Chapter 6 introduced the relevance of the context (aka market) and helped you to understand the big picture of your career and the linkages between context and career. This chapter will focus on your current context in order for you to decide the next short- and long-term decisions in terms of career choices and the development of competencies.
It is important at this point to consider the role of transitions as the context of the 21st century is one of continuous changes. We live in an era of short business and career cycles, which triggers that we see changes in our professional settings much more often than in the past.
Dancing With Transitions
According to Dr. Rivera, a transition or crisis is a radical change in the context. It could be positive (like promotion) or negative (losing your job). In any case, a radical change implies challenges to expected outcomes and needed competences.
As our careers evolve, we go through different transitions or crises. We generally start our careers and progress based on the skills we and others perceive as strengths. The challenge is that, as we use our skills and receive prizes for that, our development needs remain generally hidden. That is the reason why career experts indicate that our strengths are the reverse mirror of our development needs.
In the past, human resource (HR) specialists would help us slowly assess our future development needs and approach a plan for them. The challenge today, as has been said earlier, is that the transitions and crises appear more often without giving us really time for adaptation. A contemporary phenomenon appears then that is called derailment: crashing as we move fast-speed in our careers (like fast-speed trains derailing).
Our focus today is to prevent derailment, detecting the derailment risks we confront. Derailment risk is when a strength becomes the main risk factor for our long-term development, for example, a philologist that is proofreading texts in a language generally will become very inflexible with processes and with people.
According to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the different transitions we face early in our careers are the following (see table 7.1):
•From individual contributor to first-time manager
•Taking responsibility for team performance
•Dealing with difficult subordinates
•Motivating others (who are not like you)
•Starting something new
•Turning around a group or business
•Taking a team or business to the next level
•Leading across cultures
•Managing strategic differences with a boss or peer
•Navigating and correcting ethically questionable practices
•Blending work, life, and family
•Dealing with professional setbacks
Source: Handouts of program Leadership in Focus (Stanford Graduate School of Business 2012)
Observing the participants of our programs, we perceive that in reality, these transitions appear together more and more often. For example, those in role or business transitions face generally personal transitions consequently. This is particularly apparent in those people engaged in the start-up community, as their careers become volatile.
Furthermore, transitions imply not only different sets of skills but also a different mindset. The mindset or what the classics call forma mentis is probably the most difficult side to change. The mindset is built by our personality and values, as we have discussed in the first part of the book. As we have seen, we can modulate our personality and values, but that takes a long time.
A question arises then: is it possible to quickly get adapted to new transitions? Is the traditional career or competencies fit model still valid? In the past, we have taught that career or competencies fit is essential when a person starts working in a new position and when they have a transition (personal > business > role transition). Depending on the new positions, the competencies that are required are different, and we are not always ready to respond to the new challenges. However, looking at the present time of continuous changes and transitions, we are not sure this aspiration of finding the right person for the right job is still valid. We will leave this dilemma for other publications.
The first thing we are going to do is a SWOT analysis for the career. Based on this SWOT, we will define short-term goals and priorities to implement them. A tool called the Action Contract will be used later for describing and making actionable these goals. We believe you have already encountered in some way or other SWOT as a tool for strategic planning. We are applying the same methodology, though adapted to the problem of career. We suggest you do the next exercise slowly—three hours is a good benchmark—and consider all the issues we have dealt with so far. A preparatory reading of the parts you have already filled in the roadmap is advisable.
Your Career’s SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)
Please be advised that the following questions are guiding questions. It means that you could and should explore other issues that you feel could help you complete your SWOT better. At the end of the exercise, you must feel that you are very realistic and sincere with yourself. As with other tests, we suggest you show your findings to people who know you well.
1. Strengths: Knowing and using your powers can make you happier and more fulfilled at work.
Questions to consider
What competitive advantages do you possess that others do not have (e.g., skills or competencies, certifications, education, or connections)?
What do you do better than others do?
What personal and professional resources do you have?
What do others (and especially your supervisor) see as your strengths?
Which of your achievements are you most proud of?
Are you part of a unique network? If so, what influential connections do you have?
Observing my current strengths, which of them could become a derailment risk?
Questions to consider
In which tasks or situations you do not feel confident.
What do the people around you consider as your weaknesses?
Which is the weakest side of your education and skills training?
What are your negative work habits (e.g., are you often late, are you disorganized, do you have a short temper, or are you poor at handling stress)?
Questions to consider
Are there any new technologies (i.e., social media) that can help you?
Is your industry growing, and what can you gain from that?
How can your network of people come in handy?
Which are the weaknesses of your competitors?
Are there any windows of opportunity in your company or industry?
What is the negative feedback from your customers or vendors about something in your company? Can you fix it?
4. Threats: Highlighting the problems, so you could find the solutions.
Questions to consider
Are there any obstacles you currently face, or you could face in the foreseeable future?
Is the environment over-competitive?
Is your position threatened by technology?
Could any of your weaknesses lead to threats?
In this chapter, we have analyzed our current context considering the era of continuous transitions where we are in. Transitions are radical changes that happen at a personal or a professional level, and they could seriously compromise our professional and personal health, and they could become big opportunities for development.
Adaptability to change has long been named as one of the key competences for the future. It makes sense as we can damage our careers if we just try to keep doing the same every time the context changes, or if we do not know how to quickly harmonize with the new teams or organizations we are sent in, or we focus too much on the tasks and have difficulties to build new relationships.
Transitions or crises imply that we might have to start over again frequently. Hence, those strengths that have sustained our careers in the previous phases might not be so appreciated anymore, and they might have even hindered the awareness and development of other competencies. In a nutshell, our strengths might be our derailment risks. Hence, the ability to systematically diagnose our real status and learn become the key for success in the long run.