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BW Businessworld

Change In The Air

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Remember this time last year? I suppose you’d rather not, but if you do, you’ll recall a distinct nervousness about the year ahead, and with good reason. As it turns out, 2012 has been the kind of year where pessimism could well have been mistaken for realism. The good part is that it is over and it does seem that there is light at the end of the tunnel, though I am still trying to figure out if it is a train.

For most part of the year gone by, jobs were a four-letter word. However, towards the end there was some redemption in the form of reforms, policies and initiatives from the government that augurs well for the period ahead.

Retail is a reality, telecom has washed its sins and is awaiting the next turn of technology, banking just got on the elevator, and even manufacturing is looking good in niches. While these are great possibilities, what is certain is that some of the clear career trends have started to gather steam. So what is the new sound?

It is the extra shirt in your bag, it is the stuff that jingles in your pocket, it is the most overused word in management — ‘Change’.  And it is happening to careers.

At the top end of the management ladder, the future isn’t what it used to be. With technology empowering, emancipating and enlarging across the board, markets have changed in ways too dynamic for anything to remain constant. With the thrust towards new sectors, and new ways of working at the old sectors, here are some definite factors that will change the way top management moves happen in the year to come:

Ladies Leading
If you’re a woman standing just below the C-suite, please look up and blink. What you’re looking at is not glass, it is the wide blue sky and it is yours for the taking. Diversity will be big in 2013. To quote American politician and political consultant Newt Gingrich (yeah, even guys like that make sense — sometimes): “Outreach is when five guys have a meeting and call you...Inclusion is if you’re in the meeting.” Gender diversity in the C-suite will progress from outreach to inclusion this year.

Proximity warning: objects in the lens seem closer than they actually are. The issue with men is that they can either take or they can give, but their problem is with sharing. There is, therefore, a very real possibility of an over-correction; so, if you’re the lady with the choice, pick with care and bite off only what you want to chew, else you could end up as ‘Exhibit W’.

Riches In Niches
The niche will emerge as a major career option this year. So far, there’s mainly been two kinds of career choices at the top — either the ‘bigger is better’ move where most options are evaluated on topline or, lately, the entrepreneurial option of baking bread and hoping to sell the bakery. 

Specialised high-margin, low-volume businesses, mostly in industries involving high technology, will become attractive investment options and emerge as another top management career choice. They will be perfect for a business unit-head-to-CEO move, provided you are comfortable replacing breadth with depth in your career.         

Owning The Running
With business getting far more complex and presenting new kinds of growth opportunities, entrepreneurship and management will merge in more ways than one. Where you had the owner-entrepreneur and the professional manager, you will now have change at both ends: the qualified next-gen as owner-manager on the one hand, and the professional as manager-entrepreneur on the other. If that sounds complicated you’re getting it right, because it is.

Basically, capital and connections alone will not be enough, so bright young second-gen’ers will graduate from the Ivy League and actually run their businesses as CEOs. Where that alternative is not available, the ‘family’ will hire professionals at the top who will be expected to be manager and entrepreneur, handling strategy to diversification and execution. So if you just sold your start-up, it could look great on your CV.

Skill Over Domain
Companies will increasingly look for skills from outside their industry as the need for a differentiated identity calls for a ‘break all the rules’ approach. Essential requirements — ability to strategise from ‘first principles’ and create an organisation around fresh ideas, with a success record in ground-up thinking. Experiences in new markets and new ways of doing business will be highly valued. Selling social, creating communities, building customer-centric organisations, forging relationships — will all become key skills. So, there is going to be less emphasis on what you’ve done and lots on what you can do. With the rules changing before you can write them down, the premium has moved to your ability to navigate uncharted territory, because that is where everyone is going — whether it is real estate or chocolate.

Money Will Grow On Trees

No carbon footprints on the corporate ladder. Any CEO who does not think ‘green’, is standing in a bucket of cement. Nature is IN. Companies, shareholders and customers will all be focused on your ability to drive a clean company — from the office building to product packaging.

Unfortunately, it isn’t yet so much about the harm if you don’t, as about the good if you do. Green will just sell so well. So if you don’t get with the eco stuff, we could soon be carbon-dating you.

So what do you emphasise on? Skills, initiatives and the ability to build. It is no longer about who you know — it is about who knows you.

The author heads EDGE Executive Search, a niche search firm with a national presence

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 14-01-2013)