Staying ahead of the curve

by Sid

Yes, I have been missing. It was not related to staying ahead of the curve, rather an attempt to have an alternate experience in a parallel world, or rather just the alternate world, or even only the parallel experience; we traveled through four countries in central and western Europe. France, Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic were fascinating, and inspiring.

Staying ahead doesn't mean just running hard

The  title of this post could potentially mean different things to different people. Recently, I was talking to somebody and discussing the career pathway of one of my colleagues, who happens to report to me and is in line for a promotion. The general consensus that we reached was that this person, though hardworking, is not a good fit at the next level. Both of us felt that probably 15 or so years ago he would do all right at the next level of responsibility. Expectations out of managers and senior leaders have changed since then, and what was good for then is not anymore good for now. What can you then do to prevent this thing from happening to your own career, such that 15 years from now, you are not considered passé .

a) Be with the times – What yields success now, may not necessarily do so a decade from now. The sales techniques that you have used, the management philosophies that are being propagated, the external influences that are of importance, will in all likelihood not continue to look so sterling  as they do now. They would dazzle lesser, even though their efficacy might have remained intact. There would be newer theories challenging Poter’s five forces or improvements over lean and six sigma philosophies. Its important that you are not seen as somebody who is adhering too much to the old way of doing things, even if they were successful in the long past. Accommodate others’ ideas and improvise your own.

b) Look up from your work, sometimes – Hard work pays. It determines success and with it sometimes even richness. But while working hard, it is important not to miss the direction in which the wind is blowing. If risk management is the new in thing then that is a skill-set that you better have on your CV. It doesn’t mean hopping from one role to another, from one task to the next, but rather to have a strategy that leads to an enhanced understanding of the direction of the forces and interactions at play.

c) Innovate – Regular work, whereby the processes have not been changed for months and sometimes even years, is analogous to redundant work. Not necessarily it is redundant, it just seems so. Of course there are exceptions. A highly specialized surgeon who does a vascular repair work or removes clots from his patients’ brain, day in and out, will still never wake up one morning and find that his work has become  redundant, simply because the specific skill-set that he has nurtured has required of him years of professional dedication and even socio-economic privilege. In short, he is not that easily replaceable. But the same cannot be said for most roles in a many professions. You might have been a lucky and successful equities trader, during the heydays of the American economic boom, but you better realize that in 10 years time there will be someone, fresh out of business school with a MBA, willing to do your job at a considerably lesser pay. Under the circumstances, what is your employer likely to do ? The key then is probably to continuously innovate, to bring  a fresher perspective to staid methodologies.

At the end of the day, or the shift, all it boils down to is what value you are bringing to the table, not just now, but what you promise to continue to bring after you have been promoted. That value is measured in incremental terms. The key thing to remember is that career progress is no longer just a reward for past performances, but rather an investment into the promise of future contributions. Most importantly, are you, your contributions and your performances that easily replaceable ?

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