Agile working is coming

Saturday, 01 June 2013
Jonathan Winter discusses how employers and professionals can succeed in today's fast-paced world

Taking a look at my calendar for the past year confirms one thing: I am not immune from the global pace of change. Neither, I suspect, are you. Financial crises, increased regulation and the results of globalisation now affect us all in daily, practical ways. The way we obtain knowledge has changed, the way we do business has changed and the way we approach learning has changed. We are told to expect the unexpected. As some have put it, it’s a VUCA world – one full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. What does it take to succeed in this environment?

The answer is that we need to operate differently. In our organisations, and in our working lives, we need to be agile. Our focus can no longer be about long-range strategic planning and then executing the plan. All of us need to be more opportunistic: ready to spot and seize opportunities when they arise. Having the ability to change direction is a core capability for both. Moreover, employers and professionals need to be clearer about who is responsible for what.

In this article I will explore how an employer today can create a workplace that attracts talent, and how professionals can stay agile and at the top of their game. The rules of that game have changed, and so has the support you need from professional bodies like STEP.


In the past we knew what it took to be a good employer. Today, employers need to clarify the career deal or the psychological contract with every member of the team, if they want to create a place to work that attracts the best talent. This means that employers must make explicit:

  • what it takes to get ahead in their organisation;
  • what employees can expect from their managers; and
  • what the organisation will do to support its employees.

They must also take time to listen  to people who may have different expectations from their own. Success is subjective, so getting ahead means different things to different people. For some it may be promotion and progression up a career ladder. For others it may mean working with better technology, or with the best people, or working towards a part- time role or self-employment.

Similarly, what it takes to get ahead will differ depending on the organisation and the role. Success in one role could be about bringing in the billings, while in another role it may be about building a great network or developing new skills. Situations can change quickly for both organisations and individuals. Consequently, discussion of the employee’s objectives and their future career needs to happen frequently, typically every three to six months, rather than the traditional annual appraisal. Managers need to invest time with each key team member to hold this career conversation, or risk them underperforming or – worse – leaving altogether.

The career conversation should create space for an employee to talk about their goals as well as cover the work and project opportunities that are available to the employee. The conversation should also make clear what the organisation, and the employee’s manager, can do to support the employee’s development and progress. If you’re a manager, this is a chance to talk openly about some of the elephants in the room – things that people often discuss with their friends but not with their boss. For example, employers should make explicit how long they expect the employee to stay, either in the organisation or in a particular role. Smaller firms in particular should communicate their career deal to their employees as, in practical terms, career conversations tend to happen more informally in these organisations.


To stay at their peak, trust and estate professionals need to:

  • build their network;
  • clarify their professional brand;
  • plan their professional development; and
  • develop skills to manage change.

An employee’s professional brand can be summed up as the value they add to projects, people and their organisation. What do people say after you’ve left the room? That is your brand. Employees need to be clear on the value they can offer professionally, and become known for it. The employee’s network can help them clarify their professional brand. The ability to manage change is also a core capability for individuals. It is important that they are able to adapt to change as they move from one role or project to the next. Trust and estate professionals also need to be able to build a strong network and plan their professional development in order to succeed in their role.

In terms of planning professional development, blended learning is key. Blended learning is based on a 70:20:10 ratio. That’s a rule of thumb recognising that 70 per cent of knowledge is learned on the job, 20 per cent of knowledge comes from colleagues and 10 per cent of knowledge comes from formal learning. If your learning plan amounts to a list of courses, you’re only thinking about the 10 per cent.

Indeed, STEP has recognised this and will be launching its new approach to CPD in October this year, providing a CPD policy and a new online CPD recording tool that encourages STEP members to focus on the value of their learning, wherever and however that happens, and to ensure it is relevant to their role at work.

Using a blended learning approach will ensure that every opportunity for learning is seized during the course of your job, e.g. to improve capability to be a better technical professional, or to work with experienced colleagues and learn from them. The employee takes responsibility for their own learning, with opportunities facilitated by their organisation and their manager.

This approach to professional development is more agile as it takes into account the employee’s working environment, which in many cases is constrained by time. So trust and estate professionals need to be able to clarify their professional brand, plan their development and improve their skills to manage change if they are to remain at their optimal performance, but their biggest asset is perhaps their network. An employee’s network can encompass face-to-face as well as online connections. The greater the degree of connection, inside and outside your organisation, the stronger your network. It’s important to understand that it’s not the number of people you know, but their diversity and links across different fields that will help build a strong network. 


Insight from a networker: Hayden Bailey tells us how STEP has helped him build a strong collection of contacts

How many STEP events do you attend?

There are usually about ten branch events a year and I try to attend as many as I can; I usually manage about eight.

How do you pick which events to attend?

I don’t always attend based on the lecture topic. The speakers are invariably of high quality and the subjects interesting. For me it is as much about being part of the branch and getting to know other members as it is about the CPD.

Do you follow up new links after events?

I do, but I should be better at it. A great range of professionals attend, including accountants, lawyers, bankers, financial advisers, trustees etc – essentially anyone who has done or is doing the STEP qualification. It is helpful to get to know people in these different areas.

How has STEP helped your networks?

The STEP City of London branch events are generally technical, so the attendees work on complex and interesting structures. If I have a matter where I need particular expertise, there is usually someone in the branch who can help.

How do you establish connections inside and outside your organisation?

Get to know people in other departments and ensure that they know what your specialism is and that you will do a good job. It can be harder to show ability to an external firm you have not worked with before. There is value in building relationships both inside and outside your firm.

Is your network focused on your area of expertise, or across different fields?

Clients can come from all areas, and sometimes your expertise can stand out in an unfamiliar network. However, it is sensible to have a focus and to make an effort to understand those firms you would be happy working alongside and which share the same attitudes.

How has your network strengthened your professional brand?

A network of contacts can let you stand back and consider what you have to offer and how to differentiate yourself from others in the field.

What networking advice do you have?

Don’t be afraid to say hello to the person sitting next to you. They are probably wondering how they go about saying hello to you!

Author block
Jonathan Winter

Jonathan Winter is founder of Career Innovation.

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