Times have certainly changed in the working world today.
Gone are the days of our parents’ careers where people would spend their entire working lives dedicated to a single company in pursuit of promotion after promotion until retirement brought about a gold watch and, more importantly, a pension. Instead, today’s workers can’t expect that kind of secure, linear trajectory. Instead, they have to be comfortable with change. Even better, they need to know how to use the dynamic workplace to their advantage.
Al Chiaradonna, adjunct professor of strategic management for Villanova University’s EMBA program, offers all of his students choice advice on plotting a trajectory for a robust career progression in the 21st century. He breaks his modern career strategy down into four, clear steps.
Step One: Emphasize Value Over Loyalty
“The first thing you need to do is embrace the concept of loyalty versus value,” he explains.
Chiaradonna recalls his father’s generation where employee loyalty was the most valuable asset to a corporation and where workers were always instructed to never bite the hand that feeds. But today, in a world of at-will employees where the pension is mostly a thing of the past, times have changed.
“This is a situation of ‘What have you done for me lately?’” Chiaradonna says, emphasizing that this new perspective is not a bad thing.
Workers today should be respectful toward their organizations but never confused. Instead, they must recognize that loyalty from the company will only remain intact as long as the worker retains his value.
“Now, the idea of relevance should make even more sense,” he says.
To wit, Chiaradonna recommends that everyone—even those who are more than satisfied in their current employment–test the waters every year so they can reevaluate their worth on the market. This will give them the chance to take their career trajectory back into their own hands and allow them to know their true value to their own corporation.
Step Two: Constantly Strive for Relevance
When a worker is complacent at a company, it can be easy to get comfortable in a routine. This is a danger. Instead, executives should mine industry news and trends to see what skills need to be updated or enhanced. They need to constantly strive to remain relevant.
“This should not frighten you, this should inspire you,” Chiaradonna says. “You know yourself. If you’re risk-averse, take tiny steps. Don’t try to change your life overnight. If you’re an aggressive risk taker, don’t go and quit tomorrow.”
Instead, a savvy executive on the rise should look critically at the skills that are trending in his industry. Are data analytics on the rise? Is it becoming increasingly common to work with outsourced vendors in developing countries? It can be scary to look around and see the skills you lack. But, if an executive can take an unflinchingly honest account of where he needs to grow to stay relevant, he can begin chipping away at developing the necessary skills. Better to start this step right away as the list of relevant skills needed in any given industry will only grow with new technology and development.
Step Three: Think Lattice Not Ladder
The career progression in today’s workplace is no longer a straight climb to the top.
“Instead of constantly trying to reach the next rung and go a little bit higher, your peripheral vision moves and you start to see opportunities to your left and right. And, dare I even say it—below you,” Chiaradonna says.
When an executive can remove his singular vision from following a linear ascent up the corporate hierarchy, he may find that there are other ways to advance himself or build his value. Another promotion may not always be the way.
Step Four: Never Underestimate the Value of Experiences
In that lattice over ladder frame of thought, it can be overwhelming to try and evaluate career choices at every angle. In order to know where to turn, Chiaradonna urges executives to look critically at their current skill set: what experiences are needed to make the next big leap? Do you have experience leading teams in a global organization? Have you worked in a matrixed organization? Have you managed remotely?
“Having the title helps. It’s a great little marketing tool…[But] if you’re thinking about your career moving forward you should think about chasing experiences, not titles,” Chiaradonna says. “Someone telling you to chase titles has an outdated perspective of careers, trust me.”
Once you do get through the door, Chiaradonna cautions, it’s your experience and competency that will earn respect and demonstrate value—not a list of titles on a resume.
By taking a strong and proactive attitude toward your relevance in your workplace and your industry, you can maintain your worth at your company without having to hope and rely on the outdated notion of corporate loyalty to get you through.