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Are You the CEO of Your Career?

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Tips For Managing Your Career in the Changing World of Work by Cathy Benko, Vice Chairman Deloitte LLP and Co-author of, "The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance In the Changing World of Work."

Corporate Lattice
Corporate Lattice

There’s nothing like relaxing on a Sunday morning with a cup of joe and the crossword. A few weeks ago, while leisurely making my way through the Sunday puzzle, I came across the clue “lifetime job.” They were looking for a six-letter word beginning with C and ending with the letters E and R. “Career” was the right answer, but it gave me pause: is a career still synonymous with a “lifetime job”? I think not.

Our world, and by extension the world we work in, is quickly changing. “It’s almost like you have to embrace a lot of ambiguity and be adaptable and not get into the rigidness or expectation-setting that I think there used to be 10 years ago, when you could plot out where you were going to go,” said Anne Mulcahy, former chairman and chief executive officer of Xerox Corporation . “It’s a lot more fluid right now. It has to be. The people who really do the best are those who actually sense, and enjoy almost, that lack of definition around their roles and what they can contribute.” These profound changes in the workforce and workplace require you to take charge and manage your career through its inevitable ebbs and flows in a way similar to how an effective CEO manages a business.

In short, you are CEO of your career. Don’t concede your responsibilities.

Being the CEO of your career requires changing your mindset. We’ve been drilled over the past century with the idea that success means climbing a ladder rung by rung toward a set career destination. But due to a host of demographic and marketplace trends, these long-held assumptions are simply no longer accurate. Continuing with a hard-coded corporate ladder blueprint is futile. Creating new roles for yourself in the corporate lattice is a more dynamic and useful strategy for building a rewarding 21st century career.

How can you begin assuming the duties of your career’s CEO? First, by understanding that today’s workplace looks very little like the one from the past. Fun fact: Today’s 45 year olds have already held as many jobs as retirees in the 1990s had their entire working life.

Maximize your options by actively seeking out opportunities across your organization—not just waiting for upward moves. Companies have fewer layers than before; they are 25 percent flatter on average, with commensurately fewer career levels and tiers. Also, consider lateral and diagonal moves that allow you to acquire additional skills and gain new experiences. Understanding how to navigate in today’s lattice-like environment will help you now and at every career step ahead.

Taking on opportunities across your organization will expand your networks in all directions, not just up/down but sideways too, opening multiple career path options. “In the new organization, with each new job, you want to build up a collection of deep capabilities so that…. you’re much better prepared,” Matthew Burkley, former CFO of Thomson Reuters’ Sales and Trading division, told me. Ask yourself: What actions can I take to create more alternative futures for me — and greater value for my organization? And remember that expanding the ways you provide value to your organization will offer you more options, both inside and outside its walls. And Burkley should know - he’s just taking over the CEO reins of a company that provides financial data for the energy industry.

"Maximize your options by actively seeking out opportunities across your organization—not just waiting for upward moves."" -Author, "The Corporate Lattice", Cathy Benko

Mark yourself to market. Another important career CEO consideration is to use your skills, experiences and capabilities as personal brand-building assets. Build a portfolio of career-enhancing competencies and experiences by regularly developing new skills that are transferrable from one role to another. Take calculated risks that get you out of your comfort zone, otherwise complacency is sure seep in—a career death knell in a marketplace where time-to-obsolescence is at an all-time low. If you’re hesitant to make such leaps, ask yourself how risky it is not to act at all.

Build Your Personal Brand. Lateral moves, special-project assignments, contributions to initiatives, leadership development programs, and outside-of-work experiences all can be helpful for building your brand. “Roles are simply more fungible than traditionally,” Robyn Denholm, CFO of Juniper Networks , told me. “Relevance of skills, experiences, and competencies is what we look for most. We look at potential hires for what the individual can contribute. They each play a role in the organization, but the bounds of the roles are more opaque.” To succeed in today’s job world, you’ll need to ask yourself a tough question: How well am I doing at acquiring sought-after skills and competencies? If you don't like the answer, do something about it.

Optimize your career-life fit. Since you’re in charge of your career, it is your responsibility to do this. Start by thinking beyond the present and recognizing that your career circumstances—just like your life circumstances – will change. You might choose to dial up your schedule or work pace to take advantage of a stretch opportunity, and then at another point of your career, dial it down for a while due to a significant life event. Regimented one-size-fits-all careers are fitting fewer and fewer individuals—and organizations. The important thing is knowing that your career will ebb and flow, and making sure you and your employer maintain a spirit of collaboration and compromise throughout that benefits both of you.

I wonder how many years of Sunday crosswords it will take before there’s a clue for “lifetime job” with the answer “CEO of Me.”

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks

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