Why You Need to Be a Career Activist
8/1/2007 2:45:34 PM
By Peter Weddle -- Here’s a sobering truth for all of you out there who are happily employed: if you’re not looking for your next job, you’re probably looking at a period of forced unemployment.
What do I mean? Consider this: the average tenure of a CEO is now less than four years. Why should you care? Because their departure often affects your fortunes as well as theirs. Take 2004, for example. In that year, 355 or 14% of the world’s 2,500 largest companies fired their CEO for lousy performance. While many of those executives walked away with lucrative severance packages, the companies they left behind were often forced to trim benefits, cut pay and, ultimately, lay employees off. Among the headlines:
Crooks at Enron put 21,000 people, including even the most loyal and high performing employees, out of work, into financial distress or both.
Bernard Ebbers, the former Chairman of WorldCom bankrupted the company with an $11 billion fraud that caused countless hard-working, completely innocent employees to lose their jobs.
Carly Fiorina, the CEO of Hewlett Packard and a media darling, so weakened the company with her business strategies that it fired her and announced a layoff of 15,000 workers, essentially abandoning a longstanding corporate commitment to employees.
In other words, the reality in today’s world of work is that the quality of your personal performance and the dedication that you show to your employer give you absolutely no job security. While there are obviously exceptions to that rule, there is no guarantee that you are working for one of them.
How can you protect yourself in such an environment? Become a “career activist.” A career activist is someone who:
sets the direction for their career (by identifying near, mid and longer term goals that are interesting, challenging and meaningful to them); and
initiates the specific actions (e.g., finding a mentor, acquiring a certain kind of experience, learning new skills) that will enable them to make steady progress toward and actually accomplish those goals.
A career activist, then, is in charge of the change in their career, rather than its victim.
Does that mean that a career activist is simply a serial job seeker? No. A job seeker wants something that employers control: a job. Their success is based on someone else’s decision. A career activist, in contrast, focuses on what they control: their career. They make the decisions, and they do so to meet their own goals. Sometimes that may mean deciding to move from one employer to another, sometimes it may mean moving from one job to another within the same employer, and sometimes it may mean staying right where you are and overcoming a challenge in your current job. The selection of one course over another, however, is always based on a single guiding tenet: it is to do that which will advance you toward being the best you can be at your profession, craft or trade.
It is that goal which obliges you to be continuously on the look out for your next job. There is no other way to ensure that you are always in a position to do your best work. You have to know what comes next in your self development so that you can prepare yourself to advance to that higher level of occupational expertise and contribution. Think of it as Aim, Ready, Fire rather than the all too frequent alternative of Assigned, Accept, Be Fired. Your goal is to perfect what you can do at work, and your career is your personal quest to achieve that end.
That’s why career activism is not disloyalty to your employer. As an employee, you owe your employer performance, not permanence. Career activism enables you to supercharge your performance so that your employer gets the return it deserves on its investment in you. Career activism, however, is based on the principle of win-win relationships. In other words, both parties—the employer and you—must gain from the employment experience.
What’s the benefit you acquire? Your supercharged performance on-the-job is your best insurance in the demanding, ever changing business landscape of the 21st Century. In good times, it will increase the paycheck and satisfaction you bring home from work. In hard times, it will enable you to land on your feet. It won’t prevent you from being laid off, but it will prevent a lay-off from derailing your career. You will have to look for a new position like everyone else who is affected, but you will do so informed about where you should be heading next to advance your career and what positions will enable you to accomplish that goal. In short, you will know how to define success for yourself, and you will know where to go to find it.
How can you acquire that knowledge? Give yourself a “personal performance appraisal.” Turn off the television, shut down the computer, and spend a little quality time alone with the person who is living your career. Ask the person—that would be you—the following questions:
Am I doing my best work in my current job or am I just coasting?
Are my skills and knowledge at the state-of-the-art in my career field or am I growing obsolete?
What job should I be doing in the next 12-18 months in order to upgrade my performance and my satisfaction at work?
What do I need to do now to prepare myself so that I can compete successfully for that job at that time?
Career activism is essentially a pair of commitments you make to yourself. You commit to bringing the best you can be at work each day and to improving your personal best every day. Those promises provide the only real security there is in today’s volatile and perilous workplace. Unlike employment contracts and lofty sounding speeches from CEOs, they offer employment protection you can rely on … because you are relying on yourself.