Monday, June 9, 2008

Actively Manage Your Career to Stay On Top of Your Game

Frightening statistics show how many of us lack active control of our careers. I offer these focal points to actively managing our careers.

I’ve recently made a decision to leave a comfy job I’ve held for 6 years after hitting the glass ceiling in that organization. I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve decided to follow my aspirations and to make an effort to fulfill what I think is my potential.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve had to accept a 20% pay reduction and a significant drop in rank and authority in my new job (4 months now) all for future prospects.

In a very unblogger like manner I haven’t shared my thoughts, conflicts, decisions and conclusion. In retrospect I believe I wanted some time off the thinking and I chose to write about different topics. I believe some ideas are now coming to fruition and I’ll be writing more about career in the near future.

My recent experience really focused my thinking regarding active career management. Managerial skills are often thought of as bossing people around, leading a team, a department or whatever association jumps to mind. I believe managerial skills are much more. We constantly manage everything around us with the most relevant subjects to this blog being our finances and our careers.

Embracing the thought of managing yourself is crucial, in my opinion, to completely unlocking our potential and understanding our important place in the processes that take places in our lives.

A look on the following statistics gives us a frightening picture of how many people lack active control of their careers:

  • Half of all Americans today say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from nearly 60 percent in 1995. But among the 50 percent who say they are content, only 14 percent say they are ‘very satisfied.’ (The Conference Board. Additional results from the supplemental survey conducted by TNS in August 2004 include:

  • 40% of workers feel disconnected from their employers.

  • Two out of every three workers do not identify with or feel motivated to drive their employer's business goals and objectives.

  • 25% of employees are just “showing up to collect a paycheck.”

  • More than eight in 10 workers plan to look for a new job when the economy heats up, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Professionals (CNN Money).

I’ve made an effort to map out the most significant points of active career management. I’ve been deliberately stingy writing on each specific point. Should you be interested I’ll expand on each point in a different post more thoroughly. Here they are:

#1 Be Active

I’ve met many people who happily drift away with the flow going where life takes them. The last thing I’m going to do is criticize this approach to life as it usually leads to healthier more stress and care free living. There is a price of course.

For those of us who aspire to control their careers and lives and have a clear view of where they want to be this approach is guaranteed to lead to frustration. Living passively basically transfers control of your life to your environment. Reacting instead of acting is, by definition, narrowing your options and possibilities. An active approach is the first basic step to career management.

#2 Make decisions

Active management requires decision making. Without developing the ability to make clear cut decisions and following them you probably won’t be able to make progress. Decision making is difficult since taking one course of action renounces the other. There is no forward movement without decisions.

#3 Accept Tradeoffs

Decisions produce tradeoffs. Letting go of possibilities is never easy but is required in order to fully focus on the path you decided on. The inability to accept tradeoffs often leaves us in a place of permanent indecision and consequently inaction and stagnation. Letting go of hypothetical or old options is a crucial step in fully focusing on what you’ve decide upon.

#4 Create a long lasting competitive advantage

What’s right for companies is right for us as well. Companies seek the strategic high-ground in the form of long lasting competitive advantages. Google has technology, Coca-cola has brand and Microsoft has a captive market share for example.

We must develop our own competitive advantages in order to have an offer of added value to any organization. This competitive advantage can come in many forms: exceptionally good people skills, a gift for sales, a sharp mind, advanced education, a synergy of two fields of expertise and much more. The main idea is to create a unique value you can offer to the job market.

Building a competitive advantage is not done in a day. It requires planning and careful construction of complementing schools, fields, traits etc. Your competitive advantage will determine your bargaining power and often times your career.

#5 Build around your advantages

Having a competitive advantage is a great start and a solid foundation to build on. Your career path must be developed accordingly to complement and further enhance your advantage.

Aim for roles which further explore your niche and expertise. Target positions which will enable you to fully utilize your skills and potential. Think of the best way to shine and stand out in the crowds. The synergy between advantage and career path is extremely high.

#6 Constantly review your position

I had to quit a job I actually enjoyed and loved since I hit a “glass ceiling” in that particular organization. Some may say I’ve made a mistake since these kinds of jobs aren’t easy to find but I place self fulfillment higher on the value scale.

The basic principle here is to constantly review your position. Are you headed in the right direction? Will this path lead to where you want to go? Why am I still holding on to this job? These questions will serve as a course correcting method should you stray too far of the path.

#7 Stagnation is your enemy

The older you are the harder it is to make changes and change yourself. It’s a natural phenomenon and it has its logic. However, stagnation is career’s enemy. Through change we evolve and so does our offer of value.

Change is a very important piece in the career puzzle leading to more vast experience, broader horizons and bigger social networks. Development requires change.

#8 Education never stops

Continued education and learning is also crucial to maintaining and building on your advantages. The more advanced the world becomes the more niche knowledge is appreciated, sought out and rewarded.

Participate in relevant conferences, take courses, deepen your knowledge and brand yourself as an expert. Niche knowledge offers significant added value.

#9 More of a field person? Develop in other venues

If you’re not into learning and education or just don’t have the patience use the time to develop in other venues. A great way to develop yourself is to enhance your social networks. There are many ways to enhance your social networks such as volunteer work, blogging, social initiatives and more.

Other options of self development include learning a foreign language or a new set of skills. Everything that has anything to do with your competitive advantages will do. Continued self development is crucial for forward movement.

In the near future I’ll expand on each point more thoroughly in different posts. Please let me know what interests you the most and what would you like me to expand on.

Image by: Andy Burnfield


thebaglady said...

great post Dorian, though I don't quite understand why you would accept lesser pay and rank for a new job right now. Yes, you expect that there will be more opportunities, but why couldn't they give you the better position right now? Isn't the idea to always move up?

Dorian Wales said...

@thebaglady - Thank for the feedback.

I agree the recommended vector is upwards. I had to compromise for rank and pay since my last job was for a government sector company which required certain skills and experience not necessarily relevant to a private sector firm which I currently work for.

Obviously the bottom line differs greatly (profit in the case of private organizations) and politics don’t play as big a role as they used to (it didn’t go away either, naturally).

Dana said...

Fantastic post, and very timely, as I am doing a bunch of things for myself to work toward a new, better position. This is very motivating.

You make awesome points about how you need to stay on top of things. The one thing you don't mention that I think is important to the younger crowd, is that you need to consider your presence online- employers know about MySpace, and there are potentially embarrassing things that could ruin the opportunity for a dream job. Just a thought!

unipsycho said...

Great post! It amazes me how many people are not VERY satisfied in their jobs yet do nothing about it! Great list and good for you for taking action! That will make the difference for sure!

Heath said...

To be honest, I completely understand your decision to take less money and a lower rank in order to save your sense of self and self fulfillment. There is nothing worse than living rich but essentially being dead spiritually and that's what stagnation in a career leads to. I have made similar moves in the past and I don't regret them at all. Thanks for sharing this interesting post!

Todd said...

Excellent, excellent post. Thebaglady raises an important question, yet I whole heartedly agree that accepting a different job for lesser pay can be a great step "forward". If may seem like a poor choice initially, but a step or two backward can put you on a different path to move you forward more quickly in the future.

I took a major step backward when I quit my job to pursue another degree. I knew this would involve two years without salary, high tuition costs, and a new starting salary that was 30% below my current pay. I was at the top of my pay and position range in my old career.

Now, five years later, I'm back to my old pay, and I am at the bottom of the pay range in my new job. I was also able to find a position where I work 45 hours a week instead of 60, never get called on the weekends, work with smart people, and where I don't have to travel.

As you mentioned the key is knowing what you want. Then all you have to do is take a step towards your goal.

Dorian Wales said...

@Heath and Todd - Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments. It really means a lot.

I'm having quite a hard time adjusting but it will pass, I'm sure.

It's never easy taking a couple of steps back but there's definitely light in the end of the tunnel.

Change really keeps you alive and running.

This might sounds like a terrible over-simplification but advancing towards a goal is much like turning in ski. You just look at the direction you're going and suddenly you're turning right towards it.

Anonymous said...

While the vector is upward, in the "Art of War", a tactical step back is not necessarily a loss of upward momentum. Less on the short term for gain on the long is part of intelligent career planning. You chose finesse, a tactic allowing you keep your eye on the bigger prize all the while minimizing making waves. I teach my student that sometimes a prudent step back is the fastest way to two steps forward.