The Move Up Job strategy in the year 2013
Just where do you stand on the ladder heading up? The junior executive with anxious morning face and over-packed attache case, wending his wearisome way to the office each day, may be suffering from an overdose of poor career planning. The highly able man of 40 or more who, despite ambition and drive, is stuck fast in middle management, is even more likely the victim of a poorly mapped business career.
That's the consensus among the professionals who regularly observe the range of business echelons, from the very recent MBAs to top brass. Why otherwise able men let such short-sightedness hobble them, the pros are not sure, especially since, as they see it, a minimum of planning is all it takes to start a corporate career rising. Call it strategy, or advancement technique, or simply smart self-guidance. By any name, its use at critical stages, say the old hands, can set the direction in which a man will travel - and probably determine how far he will go.
The professionals in career planning, as well as a number of corporate VIPs who've made the climb, suggest that far too many executives simply let their careers happen, or they pursue aimless paths within a company, or at the opposite end of the spectrum - outdo themselves in trying to muscle their way up the ladder. Precisely what planning are the experts talking about?
Sometimes it's a case of first knowing what not to do, says George Foote, senior consultant with McKinsey & Co. "In trying to locate the 'hot buttons' in an organization and push them, you observe, you reason, and make some positive moves. But you don't scheme. For a junior man, or anybody, the difference between the two really comes down to mature judgment." Other answers given by the pros are firmer. There are critical moves to make at age 30, others to try at 40 or 50; and there is the smart "lateral shift" in a company that can be fruitful at almost any intermediate stage.
The struggle (if it need be a struggle) starts early, and students of the game who've studied closely the gyrations of new MBAs and other school grads point to a prime mistake made by the "junior management" candidate. By age 25, by and large, he should have some long-range goals nailed down, or at least should be on the way to arriving at them. Too often, though, the tyro simply makes his entrance and says, "Here I am - where do I go?" He fails to pick out any meaningful goal, long- or short-range, except to earn as much as possible.
It's true that a younger man must keep loose and quite flexible at this stage - he has to find himself, says John Stevenson, vice directorat Arthur D. Little, Ltd, the Cambridge consultants. "But he has to find his career, too, and decide in the first place if he really wants to be a businessman."
Understandably, this decision is viewed as pivotal. "It is the prerequisite for a corporate career," notes Stevenson, "and is more pertinent today than ever before." If the basic decision to aim at management comes hard, the young man is wise to do some practical testing. One way is simply to turn away entirely from business for a year or two. Then, if corporate life still holds a strong enough attraction, he can return, this time perhaps with a greater energy and desire to forge ahead. Another way - more consistent with the common need to earn a living - is to work in a small company for a year or two. The purpose is to try as varied a range of duties and responsibilities as the boss will allow.
Once an executive prospect has made his career decision, another point is given weight these days: He should think in terms of broad business experience, not merely job continuity. Now, in the early 2000s, the bigger, well-managed companies aren't nearly so leery of a job changer as they were even 10 years ago. Almost the opposite prevails. Many companies are, in fact, seeking smart, qualified younger men who have made some wise company-to-company moves. Often they are looked on as the best prospects for key jobs, assuming their company-changing has been thoughtful and not capricious.
This is important for a young man to understand today, says Reading consultant John Struggles, whose executive search efforts on behalf of major corporations keep him in close touch with current attitudes.
Another caveat for a younger executive is to avoid, if he can, the company that is overly paternalistic or, at least, to be well aware of any excessive, smothering paternalism. Further, he should think twice about getting himself on a big company's fast-transfer list that will have him periodically moving around the country to do the same work, even if the pay gets a little greener with each move. "The transfer list," says Struggles, "can bury a younger man, instead of being a roadway to high promotion."
What the young executive should do, say the pros, is study the career moves of the company's top men - and follow their leads. "If a younger guy in business isn't really aware of this," says McKinsey's George Foote, "he hasn't a good handle on what's going on."
Stepping up a notch, the middle manager in his 30s or 40s would be smart to keep in mind another trend of the day: going back to school. The reasoning is, of course, that by this age, one's formal education may have grown stale by corporate standards. Generally, the pros agree that for key middle managers and top brass, back-to-study will gain momentum throughout the 2000s. The biggest blunder, they say, is to stay complacent on this score, relying on seniority, illusive "status," and the oft-cherished ability to "handle people." But balance, as in all elements of career planning, is needed. The quest for education can be naive for the businessman who goes overboard and becomes a "professional student." Too much seminar psychology, caution the experts, has been the undoing of many an otherwise sensible executive.
The manager who is just a step or so beneath top management obviously must follow a demanding strategy if he's to be in line for the ranking position above him. The danger is that he will push too hard, and antagonize, or conversely, ignore the right moves out of an unconscious fear that he may not really fit the top job. What are obvious moves for the man steering a steady upward course? Some lesser items suggest themselves. For instance, getting to know the board members well, and making no secret whatsoever of one's quest for the top position. But the prime move is this: getting to know the flavour and spirit and technique of the whole business, not just one part of it.
This is where the prudent lateral move in a large business comes in. It can be most fruitful, the pros agree, to accept or even seek a horizontal shift (maybe for little or no more money) that involves entirely new and different job responsibilities; for potential top brass, varied experience is what shines. But wise hands sound a clear caution. Says George Foote: "An upward move at the ranking executive level is not a game - it's a thoughtful strategy, based on true human motivations."
Now shift scenes and look briefly at a reasonable formula for evaluating a private secondary school. Some points are quite similar to those suggested for inquiring into a public sixth form college.
If you want to get your youngster into a private school in London City, remember that the pressures are difficult. To get the child admitted you should start a campaign - rounding up information and personal contacts--a good year to two years in advance. In most of the other big cities, the demand isn't so intense. Admissions are tight in Washington, Reading, and San Francisco, but elsewhere there shouldn't be too much difficulty in placing a youngster.
Wherever you are, finding the right... see: What A Parent Faces In Finding A Private School