Careers are a funny thing. Invariably where and what we start out doing is a lo’ooong way from where we finish. Often there have not just been role and company changes but state and national transfers; international assignments and major career pivots. When I ask executives to tell me their story or pose the question ‘How did you end up here?’ there is a long pause, followed by a wry chuckle and comments such as ‘I really don’t know… it’s certainly not what I originally planned’ or ‘It’s a long story as it’s quite different to what I studied or commenced my career in’. Invariably though many will highlight a particular opportunity where they feel they ‘got lucky’ by being in the right place at the right time, or working for a fabulous boss or with a great team.
For many though there is a feeling that as they have progressed through their career the ‘lucky’ moments have either disappeared or become very rare. This is no truer than when significant location changes are added into the mix. Not only has that sense of being in the right place, at the right time gone but so too has their ability to identify what that looks like in today’s marketplace. And to some degree they are right, with less opportunities existing in the senior end of the market; and the hidden nature of these roles requiring well crafted networks in order to identify them. However for many, it’s not so much a case of fewer opportunities but rather a reluctance to learn how to embrace the changing nature of work and marketplace demands.
With many roles and job titles today in danger of disappearing altogether and those of tomorrow yet to be defined, there is also a new challenge we all face in how to best manage our own careers. How do you plan out future career paths when the very nature of what we do, how we do it and where we do it is rapidly changing around us? Reid Hoffman & Ben Casnocha, authors of The Start Up Of You note that building long term career success requires individuals to consider themselves as entrepreneurs and their careers as a start up business. In qualifying this they say that ‘ the skills that start-ups require are the very skills that professionals need in order to advance their careers: nimbleness, personal investment, strong networks and intelligent risk taking”.
To do this we need to embrace and develop the skills of agility and mobility. It is widely recognised that agility enhances performance in activities that require a quick change in direction whilst maintaining the core elements of balance, speed, strength and control. It leads to faster response and can easily provide significant competitor advantage. Mobility is the ability to move or be moved freely and easily. Regardless of whether we are responding to the need for movement (eg Internal requirements) or executing a move of our own accord it will be our ability to do it ‘freely and easily’ that will determine our success. Not only does agility and mobility help improve current performance but it also helps ensure that any sudden change in direction – such as redundancy, promotion or career shifts – are navigated with relative ease and strength.
Given that agility and mobility are built on strength and co-ordination it is imperative that we gain clarity on what our core strengths are: what knowledge, skills and styles do we have to leverage. We then need to understand where we best fit: where we can co-ordinate our skills and knowledge with those of others. I would also encourage you to consider the following five actions for creating career agility:
- ‘Think global, act local’: We are working in an increasingly globalised world that is responding to change, disruption and connection at every level. Our role is to be aware of it so we can leverage and apply it with relevance and confidence to our own careers and positions.
- Remain informed: Navigating any form of change requires us to be informed of what it is. Too often we look ‘across and down rather than up and out’ and as a result our awareness outside of our immediate world is diminished and therefore limiting. It is important to be informed of relevant industry trends; interesting collaborations and market announcements.
- Take considered risks: Low risk is often associated with stability. However it has been suggested that in the long term, continually opting for the low risk options leads to increased vulnerability as it reduces our resilience to deal with sudden and high level change. ‘Playing it safe’ with your career can in fact create higher risk through an inability to cope with the volatility and rate of change which is all to common in the market place today.
- Invest in learning: With the constant change happening in our workplaces and industries you can never assume that you know all there is to know about managing your career. Invest time to acquire the right intelligence and know-how that will accelerate your career. Consider what projects, opportunities and courses will build, stretch, leverage and maximise your knowledge, skills and style.
- Create diverse networks: Invest in the right relationships and dedicate time and energy to them. Identify your key influencers and thought leaders, and identify a meaningful pathway of how to approach and engage with them. Build a networking plan that fosters authentic professional relationships where you can also offer valuable contributions.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts below.
If you would like to discuss ways to build career mobility, please call Margot on 0400 336 318.