August 15, 2013

Taking Care of Your Career

Getting opportunities to learn and chances to grow both laterally (to expand your horizon) and vertically up (to reach senior positions) is an important ingredient of professional success. You career growth and the jobs you hold on the way to professional success are important elements to ensure you are able to provide and sustain a certain standard of living for yourself and your near and dear ones. Hence, you owe it to yourself to take care of and navigate your career.

You would typically enter the workforce at around 20-25 years of age and can continue to work till 60-65 years of age which means you can have a career span of 35-45 years. However, surviving this long is not easy with so many challenges on the way – companies closing down, organizations downsizing due to business decline, reduced demand for one’s skills in the market, lay-offs due to industry-wide recession, getting fired for various reasons and difficulties on the personal front (terminal illness, debilitating diseases, incapacitating accidents).

Many professionals carry the impression that the manager you report into or the company you work with owe you a favor since you are working to make them successful. The reality is far removed away from this impression and quite harsh. No one actually works for the company, instead they work for protecting their interests - the manager works for protecting her interests till she is around, the executive management team works for protecting their individual and collective interests till they are around, the shareholders (especially those who are founders, promoters, owners) work for protecting their interests till they stay invested.

Hence professionals should also work with the same orientation - work for protecting their interests till they are around. Never expect the manager you report into or the company you work with to help you learn and grow. This is something which must be owned and operated by you solely as you are the one who gets directly and severely impacted at the end of the day.

If you are a founder-type professional you should hold your control on the company (never dilute equity beyond a certain percentage). In such a case you can work on and on as you wish, literally until the day you die, and hand over the reins to the next generation and this can go on for many generations. As long as the company’s business model adapts and stays relevant your future generations will remain founder-type professionals. In the unfortunate event of the company going turtle you won’t need to bother as you won’t be there to know about it. It is also interesting to note that founder-type professionals would have vested interest in creating an army of loyalist-type professionals who man key positions with the founder as the father figure at the top.

If you are a loyalist-type professional, chances are high you would be manning a key position in a company (such companies rely on creating an army of loyalists who man key positions with a father figure at the top). In such a case you might want to continue as long as you can. However, be careful in case the direction of wind starts changing and the ship starts sinking. Remaining with the organization at that juncture might jeopardize your career. One example when this can happen is the company getting acquired by another company. The father figure and his protégés will be the ones who will be sent home with hardly much time for packing their bags when the new management team takes over.

If you are a normal professional you should act like free agents. You should work with an organization as long as you are adding value to yourself and to the company you work with at that point. The moment you sense learning and growth is blocked, it makes complete logical sense to move on. In case you are in a company with many loyalist-type professionals, many of whom are lifers, you will generally find that it is difficult to join the group of loyalists as the father figure at the top will never trust you, no matter how competent you are and how well you perform. Moving on would be the only choice left with you after you stay with such a company for a certain duration. If by chance, you are included as part of the group of loyalists you might want to stay put while being constantly watchful of the direction of wind. In troubled times, the new loyalists will be sacrificed for the old and original loyalists.

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