Managing a career in turbulent times

Securing your job, let alone moving up the career ladder, is a challenge in this economic climate

 

 

There’s an old story about two shoe salesmen whose company sends them to a remote village in Africa.

Upon arrival, one sends home a message saying, “No one here wears shoes; will return shortly.” The other salesman sends this message: “No one here wears shoes; send inventory!” The point of the story, of course, is that your perspective influences your behaviour. If you consider the situation as all doom and gloom, and there is nothing you can do to change it, you act one way. But if you see the world as a series of opportunities, you act differently.

If I were to consider what has come out of the Great Recession to date, I think it would be that individuals at all stages in their careers – from emerging leaders to executives to members of the board – are reconsidering the next steps in their careers. They are taking control of the planning of their own career management and development, ensuring that, with a long-term career plan, they can refocus their development wisely to make the most effective impact on their career.

The recession has forced us all to focus on what matters and to use limited resources wisely to make the greatest impact. The key is to have a mind-set that focuses on the opportunities evolving as a result of the current economic environment, as opposed to dwelling on the problems. After all, a positive approach could help you sell a lot of shoes! 

It’s all too easy to let the urgent demands of the workplace and the ailing economy trample over your need to focus on your own growth and job satisfaction. Yet, especially during lean times, if you don’t manage yourself, no one else will. Take a step back and acknowledge that the environment has shifted and, while you may not be doing the work you were expecting to be doing, ask:

‘What can I do in this context to make sure that I’m still growing toward my vision?’

You need to come up with a career plan that is two-fold, both short-term and long-term. A natural tendency for people is to over-estimate what can be achieved in one year, and under-estimate what can be achieved in five years. One benefit of keeping a strong focus on your vision is that it makes it easier to find alternate routes when you encounter road-blocks. Map out alternate pathways in advance before there is a road-block. In the short-term, you can advance your learning agenda in this current climate by keeping the vision of where you want to be and taking advantage of every opportunity to gain the knowledge and experience that will move you closer to that vision.

Areas where communications currently play a key role, and where you the corporate communications professional can make a difference, include:

  1. Company Business Strategy

The economic downturn forced organisations to scale back, sometimes quite dramatically, but growth will again reappear on the horizon and when it does it will bring the new challenge of how to develop a team in synchronisation with a business that is operating in a very different environment. A strong business strategy will need to be in place to allow this growth.

But even the most brilliant strategy is worth nothing if it isn’t executed well. Communications is unilaterally deemed critical to the success of strategic initiatives. Historically, communicators placed their role in an advisory capacity and not beyond. However to support the powerful convergence of strategy, communications should act as an integral and active component of strategy development and execution. There is no strategy without communications.

The strategy needs to be communicated across the organisation. Strategy communications need to be accompanied by metrics to help frontline employees take ownership over their roles in the execution. The message should be two-fold: this is what we are trying to achieve and this is how we will measure if we are achieving it. To drive your own growth in this current climate you need to seek perpetual education and development, and this is not necessarily by going to college but by putting yourself forward for new and perhaps demanding assignments.

 

  • Demonstrate that you are willing and able to support business strategy from implementation through to execution
  • Establish the role of communications as a resource to strategists
  • Find ways of gaining exposure to new people and ideas by being a participant in the strategic task force
  • Develop a strong collaborative working relationship with strategic planners and leaders

Understanding the intersection of strategy, leadership and communications by capturing all three of these viewpoints and different perspectives will provide a richer, more complete and holistic approach to your role of corporate communications specialist.

  1. Sustainability and Social Responsibility

How are you, as a corporate communications professional, taking advantage of the stronger focus on sustainability and social responsibility?

Companies are being more proactive towards the social pressure of protecting the environment, placing an emphasis on good employee relations and human rights, as well as the business interest in assuming a leadership role in society and the economy. It is linked to the long-term sustainability for businesses.

  • The key role of corporate communications is to establish ways of tying sustainability to a brand’s core business to ensure it resonates with customers. This needs to be authentic by connecting the vision and execution in a credible and meaningful way: for example, car brands must focus on making more fuel-efficient, cleaner cars, not saving the rainforest. Honesty and transparency go a long way with consumers. Disclosing what you’re doing well, and what you could be doing better, will instil trust and trust breeds loyalty.
  • Communications play an important part in supporting your organisation in having a competitive edge when price and quality are equal. Work collaboratively with the team to ensure all sustainability efforts are in place, functioning and measurable before being announced. This will allow you to communicate a message that is credible, has clarity and is engaging – all of which are key to sustainable brand success. 
  • Social media offers great opportunities in supporting communication around CSR and sustainability, and there is clearly potential in digital communication to advance the sustainability dialogue for stakeholder engagement. But before getting on the social media bandwagon and focusing on the technology and the tools/platforms offered (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc.), consider the best practices of social media, which are primarily about conversation and relationship building. Revolving around trust, social media also requires openness, transparency, accountability and two-way engagement with an ability to listen and this is even more important in the field of communications, as all of these elements are fundamental principles of CSR and sustainability strategies.

CSR/sustainability programmes, when appropriately communicated, demonstrate the actualisation of values that are becoming more prominent in society. The emphasis here needs to be on appropriate communication. People tend to know when they are being “played”, or when actions simply do not match the messages from to top. It is important then that the messaging around CSR/sustainability focuses on realistic activities and objectives while celebrating actual successes and activities. An effective and effectively communicated CSR/sustainability programme can demonstrate improved quality of process and organisational management, and can improve the quality of use of corporate resources.

Longer perspective

But you also need to stay focused on working toward your long-term career goals. Most professionals should be looking three years ahead and thinking about the ways in which they can make their actual day-to-day responsibilities more congruent with their deepest interests. This includes thinking about what kind of culture you want to have around you and how you can do more of the more meaningful aspects of your work. You should try to imagine as deeply as possible your vision for your work reality. Then you should work backwards from that to determine what you need to learn or experience over the next one or two years to be seen as a highly desirable candidate to step into that role. As organisations prepare for growth a number of key areas that employers will focus on are:

  • Ensuring an adequate pipeline of future leaders
  • Retaining high-potential employees and those with critical skills
  • Understanding the key roles and workforce segments that drive business success
  • Linking employee performance to business goals
  • Attracting the right workforce for the right roles

So, as well as  surviving  the current economic climate, you also need to take responsibility of your own talent management and find ways of  developing yourself in order to secure that competitive edge that is vital to your long-term success. How can you position yourself within your organisation to ensure you have an opportunity to leverage your skills, talents and motivated abilities?

There are a number of ways in which you can you take control of your career to ensure you are motivated, stretched and inspired, and that your talents are nurtured through meaningful development opportunities, and these include:

  • Increasing your self awareness: having clarity about who you are and what you want empowers you to consciously and actively make those wants a reality
  • Have focused, one to one coaching: an effective coach will support and challenge you to enable you to achieve what is important to you
  • Role model authentic leadership behaviours: identify people you admire and respect and model their behaviours
  • Make mentoring work – engage with senior people for career advice
  • Take responsibility through benchmarking: benchmarking allows you to compare yourself with others, identify their comparative strengths and weaknesses and learn how to improve
  • Embrace learning through experience: be open to learning and change, talent needs to be nurtured and developed through the right experiences and this will support meaningful work
  • Use assignments and secondments creatively: bring your personal insights and creative abilities to each assignment – this is your opportunity to shine
  • Demand inspirational leadership: support your manager in being innovative with leadership programmes
  • Aim to build breadth and personal depth: develop personal mastery through learning, intellectual agility and authenticity

Organisations are finding it tougher to retain their star performers; help them to tailor your job in line with your interests, and take on new responsibilities that enable you to express those interests. Maybe as a communications professional you have an interest in quantitative analysis - ask to take on duties working with market-research analysis - or perhaps you want to develop your people management skills - put yourself forward for planning and managing new-hire orientation.

This creates new opportunities for utilising resources within the organisation as the key forces in driving organisational success. You have the opportunity and responsibility to support your organisation in recognising the impact of making sure the most important people stay motivated, happy and productive and that they stay with the company. Now is the time to take responsibility for your own talent management. 

Carmel O’ Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly is a consultant at Career Energy, where she specialises in effectively partnering with individuals to create an innovative career programme supporting their development and growth in line with organisational strategy. Having studied career coaching and management at post graduate level with Birbeck University, her core interests lie in providing individuals and organisations with the skills to use their own stories to communicate with power and impact.