3 WAYS TO FUTURE-PROOF YOUR CAREER
Who should read this?
This article is aimed at professionals who work in the corporate environment and in professional services firms. It’s intended for those who want to ensure that their career develops and thrives despite the accelerated pace of change with which we are faced.
Why bother with future-proofing?
The corporate work place and professional services have both gone through unprecedented changes over the past couple of decades. The future for those who work in these organisations can be uncertain. The advent of artificial intelligence alone is enough to cause concern but we also need grapple with the effects of globalisation, the advent of new competitors and the constant pressure from clients and customers to produce more-for-less.
It’s no longer common for people to work at the same organisation for the entirety of their careers. In fact it’s increasingly likely that individuals may take on different roles and re-invent themselves more than once.
All of this means that we need to look at the development of our careers through a much broader lens than previously. We are no longer predominantly a reflection of the organisation we work for. We are our own brand. And this brand is malleable and portable in ways that we need to explore if we want to achieve fulfilment in our careers. Taking control allows us to make sure that we remain relevant and marketable.
It’s easy to be drawn into a false sense of security when we are safely ensconced in the structure of an organisation. But we need to take responsibility for our own development. Because the one thing we can be certain about is that the changing work environment will throw up career challenges for each of us and whether or not we can meet these challenges depends on us, not anyone else.
Here’s what you need to look at to make sure your career is future-proof:
Build your network
Forget about all those sales and networking courses you’ve been on. Forget about “working the room” and having meaningless conversations. This quote from Keith Ferazzi and Tahl Raz’s excellent book Never Eat Alone says it all:
“Job security? Experience will not save you in hard times, nor will hard work or talent. If you need a job, advice, help, hope, or a means to make a sale, there’s only one sure-fire fail safe way to find it — within your extended circle of friends and associates.”
It’s all about connecting with people and managing not only business but personal relationships too. And we don’t mean in a cold and calculated way. That never works. Connect in a meaningful way with a view to genuinely contributing to the relationship. It’s only then that the principle of reciprocity will come into play - whether now or at some time in the future. Management guru David Maister puts it well when he says:
“You have to give before you can get.”
It’s never too early to build relationships and networks. No matter what drivers underly the changes happening in your profession it’s still basic human relationships that will help you win new business, get promoted or manage a successful team.
Keep your outlook broad when it comes to building and nurturing your relationships. Your old friend from university could let you know about an interesting opening at their workplace. An ex-colleague could introduce you to a potential customer. You just never know.
Building deep meaningful relationships requires you to dig deeper and give more. For example make an introduction that you think will help your friend or work colleague to further their career, business or even hobby. Share your time and knowledge generously. Don’t keep score. Most relationships are a slow burn. It’s like depositing money into a savings account. You have to wait for the interest. Sometimes for years.
Start connecting today across all aspects of your life- school, university, work, hobbies. You get the picture. The more diverse your network the better. If you wait to build your network until you need help - you’ve waited too long.
Generosity is the foundation of strong enduring relationships. Here’s David Maister again:
“To earn a relationship you must go first. You must give a favour to earn a favour.”
Henry Ford hit the nail on the head when he said that:
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80”.
But the pursuit of everlasting youth is not the only reason that lifelong learning is so important.
Until relatively recently, it was perfectly possible for individuals to successfully continue to work in the same way with the same people throughout most of their careers.
However in today’s ultra competitive and rapidly changing climate the way we work, our roles and perhaps even the profile of our clients and customers may well change substantially. Only those of us who are willing and able to keep developing will have successful careers.
Harvard’s Professor John Kotter, an expert in leadership, reflects that learning is like compound interest. Regular incremental learning over time makes a big difference. As with financial savings, those who start early on the learning journey and invest the most time in learning will be way ahead of their peers in 10 years’ time.
Lifelong learners usually have a number of common habits, and adopting these can help keep you ahead of the game. They include:
- undertaking activities outside your comfort zone;
- reflecting on successes and failures and learning from them;
- listening to others and consistently seeking their opinion; and
- being willing to keep an open mind.
Many activities can contribute to lifelong learning, including the following:
- Vast reserves of knowledge are available in the right books. Reading a wide variety of quality books is invaluable, but don’t just focus on titles for your particular profession - the autobiography of a great leader or a book on how teams work can provide a broader perspective.
- Take a short course on something that will help you learn relevant new skills or further enhance your existing knowledge base. For example, if you specialise in a particular sector, take a course on a subject related to that sector to strengthen your industry expertise. Add value to your organisation by bringing the learning back to your team.
- Where possible, ensure that the role you have or that you craft over time depends primarily on things for which you have a natural talent. Work on getting even better at these things through practice, awareness, acquired knowledge and experience. Fixating on turning weaknesses into talents can be difficult and frustrating. Just aim for competence in these areas where necessary.
- Understand how you learn best. For example some people learn most effectively by reading, while others learn by listening or doing. Where possible tailor any learning to take account of your preferred learning style to ensure you perform at your best.
We often get caught up in the detail of our work lives, particularly where the work we do requires specialist expertise. It’s therefore not surprising that taking a ‘big picture’ view can feel unnatural and uncomfortable. But as we grapple with the sheer pace of change, big-picture thinking is a vital skill. It enables opportunities to be spotted, assumptions to be challenged and robust plans to be made for the future.
Here are some ways to start developing big-picture thinking.
- Broaden your focus by taking time to understand the interplay between the economy, the industry sector in which you specialise and what competitors are doing for your customers or targets. This will help identify weaknesses and opportunities to enable proper planning.
- Take time to set personal career goals. Write them down in as much detail as possible, revisit them regularly and alter them as necessary. Work out what you need to do to get to where you want to be. For example, identify new skills you might you need, consider whether you need a mentor or coach to guide you and so on.
- Pay attention to major trends (social, economic, technology) and think about how they relate to your personal career goals as well as to any goals that have been set for you during your performance reviews. For example the trend for new innovations in technology will continue to have a huge impact on business and society. This could well affect the way in which your industry delivers services. It might also mean that the type of work you currently do will become less profitable or be vulnerable to artificial intelligence so a change of direction might be needed.
- Take time to step back and think - all of the most effective business leaders do. It’s easy to be busy, but you should be busy doing the right thing.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the outcomes we achieve are a direct result of the actions that we take. So take action to future-proof your career.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get started, so here are some first small steps you can take.
Create a spreadsheet or list of your contacts grouped into categories e.g. school, university, first job etc. Think about how you can grow these relationships by asking yourself “how can I help/ add value to the relationship?”. For example, are there helpful introductions you can make within or across groups? Note down ways that you could be of use. If none are readily apparent, think about what questions you can ask to find out more about your contact. That way you are more likely to find a way to add value to the relationship in the future.
Think of an area that instinctively interests you. It might be related to your industry or something completely different like learning a language. Using a different part of your brain to your “work brain” helps you become more creative. Depending on what you choose to learn you could take an evening class, online course, browse through Amazon for a suitable book or listen to podcasts.
3. Big-Picture Thinking
A good place to start practising this skill is by understanding more about your organisation. Find out more about your colleagues who perform a different role to yours. Then think about how your role is impacted by theirs and how everyone’s role fits together.
This isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Just make list of the various people you could speak to and then try to speak to one person a week. Meet them for a coffee, a drink or have a chat at lunchtime.
Remember, despite the challenges there’s a world of opportunity out there.
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