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by Patti Wilson
Jul 15 2016
Sometimes career change is inevitable. As a culture and economy, we welcome progress, innovation, growth and change as good things. But there is always a price extracted in terms of jobs lost, product obsolescence, industry decline, business consolidations and careers uprooted.
Geoffrey Moore’s book, "Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution", asserts that most companies love to innovate but hate the risk required. Inertia is not readily overcome when resources are continually allocated to decaying and aging products and services. The problem then becomes one of creativity and innovation, combined with the ability to redeploy resources into new avenues for revenue generation. The alternative is Darwinian: a failure to evolve and grow precludes inevitable decline and extinction.
Mid-career executives can face similar circumstances in an accelerating, tumultuous global economy. It wasn’t always that way, of course. There was a time when careers and companies sustained long-term relationships and many employment paths encompassed multiple generations of autoworkers in Detroit and coal miners in Liege. But with innovation of products and services came greater career mobility and opportunity. By the late 20th century, executives were no longer bound by the expectations of lifetime employment, pension vesting, and loyalty to an organization.
Though job change has increased exponentially and a track record of experience in several companies in now the norm (even more for entrepreneurial executives), when industries, sectors, and companies falter, decline and consolidate in a Darwinian economy, a more substantial and radical career transformation is required. Many executives are often blind-sided and, thus, unprepared to face this future.
For example, as the auto industry convulses through business change, so do the many executives associated with this sector. When hedge funds and banking institutions failed, executives faced similar wrenching career dislocations. The list of convulsing and changing industries and sectors goes on, as does the toll on executive careers. In consolidating or declining sectors, there are not enough opportunities available to executives within those industries to sustain their career trajectories. Career transformation is inevitable…a given.
For executives in this situation, the challenge becomes the same as Moore describes for an organization: how to overcome inertia, take the requisite risks, innovate themselves and redeploy their resources for career transformation. Most mid-career executives facing career dislocation have enjoyed relatively smooth, unhampered, successful employment trajectories, moving up within the ranks of an organization or from company to company within a general sector. Doors have traditionally been opened for them by executive search firms and a network of colleagues. They have little or no experience on how to extend and re-position a search into new fields or industries.
Though the career transformation process is unique to each individual’s background, experience and talents, there are universal guideposts and challenges to surmount that echo those facing companies.
Inertia and Risk Aversion
Career change inertia can be caused by many factors that stall any change efforts dead in its tracks. It is only human nature to pursue the paths of our successes. We accommodate our comfort level gravitating to the known and the givens. Our inertia enables us avoid the risks associated with change at a cost.
An executive client once said to me, “But all I know is purchasing.” However, as that function moved off-shore, the need for mid-level executive management in purchasing became scarcer. He was facing career extinction but couldn’t move out of what was a known for 20+ years. Former California governor, Jerry Brown said, “Nothing in life is so rigid that there aren’t developments. And for those small minds that adhere to foolish consistency, their irrelevance is their best reward.” That quote may sound rather harsh, but no effective career transformation can occur without a willingness to take risks, to move out of our comfort zones and to explore the unknown. This is difficult but not impossible. When done well the subsequent rewards can be immense.
How is career transformation done well? Certainly it takes an exercise of creative vision, a willingness to take the long view, openness to innovation and a core resolve to change. Transformation has many definitions as applied to different areas of life.
The definition most appropriate and relevant to career transformation is that of “a qualitative change, including any change in an organism which alters its general character and mode of life as well as a change in disposition, heart, character, or the like.” Career transformation requires rebuilding and becoming anew, that can involve major lifestyle and mindset changes. The trite term “out of the box” thinking would be apropos to the process.
It helps to picture putting your current industry experience and expertise in the hub of a wheel with spokes radiating out to the broader circumference in different directions. Each spoke can be a possible derivative career field, sector or industry. For example, automotive experience revolving around sensing and detection systems, security and ventilation systems, and plastic molding products, would have multiple spokes leading out to broader industries that encompassed but expanded beyond automotive.
As those spokes are explored, an openness to the unexpected and the unanticipated creates a qualitative change in opportunities and possibilities arrayed before you.
Many executives attempting a career transformation lack current job search tools and skills. Mid-career executive resumes often look like they were written in the last century, and in fact many were. To some, the acquisition of social networking and social media skills appears daunting. Fortunately, BlueSteps members reading this article can avail themselves of an abundance of articles, seminars, and resources available to enable the transformation and redeployment of their careers.
Ironically, armed with a new vision and career goal, we are often derailed by the actual deployment of steps needed to achieve it. The challenge to career transformation and moving into a new and different field and industry is magnified by the need to acquire often foreign and radically new competencies, tools and techniques to accomplish the task. Inertia can easily set in and stymie the career redeployment process. It is far easier to cast aspersions at the efficacy of new tools and techniques than to assimilate the learning required to master them.
Finding resources, mentors and subject matter experts to act as guideposts along the way can facilitate movement forward. There is no point in going it alone and the hazard of not knowing what you need to know easily arises.
This is a process and once undertaken, it is actually never-ending. Change accelerates geometrically today. We cannot avoid the lessons of Darwin to evolve or become extinct. Transformation, especially career transformation, is a regenerative process. The psychologist, Erik Erickson coined the term “regenerativity” to denote a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.
Think of your career transformation in much the same way, as the urgent concern that guides you to a new generation of possibilities.