Articles of interest
09th April 2021
Book in Focus
Strategies for Success
Futureproofing Your Career for Work Fulfilment
By Fiona Elsa Dent, Viki Holton and Patricia Anne Hind
Part 1: Strategies for Success
The last year has been difficult for all of us; we are living through unprecedented times, and facing changes and uncertainty in our lives that none of us anticipated. Our working lives and careers have not escaped these challenges. Most of us have had to make significant changes to our work patterns, while some of us have been furloughed and some have lost their jobs. It has been reported that a third of young people have lost their jobs, while many of those graduating and leaving school have been unable to find a job. In addition, it has been predicted that many more women than men have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Probably one of the most significant changes for many of us has been to our working location—home working has now become the norm. It is estimated that about 50% of the UK’s working population are now working from home.
We can already see that, in terms of career management, there are a range of radical changes ahead. For instance, previously, home working was a feature of few people’s jobs and for others an occasional choice. Already, many employers are suggesting that homeworking will become a regular and standard option for their workforce. The implications of this change include:
- Having to maintain and continue to develop our technological connection and knowhow;
- Planning for having a home office available and fit for purpose all the time;
- For many, not having to live within daily commuting distance from our place of work.
If virtual working is going to play a key role in many of our working lives and career futures, much thought is still required to ensure that best practice is achieved for both individuals and organisations.
Of course, homeworking is not a reality for all, and many of us will be facing other challenges, not least how social distancing and new hygiene practices will affect our working environment. No matter what your situation is, we think this may be an ideal time to reflect, review and refresh your career plans and ideas to ensure greater fulfilment in your working lives. We hear stories from many people about how this pandemic has caused them to question what they want from their working life and career choices going forward. So, what is it that makes you feel fulfilled? Can you articulate this? Try listing the things that you want and need to be fulfilled and energised at work going forward.
You may like to consider some or all of the following issues:
- Reflecting about the hours you commit to work—are you bordering on being a workaholic? Have you devoted long hours to your organisation and compromised other aspects of your life?
- What about the daily commute? How long did you spend travelling back and forth to work? Is this what you want going forward?
- Did you regularly travel away from home for work? With the increased recognition that video conferencing is efficient, cost-effective and probably here to stay, many of us will be questioning the necessity of frequent travel and being away from home for work;
- This life-changing pandemic has caused some people to question their choice of career in general and their work values specifically. For some this has led to thinking about what is important in their life;
- Is my employer/organisation a place I want to commit to for the long term? Specifically, explore the values of the organisation and how these are played out in reality. For instance, how do they respond to, and support, employees in these and other difficult times? What is the general feeling about morale? Do the organisation’s values mirror your own?
- How robust is the future of the sector or company you work for? Many who work in retail are already experiencing disruption which is likely to continue. In fact, many commentators are already predicting the death of the high street as we know it.
This is not an exhaustive list, but is, rather, a range of discussion points to get you started thinking about what you really want from your work, career and life.
None of us know what the future will bring or how our working life will fare moving forward. Navigating these precarious times for organisations and individuals will demand both time and effort. We believe that individuals could benefit significantly by taking time to reflect and review their career so far and their future plans and ideas. By auditing where you are now, and beginning to focus on the future, you will be paving the way for a fulfilling working life. Whether that reflection leads to change, minor or major skill development, or maybe even recognising that you are in the right job and organisation, you will be started on a journey of recognition about what’s important to you for fulfilment at work.
Part 2: Looking to the Future
In the second part of this blog, we will offer a range of practical ways you can carry out such an audit. However, in essence, and to get you started, think about your working life so far and what you like and dislike about it.
So, how can you futureproof your career? Maybe you need to refresh or learn new skills or capabilities. For instance, most of us have had to learn and become proficient in the use of a variety of video conferencing packages—the most popular of which are Zoom and Teams. Are there any other skills you should be developing or have recently developed? Is it time to relaunch your career, to change direction and retrain?
Career stories we have heard about recently illustrate the level of change that some people are currently considering and experiencing. Three of these are shown below:
- One Young Family Man
Rory has a great job at present, as a team leader of software engineers in a major tech organisation in Silicon Valley with good promotion prospects.
However, he has realised that, within the next 2-3 years, he would like to ‘mix and match’ his work. He plans to begin keeping his eyes open for new opportunities in the tech industry where he can be based nearer home, work in a less pressurised environment and create more time for pursuing his other passions—his young family, travel, snowboarding and surfing.
More of a recalibration than a major change.
- A Mid-Career Dilemma
Rachel had an unpleasant change at work 6 months ago. A new boss arrived, and it quickly became clear he wanted to make a name for himself and seemed to have very different values to her previous manager, to the organisation and to Rachel’s own value set.
It was clear that she and her new boss were not going to get along, and she realised that she needed to leave and quickly. However, she is ambitious and keen to remain working in this highly specialised business area.
Rachel decided to negotiate a consultancy role as she believed the company still needed her skills. Also, she asked to work from home which was in another country, and thereby be assigned a new manager.
By asking for the change that she wanted, she can buy time to find a new role.
- Upskilling—in a Rush
Ashok works as a personal trainer for a husband-and-wife couple who were successfully running a number of gym studios in London. However, these were closed due to lockdown and all the personal trainers were furloughed. The business owners quickly recognised the value of hiring out gym equipment such as bikes and rowing machines to people who wanted a home gym.
This enabled them to earn some income and bring back a few staff, including Ashok to provide new online classes.
This new business scenario required the gym staff to quickly change and adapt their existing skills—specifically in developing expertise in online tutorials.
Upskilling to take advantage of this new business opportunity—scary but rewarding for all.
This next section of the blog will help you to review where you currently are, and, just as importantly, help you consider how to move forward with your career. Our Futureproofing Model is illustrated below and has four key sections; we have called them the ‘four Ps’ to help you remember them more easily.
The four Ps are: Past, Present, Potential and Planning
We will take each section (or stage) in turn, as they focus on different elements of your career planning. Firstly:
About the Past: this is intended to help you reflect on the past year and identify key lessons from this that will help you plan your future.
About the Present: where are you now, and is it what you want?
About the Potential: this looks to the future and concerns what could happen (your aspirations, ambitions and potential).
About Planning: deciding what you want to achieve and creating an action plan that will help you to get there.
Each of these is briefly outlined below.
Past: What have you learned over the past 12 months about yourself, your company or about your likes, dislikes and skills? This question, when asked among a group of professionals, produced a variety of answers: learning included a greater ability to be flexible than some people realised they possessed; stronger levels of determination; greater recognition of the need to pay attention to wellbeing; and realising the need to work differently. As one person said, “complexities at different levels require novel solutions.”
Do any of these reflect your experiences?
Once you have done this reflection exercise, consider:
About yourself: what does this self-learning mean for your key skills and career choices? How have you changed recently? Has your work/life balance changed over the past year and what are the implications of any such changes? If your daily commute and work/life balance remained more or less unchanged, is this what you want for the future? Would you like, for example, to change jobs and exit city life?
About the bigger picture: what has happened to your job role in your organisation (or your company or sector, more generally)? If there have been changes, how are these likely to affect your career?
Present: Are you in the right place now? What’s happening in your sector or for your organisation? Is it a time for growth or is there a lot of disruption and uncertainty?
How do you feel about your role currently—do you love your job? One way to check this out is to consider your ‘Sunday evening feeling’. Are you keen and raring to get back to work on Monday morning? Or were you exhausted on Friday, and now you have that sinking feeling of ‘here we go again’ at a frenetic pace?
Using a scale of 1-10, describe your Sunday evening feeling: a score of 10 = idyllic, 1 = stressed and unhappy (perhaps with other symptoms such as irritability, headache or stomach-ache).
One person who took a radical career change recently talks about now having “half the salary but double the fulfilment”. Is your current job fulfilling, or do you feel ‘stuck’ in a job that may be well-paid but without any job satisfaction?
Now, write your ‘ideal’ job description and compare it to your current job—are there significant gaps or lots of similarities? Do you have key skills (or potential) that you are not using in your current role? Are there any surprises in comparing the two descriptions, and, if so, what do they tell you about yourself?
Potential: aspirations and ambitions. Realising your potential is a key part of the process of futureproofing. As such, to identify your potential consider some of the following:
- Ask others (colleagues, bosses, direct reports, or customers) for feedback. For instance, ask them for one thing you do well and one thing you could improve, or ask for feedback on a specific behaviour—your decision making, collaborative skills, inclusion capabilities or whatever is important to help you.
- Can you identify anything that is limiting you or holding you back?
- What do current career prospects look like in your organisation? It is also useful to think about the sector in which you work and what the future looks like for that. Is the sector growing or shrinking?
- How would you describe your aspirations and ambitions? Have you any unfulfilled dreams?
Now that you have some ideas about your aspirations and ambitions you should summarise these into a set of goals and objectives.
Planning: the way ahead. Futureproofing your career demands that you take action, or at least develop a plan for the way ahead. As such, having examined the past and present in relation to your working life so far and having identified your aspirations, ambitions and potential for the future, you should firstly synthesise this into a set of goals about what you want to achieve. These goals should cover the short, medium and long term. Use a table like the one below to note these down.
Once you have a set of goals you may find it beneficial to share these goals and your ideas on about how you might move them forward and achieve your goals. Share the goals with a trusted adviser, a coach or possibly your own manager to help review and reflect about:
- How realistic they are;
- What sort of timelines you anticipate;
- Who might help you on your journey;
- Any challenges you might face;
- How you will stay on track—and who will help you with this.
You can now refine your goals and develop your action plan for the way ahead. There are many ways of tracking your progress, but we believe having an action plan is a good starting point. Here’s an example of a simple action plan:
Who Will Help Me?
How Will I Know if I Have Achieved My Goal?
Action plans should be reviewed on a regular basis and any goals you do set can be adapted as you progress along the journey.
Your career journey will be easier if you find someone to help, advise and support you. It doesn’t have to be a lonely process. It’s also OK to adapt and change your plans as necessary and if and when opportunities arise.
Our book, Career Agility: Strategies for Success, delves deeper into different ways to be more agile in managing and developing your career and working life.
Fiona Elsa Dent is Professor of Practice at Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School. She is also an Executive Coach and Management Trainer, and has authored numerous articles and 12 previous books, including How to Thrive and Survive as a Working Woman (co-authored with Viki Holton).
Viki Holton is Associate Senior Research Fellow at Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School. Her interests include women’s leadership, career development, and diversity and inclusion. Her publications include Women in Business: Navigating Career Success (co-authored with Fiona Dent).
Patricia Hind is Professor of Management Development at Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School. She is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, author, lecturer and researcher, and has written extensively for both academic and professional journals in the areas of leadership, sustainability and executive development. She is also the author of two previous books.
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