Career Management

Career Management

Written by: Alan Rodway

Category: Coaching, People & performance

Sound career management is paramount to professional success.  This article provides ways to do so.

People are changing careers, jobs and job roles a lot more often today.

Sometimes these changes are being chosen but sometimes imposed by employers, the market itself, competitive pressures, technology, the internet, globalisation, restructures, changing buying patterns of consumers, new products, innovation, etc.  Certainly, the nature of many jobs is changing rapidly,  with some positions even disappearing (either to overseas competitors or altogether).  Career management has become significantly more challenging now the days of starting a job after completing education, stay within that role, even with the same employer, get promoted over the years (or not) and retire with a gold watch presentation, are pretty much going or already gone.

So, there is a stronger need for sound career management, but I’m not sure there is a lot of help or advice around for this … probably not that’s supplied by somebody else, so we have to be proactive with our career management and be good at it!

A) CAREER CHANGE

Career change is when someone moves into a fundamentally different type of career, on one of several fronts.

It could be from:

  1. Employee to self-employed vice versa),
  2. One industry to another,
  3. One field to another (e.g. marketing to H.R., administration to risk management), or
  4. Geographic change (e.g. ‘sea change’, ‘tree change’).

The challenges in these sorts of changes can be significant.  They not only require additional or different skills and knowledge, they can also have implications for hours worked, stress levels and formal qualifications required.  Clearly, each of these factors, and others, should be primary considerations in making the decision to change careers.

There are three points to be made in relation to career management decisions:

  1. The decision should be made over a long enough time period to get it right.
  2. The decision should be considered (and made) before any external forces kick in to cause such a necessary decision (i.e. proactively decided not reactively).
  3. Two or three trusted, skilled and knowledgeable advisers should be properly consulted during the decision making process.

This is to get a cross-section of opinions, avoid individualistic thinking and establish common threads of thought across the advisers.  And the advisers have to be people prepared to ‘tell it like it is’.

Some specific advice on the possible changes listed above.

Employee to self-employed is one of the most difficult career changes that anyone can make and one of the most dangerous!  

Too many people have lost out financially by making this switch without proper thought, training, advice or ongoing counsel/coaching.  It is sad to have witnessed (and been brought in to help solve) so many of these situations in the privately owned business space, where the owner(s) are working ridiculous hours (to the detriment of themselves and their families), going backwards financially, have little idea how to stop it all … and even sometimes don’t even know it until it’s too late.  Is it still true that 50% of newly started privately owned businesses in Australia go broke in the first twelve months?   If it’s not still at that incredibly high failure rate, I bet it’s still high.  This sort of career change, whilst full of potential, has potential on both sides of the Balance Sheet!  Too many people enter this territory underprepared and pay a hefty price for having done so.

Engage at least the following before making such a decision:

Planning, Preparation, Counsel (broad and skilled), Reality checks, ‘What If’ Analysis, Market analysis, Financial analysis … and never take this step without ongoing solid financial acumen around you!  And engage an Accountant who will truly advise your business, not just one who will do your Tax Returns and provide little else.  We will be publishing a separate article on Starting a New Business in a future edition.

The sea change/tree change or significant change in time fraction (usually downwards) are both changes that should be treated on a ‘trial’ basis for a time period, before taking a final decision.  Sure, these types of career change can be wonderfully attractive at the time but are so fundamentally different in nature that they need to be experienced before anyone can really know if are ‘right’ for the longer term.  This has implications for arrangements made around the trial .. Rent don’t buy, Leave Without Pay / Long Service Leave don’t resign, etc.

The change from one industry or field to another, whilst less fundamentally dramatic, will still challenge most people.

If the ‘try before you buy’ approach can be implemented here as well, that might be a good idea but certainly it needs to be realised that it’s not just a matter of course that the next role will be more enjoyable or productive than the current one.  Different people, parameters, paradigms, systems, etc. always challenge the person making the change … that can be a very good thing but not always .. and it needs to be ensured that it’s not just changing for change sake.

A slightly related point to above is where people essentially stay in the same career but look to become an ‘investor’.

This happens sometimes through the seminars we see advertised for Wealth Accumulation (‘How I Became a Squillionaire by age 40′ type thing), sometimes through ‘spare’ money, sometimes through a stage of life.  Whilst becoming an investor is not a career change in itself, its akin to it and can have significant associated risks for the unwary if the dollars involved are large enough.  Larger decisions about investment can be very dangerous and it’s paramount to source proper advice from independent experts (and they are NOT independent if they are conflicted by standing to gain from where your money goes …. when will the Financial Planning industry wake up to that and fix it, rather than squawking ‘Fee for Service’ when it’s not).

Any career change should receive a lot of thought, time, planning and counsel before a decision is made .. so that the change is a well-created one.  To then successfully engage the career change, the individual has to be highly self-organised, self-disciplined, committed to learning rapidly, taking on modern technology, persistent and surrounded by people who will give honest feedback along the way (as well as being supportive).  That raises another aspect of a successful career change .. whilst family and friends around the person changing careers don’t have to agree to the change necessarily, it is very important that they are supportive of it.

B) JOB OR ROLE CHANGE

A job or role change can occur on a variety of fronts:

Change of employers, change of location, move to a different team, different time fraction, different responsibility area or size of responsibility area, change in seniority, etc.  Any of these will obviously alter some aspects of the job or role.  Have you ever seen someone who undergoes any of these changes perform better or worse after the change?  I do … often.  It happens for a myriad of reasons, so such changes need to be proactively managed.  Some of the advice above is relevant here but some additional thoughts are important as well.

The person undergoing the change must realise that the different circumstances WILL affect them, positively or negatively, and therefore be ready to overcome the former and make the most of the latter.

If the change involves ‘new’ people, skills in being able to professionally connect with them are critical .. and the sooner this can be established the better.

But this is not about becoming ‘liked’; it’s about connecting with them  … being able to work well with others, quickly, via an understanding of the work situation and of them .. and allowing them to do the same.  Too many mistakes ‘being liked’ and ‘liking others’ as the same as working effectively together .. they are not the same!  It’s entirely possible to work alongside someone effectively where the likeability is low … too many just assume it’s not and then fail to make it happen.  Further, avoidance of ‘we used to do it differently where I was before’ is important .. it can be annoying to others and cause them to not properly consider the changes being suggested.  Sure, put new ideas forward but be skilled at not singing the ‘where I came from’ song.  And don’t condemn ways a new place or team do things if you have tried them unsuccessfully before .. consider them objectively .. the ways may be sound but implementation was poor where you were before.

For people changing time fractions, up or down, the implications can be quite significant … the dynamics, practical aspects, even the emotional effects.  Someone going full time suddenly has way less time for all the other aspects in their lives that they were used to … and that can be quite challenging, even distressing with respect to less time with family or friends.  Forethought and planning are the keys to doing this successfully.  Someone working a lower time fraction can experience an emotional challenge of being less ‘important’.. to the organisation and to themselves (so many males, in particular, get a fair chunk of their self-worth from the importance of their career).  And, simply by being ‘at work’ less often, can lead to an actual or perceived lower sense of input … and this can have its challenges for the individual as well.  Being ‘smart’ about the input in fewer hours is one of the keys to avoiding this, as well as setting up communication channels that will be effective for a less than full-time presence in the place … to avoid ‘you weren’t at the meeting’ type thing.  And there can be a challenge for some in being less ‘occupied’ … boredom, etc. … what to do with the time?

For people changing jobs, never consider it your last change .. that can risk lapsing into slower rates of change (or even change resistance) for you.  Younger age groups are changing jobs every 3 years so, according to many surveys, and this is filtering up to older age groups as well.  So, an open mind to further change is productive … keeps the person on their toes, as well as those around them.

C) RETIREMENT

This is a whole subject in itself.  There is so much research around that suggests we Australians don’t deal with retirement all that well, especially males.  There’s even some suggestion that retirement can have such a negatively severe effect on a person that it can lead to emotional distress, illness or even worse.  Why would that be?  First, we derive some (or a lot) of our self-worth from our careers .. they make us feel important, worthwhile, special.  Second, they fill in our time .. so we don’t have to think about ‘what we’re going to do today’. Third, they supply our incomes and (hopefully) our feeling of financial ‘safety’ or well being.  Fourth, they supply a lot of learning and enrichment to us, ongoing.   Stopping all of that is fundamentally a challenge.  So replacements have got to be thought through and put in place for the start of retirement … Where will the replacement self-worth come from? What will you do with your time?  What’s in place for financial security/well being?  Where will your learning and stimulation come from?  How will family and friends react to having you around the whole time?  (The answer to that is not always positive!).

Failure to consider these issues and put well thought through decisions in place can lead to one of two things:  Deferring retirement (‘hanging on’ .. past ones ‘use by’ date) because of uncertainty or fear of what the future may feel like or a poor retirement, meaning its unenjoyable, boring, demeaning, confusing or worrying (and of that would obviously negatively impact family members and friends as well).   I’ve seen very few people go and sit on a beach or play golf every day of their retirement and declare it’s the way to go .. some are fulfilled by that type of approach, but not many in my experience.

And retirement can be just from an ‘earlier’ career, e.g. sport … career transition.  How many elite sports people successfully retire from the competitive stage and are able to move into something that is rewarding, enriching, productive, enjoyable or satisfying .. whether that’s another career, a hobby or whatever?  There are too many examples of where this has seen poor outcomes for the individual.  Sport is, fortunately, waking up to the challenges its heroes face when ‘retiring’ and is putting things in place to remedy the problem.  Things like ‘life skills’ training, the creation of non-sporting networks, business education, etc.  Releasing an elite athlete into the broader world, straight out of the highly specific sporting world, can be too challenging at times.  And the world can so easily assume the athlete will be good at ‘life after sport’ because they’ve been so good at what they have done so far!  Sure, many super athletes move wonderfully into the media and guest speaking, and forge wonderful careers there … but many don’t move into careers at all.  Again, pre planning is necessary for the athlete, way before they finish their careers … or they may even hold onto the sporting life for longer than they should for lack of a practical or attractive alternative.  This paragraph also has application to entertainers and the like, as well … not that they want to ‘retire’ at a younger age but they are often forced to as demand for them dwindles.

ONE LAST THOUGHT

Even though some people may not intend to change jobs, roles or careers …. sometimes they should!  Being in the same job, same role, same place, same career, whilst admirable in loyalty, is not always the best thing for someone to do.  It can be limited, lacking in challenge, less than optimal for development or even just provide less enjoyment and satisfaction for the person.  I have always argued that people in key / senior roles should not remain in those roles for more than 5 years and I think similar logic could be applied to almost everyone, maybe with slightly longer time frames on them.  So, give some thought to your next change, what it might be and when it might be … it can’t hurt to seriously think about it.

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