The time has come for employees everywhere to accept the reality that the company is not always looking out for you. You need to own your career and your development. We are moving from an era of lifelong employment to one of lifelong learning. It is time for talented individuals all over the world to take back their careers.
Finish your studies, join a blue-chip company, steadily climb the ranks and retire 40 years later with a solid pension and immense sense of pride in the hard work you put in (and the value of the stock options you accumulated). The idea was straightforward: you would dedicate a life of service to a corporation and be rewarded with solid benefits and a relatively low-risk career progression. You would then enjoy your last quarter of a century on the golf course and baking with your grandkids.
Times have changed.
As many millennials and Gen-Zers will confirm, this ideal is rarely the case in 2021. In fact, it has been completely altered. The romantic notion of one big-brand name company for life is being rapidly dispelled. New generations need a greater purpose to work for everyday rather than simply saving up for a sunny abode overlooking the 18th green in Florida where they can sip an ice-cold Arnold Palmer. They demand to work for inspiring leaders, corporations that share their value set and a product that is ethically sourced. They no longer seek employers, they seek a cause, they seek lifelong learning and ultimately career happiness. They want to feel a sense of pride upon retiring which differs substantially from that of their grandparents' generation. And guess what? They are 100% right.
There is one big issue with this, however: employers. Very few employers are progressive enough to fully grasp this reality. What results is a massive mismatch between their promises and actual offerings. They all claim to be people-first “great places to work” with mission statements about profits being a means rather than an end but do they really walk the talk? Simply look at the fact that 25% of employees leave within the first year because of the aforementioned mismatches. Or look at the many companies that have cut their career development and training budgets in light of the pandemic. How can that be reconciled with HR trying to attract today’s brightest minds that demand lifelong learning? At the same time, even companies with a very strong retention muscle may not always act in the best interest of the individual’s career development. After all, why would they tell you that your next best career move could be outside of the company? Should you really entrust your career to an employer in the same way as your grandparents did? Will that be your best shot at career happiness? The time has come for employees everywhere to accept the reality that the company is not always looking out for you. You need to own your career and your development. We are moving from an era of lifelong employment to one of lifelong learning. It is time for talented individuals all over the world to take back their careers.
New generations need a greater purpose to work for everyday rather than simply saving up for a sunny abode overlooking the 18th green in Florida. They no longer seek employers, they seek a cause, they seek lifelong learning and ultimately career happiness. They want to feel a sense of pride upon retiring which differs substantially from that of their grandparent's generation.
Fortunately, talents nowadays have the power and resources to turn this ever more into a talent-led market rather than a corporation-led market. More tools are available to literally shop for jobs like at the supermarket and online learning sites have massive subscriber bases. Information on career paths and employers has never been so readily accessible. If approached correctly, you as a talent can effectively manage your own destiny. If tackled in an unstructured manner however, you will simply be overloaded with conflicting information and end up even more disoriented than before. Do not kid yourself though, it will take a lot of time and effort. In fact, you should see your career development as a job in itself. You will only get out of it what you put into it.
So how do you begin outsourcing career development to yourself? There is so much information out there, so where do you start? Start with yourself. Put yourself in a position as the late Nelson Mandela said to be “the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.”
Should you really entrust your career to an employer in the same way as your grandparents did? Will that be your best shot at career happiness? The time has come for employees everywhere to accept the reality that the company is not always looking out for you. You need to own your career and your development.
Everything should begin with a probing self-reflection exercise where you delve deeply into what your purpose in life is, what your values are and what motivates you. Don’t limit yourself to cliches or buzzwords but really seek to understand your specific drivers as those will help you calibrate your unique career compass. What makes you happy in the workplace? What are your priorities? Do you give work-life balance a high importance? If so, what does work-life balance mean for you? Is making a lot of money your primary goal? Do you want to work for a sustainable company? Is that environmental sustainability or financial sustainability or do you not actually know what sustainability means but it sounds important? Do you get energy from working in cross-functional teams or does this drain you? Your career choice should be a function of these reflections (and many more). Also, remember that a career should always be looked at in the long term, this isn’t about any one specific job, it's about decades of different jobs. Force yourself to analyze everything in light of how that could help you get to where you want to be in 20 years (It’s fine if you don’t know this yet, it might be 5 years to start. Remember, it's a journey.) rather than what to say to get a one-time 20% salary increase. Wow, that's already a lot to do and we are still at the first steps! To avoid being overwhelmed, set aside some time every week in your calendar (it can even be just 20-30 minutes) to dedicate to self-reflection. Putting your reflections down on paper can also help. In the beginning you will be laying the foundation by assessing your motivating factors and goals but soon enough you will start to develop your own flexible career plan. Once you have that, you will be self-aware enough to filter through all the information out there and make the right career decisions. You will be in the driver's seat, not the employer.
Don’t limit yourself to cliches or buzzwords but really seek to understand your specific drivers as those will help you calibrate your unique career compass. Also, remember that a career should always be looked at in the long term, this isn’t about any one specific job, it's about decades of different jobs. Force yourself to analyze everything in light of how that could help you get to where you want to be in 20 years.
It is important, however, to remember that you are not alone in this process. Once you feel you have gotten a good sense of yourself relative to your career development objectives, it is time to partner with others. Sure, you know yourself best and it is crucial that you be very honest in the process of understanding your own drivers, but you will need others to take your reflections to the next level. Career strategizing is a team sport. Yes, you are running the race, but just like any elite marathoner preparing for the olympics you cannot just train by yourself. You need to surround yourself with the right people that will elevate you to a heightened level of performance. It is crucial to have others test your assumptions, help sharpen them and ultimately force you to articulate the outlines of a career plan. You will need three types of people. First look for an unbiased sparring partner whose function will be to ask you the right questions to provoke deeper self reflection. This profile can most often be found in a coach. Then look for a mentor (someone that has been there and done that) that can provide both inspiration and a sense-check on the career path of interest to you (this step of due diligence is instrumental so that you can understand the efforts that will be necessary to get to where you want to go). Finally, make sure you also involve someone who knows you very well (a spouse, parent, sibling or close friend) to make sure the choices you are making are consistent with your value set. Working with your team will help you set clear long-term goals and break them up into shorter-term objectives. These shorter term objectives will provide you a road map (your personalized career map) which will act as a framework both for your training and your selection.
Once you have gotten your ideas in order and assembled your support team, it is time to get on the saddle and start pedaling. Personal development and career mapping are muscles that need to be constantly trained and maintained in order to deliver results. Anybody that has seen The Last Dance will know that for every game Michael Jordan played in, there were countless hours of hard training in the gym and on the court to prepare. He did not stop practicing his jumpshot after his first championship win, instead he doubled down so he could win five more. You will need to hold yourself accountable to your career development in much the same way. The argument could be made that it is even more difficult for you than for Jordan since technically you are not getting paid to work on your own development. Dedicate some time every week to help accelerate your progress towards your milestones. You may be surprised to find that a lot of this can even be done “on the job.” The next time you are preparing a customer presentation, see how you can approach it differently so it advances your own personal career goals rather than just delivering the finished product as you normally would. For example if you need to develop your strategic acumen in order to one day reach your final destination, then maybe focus on more than just the quarterly numbers but help the customer to zoom out and see how all of it plays into your five-year value-creation strategy by including an extra slide at the end. And remember your team! Set up monthly reviews both for yourself and your career team to review your progress relative to your goals. This will often result in recalibration, course correction, detours and the like. That is perfectly normal. Remember you are on a journey, there are bound to be bumps in the road.
Finally all of this work of self reflection, sparring, planning and training should provide you with a unique way of viewing whatever opportunities come about in your career. You will be so informed about yourself, your goals, career paths and the tradeoffs needed that you will be able to make decisions in your own best interest in a very decisive way. Employers will have to talk straight to you if they want you to join because you have done your homework. You know what you want and you are able to quickly determine whether they will deliver it or not. You will no longer be baited by short term perks if they do not play into your long term career development goals (and whenever you are tempted to do so, you will have surrounded yourself with an honest support team that will warn you accordingly). When those opportunities come up and you can analyze them with confidence, you will realize that you have outsourced your career development to yourself.
Own your career. (Nobody else will).
June 10, 2021