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What's your problem? - Q: TOO SOON TO SPECIALISE?

by JEREMY BULLMORE, now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: TOO SOON TO SPECIALISE?

I am a business studies graduate and have completed nearly one year of a two-year graduate training scheme with a large company. There is a chance that I may be offered a permanent role within this company soon Should I complete my final year's training and gain more experience by doing so, or start in a permanent and more specialised role with this company as soon as one becomes available?

A: This is a more difficult decision now than it would have been only a few years ago. I would have found it easy enough then to make sonorous parental noises: reminding you of your obligations, firmly advising you to stay the full course of your training scheme, pointing out that you might never again be offered an opportunity to gain general experience, and painting in lurid colours the long-term risks of premature specialisation.

Today, however, it's not so obvious. If your specialised role is part of the e-revolution (which sounds likely), it just might be too good an offer to refuse. Things move so quickly that a year's experience in that sort of job can be equivalent to five or more years in the old way of doing things.

So check it through carefully. If you think there's a reasonable chance of another permanent job, at least as interesting, being open to you at the end of your two full years, curb your impatience, stay the course and complete your training. For all the boringly responsible reasons given above, you won't regret it. But if you have a strong instinct that the specialised opportunity open to you now might just be one of those never-to-be-repeated, fast-lane affairs, then cross your fingers and go for it.

And if you're really wise, you'll use any spare time you might have trying to pick up the wider experience you elected to forgo.

Q: SHOULD I HIRE A FRIEND?

I need to hire an outside agency to do some advertising work for me.

I have identified the best candidate, but the person who would be handling the account is a friend of mine. I've always thought it was best to avoid working with friends, so I'm not sure whether to go ahead and ask him to do it.

A: By the best candidate, I assume you mean the best agency. And if it really is the best agency, then it should certainly house more than one person qualified to handle your account. One-man bands are dodgy; and if the one man is a friend, they're doubly so.

Getting the work you want out of an advertising agency is not always easy. You may find them slow; they may think you're too unadventurous.

Deadlines may come and go; fierce disputes about matters of subjective judgment are to be expected; tears and tantrums are not unknown. There may well come a time when you need to put your business up for review.

So your instinct is right: you'll find it much easier to weather all this if you and your account handler have an agreeable but entirely professional relationship.

Your friend can still be useful, though. Explain your reasons - then use him as an unofficial adviser on agency/client relationships.

Ask for guidance if you're not sure whether to use stick or carrot. That way, even if you finally need to move your business, your friendship can still survive.

Q: HOT-DESKING DISORIENTATES ME

My office has recently introduced hot-desking, as many of us work on our clients' sites out of the office, so we don't all need to have a permanent desk. But I hate coming into the office and grabbing the nearest desk available. I miss my own desk, which is always in the same part of the office, with my own files near it, and with people I know sitting nearby.

I find hot-desking disorientating and waste a lot of time trying to adjust to different surroundings. Is there any way I can bring this up without sounding like an outmoded dinosaur?

A: The picture you paint entrances me. There's this shiny-modern, techno-whirring office full of teenage techno-zealots - happy hot-deskers every one of them. And there's you, huddled at a different workstation every day, a deeply disgruntled dinosaur.

I just can't believe that you're as alone as you think you are. Before your management introduced hot-desking, there was presumably some form of staff consultation. If so, there must have been at least lip service paid to the need for trial, experiment, feedback - and modification if necessary. This is what you need to pick up on. But don't do it alone.

If you haven't yet exchanged views with some of your colleagues, start now. I'd be astonished if some of them didn't share at least some of your concerns.

Don't allow your pent-up feelings to magnify your discontent: keep it as cool and thoughtful as you can. Think it all through, not just from your point of view but management's as well. Identify and acknowledge any genuine advantages that the changeover has delivered. Then pinpoint the disadvantages and come up with some solutions.

With one or two others (don't make it confrontational), ask for some time with your line manager and offer your joint thoughts for improvement.

This should lead to some amicable concessions on the part of your company.

If not, and if everyone else is as happy as sandboys, then the fanciful picture I started with may not be so fanciful after all. In which case, of course, you'll have to move on.

Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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