Welcome to this brand new column, HR Insights with JENNIFER OYELADE. In a world that has undergone rapid changes, mostly disruptive, due to a ravaging coronavirus pandemic, many things have been through resets and reappraisals, including careers, the workplace and the ways we actually work. In this new column, Jennifer will leverage her expertise to provide 360-degree forward looking insights on different issues in HR, including but not limited to, Career Strategy, Market Trends, Organisation Transformation, Employee Engagement, and Capacity Building for future growth. It will touch on the organisation, the employee and the market place where they interact. Keep a date with her every week, and enjoy this third instalment.
Our careers, and personal lives, usually look like a polygraph test on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. If you’re like me, especially in my industry, this can be every two to three hours, depending on how my day is going. But generally, the highs of the graph represent when we are at the height of our career, and the dips, when we feel low or even confused about our career decisions. But if our polygraph test had a consistent straight line what would it mean?
A horizontal line can represent different things depending what scenario you find them in. As a doctor looking at a patient strapped to a life-support machine, a horizontal line signifies that the person is dead and lifeless. However, on a financial graph, a straight line represents consistency – consistent sales, consistent revenue generation, consistent level of employee attendance. Whatever way you look at it, in the world of business and economics a horizontal line signifies consistency.
Bringing it back to your career, you can put life and death in your career when you are moving in a horizontal line. Let me break this down further:
The “Horizontal Shift” is moving in a horizontal line to achieve your aspiration. A rocket and a plane both have the same meeting point in the sky, the difference is that the rocket travels vertically and a plane runs horizontally along the tarmac before taking off.
If you look at the success stories of some of the people who we admire or aspire to be like, their career map can be compared to the zig-zags on a life-support machine. So, how did they do it? There were a lot of sacrifices, set-backs and a theory I devised called the “Horizontal Shift”. Here is an example:
“A lady who worked as a Sales Manager in a family-owned Fashion Boutique for two years resigned to take on a role working as a Sales Manager in a SME fashion house. After about 3 years, she left to work as a Sales Manager at a global Retail Chain.”
This scenario is what I call a horizontal shift. Though she has maintained the same job title, her responsibilities and exposure grew from organisation to organisation. Every role she assumed gave her the exposure to leverage on her experience to move into a new position. The key attributes that have made her employable is that she developed diverse organisation culture experiences. She understands the dynamics expected from working within a start-up, an SME, and a multinational; which means she easily adapts to different environments, both structured and non-structured. She is also used to working with limited and large resources based on her exposure to both environments, to deliver on expectations. This can be seen as being innovative or/and someone able to operate in a lean (cost-effective) management system. She would also demonstrate a deeper understanding of various target audiences, and how to reach them because of her diverse interactions over the years
However, the horizontal shift, from a negative perspective, is allowing yourself to be professionally stagnant. Stagnant in a sense that you are assuming the same roles but there is nothing significantly different from your previous role. A scenario of a stagnant horizontal shift is:
“A lady who works as an Administrator for an SME supporting six staff for two years, resigned to take on a role for another SME with the same responsibilities of supporting nine staff and with a very slight increase in remuneration, but that the role is closer to home. After four years, she works as a secretary for a self-employed entrepreneur who offers free gym membership and a 7% salary increase; and remains there because it’s her comfort zone and its less stressful.”
While everyone’s case is unique, and decisions made may be based on circumstance, she is limiting herself to the kind of exposure she can get to leverage her career. Here is why:
Limited environmental exposure, meaning she may be seen to be out of her depth and overwhelmed working in larger, and more dynamic environments.
Skill-set may not be as diverse because Administration as we know it has evolved to what we know now as ‘Business Support Services’ which is far more advanced and complex. Administration makes up a very small percentage of the role.
Her ability to interact with a diverse workforce may be questioned as she has worked with very small teams so her ability to interact with multiple stakeholders at various levels may be a grey area with a potential employer.
Questionable ability to work within a structure because with smaller organisations, there is likely to be some leeway to work outside a traditional process as long as the objectives are met.
On this note, let me add that there is nothing set in stone about a job title. In the evolving nature of businesses today, job titles are formed just to appeal to a specific market. A Business Development Manager can be called a Client Engagement Manager, Stakeholder Manager, Sales Executive, and a Sales Manager, the list goes on.
The title may vary in name but what you will find is that their objective of the role is exactly the same, and that is to generate revenue whether it is through direct tangible sales or consultative revenue generation.
To drive this point further, a Sales Manager can also be on the same pay-scale and role responsibilities as a Sales Executive. Why? Because a Sales Executive in organisation A could be an entry level role, whereas in Organisation B it is considered as a Leadership position.
The same concept is relatable to most job titles irrespective of the sector, so to ensure you’re making the right career opportunity, focus on the job specification. Look at what the responsibilities of the role entails, in comparison to what you’re currently doing, and the aspirations you have. What’s the organisational structure and where does the role fit in the grand objective? If you are being engaged by a recruiter or a representative of the organisation, these are questions to ask alongside their policy on career development and how that fits into your potential role within the company and your personal career aspirations.
The horizontal shift is a process, not everyone goes through it and not everyone is built for it, because it can be a very slow but steady process. Some are fortunate enough to climb the career ladder like stairs and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But even in stair climbing you may find yourself stuck on one step waiting for “that organisation” to see the light and move you to the next level of your career. My question is: How long are you willing to wait?
Always remember that a Horizontal line turned 90 degrees is a vertical line, so the only way is up. You are and will always be in charge of your career, every decision you make has to be one step closer to your overall aspiration. If a role doesn’t serve that purpose, it’s ok to seek greener pastures. You have to be selfish and guard your happiness in order to find true career fulfilment.
However, as someone who is passionate about their profession, you have to be ready to take a calculated yet profitable risk that may not yield fruit immediately but will do in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, careful thought and planning has to go into every strategic plan you make regarding your career. I’m not recommending that you should take every offer presented to you. What I am saying is that the road to our chosen career destination is not always a straightforward one. As a result of this, some sacrifices need to be made. So, don’t miss out on excellent opportunities because the remuneration may not meet your expectation, or the designation/job title doesn’t sit well with you.
There is no conventional way to excel in your career, the journey is unique to every individual. Trust the process and hold yourself accountable to your progress and you will reach your destination at your own pace and at your own time.