The head of a major multi-national, multi-business firm had a very simple but effective strategy. Whenever he returned to the US from a major international trip, he began at work thinking it is his first day and outlined areas for change and focus to his team. He had put in all the hard yards regarding strategy rethink during his flight back in his private jet. When I heard about this, it immediately led me to think about how often we refresh our own career strategy!
Here are a few tips for when to develop or refresh your career strategy based on my experience in this area:
- Dynamic world: The world we live in is so dynamic that the real value comes from strategic thinking, not strategy. It is not a plan which is frozen in time but one which is constantly refreshed that helps us stay ahead. One of the most effective examples I know in this area is that of a CEO who prepares his 5-year personal career plan (alongside this 5 year business plan) and he refreshes that every year when he updates his business plan for his presentation to the board.
- R&D inputs: Many businesses have incubation cells , innovation labs, or R&D cells. I have personally found it very useful to be in touch with the monthly inputs from these cells so that one can stay on top of new trends (such as block chain) and thereby gain a competitive edge. It is also a very useful career refresh tool since entirely new avenues may open up! An acquaintance of mine ventured out on his own, creating a start-up in health insurance, based on one such input.
- Zero baseline: Many of us avoid career rethink because we do not wish to face the hard reality of where we are currently vs. where we wished to be. It is very important to have the correct baseline so that the plans are built on a firm foundation. A friend of mine realized that his real joy lay in teaching – so, he quit his work, did a doctoral thesis in international relations, and is now one of the experts in his field!
- Key questions: All of us have goals, dreams & ambitions. When we crystallize them into key questions, the quest to answer them once or twice a year lets us know the points of departure. Do we need to reinvigorate ourselves, deviate from the path taken, etc. etc.?
- Recurring dreams: A friend of mine had a recurring dream of being a writer. Come what may, whether he was in a glorious year in his career, or in a stagnant year, the dream kept coming back to him. He took it as a strong signal from the universe to harness his hitherto latent potential, and embarked on a journey of writing. Lo and behold, he was successful as a debut author, and then took to writing full-time!
- Changes (mandated or environmental): Regulatory changes (impacting business strategy) as well as environmental changes (a subtle shift in favor of youth over wisdom!) also throw up opportunities for career refresh. A couple of my ex-colleagues saw the winds of change (in favor of youth), quit their roles, and set up a full-time mentoring/training company to cater to the needs of youthful managers in their firm, and are now highly sought-after!
- Enroll for a course – A strategy widely deployed today by many professionals is enrolling for a course which takes you back to B-school gets you back in touch with your strengths and your core value proposition. A colleague of mine who was very good at his work realized the need to add technology skills to his repertoire, enrolled in a course, and is today the COO of a blue-chip firm!
- Projects: How often have we heard of this but not explored it? A friend of mine who was on the verge of retirement, thanks to his work on projects in the area of corporate social responsibility, is now the CEO of an NGO! Talk about a refreshing career extension at the right time (he was keen on working)!
Do what you have not done before – As they say, success starts beyond the comfort zone. If we get into areas which we have not explored before, unexpected positive outcomes emerge! In one of the firms I know, the head of technology dabbled in sales for a couple of years – he is today the CEO of an e-commerce firm!
Serendipity plays a huge role – no doubt about that. At the same time, a focused, systematic effort at refreshing our career strategies yields a rich, fulfilling life (which we may not even have dream of in the beginning).