Career change — lessons from business transformation strategies

I came across an article today in Strategy+Business (posted to my C-View website) about managing business change, and it struck me that it was very applicable to how we coach our clients to manage/drive their career transformation — essentially just replacing the words “business” or “company” with “people” drives the key points home of effective career transformation.Here are a few excepts which I think are quite meaningful and powerful to dwell on for anyone pondering their career progression:

“It used to be that a business (think “career” here) transformation was a once-in-a-lifetime event, the sort of fundamental reset prompted by a rare, short-lived disruption such as a new technology, a devastating scandal, or a dramatic shift in costs. But if the recent economic upheaval reveals anything, it is that companies (replace with “employees”) of all sizes, in all industries, are operating in a more volatile, less predictable environment, and that change has become a way of life. To navigate such a rocky landscape, companies (insert “people”) must be ready to repeatedly transform themselves — indeed, to institutionalize the capacity to alter strategies again and again — as business (replace with “working”) conditions require.”

The article goes on to identify and describe 3 basic strategies for dealing with this business transformation imperative, which are:

“1. Reactive. This is the default transformation strategy; it is minimal, and has become second nature to most seasoned executives. A change in circumstances provokes a short-term response, generally an abrupt shift…” — this is akin to the typical personal “reactive” response to losing one’s job through a downsizing, business sale, restructuring, or whatever. The employee is often quite unaware that their job is in jeopardy and/or perhaps doesn’t really want to think proactively about that possibility since it can be stressful. Unfortunately when the change does happen they are unprepared for it and the levels of stress experienced are dramatically greater.

“2. Programmatic. This strategy is more comprehensive and is appropriate when major change is required and a company has sufficient lead time. In such circumstances…” This compares to managed career change, when unhappy employees recognize their need for career change and begin to take action themselves (eg: updating resumes, stepping up networking activities, reviewing and responding to job postings, etc.). This could include instances where employees are given significant “warning” about impending job changes and provided long time lines for managing change, access to career transition services, and the like.

“3. Sense-and-adjust. This is the most long-term and sustainable strategy, but only a few companies have successfully implemented it. Unlike the first two approaches, sense-and-adjust is dynamic, constantly and consistently smoothing out volatility in areas of business subject to swift and dramatic change…the sense-and-adjust process is continuous, incorporating new information and forecasting outcomes and expectations constantly..”. We rarely see this in the employment world also; these are those rare workers who work to stay aware of overall business and industry trends and are continually working to understand what new skills and experiences might be valuable to gain to improve their flexibility and fit in the evolving workplace. These are people who work to keep on top of their career development; they do this through routinely documenting what they have been doing, and working to regularly learn new things along the way. This makes it that much easier to translate their interests and experiences into new opportunities that present themselves.

At almost all career management companies (including CCI currently), offered programs are generally structured to respond to the ‘reactive” and “programmatic” strategies — in the CCI case, our clients typically approach us for our help because either their career has been disrupted ( through job loss or physical location changes brought about by a family consideration), or they approach us as  part of a  “programmatic change” such as a desire to find a job that is a much better fit than what they are currently experiencing.

Where the career development industry needs to evolve to, I believe, is providing much better support in partnering with our clients in a “sense-and-adjust” world of ongoing career development. The questions I ponder these days is “how can we best support people so that they can proactively manage their career choices, growth, and development? What kinds of tools and coaching can we provide that will help people (i)  better gauge their career progress; (ii) identify skill and competency gaps/shortcoming that may require addressing, and; (iii) develop, execute, and monitor those “career development” plans such that clients are more truly “in control” of their careers?”

From my perspective, those are the tools, support, and mentoring that all people will benefit from the most in our rapidly evolving and highly volatile “world of work”.

The article — aptly titled “It makes Sense to Adjust”, by the way — closes with the following thought; again I’ve added in bold the alignment to people:

“If nothing else, all companies (people) must recognize that the pace and magnitude of change is far faster and greater now than ever before and that transforming their business (work, job, or career) is no longer something they can avoid, defer, or out-manage. Even small moves to increase an organization’s (individual’s) sense-and-adjust skills will reap significant and sustainable rewards.

Any comments on this comparison of business transformation to career transformation? I’m interested in your perspectives…

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