As the Great Recession has taught us, the nature of employment is changing. Jobs that involve routine are rapidly disappearing and being devalued through automation and technology. Traditional nine-to-five jobs are increasingly scarce relative to the available global labor force. Career paths that were once norm for Baby Boomers no longer exist for the Millennial Generation.
Increasingly, lower-level positions are turning into employment ghettos. Interns are finding themselves moving from one internship to the next, never able to find an entry level-position due to outsourcing and downsizing. Mid-level positions have vanished thanks to increasing empowerment and devolution of responsibilities to junior levels.
With all the changes occurring, one wonders how anyone can succeed in this work environment. The simple answer is to emulate those who have profited and thrived, and no group has thrived more than corporations.
Even in these turbulent and unpredictable times, corporations are reaping substantial profits and continuing to maximize shareholder return. Many suggest that treating yourself like a corporation is impossible, since a corporation has thousands of individual workers. However, the reality is that we already see numerous examples of individuals treating themselves as corporations. From celebrities to consultants and even entrepreneurs, today's successful individuals rely heavily on corporate characteristics to succeed.
What does it take for individuals to treat themselves like a corporation? There are three foundational elements and six core principles that should be applied. The three foundational elements are:
1) Experience: It is not only about longevity but accumulating true battle experience that enables survival in today's economic environment. Corporations and individuals that have survived in difficult times and thrived in goods ones build war chests of knowledge and flexibility that is invaluable for effectively responding to the unknown future.
2) Networks: The network multiplier effect is critical for both corporations and individuals. Networks expand and multiply the reach and capabilities of individuals and corporations and are crucial to provide future growth opportunities.
3) Capabilities: The core of any successful corporation or individual is the availability of capabilities to tackle future challenges. For individuals, this involves gaining the right education and credentials for career advancement.
Having established the three foundational elements, a number of principles are essential for individuals to successfully treat themselves like a corporation. Just like a corporation, individuals need a series of core strategic principles to guide their career moves and the following strategic principles enable individuals to accomplish this:
1) Define clear goals and objectives: Many individuals argue that they don't have clear goals and objectives because they don't have all the information necessary to make informed decisions. In reality, we very rarely have enough data points to make a truly informed decision. However, most individuals have enough collected life experience to provide a good indicator of what it is that makes them happy, thus providing an opportunity to set appropriate career goals and objectives.
2) Determine what capabilities you possess and how they compare to the market: People are proud of themselves when they complete a university degree or a difficult certification. However, while individual achievements need to be celebrated, one must always be aware that capabilities need to be constantly upgraded. A unique capability in 1960 might not be as unique or relevant in 2013.
3) Determine if you have a unique value proposition or are a commodity: One truly needs to take a look at their value proposition to determine their uniqueness. Is your position fundamentally unique or are you an easily replaceable widget? Unique individuals can protect themselves better in today's economy and can demand more for their services in return.
4) Treat every job as a building block: The reality of today's business environment is a job is no longer "just a job", but rather a building block to achieve one's goals and objectives. Jobs are not just for providing the necessary funds for daily existence, but are rather about building an individual's foundational elements. No matter how mundane, a job must offer some value besides a monetary one that can be translated into career advancement.
5) Start internally and externally differentiating: Differentiation is not achieved overnight. It is done in incremental steps and relies heavily on building all three corporate elements (capacity, network and expertise) to achieve both internal and external differentiation. While internal differentiation is the easier of the two to achieve (e.g. being the top sales performer), one should never forget about the external differentiation. Ensuring the wider market is aware of one's "uniqueness" creates future growth opportunities.
6) Always be looking: With the accepted expectation that today's individuals will have multiple jobs during their careers, it is increasingly critical that individuals are proactively looking for future opportunities. Whether it is through conferences or trade events, individuals need to be looking for the next better and bigger position to achieve their goals and objectives.
These six principles combined with the three foundational elements provide individuals with a solid framework on which to build their careers. This framework is flexible enough to be leveraged by individuals climbing the traditional corporate ladder or taking alternative career paths.
Today's economy is a volatile one for individuals. Nothing is foregone conclusion and nothing is permanent. If this is the case, then the best example we have of an entity that has managed to survive a dynamic and ever changing environment is a corporation. While not a perfect metaphor, it is one that is increasingly relevant in today's dynamic business environment.