When It Comes To Career, It’s Up To You To Stay Relevant

By Ron Thomas, Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group

We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.”

Upon saying that, all his management team, himself included, sadly teared up.

This was the statement from the CEO of Nokia at a press conference to announce that Nokia was being acquired by Microsoft.

Intel just announce that they are laying off 12,000 workers to pay the price of betting on the wrong strategy. That strategy was to dominate the chip market since they owned all the market share of the windows-based PC’s.

Paying the price

There was just one problem with Intel’s strategy: The PC era was about to end.

At the time they announced it, Apple was already working on the iPhone, which would usher in the modern smartphone era. Intel turned down an opportunity to provide the processor for the iPhone, believing that Apple was unlikely to sell enough of them to justify the development costs.

During my stay in Singapore last week, I wandered into a photo store, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw boxes of film stacked about five high. As a camera buff who would buy film by the dozen, I was amazed. Who is buying this stuff? I had not seen actual film in many years.

Do people still buy this, I asked?  Sure, the sales clerk said. “We have a few regulars that will not budge and move into the new era of pictures. They want no parts of digital.”

The tab workers are picking up

As I read articles about these things, I think of these companies and how they just lost their way. Nokia owned the cell phone market, Intel owned the chip market, and Kodak invented not only digital photography but basically owned most everything having to do with photography in general.

The world is moving at warp speed. There is no such thing as maintaining a pace because if you do, you will be literally put out of business.

Telecom is now worried about Facebook and the whatsapp’s of the world. With Skype, I can call all over the world for basically nothing, so why do I need to worry about a telecom’s monthly minutes’ plan, let alone an international calling plan?

The sad part of all these examples is that in the end the workers will pay the ultimate price. When you think of 12,000 people at Intel losing their job, that is more people than were in the town I grew up in. Since the world markets almost crashed, many careers have been damaged and some have never regained their place.

The workplace of today is changing, and workers’ skill sets must keep pace with employers’ expectations. However, who determines that expectation if your livelihood is dependent on some employer to make the right strategic moves.? They lose, and ultimately, you lose.

What is your career strategy?

For this reason, every one of us must have a career strategy, and that strategy should be guided by your industry’s trajectory. You should be fine-tuned to the intricacies of your profession.

You have no choice. You have to self-develop to stay relevant. Always remember that YOU are in charge of your career; NEVER get sucked into the “company knows best” approach to your career.

I recently asked the following questions as I lead a conference workshop:

  • How many of you subscribe to your industry magazine?
  • How many of you read the business news concerning your industry?
  • How many of you watch the business news on TV?
  • How many of you are aware of the seismic shift going on in your industry?

I was actually shocked at the limited response to those questions. So my next question was this: How many of you watch reality TV during your spare time?

The numbers of hands that went up represented the majority of the audience.

You determine how important your career is

My comeback was that this sadly shows what you consider important in your spare time. I travel a lot for business and I prepare for the trip making sure that my reading list is compiled and white papers are at the ready. I use an app called Pocket which holds all my articles that I have downloaded pre trip.

Why, you might ask? It’s because each of us must own it. The above examples show that you can’t put all your trust in the career basket of any employer.

Your skills have to be brushed off, polished, and always at the ready, because as the saying goes, you never know when you will be ambushed with an announcement. History has shown that since the early 2000’s that no role or company is immune to market shifts. Those tremors have been felt by you, your friends, and colleagues throughout your sphere.

That is why the paramount issue to all of us is that we must stay relevant. If you have a passion, know everything you can about that passion.

Who are the thought leaders, and what is going on? Are your current skills going to be relevant at a future point in, say, 5-10 years?  Have you identified where your passion is headed?

The exams of life

I recall a conversation I had with my daughter while she was in college and pulling a late nighter. She said, “when I finish college I will never study again since there will be no exams.” I paused as I heard that question as she thought that upon graduation she would never need to pick up a book concerning her career.

My response was, “If you want to be successful in your career, the studying never stops. What you are doing now does not even register as you strive to be successful in whatever you choose to be.”

Folks, your career is a constant final exam which requires you to pull a lot of all-nighters. Get back into college mode and start preparing for those upcoming exams.

ron thomasRon Thomas is Managing Director, StrategyFocused HR-MENA, based in Dubai. He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf countries, also based in Dubai. A former CHRO who was based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Ron is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute [hci.org ] covering the MENA region.