Careers in the New World

Whilst many corporate leaders are doing their best to turn around businesses with innovation and even the odd bold pivot, we are also entering a time of significant organisational restructure and downsizing. A large number of jobs are being lost and careers are having to be re imagined. And along with this is a huge structural change taking place in the nature of careers. Executives and middle managers losing their jobs now, may find this next career transition to be very different. The old paradigms about surfacing a new role may no longer be as useful.

We have been carefully observing these structural changes, and have made important changes to the focus and practice of our career advisory work, which is now based around these new realities. We work with some of the old stuff ( Yes — career purposing and messaging is still important). However a great deal of our time is now focused on:

  • Developing career agility and resilience.
  • Creating a mindset for portfolio careers.
  • Developing the capacity to hold multiple, and perhaps unrelated projects.
  • How to bring the whole self to work rather than having separate home and work masks.
  • How to work with algorithms and platforms.
  • How to build routines of wellbeing that are stable and constructive regardless of career context.

Lets talk about a few of these:

Michael was like most of us. Work took up a large part of his life. He had worked in 6 different financial institutions including some global banks and also a relatively new fintech venture. His hours were 8am until 7pm most days and add at least a couple of hours over the weekend. This meant he saw a lot more of his colleagues than his children. That is the way it is. At 49 he had stopped being a technical expert quite some years ago, although he enjoyed keeping his hand in some simple trading. He confided to me that there were parts of him hidden behind the work mask, and from years of hiding he now felt he had lost sense of the real Michael . He knew he was not bringing all his full potential to either work or home and was living maybe 60% of his life . And yet despite the sacrifices, he was facing into another career pivot, as the fintech was struggling to penetrate the market.

At our 2nd session, when I asked Michael to rate his own resilience, he looked perplexed. He pushed out a coy laugh and asked with a smirk, “are you worried about me?”. I took this opportunity to draw a tree including the roots. I commented that a large and old tree is a great metaphor for a successful career.

There are many parts of this metaphor, but importantly there are 3 that I
discussed with Michael:

  • The root system and how it provides both stability, plus storage and regulation of nutrients. The root system also is also somewhat adaptive whilst it is true that the tree can only thrive within certain climatic boundaries. The roots are our underlying resilience.
  • Multiple large branch structures. Many large trees can survive with the loss of some major branches. The branches are our core work streams or specialisations.
  • Leaves that capture, store and process energy. These leaves are often lost many times in an entire life. The leaves represent our agility and importantly our attitude to ongoing learning and generation of energy.

We suggested to Michael that we follow the metaphor of the old tree and focus on:

  • His current levels of resilience and how to build this (the root system).
  • Clarifying a small portfolio of exceptional capabilities (the major branches).
  • A growth mindset to learn quickly and frequently to fuel continued growth and agility (the leaves).

Michael was hesitant at first, however, as we worked with his ability to bounce back from a set back, and to build a stronger authentic sense of his own capabilities, he realised that this personal resilience (or “Presence” if you prefer) was fundamental to success in a more volatile world. He also realised that to be truly resilient he needed all of himself to be present, rather than having parts of him hidden behind a “work” mask.

We also attended to the critical issue of accelerated development and found 2 important short courses for him to attend on innovation and digital basics. It was only having addressed these fundamental sustainable aspects of his career self that we started to look at the specific career portfolio options.

One of the emerging characteristics of careers in the new world is the capacity to hold a portfolio of roles. The notion of portfolios as risk mitigation is well established in finance and investment and could be applied to career management going forward. In some ways this clashes up against the old mindset that everyone had a core expertise. In the new world you may need 3 core expert areas. And this may start to apply to full time roles not just gig economy roles.

So how healthy is your tree?

Originally published at https://xdirections.com on September 28, 2020.

Mark founded XD to help senior executives and their teams to rise to the challenge and become the best they can be by through coaching experience.