Last night's ABC Four Corners episode on the 'Future of Work' was a stark reminder of the importance of future-proofing our careers. Indeed, ensuring we remain ‘relevant’ is critical in a constantly evolving job market demanding new skills. As the highly sought-after leadership and executive coach Marshall Goldsmith asserted when talking about career success (and authored a book of the same title)..
‘What got you here won’t get you there’.
Karie Willyerd and Barbara Mistick, experts in the field of personal development and learning, proclaim you must stretch to stay relevant in their 2016 publication ‘Stretch – How to Future-Proof Yourself for Tomorrow’s Workplace’. They posit that stretch will not only assist you to future-proof your career, but also create a more fulfilling career and guide you to lead a meaningful life.
Their evidence-based insights are gleaned from their ground-breaking and extensive doctoral research in collaboration with Success Factors (SAP) and Oxford Economics incorporating emerging trends, global survey and interview data, coupled with best practice organisational and individual case studies.
So, what is meant by ‘stretch’ and how might we achieve more?
You might feel as though you couldn’t possibly 'stretch' any further – that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day as it is. This is a different type of stretch. In this context, by stretch, we mean to stretch into your best self by asking..
What capabilities are you learning today to meet the challenges at hand AND to anticipate tomorrow to avoid obsolescence?
What the ABC Four Corner's episode 'Future of Work' reminded us, is that even with the best intentions, we are not stretching our careers in a vacuum. Tomorrow’s jobs are being shaped by mega-trends underway now. Willyerd and Mistick conducted their research through the lens of the 7 mega-trends affecting the future of work, namely; 1) globalisation, 2) demographic shifts (e.g. the ‘ageing workforce’), 3) explosion of data (and analysis), 4) emerging technologies (e.g. robotics), 5) climate change, 6) redefined jobs (e.g. part-time and contract work), and 7) complexity (at both individual and organisational levels).
Importantly, from their research emerged three career imperatives:
- It's all on you - No one is going to manage your career better than you - take responsibility for your career and focus on your development.
- You need options - Be strategic and deliberate in the networks you foster and the experiences you seek.
- You have dreams - Stay motivated through your career ups and downs.
Their research also provided insight to how you might set about addressing these career imperatives. I have summarised what I believe to be some of the key strategies below:
1) Learn on the fly
Don't wait for a nod from your superior or organisation. You need to carve out the required space and time above the day-to-day pressures to focus on your development. We know that 70% of learning happens informally while on the job, 20% through relationships with others e.g. our one-up Manager, and only 10% through formal coursework or training. Seek out learning opportunities whether it be expanding your roles and responsibilities, working with new tools and technologies, or working with different people.
2) Adopt an open mindset
Constant learning is more valuable than mastery. Much has been written about Stanford Professor Carol Dweck’s ‘growth mindset’; the belief in one’s potential and capacity to learn and grow (versus those who possess a fixed mindset and believe their potential is fixed and so focus on proving their perceived capabilities). Someone who epitomises a growth mindset seeks and thrives on challenge. Example strategies to adopt a growth mindset might include a) seeking genuine feedback from clients, superiors, subordinates and peers (not just seeking evidence that supports your view), b) mindfully observing others, suspending judgment, carefully listening, and being intentionally aware and open to multiple perspectives, c) cultivating your curiosity by asking precise questions to yield richer insights, and d) setting aside time to reflect, creating a habit of reflection to better connect the dots such as journalling and engaging an executive coach.
These first two strategies are foundational. If you learn on the fly and are more open you will more readily achieve..
3) Build a vibrant and diverse network
Build a vibrant and diverse network beyond your immediate personal and professional network. The more senior you become, the more externally focussed and future-focussed the composition of your network should be. Supercharge the critical interpersonal skill of relationship building by reaching out to clients, industry peers, mentors, and business acquaintances (who are a mix of seniority, industry, location etc.) who will stretch you and offer different perspectives. We also know the strength of your network vastly improves your chances at successful job search. Beyond attending events, requesting third party introductions, and cold calls, LinkedIn has accelerated the pace and ferocity of networking including the added bonus of following organisations, interest groups, and the like. However it is important to remember to be discerning, to establish meaningful connections rather than simply collecting e-business cards.
4) Seek opportunities deliberately and strategically
Don’t just let experiences happen to you. Seek out as many opportunities and experiences as you can to boost your strengths and gain knowledge and skills that will prepare you for tomorrow. Lots of diverse experiences in the workplace and on side projects have the capacity to alter your career path and provide stretch – it is a gradual and continuous process that takes repetition and practice. Be strategic and deliberate. According to Harvard researchers we can approach our work in one of three ways; i) completion (do what it takes to get the job done), ii) performance (do what it takes to get the job done well), or iii) development (do what it takes to get the job done well and take lessons for future work). Using the latter stance where appropriate enables you to yield more from the experience. And it's not always an upwards stretch that is of benefit, perhaps it’s requesting feedback more readily from your superior, reading more, watching TED talks, conducting further study, engaging an executive coach, side projects, a job change, or a sabbatical. The most important criteria is that you step outside your comfort zone.
5) Bounce forward
To the casual observer, two people might have exactly the same experience and yet respond in entirely different ways. Why is this? It all comes back to mindset, our beliefs about our abilities and ourselves that determine how we interpret our experiences. It is critical to stay motivated through the inevitable ups and downs in our careers. What sets some apart from others when faced with setbacks whether they be from failure, false starts, or disruption, is not only their propensity to bounce back (the corner stone of resilience) but their propensity to bounce forward (to demonstrate grit and persevere with passion stemming from intrinsic motivation). Brian Acton co-founded Whatsapp after Twitter and Facebook rejected him for employment. Whatsapp went on to become Facebook’s biggest acquisition. You can cultivate the components of bouncing forward, namely; resilience, grit, and intrinsic motivation. The primary strategy to achieve this, is to ensure you identify meaning and purpose in your career.
When was the last time you felt in over your head? A while ago? Then perhaps you need to factor in more stretch! As you reflect on the above strategies, what could you do differently to ensure you stay relevant? What action will you commit to?
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