Career sustainability: it’s not all just about black or white

By on March 23, 2015
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By Craig Spalding, director at Tuesday Consulting

The victim mentality is rearing its ugly head amongst South African business leadership at many levels. I hear over and over that career management is impossible in our race-obsessed country; but I think it’s just too easy to fall into the blame game trap.

The fact of the matter remains that sustainable careers are crafted and effectively managed over the long-term, and do not just happen overnight.

I’m not seeing proof of enough well-thought out career plans and strategies, which is surprising, considering the very accomplished executives I deal with. I’m not saying that it’s easy to achieve in our complex and dynamic business environment; but no matter what industry or profession you’re in, managing a sustainable career comes with navigating very real economic, social and even political influences – which aren’t all just about being black or white.

While most corporates invest ongoing time and resources into keeping their organisation sustainable, the same cannot be said for many of the individuals inside these organisations when it comes to their careers. Now more than ever, priority must be given to developing career sustainability as individuals at all stages of their careers are required to adopt diverse career management strategies; even if they have very similar expertise and career capital.

What constitutes effective career management?

To me, truly effective career management comes with finding the balance between doing what you are really meant to be doing, in line with your unique talents and areas of strength; doing what you really want to be doing; the things that inspire and energise you; and effectively and consistently managing your efforts to achieve these factors.

In considering what you are meant to be doing, it may not always feel like your first choice, but is something you are able to do better than anyone else in the short-term which will get you closer to your long-term goals. This is an important tactical trade-off.

When deciding what you really want to be doing, the more sexy or appealing option, no matter how tempting it may be, may not always be the right option. Again, focus on what you want to achieve in the long-term and avoid being tempted into more appealing short-cut alternatives by avoiding minor obstacles along the way.

Once you have this all figured out, it’s imperative to put specific goals in place to ensure that your career

path becomes intentional and not just haphazard. It’s ok to deviate from your life’s ambition – it’s often unavoidable – but the essential part of career management is knowing when or why you are deviating. Always remember that if your journey is not mapped out you will not know when you are deviating from it.

Effective career management in South Africa

Because of the many factors at play in South Africa, managing your career may not follow a straight line. So while you constitute a set of technical skills and capabilities that should get you the job you want, successful career planning requires a thorough understanding of the entire environment in which you operate.

The topic of employment equity and its many facets, specifically affirmative action, is one that needs to be high on everyone’s list of influencing factors to consider. When crafting and managing an effective career strategy, no matter which end of the black and white spectrum you fall, affirmative action can have very real affects – positive and negative – if not appropriately considered.

I tell all of our candidates on the move to be cautious of desperately ambitious organisations wanting to achieve scorecard compliance or simply plugging holes due to scarce skills. These organisations tend to push talent into jobs that they may not be well suited for – sometimes it’s just not the right match and on other occasions, candidates aren’t yet ready for a particular role. And while we do our best to caution ambitious candidates against taking this kind of career risk, the truth is that if you do see an opportunity that’s part of your career path, and are prepared to back yourself and take on the risk, be certain of its sustainability.

To candidates who feel stifled on the road to nowhere, my advice is to broaden their views and take a closer look at what is meant by the new way of work. So often we get stuck in our thinking of the confines of one particular organisation and forget to embrace the opportunities that change inevitably presents. A paradigm shift would require potential up-skilling and to look beyond your current role, organisation, city, industry, and-potentially-even your country to re-align your desired career path and strategy. In this rapidly evolving tech-oriented world, geography is much less of a hurdle to career success. As the concept of global mobility and virtual work and organisations become the norm, your options become much less restrictive than you may perceive.

A little help along the way

Another essential element to sustainable career management that’s lacking in our culturally diverse market is that of coaching and mentoring. Not only should this exist inside as well as outside the workplace; but it also needs to contain the rich elements of diversity and thinking that is prevalent across our society. Find coaches who can challenge, enhance and change your thinking; and mentors who you aspire to be like. It is impossible for this support base to exist in just one person; so my advice is to create a diverse network of valuable people who accurately reflect our society and who have your interests at heart, which very well may be about being black or white.

Sticking to the basics of career management will help achieve a sustainable career; but be mindful that depending on your individual set of circumstances and the field you’re in, it is essential to be ready to adapt your strategy to achieve sustainability.

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