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Influencers

Work: Big ideas for 2014

The keys to career success in the new year (Thinkstock)

The keys to career success in the new year (Thinkstock)

Maybe you want to find a new job in 2014. Perhaps you just want to find a way to get ahead in your career. Or, you’re wondering how you can stand out in the new year.

This week, LinkedIn Influencers weighed in on what they see as the big ideas of 2014. When it comes to success at work, several themes emerged.

Among them: the importance of understanding and using data as an executive, the value of eschewing mentors in favour of finding champions and why communication skills will be more important than technical acumen.

Here’s what three Influencers had to say on the topics.

Jordy Leiser, co-founder and chief executive officer at StellaService

With data playing an ever-larger role in everything executives and managers do, what’s the key to success?  As the Chinese proverb says, when winds bring change some will build walls, and others will build windmills,” wrote Leiser in his post Big Idea 2014: You’ll be Replaced by a Moneyball Executive (Unless You’re One). “The people building windmills are the Moneyball Executives, the future all-stars of 2014.”

In the book Moneyball, a baseball manager navigates his team to success using untapped data and analytics, not gut instincts. “Every industry has its own set of metrics, ripe for the Moneyball Executive,” Leiser wrote.

“New tools and technologies have led to the explosion of new data sets around both consumer behaviour and business performance. Data-driven insight is rapidly finding its way into the hands of hungry executives looking to make smarter, more informed decisions on everything from advertising to patient care optimisation,” he wrote.

But, executives needn’t look at data blindly. Rather, the key is to find the right way to work data into strategy. “Every organisation will reap massive benefits from incorporating empirical analysis into its decision making,” Leiser wrote. The upshot, he added, is that doing so “will unlock even greater creativity by allowing individuals to attack old problems with light from new angles.”

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of Center for Talent Innovation & Hewlett Chivee Partners LLC

“Talented women, people of colour and gays too often stall before they reach the top. What can help them break free of the ‘marzipan layer,’ that talent-rich tranche just below senior management?,” asked Hewlett in her post Big Idea 2014: Find a Sponsor Who Believes in Your Potential.

The answer, Hewlett wrote, is “sponsorship — a strategic workplace partnership between those with power and those with potential.”

Sponsors are not mentors. Mentors are more like counsellors who act as a sounding board, offer advice and “can help you understand the unwritten rules, provide a map for the uncharted corridors to power and reveal ‘the business behind the business’,” she wrote.

“Sponsors, on the other hand, are people in positions of power who work on their protege’s  behalf to clear obstacles, foster connections, assign higher-profile work to ease the move up the ranks and provide air-cover and support in case of stumbles,” Hewlett wrote. “Mentors advise, sponsors act.”

Why does it matter? Without such sponsorship, Hewlett wrote, talented and ambitious professionals can “languish in the lower echelons — no matter how hard they work, no matter how well they perform.”

Of course, it isn’t east to find a sponsor. “For starters, sponsorship must be earned — by delivering outstanding performance, die-hard loyalty, and a distinct personal brand,” Hewlett wrote. Another challenge: finding a sponsor willing to go out of their comfort zone to help someone unlike themselves.

But finding a sponsor is worth it, she wrote. “Women with sponsors are 22% more likely to request getting assigned to a high-visibility team or plum project. And fully 68% of sponsored women feel they are progressing through the ranks at a satisfactory pace, compared to 57% of their unsponsored peers.”

Geni Whitehouse, countess of communication at Brotemarkle, Davis & Co LLP

The next year may be the year of the communicator, wrote Whitehouse in her post Big Idea 2014: Poor Communicators Need Not Apply.

“Technical skills matter. Doctors need to know the difference between an appendix and a kidney... Lawyers should be able to spout rules and regulations… Coders need to know their way around HTML5,” she wrote. “But in 2014, we are going to find those all-important technical skills sliding to second position in evaluating members of a profession. Communication, the skill that is often mentioned but rarely evaluated, is going to rise to the top of the list.”

But that skill goes beyond an ability to express yourself well. In 2014, the need for good communication will go much deeper, wrote Whitehouse. “As professionals, we have to get better at making information relevant — at explaining why the medical procedure is needed, how the tax law applies and why the judge ruled the way he did,” she wrote. “Information is everywhere. Data is piling up. Global transactions are moving at the speed of light. People who can make sense of the information are going to be more valuable than ever.”

Even beyond that core knowledge, argued Whitehouse, will be a need for nuance. That is, professionals who can act as “skilled translators who can tailor their message to meet the needs of different audiences.”

Developing this, wrote Whitehouse, could be the key to future career success. “People will be promoted based not on how smart they sound, but on how well they can rel