Plant a (career) flag for 2014
A new year on the horizon and a new set of resolutions. Do you have “find a new job” on your list of things to accomplish in 2014? How many of your colleagues or direct reports do?
Recent economic news confirms that the US economy is pursuing its slow recovery and unemployment numbers are continuing to decline. About 34% of CEOs expect to hire more people over the next six months, according to a recent economic outlook survey of US chief executive officers. Other countries, such as the UK, report improved job numbers. While we are not yet back to the levels seen in a buoyant economy, as employees we generally feel that we have the upper hand in the employer-employee relationship and this is reflected in our attitudes towards career.
But before you start subscribing to online job listings, ask yourself which of the following is the better strategy to get where you want to be in your career:
- Assume the grass really is greener and go off on some new adventure? Switching employers is still a risky proposition.
- Write out a short list of career ambitions for 2014 along with what frustrates you in your current role. Then plant a flag: take control of your own career, address the areas of frustration, and carve out a new role that will be more fulfilling.
The second approach is certainly a lot less risky: you know your current employer but is that new company really as exciting a place to work as it looks? In your current job you know the variables, you know the people. There were good reasons for you to join your current company and good reasons you’ve stayed so far. And once you leave, your current employer may not want you back.
Have you really explored all the opportunities in your current company? I often work with clients who are looking for ways to encourage existing employees to grow their talents and skills in a different group as well as bring “fresh” thinking to that group. So…
Don’t burn bridges just yet
Before you burn any bridges, look at the options right in front of you.
To help us better understand “career,” BlessingWhite ran a quick online survey in early December to assess perspectives. A representative sample of 344 employed US workers reveals that:
- A substantial majority (72%) of us believe we personally have the biggest control over our next career move (as opposed to our manager or the company we work for).
- Our expectation of next career steps is more likely to include a new project or a new assignment (35%) or a move outside the company (23%) before a direct move up the corporate ladder (13%).
- We are 5 times more likely to expect to quit our current job than expect facing a layoff (84% vs. 16%).
- The idea that the immediate manager is the main reason we might consider leaving is an outdated concept — three quarters (75%) of respondents do not credit managers with such influence.
- In general, we view our employers as caring about employees’ career progression. We also believe we have decent career opportunities with our current employer. The interesting thing to note here is that the perception the employer cares and the belief that there are opportunities are closely correlated (Pearson’s Correlation .75).
- Yet, despite the care and attention, a significant proportion (44%) of us would rather be working for ourselves — a sense of individualism and entrepreneurship that employees would do well to tap into.
A more robust job market may give us the confidence to look outside, but unless things are downright awful where you are right now, this is no time to seek new pastures. It is a time to take ownership over one’s own career, to make a new year’s resolution to take on a new project or a new career direction — one that benefits us personally as well as our employer — and to tap into that sense of entrepreneurialism and self-fulfillment.
Network within your organization at various levels; a different area might provide you with a new place to grow and contribute. A direct move up the corporate ladder probably is unrealistic — it may happen in its own time. But what is within everyone’s reach is the ability to set a goal, to discuss this with your immediate manager, and to put things in motion.
What could a “flag” look like? Additional accountability, setting yourself a target of improving an existing process, acquiring and applying brand new skills in an area of interest, acting as the point-person between your team and another function, finding the time to try out a brand new idea that may improve the team’s win rate, agreeing to go out and interview a dozen clients to gain valuable insights… the list goes on.
And what about those frustrations? We all have them: aspects of the work we find unnecessary or plain boring; being assigned tasks that do not seem to fit our skillset or job description; having to depend on others to get things done. Complaining alone won’t make these go away. We have to build a good case for how these activities should be done by somebody else, done differently or not done at all. Some things are out of our control but it is surprising how much we do have influence over in our daily work.
Plant the flag
To get started follow this 1-2-3 approach:
- Know yourself: Before you adjust the direction of your career, you need to know what direction you would like to take. This will depend on your values, your strengths, career interests and having a good handle on your ideal job conditions. This way, when opportunities arise, you will know which direction to point your career in.
- Know your options: Organizations want their people to be successful and so they provide many resources to employees… but these are mostly self-serve and few employees make the most of what is offered. Invest some time and educate yourself on how your company defines and addresses career needs. Consider doing some informational interviews with managers and members in other groups that may be of interest to you. Find out what the work entails in advance: this will help you make a decision quickly when opportunities arise in other groups.
- Take action: The first step to career progression is to ensure people understand and appreciate your contribution in your current role. Lead with your current contribution and how this could be scaled up — not some sense of future entitlement. Discuss career with your immediate manager. Outline your own ambitions and how this could align with your team’s targets for 2014.
And a final thought: if you are a manager, encourage people on your team to follow this process and plant their own flags — for their sake, and for the best interest of the group. You are determined to retain your best team members but how can that be accomplished if you don’t know what they need from you? Support them to take control of their career and to have the conversation with you. Better that than finding them surfing online job-posting sites!
[Note: The survey sample was taken from full-time US employed individuals aged 18 to 60 with a high school degree or better. Data was collected in early December 2013 via an online survey.]
BlessingWhite is an organizational development firm. It offers to help individuals, managers and organizations embrace purposeful career management to drive engagement and performance.