Business ‘guru’, Peter Drucker, once said: “Business is fundamentally about two things: Innovation and Marketing”. At the start of spring, it may be the ideal time to consider how the notion of innovation may inform career choices. In this blog, I’ll focus on re-invention or ‘step change’, rather than gradual level change.
There was a recent newspaper article in the Daily Mail about the advice given to Matt Dawson, hero of the England Rugby World Cup-winning team, by the talent agent, Richard Thompson. Thompson warned Dawson that it was time to move on from being a professional rugby player and to re-invent himself before his career lost momentum and he dwindled into obscurity. This was a risky proposition, considering Dawson was yet to win his contract as team captain on the BBC’s A Question of Sport.
Indeed, for most professionals, career progression tends to be the result of being able to add value to a business. Incremental gains in skills, experience and ultimately performance will result in greater reward and in turn, promotion.
Time For a Career Change?
So what are the signs that it is time for a more radical career change? For sports professionals, it’s fairly obvious; at the time, Dawson was no longer the guaranteed first pick for his club, Wasps.
For other professionals, there may be similar ‘career signals’: a failure to secure a promotion; being promoted to run a team and then demoted for someone else to take charge, etc.
Other warning signs may include the gap between the perceived value you are adding to a business and your reward narrowing, thus reducing the business’ margin.
Perhaps your firm has had a significant cultural shift resulting from a new management team coming in to drive change, and for whatever reason, your background and skills no longer fit.
It may be that you are now at a different chapter in your life. You may want to move from executive to advisor or from producer to someone who is giving back.
Finally, perhaps you are just bored, undercharged and no matter how hard you try, you’re unable to disguise your lack of enthusiasm, zest or zeal – It’s time for a new challenge.
Anticipating a Career Change
Anticipation is a powerful organizing principle in both business and sports. Wayne Gretzky, the demi-God of ice hockey, famously skated to where the puck was going to be, rather than where it was. Going from this principle, it’s important to consider that it is often better to be the cause rather than the effect of change, particularly when relating to your career. You do not want to find yourself waking up, asking: “WTF just happened?”
Timing is also critical. Think of Richard Branson, who tactfully sold his Virgin Megastore before the negative impact of music downloads really hit his profit margins.
What prevents people from proactively reinventing themselves, even though they know that the career signals are there?
Comfort and fear of the unknown often create ‘career inertia’, particularly the illusion that ‘everything is ok’ and that change is more painful than the status quo (even though often the status quo itself has changed).
A Successful Career Reinvention
What can you do in order to effectively make this step-change and successfully reinvent yourself as a professional?
1) Confirmation: Before acting, make sure that – as far as you can – this is the right time for a career change. Seek advice from those you trust and who are familiar with your career situation.
2) Collaboration: Find the right person to work with - someone who can offer incisive and perceptive thinking, and help you create some new career options to pursue. The power of collaborating with the right person is not to be underestimated. People who have been fantastically successful in their chosen field will often turn to a professional to guide them - why should you not give yourself the same edge? An experienced coach with a strong track record might be an ideal partner to embark on a career transformation with.
3) Momentum: Ensure you are on the front foot and taking pro-active action, to maintain precious momentum. This is not least because your self-perception as a decision maker who is making use of the springboard of your latest successful career chapter will be invaluable. This is particularly in contrast with having to start a job searching having been made redundant.
4) Explanation: Have a clear and valid vision for your reinvention – this will be invaluable in future job interviews. I recently worked with a coaching client to successfully secure a career/sector change from financial services to media. One of the key reasons he gave in his interviews for wanting to move sectors was the disruptive changes in financial services due to both frequent changes in the regularly environment and the impact of technology.
5) Self-assurance: Finally, get comfortable with the idea of change in how you see yourself. This re-invention will require a change in identity - i.e. the label that you give yourself. As Dr Maxwell Maltz made clear in ‘Psycho-Cybernetics’, the identity that you give to yourself is the single biggest influence on your behaviour. Most people are unconsciously familiar with shifts in identity. After all, they have already shifted their identity from student to a professional. Perhaps think of this as an “expansion” of identity, as you increase the range and scope in which you can add value to a business and open a new career chapter.
It’s always important to be one step ahead in your career. If you feel the tide is turning or you have simply out-lived your role or the sector entirely, be proactive – yet sensible – in making an innovative career change.