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Grow: Future-proof Your Career

Career development is a self-initiated process with support and resources provided by managers and the company you work at. Managing work, transitions, and learning new things can be difficult at times. Here are some tips on how to develop your career and grow, both professionally and personally:


1. Consider the key building blocks for a successful career

Depending on the career and the function, there are function-specific building blocks:


a) In general, the broader you go, the more of your potential you’ll realize. The more key functions you know about and have experience with, the better. Make a conscious effort to not have experience in only one aspect. For instance, if you’re in sales, you want to have trade marketing, field sales, strategic account management, and category management experience. The same goes for any other function. So if you see an opportunity to get a career development either within or outside of your core function, take it.


b) Within each function, there are internal facing and external facing roles, often strategic versus operational. There are also roles where you have to manage people along a dotted line and a direct line. People will naturally lean towards one or the other, but you need to keep your skills sharp in all areas: internal/external; strategic/operational; dotted/direct reporting lines, etc. A general good rule of thumb is one strategic role for every three operational roles.


c) If you have only worked in developed markets, you need to get experience in an emerging market. That’s where growth and cross-cultural broadness comes from. If you’re going to make a run for the top role in the company or a big regional role, you need to show that you can manage not just developed markets, but also emerging markets as well.


d) The last building block is sector diversity. Get diversity in function, in geography, in the type of role, in the function of the role, and then in different sectors and categories. If you want to future-proof your career, you have to prove that you’re agile, that you can adjust to changing conditions, environments and market forces. Therefore, a company that can give you experience in multiple sectors is advantageous.


2. Maximize your potential

Compensation is not a career management factor; if you don’t take it as such, you’re going to maximize your potential and you’ll end up earning more. The biggest determinants of long-term success are 1. Culture fit; 2. The starting role is a good landing role; 3. Career path – there must be a track to run on. You need to be able to see that you can be promoted and developed over ideally at least three roles. Well-run companies borrow Jim Collins’ theory of ‘First get the right people on the bus, then figure out where they should sit’. Likewise, candidates should first identify the right company and then make sure that the starting role (where they sit) is the right starting point.


People who chase the money invariably continue to chase the money. Whereas people who make career decisions based on career management factors grow, get promoted, and earn more in the long run. Manage that balance between moving not too often, gaining momentum and traction by staying in a company for at least seven years, and building your reputation and network. Then make a move in seven, ten, or twelve years. If you’re going to stay 15+ years in a company, there should be a very good reason – they do exist, but don’t kid yourself as to whether it applies to you.


3. Leverage every resource you have in order to meet all the possible opportunities

When you talk to some very senior people, they’ll say don’t plan but just take the opportunities as they come. But you need to know how to evaluate the opportunities and decide which ones to choose. You should have at least a vague plan of how you want to develop in the next 10-15 years. Many different roads can get you there, with different stops (roles) along the way so be selective to take the best opportunities.


The best resource you can have in terms of career development is to pick a great company that has an excellent track record of leadership development. Obviously, some companies are better at that than others.


Generally speaking, you can break leadership development into 70-20-10 with the 20% being the mentoring or on-the-job training. The 10% is more the formal education and leadership academies. The biggest part, the 70% is the stretch assignment where you get the opportunity to put all that best-in-class training and development into practice. Find a company where you can do that and you’re on the right track, but It’s easier said than done. Few companies are good at all three elements. Earlier in your career, the 20 and 10 are more important but once you get to Director level and the pyramid kicks in (limiting upward growth), a company that continues to stretch employees is more important.


4. Network

The art of networking should be taught at universities. It’s the old adage of saying: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. People need a certain level of comfort with the hiring decisions that they are making and the more people they can be validated by, the better. To future-proof your career, it’s good to have worked in 2-3 companies in the span of 20-25 years.


5. Focus on your strengths, minimize your weaknesses

Know which weaknesses are opportunities to grow. Minimize them, making sure none of your weaknesses limit you, then spend the rest of your time focusing on your strengths that give you energy.


6. Plan effectively

Planning is key. You don’t have to get into details too much, but you need at least a vague plan. You need a mentor who can help you with career development. You always need to be accountable for your own career development, you’ve got to drive your own course. Put pen to paper; people who write their goals down achieve them much more than those that don’t.


Unlock your potential. Work hard. And never, ever give up.


Paul Loftus

Managing Partner of Loftus Bradford Group, a boutique Executive Search firm, serving our clients globally by attracting top, international, diverse talent in General Management, Sales, Marketing, Big Data, E-Commerce, Retail, Strategic Planning, Supply Chain, Manufacturing and Procurement.


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