Tag Archives: career path

The Single Greatest Challenge With Today’s Career

No matter how well you prepare yourself for your career, there’s a rising force that is creating huge barriers for professionals today.  College degrees don’t matter.  It can’t prepare you for this.  Even a great network of professionals and coworkers and years of experience has limited impact in this landscape.  This force creates an environment like no other in the history of business.  For those in power, it provides the ultimate in flexibility in use of talent but for the talent, it affords some serious confusion in determining, much less traversing, any kind of career path.

Just a few decades ago, my father worked in a 100 year old company for over 34 years.  The company had a well defined structure, including a management hierarchy, job roles, payment structures, career paths and incentive plans.  I became a part of the company as I grew up.  Strangely, when I graduated college and starting working there, I couldn’t see the company I knew as a kid.  Changes had already begun and continued every year I worked there.  It was the beginning of what we call the “constant change” that we see today.

A softening structure.  When I began my first job, the organizational structure was rigid and well-defined.  Everyone had their place and knew what their responsibilities were every day.  I had a manager to help me when I ran into problems.  The organization chart was clear to each employee in many ways.  Now, let’s look at the difference within the last ten years.  I’ve helped many professionals who work in companies that have no organizational chart.  Companies engage in these practices because they say they want to remove barriers and allow their employees to approach anyone at anytime.  Having studied a few companies that have utilized this method, I can’t say that is highly successful, as many have failed.  While it seems like a good approach, employees quickly learn that there is still a hierarchy.  The management structure is well defined, just not put on an organization chart.  Decisions are still made by this structure and when things go wrong, it rolls downhill.  While some superficial facets change, many things don’t.  It’s not all bad though.  Employees do have the ability to interact with other business leaders, which can lead to new opportunities. Remember, there’s no structure so there is no real career path either.  You have to figure that out for yourself.

It’s hard to roll with my role.  Now, more than ever, high achievers are engaging with organizations that want to hire them but don’t want to provide a clear definition of their responsibilities.  Companies feel a strong need to remain flexible, which means they need to be able to use their talent any way they see necessary.  Role definitions tie their hands and contribute to an inability to change directions quickly.  Of course, it’s also possible that companies don’t know exactly what they need so they hire people who can function in ambiguity and aren’t afraid to charge headfirst into the unknown.  When I was a kid, I often worked as a farm hand.  This is a job that requires you to do whatever the landowner asks you to do.  They didn’t ask if you had certain skills or talents.  They needed something done and I was the person to do it.  Today, we see that even with the best business knowledge and expertise in the world, work boils down to that same simple principle.  Somebody has to do it.

There’s no work schedule.  This is certainly a more recent trend for companies that has been ushered in by technology that helps us work from anywhere at any time.   The typical work week was defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which was established to ban oppressive child labor, set the minimum wage standard and the maximum work week. Of course, with most employment, this doesn’t apply to you.  High achievers are often salaried exempt employees, which mean your work schedule isn’t really protected by law, as long as your pay is the same each pay period.  You can work 40 hours a week or 100 hours a week.  To make this more challenging for you, there is no real definition of work hours.  With a cell phone and laptop, you are reachable any time of the day and reachable almost anywhere in the world.  Growing up as a kid, my dad had a pretty good schedule.  He was an hourly employee and worked from 6AM to 3PM.  He could easily plan his life because the schedule was well defined.  Today’s work schedule is ill defined and makes your life a little more unpredictable.

Working ‘at-will.’  As if your career wasn’t already lacking of any real structure, states have created laws that allow employers to dismiss you for any reason and without warning.  Yep, that means they can walk into your office on Friday and terminate your employment without any justification.  Friday is a good day because it doesn’t disrupt the normal workday of your coworkers should you be terminated without reason.  So, the length of your employment at any company is always at risk.  Many years ago, this wasn’t much of a risk for the workforce but now many managers have figured out that balancing the bottom can include terminating a few employees to keep their division’s budget in the black.  I know we are all professionals here but when your job is on the line, you might be forced to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like terminating employees.

All of these factors have created a completely amorphous environment, void of any reasonable predictability, which further perpetuates the need for change.  We can’t see where we are going and that makes us uneasy.  Professionals remain in a job for 2 or 3 years but choose to leave because their future in the organization continues to remain undefined.  We are creatures of habit and embrace predictability, to some extent.  We’ve built our lives around our jobs and when that stability becomes unstable, so do our thoughts on satisfaction and happiness.  We once had a system that built careers on a visible, logical progression.  You went to college to earn a degree and then entered the workforce in your field.  After years of work in that field, you were promoted up the chain in a career that lasted a lifetime.  Bonuses and promotions were an annual part of your growth.  Today, we see more job uncertainty than we ever have but it appears to be occurring in times with sufficient economic stability. Nonetheless, young graduates will find themselves entering a workforce that struggles to define what it can offer in return for their efforts.   Whatever it is, it is likely to be short term.

THE MBA: USE IT WITH CAUTION

Many professionals engage in this often expensive endeavor to gain business knowledge and skills that will hopefully improve their career mobility, either immediately or in the future.  Once the MBA is obtained, these freshly minted MBAs rush into the world to demonstrate their new found expertise.  The hope is that a clear demonstration of great knowledge will bring forth praise, reward and opportunity.  Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when utilizing your new skills and knowledge in your work place.

I now know what they know.  One common misconception new MBAs adopt is that the knowledge they gain in the MBA program is known by most managers and leaders in organizations.  With the MBA, they can now engage in the discussions with leadership or at least understand what they are talking about.  In most small and medium enterprises, you’ll find that many leaders are not highly educated.  They don’t develop strategies and plans for their organizations using methods taught in MBA programs.  These leaders use their experience and connections within their industries to figure out the direction of the company.  You should never assume what you know is what they know.  The importance of this fact will be shown later on in the article.

My new research abilities will be helpful.  It seems logical that being able to perform research to understand how the market trends, creating a thorough competitor analysis, or developing a roadmap for technology creation would be useful or desired by management.  It is important, especially if it is your job and leadership has requested this information.  If not, many managers and leaders may not understand the methods or the results.  The whole process of the research and developing these helpful results may likely be misinterpreted.

The MBA doesn’t make you a leader.  The MBA has become a science, not a journey into managing people.  No one believes it automatically makes you a leader.  Your individual personality has far more to do with you getting a leadership role than possessing an MBA.  In the book, The Ten Golden Rules Of Leadership, Soupios and Mourdoukoutas posit that leadership requires an unusual composite of skill, experience, and seasoned personal perspective, which include your personal values, priorities, and an ability to build and sustain a respectable quality of life.  I know you’ll want to lean very heavily on the scientific methods you’ve learned to improve business but the soft side will get you where you want to go much faster.

Your new knowledge doesn’t incorporate an understanding of management psychology.  The MBA teaches you about leadership, usually from an ideal perspective.  However, most companies operate far from ideal.  The way many managers and leaders function are known well to psychologists but not to the rest of us, as we believe they operate on a higher standard.  I wish it were always true but it isn’t.  They are just like the rest of us.  Learning these lessons in the workplace can be detrimental to your job, reputation and upward mobility.  Here are some key takeaways from some MBAs with such experiences in the workplace.

  • No acknowledgement. “My manager never even recognized the fact that I graduated with my MBA.  He viewed my MBA as personal development.  He didn’t think it was needed for my job, yet they still paid for my tuition.”
  • They just don’t understand. “After our company was acquired, I created a 20 factor cultural analysis to show our leadership how different the two companies were and how we needed to change to make it work.  I wanted the merger to be successful and I wanted to ensure I had a job for the future.  My boss said that I hated the company and shared my analysis with the General Manager, who I found out later used part of the analysis in his report to the leadership of our new parent company.  Two years later, we had lost so much money, we were sold off again.”
  • I’ll take that. “We needed to create some new technology to grow our business.   My boss asked me to figure out how much we should be charging for the IP we would create.  I did the research and came up with several methods.  He told his boss that he developed a method that was actually 10x the cost of what I had proposed.  We never sold anything.”
  • I’m the boss. “After I graduated with my MBA, a management position opened up. My COO tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to interview for the position.  I thought this was a good sign that I would get the job.  I didn’t even know a position was open.  I found out that there was one other applicant and he didn’t have an MBA.  Unfortunately, the other guy got the job.  The COO didn’t have an advanced degree either.  He was sending a clear message.”

There are too many stories like this to share in a single post.  The important thing to remember is that managers are people.  In most small to medium enterprises, these managers are not highly educated.  They have been put in power due to circumstances that probably weren’t dependent upon their use of a high degree of intellect but they do feel a strong urge to lead, even if they don’t know how.  They also don’t want to look bad in front of their boss, as they worry it might cost them their job.  Today, managers worry about that more than anything else.    While you’ll want to show off what you know, it does come with consequences.  If you’re in an organization that appreciates what you have to offer, the consequences will be good.  If they don’t need it or want it, you may find that the consequences hamper your upward mobility and you’ll encounter experiences like these that will clearly articulate what management thinks of your MBA.