Monday, July 18, 2011

Ditch the Career...

I'm an Entrepreneur.  I own a couple of businesses; businesses that I started from scratch and continue to market and grow.  Okay... typical of the expectation you have for 'entrepreneurs'.  However, I want you to consider that, regardless of where you work or who you work for, you too are an Entrepreneur.  And... if you're not thinking of yourself as one... yet... you need to start!

Let's face it.  The 'old' definitions of careers just don't fit the world of work that we experience today.  The guarantees that our parents and grandparents once had no longer exist. The 'career' framework has shifted and we must shift our view with it.  This requires us to assume total and complete responsibility for our own futures and, I would suggest, necessitates a shift from thinking of our 'careers' to adopting the perspective that we are thinking of our 'businesses'.

With all of the right-sizing and down-sizing taking place, with the shift in 'how' work is getting done, we are doing ourselves a significant disservice by failing to ensure that we remain marketable and competitive.  We shouldn't need to be formally outplaced from our jobs before we begin to think more strategically about our world of work.  Accepting all this as true, what should we start to consider?

  1. Shift from the linear definition and picture of Career and adopt a more Entrepreneurial perspective.  Rather than looking for or expecting that linear career path, open yourself to a more 'adaptive' version.  This pathway may have more twists and turns.  It may require you to jump to another parallel path, or to go off-roading for a while.  Whatever the case, it is much more experiential and reflective of someone who is able to adapt to changing situations and conditions, shifting their views and approaches to 'fit' with a new reality and changing market.
  2. Be Professional, not Naive.  In a recent blog post, noted author Seth Godin differentiated between these two concepts.  A naive individual will keep themselves busy doing the work of their 'job', while a professional is consistently working to improve; themselves, their systems and processes.
  3. Study the Market.  Watch for the shifting business trends, watch for new growth opportunities and actively ensure that you prepare yourself to take advantage of these.  No one is going to care about your development as much as you should and need to.  You can't take advantage of new opportunities if you are always playing catch up.  It's work to stay ahead of the curve but it's those people who are willing to invest a little time and effort today that will be poised to take advantage of those opportunities in the future.
  4. Network.  I know that you hear this all of the time, but it is only because it is true!  Be clear about what networking means though.  It does not mean... collect as many names and business cards as you possibly can so that you have contacts on hand when you need them.  Your job search, due to a recent layoff, should not be the first time that someone has heard from you in the past 5 years.  Instead, try to put yourself out in front of your network every 6-12 months, whether with a quick check-in call or email, sending them an article you think would be of interest to them, through your blog or newsletter etc.  Work (yep... there's that word again!) your network.  Give something to them first, before you find yourself needing to ask something of them. 
  5. Study the Competition.  I know that you may consider your coworkers your friends, but you need to also consider them your competition.  If they will potentially be vying with you for that next big promotion then don't let your friendships overshadow your need to stay a step ahead.  Watch what they are doing to develop themselves, keep an eye on what skills and experience they are developing.  You might not be well-suited to duplicate it, but you definitely need to ensure that your value-added skills continue to keep-pace with or exceed theirs if you want those future opportunities.  Similarly, you need to be able to address the relative advantages of your mix of skills versus theirs.
  6. Become skilled at Self-Marketing.  This is pehaps everyone's least-favourite activity and therefore one in which most fall short.  However, it is important for businesses to strategically build and market their brand and it is equally important for you to do the same.  Don't expect your hard work to have a loud enough voice to do all of your talking for you.  Ensuring that others know the nature of your contributions and achievements is necessary as a means of standing out from the crowd.  This needn't be an obnoxious recitation of all of your accomplishments at every meeting.  It requires a little more finesse, but it does require you to be very clear about what you bring to the table and to highlight and remind people periodically.  (more on this to come in the following months as I gear up to launch a new program in this area!)
Competition for jobs in the future is only going to get tougher.  Companies are using technology to accomplish more with fewer headcounts, big businesses are arising that require limited staff to operate(consider Facebook at $100 billion, Groupon at a valuation of $30 billion, Zynga at $20 billion, even Twitter at $8 Billion.  These are not businesses that require a big headcount, but they do require a skilled one!), companies are merging, roles are being outsourced overseas... the list goes on.  The Bottom Line to all of this?  You need to do the 'work' today to ensure that you have 'work' tomorrow. 

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