Monday, March 13, 2006

The Happenstance Theory of Career Planning

David Lawrence has a blog which he calls Ripples which I have followed for some time. He, in turn, follows a blog written by a fellow named Adrian Savage whose blog is titled: The Coyote Within. Had I stumbled across the title I would have taken a look just because I thought it was intriguing. He explains the title and his blog's purpose as follows:

"Coyotes are quick, smart and adaptable; everything a small business should be. And despite decades of persecution, they're still doing what they do best: being themselves.

A blog for sharing insights and thoughts into how to survive and prosper in a harsh world."

He has some interesting things to say about careers and how we do or don't manage them.

As I was reading through Adrian's most recent post and the suggestions he has for his readers (which made a lot of sense it seemed to me) it reminded me that I, like so many of my friends and colleagues, sit here some 40+ years into a "career" and realize that that while for the past 18 years I can say that I have never been more excited about what I am doing for a living, I also realize just how lucky I am to be able to say so, because the fact of the matter is that most of my career I had just let the "world happen to me." I was not proactive at all. Things happened, and I reacted as best I could. A sad commentary, but as life has gone on, I realize that I am far from alone in having managed my career in what I would now call "The Happenstance Theory of Career Planning."

As we all know, times change, and one generation observes and "learns" from another. In my generation, senior level executive jobs was the goal for a lot of us, even if we weren't quite sure why and didn't have any great strategy figured out on how we were going to get there.

In today's world, it feels to me like one of the key lessons learned by those who aspire to senior or executive level jobs is that if you are smart, you will not wait for the "world to happen to you." Indeed, given the type of turnover at the executive level that has surfaced since the early 90's, and if the make up of the membership here at ExecuNet is anything close to being representative today's executives are not sitting around waiting to react to events. The last time I looked at our membership mix, nearly 70% of the membership was made up of executives who were currently employed but who were keeping their both their eyes as well as their options open.

We also publish a comprehensive survey of the executive marketplace every year called the Executive Job Market Intelligence Report, and just one of the telling stats that surfaced this year was the fact that over half of the respondents described themselves as unhappy campers in their current jobs, but even more telling, over 70% said they planned to do something about it in the next six months.

While that doesn't give the nation's employers high marks in terms of figuring out how to retain the talent they have, it does indicate that executive level talent isn't just sitting around waiting for the world to happen to them anymore, and given the swing that we have seen in the market from buyers to sellers, there are going to be a lot of companies hurting for hires in the coming months.


reinkefj said...

While very depresssing, sort of like "in the end, we're all dead", this blog entry highlights the changing metaphor in employment. Originally, at least from my pov, there was the "gold watch" era of my Mom. Then, there was the era of "pretending", (you pretend to work and we'll pretent to pay you). Then there was the entreprenurial era ("You Inc.", intraprenurship, coopetition). Now I think we are in the era of "bleakmanship" (i.e., there is no salvation, no silver bullet, no hope, work for who will pay you, build your own skill, diversify, build networks of people who can help you). I do think, and I advise youngsters, that the model for their sucess is: get a cost-effective education for a white collar job, build a blue collar skill other than flipping burgers, develop side businesses like ebay, and be a ruthless manager of money. If I could come up with a sexy label it would be the "insecurity" era.

Dave Opton said...


I can certainly understand how you would feel, depressing as it sounds, and certainly the stats we see from our own as well as many other sources would tend to support your feelings.

While it doesn't change the over all trend, and I can't prove it, my feeling is that much of what we read about executive level turnover is still be driven by Fortune 500 size companies.

My feeling is that those who make the move from big companies to small to medium sized companies fare much better in terms of their levels of job satisfaction. Not saying there still is not a hugh issue here, just saying that my feeling is that once out of the big company atmosphere that people tend to be more satisfied on a lot of levels.

David St Lawrence said...

I like the way Reinkefj captures the various "eras" of employment. I prefer to think of the present era as one of "transient employment" rather than "bleakmanship".

I am in agreement that the recipe for success has changed. Cost-effective education is the first step, but the second step should include short-term employment in a big corporation as company-paid training in a broad range of skills to prepare you for eventually stepping out on your own.

I think there will be a growing market for services which prepare executives for the eventual transition to smaller companies or independent micro-businesses.

When you start considering corporate employment as a transitional phase, rather than the be-all and end-all of existence, I think you get a more realistic view of the employment scene in the next few decades.