4 Ways to Fast Track Your Executive Career

The ownership of developing one’s career rests more with the individual than with the employer. Although there are occasions when the employer initiates a move and provides exciting opportunities to high performing executives or those with unique expertise and skills, it is wise for the individual to initiate these opportunities. Senior Executives should evolve their career management strategy by assessing the surrounding environment and match potential opportunities or directions with career aspirations and needs. Assuming a passive role and expecting natural events to direct the best paths can only be construed as leaving control of one’s destiny entirely to others!

Executive Career Management - Choose Your Own Path

switching tracks

One of the strategies for a successful senior executive career could be to acquire diverse experiences by thinking at least two years ahead, preparing and positioning ourselves for the next move. Diversity could refer to a few possibilities: (a) trying out different functions as part of one Organization, (b) switching from one industry or sector to another, (c) moving geographies to garner global cultural and management skills or (d) landing up in entirely new modes of activities such as entrepreneurship. To explore these possibilities for executive career development, I will focus on Executives with 5 to 10+ years of management experience:

A) Switching functions
This typically happens within the same Organization and hence may be the simplest of the options for career development as there may be sponsors/supporters at both ends of the change – the original function and the destination function. The choice of destination is most successful when it appears to be nicely dovetailing with the past experience.

If the change is completed earlier rather than later in one’s executive career, it provides good exposure of cross functional processes and develops decision making skills that break functional silos, allowing executives to see problems and opportunities from multiple angles. If the move is to a different employer while changing functions (say from Operations to Marketing), the above applies with additional needed to acquaint oneself with the new culture - thus involving an additional learning curve.

As a final thought, if this change poses significant stress to the individual it may be wise to seek a personal coach who could facilitate a smoother settling down.

B) Changing industries / sectors
This could be a higher level of change wherein a good amount of unlearning and relearning may be involved to achieve success. Wisdom from the past would be useful but needs to be carefully woven with the present! If it happens within the same corporation, familiarity with the jargons/acronyms, corporate initiatives and other cultural elements could help settle sooner. Otherwise it is best to acquaint oneself with industry terminology and information before assuming other job responsibilities. Developing a birds-eye-view (30,000 ft!) of the industry / sector would be invaluable before plunging into details of the role itself.

Rarely, within a corporate there may be shifts from say for-profit to not-for-profit entities (eg. from the core revenue earning business to the ‘charity / Foundation’ side) which would be nice but may need a paradigm shift in thinking and modeling of activities in mind.

C) Moving geographies
This is usually initiated by employers to fill talent gaps, commence green field operations transplanting technology or to oversee acquisitions. If initiated by the individual, it may be more to gain international experience to excel (increasingly, even to survive!) in a globalized world or to manage depressed business cycles at home. A focus on alternative economies can result from political (unrest, unstable Govt., military rule, etc.) or epidemical (eg. SARS, swine flu) reasons. Except in very rare instances when the entire globe may get into a depressed mode owing to mass calamities, wars, etc, there would always be regions which may offer better prospects when some other parts are gloomy – consider the recent recession and the rise of China / Brazil.

When geographical change is undertaken, the primary outlook must be one of an open mind that is prepared to accept the realities in the host geography rather than constantly benchmarking (consciously or otherwise) against home and magnifying the gaps in between! There is a huge amount to learn about language, culture (do’s / don’ts) and practices for your professional and personal life. Hence if embarking on any large scale geographical changes impacting yourself or other employees, it would be smart to consider the implications of local factors and culture shock.

At times, there could be more than one change in a move too – such as changing both geography and industry. In essence, if this is managed well, it could be one of the best moves that an Executive could do for himself/herself in making quantum leaps in an increasingly globalizing world.

D) Switching modes
Under this, we are talking about moves out of the corporate track to other forms of engagements such as entrepreneurship, teaching in educational institutions, dedicating oneself to social or religious bodies, etc – hence the most challenging of all. They may be tried as (a) sabbatical moves for a couple of months or quarters to enlighten oneself away from the corporate world, (b) a mid-life move as an experiment to try out with risks borne in mind or (c) as a long term choice. This may not apply to a large section of Executives as it relates to personal aspirations or in rarity, corporate calamities when one is forced into it.

The critical aspect to consider is if one is planning to return to the corporate world subsequent to such a stint, 3 things may be of prime importance to Executive Search firms or the hiring corporation. Borrowing the words of the Immigration Chief in the movie ‘The Terminal’ – consider (1) the person, (2) the document (CV) and (3) the story! If the sequence of events as dots can be connected through a compelling set of personal evolution and learning, it may be attractive to hiring organizations and not hinder your ability to return to an executive job. Ensure any move fits your long-term career strategy and profile to ensure the whole experience boosts rather than detracts from your credentials.

As an illustration, a switch to entrepreneurship could be very rewarding even if a return to a corporate executive position is envisaged as a backup due to failures or misfits. Entrepreneurship encourages huge ‘out-of-the-box’ learning experiences and requires sharp innovation skills – experiences and qualities that are of immense value to corporates at leadership levels.

Stakeholder management
No matter which of the above tracks is pursued, three key stakeholders have to be sold on the shifts when presenting oneself as a candidate: the Executive Search consultant, the Hiring Manager and executive employees. Being true to oneself and candidly sharing the reasons for these shifts and the gains created, would allow the aforesaid stakeholders to see such moves in a positive light. A positive view of your career as a well-connected series of progressions will ultimately result in securing leadership positions and executive career opportunities.

Be open minded about these 4 career changing possibilities, carefully assessing which one of these may suit you and at what points in your career. Whichever choices you have made or are set to make, subject yourself to 360 degree appraisals by people that surround you to help benefit from every experience - knowing where you have been, where you might like to go and how you have benefited from each experience will help you shape yourself and your destiny.

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BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer

Kalyan VKalyan Vaidya is a global-minded international executive with Asia-wide, multi-industry experience - Computers, Healthcare, Auto-electrics, Aircraft engines, Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Trading - in various facets of business value chain.

He has led projects in Japan, China, South Korea, ASEAN countries, India, Australia, Europe and the USA, and applies his international experience to his writing and management consultancy. Connect with Kalyan on LinkedIn or email him directly at kalyan.vaidya@gmail.com.

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