Carpe diem, a Latin phrase, translates as “seize the day.” In today’s turbulent economic times, with large corporations having declared bankruptcy or being bought at fire sale prices, with unemployment continuing to rise and consumer confidence waning, it is no surprise the relocation industry is wrought with a healthy dose of insecurity. But really, what industry is immune these days from the challenging economy? That said, with domestic relocation volume down and a number of employers having downsized their mobility staff, there is no better time to be thinking about seizing our career and taking hold of it to ensure we have done all we can do maximize our job security.
Long gone are the days when we presumed that merely working hard would yield secure employment. That was our parents’ era. Today’s workforce is the most competitive ever as we compete globally for talent and revenue such that we not only have to work hard, but we have to work smart, creating noticeable, quantifiable value to our employer and our customers. Creating value is one thing but, perhaps most important, today’s successful relocation professionals have to be thinking constantly about their careers and whether the match between employer and employee is doing for each what is desired.
As a result of all the turmoil, this article is designed to help you think about your career in relocation. Because I have years of experience in the relocation industry and am now with an executive search firm focused on talent acquisition strategies within the relocation industry, my firm is aware of the ebb and flow of hiring and subsequently receives résumés and conducts interviews every day with people who are interested in a potential change or need to as the result of downsizing. Because we have heard a lot about how people feel about their companies and their careers, we have had a good bird’s-eye view on some career counseling observations that I am happy to share.
This article is the first in a series of articles about careers in relocation and the importance of sourcing and developing talent within our industry. I would like to focus this article on what advice might be of value to relocation professionals themselves who should be evaluating their careers to ensure the utmost in their success and satisfaction.
Your Career Plan
Let us start by asking whether you are someone who has a career plan. While this may seem silly to some, it is spot on to others. If you do not have a plan or some assortment of career goals, it will be a tougher row to hoe to get to the next professional level and command higher compensation, satisfaction, and respect. If you are not a senior level executive, then ask someone who is how they got where they are and, perhaps coyly, they will tell you they have had the proverbial third eye looking out for their career. Do ships have rudders? And do most sailors have charts? We do not have to be yachtsmen to know those items are necessary for maximum efficiency to guide one’s vessel forward.
Does it not make sense that we start charting our own career paths and begin hoisting the sails to help us move in the direction that will allow us to more happily lead the life we aspire to? Otherwise, we are just following the Bob Dylan lyric of “blowing in the wind.”
So sit down and spend the time to come up with a plan that step-by-step puts you where you want to be. If you are feeling bold, go ahead and aim for a career BHAG (BEE-hag), a “big hairy audacious goal” as articulated by authors James Collins and Jerry Porras in their best seller, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.” Do you think the newly elected President of the United States would have achieved that lofty title without his own BHAG? So whether you want to run a mobility department in-house, join an executive team at a relocation management firm, or be a VP or director level professional, set your sights on the role you want and strategize about what the positions are you will need to get there. Then simply work backward, sketching out the roles that will get you there. Put a timeframe on things and if you are finding you are being held back from your plan, then that is a sign that you may need to move elsewhere.
Free Sources for Career Development
All right, you have a plan or you aim to put one together. Now you need to ask yourself if your current role factors into your plan. If so, determine how long you think it should take for you to master the responsibilities of that position. How? Benchmark from those who have had your role. Is it a one- to two-year position, a two- to three-year role, or three to four years? Once you have set your sights on that next position, you need to work smart and hard and start building the skills required to provide you with the foundation for the next position.
According to David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer, in their book, “The Enthusiastic Employee,” research revealed that people strive for three primary sets of goals at work: equity, achievement, and camaraderie. They coined this “The Three Factor Theory.”
The Three Factor Theory explains that employees seek to satisfy these three needs—equity, achievement, and camaraderie—in any employment situation. It further asserts that, “when all three needs are met, this results in enthusiasm directed toward accomplishing organizational goals. A great company for employees is one that largely meets all of those three needs.” The lesson of this theory is that it can be difficult to get employees excited about the company or their role when, for example, they have a basic sense of inequality as to how they are treated.
So if you feel your job satisfaction does not support The Three Factor Theory, you need to determine whether things can be modified. If, for example, you are working for a relocation service provider and you are in client relations but would prefer to be in business development, then you absolutely have to find a way to get there. Your employer may have you pegged as a client relations expert but if your passion is to generate business, it is a delicate thing, but you need to start forging a path in that direction. Sometimes you may need to take a lateral step or even a backward one to get on the career path you know will be the most rewarding.
Another perspective is to start thinking outside of the box and to “realize what skills are going to be needed and what the gap is and try to fill that in,” said Lynn Berger, a career counselor in New York, NY. The ever-changing pace of the workplace is a legitimate obstacle toward learning new things but people can be their own worst enemy as well. “People often believe the answer comes in trying harder,” said Price Pritchett, author of “The Employee Handbook of New Work Habits for a Radically Changing World.” “So much of the time that is not the case. It comes in trying different.” Good advice to have in mind when thinking about what value you can bring to your organization instead of merely performing the task at hand. Of course, this takes time, but the occasional discussion with one’s supervisor about how things can be improved or new ideas or solutions should be received positively and put you in a different place than your peers.
In a recent issue of Success magazine, business consultant and author Marcus Buckingham notes his firm’s research reveals 83 percent of survey respondents indicate determining their professional weaknesses and improving on them are the keys to their career success.
However, while 74 percent say they have the freedom to modify their jobs to fit their strengths, only 12 percent say they have the opportunity to use their strengths at work most of the time. This misalignment is where the rubber meets the road in that one’s strengths need to be used and improved on in order to further one’s career.
In the event you have heard of “The Ladders,” the job site for $100,000 and up jobs, there is a reason why it is called “ladders”—each rung is one step toward the top of your career. So be sure to position yourself in a role that taps your strengths with the opportunity to expand them to move up a rung to the next role.
Be your own fortune teller and peer into that crystal ball to evaluate whether your company is the type of organization that is right for you and you are a good match in return. There are subtle and not so subtle perspectives to this.
From a less than subtle scenario, evaluating your employer’s culture is particularly important and cannot be ignored. Every organization has its own distinct culture, so understanding how it works will directly affect your employment satisfaction and future career advancement. By culture, according to the American Marketing Association (AMA), this means “the pattern of behavior encouraged and rewarded by an organization along with its shared values and beliefs.”
Some questions you might like to ask yourself according to the AMA Marketing Career Network include the following:
- What is it like to work at your organization?
- How is performance evaluated?
- What are its promotional policies?
- How would you describe the management style?
- How would you describe the management style of your supervisor?
Keith R. McFarland’s book, “The Breakthrough Company,” offers some interesting insights into the similar characteristics of successful companies. His research staff considered more than 7,000 companies, but only 50 met the criteria he set forth for superbly run organizations. They then interviewed 1,400 people at those corporations, ultimately choosing to focus on just nine companies that, in their opinion, could be categorized as truly “breakthrough companies.” Those nine organizations shared four characteristics: 1) they gave people (employees and customers) a fair deal; 2) they believed in the people they interacted with; 3) they were miserly in a strategic way; and 4) their word really counted.
If these characteristics resonate with you as being important from your employer, consider how well your company handles them. A number of questions typically come to mind that, in aggregate, will help you determine if you are right for it and they are right for you.
- How is your company doing? Is it innovative?
- Is it responsive to clients? How is it doing retaining clients and bringing in new ones?
- What about your fellow employees—has your employer done an admirable job retaining talented ones?
- What is the strategic plan? Does it waiver or is there commitment to prevail?
- How about your competition—are you losing or gaining market share?
- Do you respect your leaders and are they the type of people you are proud to work for?
- Is it the type of company that looks good on the résumé because of its name recognition, its brand, its size, and the like?
While it is important to evaluate the answers to these questions, it is also important to benchmark your employer’s peers and determine if other firms are potentially more promising. Companies ebb and flow with changes in management, strategy, and market conditions. You want to be employed by a corporation that is a leader in its field in some capacity, whether it is size, innovation, execution, training, talent, or the like. Help your company get there as best you can but, if it is an uphill battle, it is time to re-evaluate.
More often than not, this is a crucial determinant of one’s career plan. If your supervisor is a competent, motivating professional who is well respected in your organization, then you are ahead of the curve and, most likely, your career will benefit. Conversely, if he or she is not an advocate for you and/or is not a proficient supervisor, then you are not going to move your career forward as rapidly.
According to Steve Chandler and Duane Black in “The Hands-off Manager: How to Mentor People and Allow Them to Be Successful,” the number one reason why professionals leave their employers is because of their relationship with their manager. There are two types of communication styles managers have: the hands-on type where they criticize and judge their people, and the hands-off type where they mentor and coach their people. Chandler and Black discuss the benefits of a strategically-minded, hands-off supervisor and the overwhelmingly positive results this style of manager brings to his or her employer.
So the questions that need to be addressed are fairly obvious but worth noting and pondering. Is your supervisor helping you build skills? Is he or she supportive of you? Is he or she well perceived at your company? How is your relationship with him or her? Do you know how he or she thinks and what is on his or her mind? While you do not have to become best friends with him or her, you certainly will improve your chances for success if you develop a relationship with your supervisor that generates an open, honest line of communication.
It is equally important to understand that his or her agenda may be more important than yours. If you are off on a tangent that does not factor into his or her expectations for what you should be achieving, then you have just opened the exit door at your employer. It is crucial that you ensure your role does a number of things at the same time: provide you with the skills and experience to take your career to the next level, while simultaneously supporting the objectives your supervisor has set forth for you in your role. A delicate balancing act, no doubt, but who said career development was easy? The best solution is to get in sync with your supervisor and help craft how your role can be supportive of his or her goals.
Beyond the crucial relationship with your supervisor, how good are your relationships with the people with whom you work? I am not asking if you are friendly with them—you have personal friends that achieve that goal. Rather, you need to know if you are learning from your peers, whether you are being challenged by them, whether they help you in your role and responsibilities, and if you can rely on them to deliver. Depending on your role, there are a variety of potential working relationships to consider: your peers, direct reports, partners/service providers, and industry contacts. Business success is inherent not just on the development of skills but also relationships. In some cultures, relationships trump everything. The more closely aligned you are with everyone around you who you can benefit from, the greater the chance of success. As is true with your supervisor—get to know these people. The more you know them, how they think, how they act, the more you can determine how to most effectively work with them.
You have heard this question before but let us ask it again. Do you have a mentor? If you are serious about your career, get one. How about two? Mentors are indispensable to those mentored. In many cultures teachers are valued and viewed with the utmost respect; essentially is a mentor not a teacher if you will be so humble in allowing yourself to be an apprentice? However, it typically is a challenge to convince someone to take the requisite time to be a mentor. The optimal scenario is to find one inside your employer and, if you are fortunate enough to have the ability to secure a second, then do so with someone outside your employer or even your industry. Find a more senior person you respect and set aside time on a frequent basis to share your career plan and how you are progressing toward that goal. Do not bog them down with daily issues; keep it strategic and big picture. Some people have hired executive coaches to serve in this capacity. While they come with a fee, it may be worth it.
Another approach, according to Kathy Kram and Monica Higgins of The Wall Street Journal’s online career section, might be to “create and cultivate a developmental network—a small group of people to whom you can turn for regular mentoring support and who have a genuine interest in your learning and development. Think of it as your personal board of directors.” The make-up of your own board depends on where you are with your career. At the early career stage, your boss may be your best mentor. During mid-career, other managers within and outside your organization make good sense. And at the senior level, your peers can offer good advice on ways to best lead.
One way to help you see the benefit of a mentor is to volunteer to be one yourself. This will provide you first-hand experience of how you can be of value and what sort of things are of most interest to you in helping someone with their career.
Seven Reasons Why Employees Leave
Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected
Reason #2: The Mismatch Between Job and Person
Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback
Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities
Reason #5: Feeling Devalued and Unrecognized
Reason #6: Stress From Overwork and Work-life Imbalance
Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders
Source: “The 7 Hidden Reasons Why Employees Leave,” Leigh Branham, 2005
If you are reading this article, then you most likely are a member of Worldwide ERC®. Perhaps you have attended one of their national events or local relocation events in your region. Like most things in life, by getting involved, you learn, you grow, and you further your relationships, all of which are essential for one’s career growth. Was it not Woody Allen who said, “90 percent of success is just showing up?” Because each of us has different opinions and observations, this industry grows with each of us contributing our time and thoughts. So go to the events, make them better by being there. Join a panel, or write an article. Obtain the industry credentials— CRP™ and GMS™—certainly are beneficial for your career.
I will close by recalling the Worldwide ERC® relocation conference in San Antonio, Texas, earlier this year where former Worldwide ERC® President, Kevin Rich, SCRP, commented that a mentor of his years ago said he should join the industry association and aspire to run it. Perhaps if he had not been inspired by that person’s sage comment, he would not have achieved it. This is clear evidence that because most of us like challenges, we rise to the situation put in front of us. Why else would the U.S. Navy’s motto be “Aim High?” The higher we aim, the higher we climb the rungs of our career ladder.
Scott Craighead, SCRP, GMS, is general manager, Americas, for Bluesky Executive Search, New York, New York, and a member of the MOBILITY Global Editorial Advisory Committee. He can be reached at +1 646 673 8452 or e-mail email@example.com.