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Take Cover: Careers Are Under Attack

April 23, 2015

Here are just a few of the headlines we have seen over the last several years:

  • Globalization has created more competition for jobs reducing wages for many
  • Technology has eliminated thousands of positions reducing the need for higher employment
  • Free trade agreements have brought lower paying jobs to places like the United States

These headlines only tell a small portion of the story.  How about this one…

“Average Company Lifespan Has Dropped from 67 Years in the 1920’s to 15 Years Today”

According to Richard Foster from the Yale School of Management, on average an S&P company is being replaced every two weeks. In addition to those astonishing statistics, he estimates that by the time 2027 rolls around 75% of the S&P will be replaced.

What do these shifts in company life cycles or spans mean to your career? Why is this so important? 

It has two important implications: Organizational and Individual

Organizational Implications

Organizationally we structure companies to last for long periods of time.  We create processes, infrastructure, rules, policies, benefits and more as if the company and its employees will be around for years to come.  Our goal becomes one of protecting what we have built and the value it represents. The problem is what made us successful was being small, nimble, creative, and our willingness to take risks and at times forgo a consistent profit due to investments, etc.  If we are to lose our corporate life we should at least do it willingly by the use of creative destruction. Go back to when your company was vibrant and new and be willing to tear down the walls of old success to create a new success as a different type of company.  Otherwise you will look like American Motors or Maytag. 

Another important lesson is to stop trying to cement everything in the first place.  For instance, career pathing.  Career paths are a function of years gone by.  People no longer move through organizations in traditional manners and organization structures generally change too fast.  What we should do instead is help our employees become better at embracing and managing change, specifically personal and career change. 

Individual Implications

Individually we must take ownership of our income earning years.  Your career will most likely last longer than the life span of three to four of the companies you will work for.  Careers, not jobs or roles, must last for 45-55 years especially in this current economy.  People are now working well into their golden years. 

We must keep our skills sharp.  There is no longer room for coasters.  Each and every one of us needs to have a plan.  And not a plan derived from the company we work with or for, but our own plan -- a plan for which we take ownership. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What skills will keep you relevant through the next 5 years?  10 years?  Retirement?
    • You need to know.  And do not wait for your employer to tell you. This is your career. This is your engine fueling your retirement. You must know where things are going.  Take classes.  Go back to school.  Get certified.  Seek out mentors.  Read!  Do whatever you have to do to stay relevant.
    • What gets you excited?  Motivated? What type of work do you enjoy doing?
    • 45 to 55 years is a long time.  Even if you changed your focus two or three times over the course of your income earning years that is still a minimum of 15 years focused on a certain type of work, service, industry.  It is hard to get up 5475 days knowing you dread what you do and who you do it for.  That is not a recipe for success or high performance.  Believe me –  you want to stand out, but not for a bad attitude.

The only thing worse than seeing your company close its doors or change ownership and watch jobs being eliminated is being 50 years old knowing you can’t find a job because you are no longer relevant.  Make no mistake of it…careers are under attack.  What is your battle plan?