of GREAT service delivery. We later applied these lists to our own field of Career Development. Here are some of the points that we explored:

  • Rude
  • Impersonal
  • Shows no interest
  • Feel like a number
  • Service provider appears to be more interested in $$$$ signs
  • Inferior content or product
  • Sold something that is not a fit
  • Gives excuses
  • Doesn’t listen
  • Focused on self or the company
  • Inconsistency of service
  • Delays in fulfillment
  • Caring
  • Listening
  • Acknowledgement
  • Good followup
  • Going out of one’s way – above and beyond the call of duty
  • Smiling
  • Competent in service
  • Friendly
  • Kind
  • Consistency of service
  • Treated as an individual – not as a “client clone”
  • Communicates appreciation for client’s patronage – sometimes by simply saying “thanks” and sometimes in concrete ways
  • Responsive to complaint or concerns
  • Do what they say they will do
  • No waits


Someone at the workshop summarized “great service” as, “Treating the client the way that I would like to be treated in that situation”. I think that’s a wonderful rule of thumb – basically the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Who of us wants to be served in the manner represented by the left column? In contrast, who would not be thrilled to be served in the manner represented by the right column?

An important point we observed is that GREAT SERVICE DOESN’T FINANCIALLY COST OUR BUSINESS ANYTHING! It’s a mind-set and way of treating people as important individuals! It might cost a little bit of time and effort, but I’m sure that most everyone would agree that the benefits greatly outweigh the costs.

While those who deliver poor service likely have excuses that seem good to them (a bad day, excessive pressure, I hate my job, the processes are cumbersome, etc.) in the end there is a cost to the business as well as to the individuals themselves. As a business, we lose repeat business from each dissatisfied client, and likely all the other potential clients that this individual will warn about the poor level of service. As an individual, if we allow ourselves to slip into the habit of delivering poor service, we also hurt ourselves – developing bad habits and attitudes that will hamper us in our professional growth and advancement. So let us all put aside the excuses! Get to the root of the problem and resolve it! There is no good excuse for poor service!

The benefits of great service are many. It provides a professional experience that the customer will likely want to come back and experience again. For those bean-counters who are focused on the bottom line – repeat business means increased revenue! And if the client is thrilled with their service, they will want to tell the world about the great service they received – meaning even more revenue! Our business relies on word-of-mouth referrals, and you can’t buy advertising like that! On a personal level, those individuals who practice great service are more likely to be recognized for their level of service and have more opportunities to advance professionally. They are also creating great personal habits (being friendly, being competent, honouring one’s commitments, etc.) that will help them in any walk of life.

As Career Development Professionals, we challenged ourselves in some practical ways for delivering GREAT service:

  • Ensure that the client’s FIRST ENCOUNTER with the organization, usually a phone call, is a great experience – friendly, no waits, prompt followup
  • RELATE – use language and vocabulary that the client will understand throughout their experience with us
  • EMPATHIZE with their situation – relate to them as an individual
  • LISTEN to their accomplishments, achievements and “proud moment” stories
  • Become your client’s BIGGEST FAN – provide encouragement
  • Find your client’s VALUE PROPOSITION for the marketplace – show competence as a Career Professional
  • Find OPPORTUNITIES and LEADS for your client – look for opportunities to open new doors for them
  • Be a strong ADVOCATE for your client – speak on behalf of your client where possible
  • THANK your client for their patronage! Thank them in concrete ways for referrals (gift cards, etc.)
  • Embrace CONTINUOUS LEARNING – maintain and grow your competencies
    • Read industry-related books, news, articles and posts on career strategy topics
    • Join a peer-mentorship group
    • Find a mentor who can help you address your specific issues
    • Network and share ideas with other professionals – LinkedIn, forums, etc.

At the workshop, our final challenge was, and it’s a challenge that I leave with all my Career Development colleagues out there, what one or two actions can YOU take to improve your organization’s client experience? You don’t have to solve all the issues at once – just one step at a time. If you are a front-line service professional, what single point above can you improve that would have the most impact? What are the barriers? How can those barriers be addressed? What is your next step?

If you are not be on the front lines – an administrator, executive or middle manager – what impacts do your policies, procedures and processes have on your front-line service providers and their ability to deliver GREAT service? How can you make it easier for your front-line staff to achieve some of the points above?

I would be amiss if I didn’t point out that Career Professionals of Canada is a great association that provides many of the professional development opportunities mentioned above for Career Development Practitioners – peer-mentorship, tele-conferences, forums, social networking, training, awards, career development resources and a members’ service directory. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already! www.careerprofessionals.ca


Kevin Schafer
Cardinal Career Management Services

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