Do you have what it takes to stay relevant?
When she first tried Twitter, Cher said, she felt old and stupid: She was slow and clumsy with the social media channel; many of its other users were born well after her first hit song. But she persisted, she told a TV interviewer, because she wanted a real-time forum in which to express her views.
Now, 3 million fans follow the 70-year-old singer’s emoji-laced, widely shared tweets. By choosing to master Twitter, she has burnished her star power, boosted her brand and touched lives. In short, she stayed relevant.
In an era of disruption, technological advances, new workplace trends and constantly emerging communication styles, everyone needs to follow Cher’s example: Embrace change to stay relevant and effective.
Today, “relevant” means current and connected with what’s happening in your industry and the world. Doing so helps workers remain employable, relate to younger customers, influence the next generation and protect their careers. And it helps business leaders make better decisions.
Fail to stay relevant, and you become stale — as a person, leader, employee or organization.
Staying relevant involves more than just keeping abreast of current events or being aware of the changes around you. “Relevance is taking action to make sure you matter to your organization, your customers, your clients and your teams,” according to California-based management consultant Ross Shafer.
In fact, most workers are probably aware they need to evolve. In an online survey of 1,600 adults released in October, Illinois-based Pearson Embanet, a global learning company, found 72 percent of respondents said more education was needed to keep up with advances in their field and 69 percent of respondents said technology would significantly transform their job within the next five years.
So in the quest to “stay relevant” on the job, how do you begin?
The first step: Assess whether you have the tech skills you’ll need. And look at what colleagues and competitors are doing: What emerging technology are they adopting? Learn these tools, and become comfortable with them. There are efficiencies to be gained in the workplace by adopting new apps, software, platforms and devices. They can keep businesses and professional lives running more smoothly.
People are embracing the process of ongoing learning by experimenting, watching online tutorials, subscribing to newsletters, participating in webinars and certification programs, going back to school and asking younger employees for help. As designer Tory Burch says, “It’s important to be intellectually curious and always learning. Look at what companies and leaders that you admire are doing. How can you learn from them?”
Liza Walton, 42, principal at Miami Social Marketing, says she often learns tech skills from her young staff. When she recently had a problem with the newest software update for her iPhone, she resisted giving into frustration and asked young staff members for a tech tutorial. “People tend to lose out if they are not willing to ask someone to show them how.”
Of course, the constant emergence of new social media platforms can seem overwhelming, even scary for someone less adept at technology. But Walton says that’s not an excuse for not trying to keep up: “You should have an idea of what is part of the national ‘conscious,’ where people are getting information and how they are living their lives. If millions of people are using a platform, you should have some knowledge of it.”
Miami human resources consultant Sharlyn Lauby says it’s easy to dismiss learning opportunities because of a lack of time or work-life balance. However, she has conquered new social media outlets such as LinkedIn by starting small and finding friends to help her along.
She tries one new thing on the site every day and aims to become comfortable on it after 30 days. “You don’t have to be a super user in a week. We create opportunities to overwhelm ourselves and it doesn’t need to be that way,” says Lauby, founder of HR Bartender, an HR management and consulting firm.
Once comfortable, Lauby leverages the social media channel to discover trends, industry news and follow thought leaders in her industry. She also complements what she garners from social media with information from podcasts, blogs and email newsletters.
Another way to stay relevant: Improve your ability to listen.
In general, listening skills suffer as people get older, according to Ralph G. Nichols, a retired University of Minnesota professor and author of “Are You Listening?” But, of course, language and social trends change all the time. Today, it’s not enough to simply rely on what you already know. Ask the young people in your life open-ended questions — and listen carefully to the answers.
Dave Armstrong, president of Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 60, says listening well keeps both him and his college relevant — in touch with students, faculty and the wider world. Instead of leading staff meetings, he lets others take over so he can listen to his diverse team. Instead of just posting on social media, he listens to what his students are saying. And when he is out in the community, he absorbs what employers are talking about. His ability to listen, he says, has led to new courses, degrees and programs such as EMT-paramedic certification to be offered at his college. “I believe in challenging myself to be up on emerging trends and open to change,” he says.
Walton of Miami Social Marketing also says she has learned a lot from listening. By tuning into what her young employees are saying, she has learned the newest hashtags and useful apps, for instance, and how to better communicate through direct messages and texts. Walton says this skill has helped her stay relevant — which, in turn, has made her a better employer and more aware of how her employees want to work.
People of all ages are realizing that staying current in communication style can make a difference in collaborating with team members, building relationships and reaching customers. Just as grandparents are learning their grandchildren respond best to text messages, for instance, business owners are finding that their customers communicate on social media channels. As a grad student, I recently completed a four-week project with a 22-year-old classmate. When she failed to answer my phone calls, I did it her way — through email, text messages and online collaboration tools.
Miami-area financial advisor Karen Roberts of Emerald Financial Group recently converted her written newsletters to video newsletters after research showed her customers preferred it. “We send out a two-minute video once a month about here’s what is happening at our group.” Roberts, 51, says she and her assistant tried various video-sharing tools until they found one they could manage: “I’m not that old that I can’t change with the times. My goal is to be relevant forever.”
Keeping your network active also helps with staying relevant and can be done by joining alumni groups on LinkedIn, attending professional conferences and participating in online discussions.
Cher might agree with what Armstrong says: “The more you spend time with a diverse group of people, the more you are continually learning. And the more you force yourself outside your bubble, the more relevant you become.”
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.