“The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting it too low and achieving our mark.” (Michelangelo)
Alan [not his real name] was married, in his mid-30s, with a Nursing qualification and a Marketing Degree and his career was stagnating. He had joined a multinational company as a Sales Representative and had progressed into the Marketing Department, but he could not advance any further without gaining significant people-management experience. In his role as a Brand Manager, this was not available to him.

Alan’s initial consultation with us consisted of a close examination of the progress of his career to date and some preliminary discussion of his aspirations and the sort of stumbling blocks he had encountered in the recent past. We then started to provide him with management’s perspective on his situation. Put simply, promoting him represented an unnecessary risk for his company and, if his own company wouldn’t give him a break, it was highly unlikely that a competitor company would either. Catch 23!

We examined Alan’s medium- and long-term ambitions and began to identify the gaps in his training, knowledge, experience and current approach against those ambitions. We also scrutinised his current company – their hiring patterns, recent promotions and approach to succession planning. More importantly, we examined the company’s strategic plan, seeking to identify when promotional opportunities were likely to arise. The final step in this planning phase was to timeframe Alan’s personal development and career-advancement programme. We agreed an end-date and laid out the key milestones and the steps that he would have to take along the way.

Alan’s self-directed efforts began with a great deal of reading. His degree course had not focused in on the core skills of managing people and it was imperative that he should become fully conversant with the best theories in this subject area. He then gradually started demonstrating his new-found knowledge in team settings and in discussions with his Manager. He sketched out his intentions and objectives in advance of these meetings with us and debriefed after each interaction. He learned a great deal about his personal style from this reading and test-piloting approach and became capable of predicting outcomes in his dealings with colleagues and management.

We then worked closely with Alan to produce an agenda for his next annual review meeting with his boss – Alan had clear objectives delineated for this meeting and had laid down sufficient groundwork in advance that his Manager spontaneously raised some of the items that were on that agenda. For the first time, Alan outlined his short- and medium-term career plans and elicited support from his boss for these aspirations. Together, they identified several immediately useful training initiatives and agreed to meet on a monthly basis to review his progress.

These monthly meetings proved invaluable for Alan, as he gained immediate feedback from his boss and was in a position to advance his ideas and contributions for the company. The Manager began copying Alan in on correspondence relating to the salesforce and undertook to provide him with a secondment opportunity into Sales Management as soon as possible. Alan continued his reading and formal training through this period, until this opportunity arose – he effectively ‘job-swapped’ with a Regional Sales Manager in a nearby affiliate for a six-month period.

Meanwhile, Alan updated his CV with us, intending to go out to the market and get some practice in interview settings. He took several practice interviews, with no intention of accepting the jobs. He declined one offer and was being considered for several more when a full-time Sales Management position finally arose within his company in his own territory. He submitted his (pre-prepared) plan for the sales team to launch a new product and was invited to interview. He fleshed out his ideas in the interview and secured the job.

Takeaways:

  • If you don’t actively manage your career, it will stagnate and can leave you in a dreadfully vulnerable position. This is known as Career Management Deficiency and it is a very common and dangerous disease.
  • It takes courage to specify what you want from your career, because that kind of goal-setting opens you up to the prospect of failure. However, without a long-term plan, you are merely following the path of least resistance and hoping for the best …
  • Kick-starting or revitalising your career like Alan did requires you to be completely honest with yourself – if you don’t push yourself, you will aim too low and if you are deluding yourself, you can aim way beyond your true level of capability.
  • A considered, steady build is an effective, and realistic, approach – it does not require you to re-invent yourself overnight, nor does it expect Management (or a potential employer in a new organisation) to take an enormous risk by promoting or hiring you.