Article (February-2017)


As You Move up the Corporate Ladder, Stay relevant

Rajeev Bhardwaj

Designation : -   Vice President-Human Resource

Organization : -  Sun Life Financial Asia Service Centre, Gurugram


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The ability to be a lifelong learner is an important trait that distinguishes successful professionals from mediocre. No matter how good you are at your work, there will still be things you do not know or need to become better at. With new information, skills and technological maneuvers being added to every field at a rapid pace today, the importance of life-long learning has only increased. Many corporate professionals realize this the wrong way. 

Raghu, 42, has been at the centre of corporate life for almost two decades making his way up the corporate ladder. As a marketing manager, he has worked diligently on the field to absorb all the tricks of the trade and perfected his 'art' (if marketing can be called that!). However, with new avenues opening up in his field in recent years such as digital and social media marketing, he suddenly finds himself increasingly dependent on some of his young subordinates who have a greater grasp over this realm. Interestingly, Raghu is not a one-off case of a corporate professional suddenly developing a disconnect with his own field. As the corporate world in India ages, a number of professionals today, especially those who began their careers in the 1990s when the private sector took off, are realizing they did not do enough to acquire new skills over their career spans.

In the rapidly changing corporate landscape, staying static in your skills and behavioral abilities can make you a dinosaur in your own world, sooner than you would imagine. Staying relevant to your time as you move up the corporate ladder is a key part of your professional journey.

Keep adding to your skills 
You might be doing very well in your field but the key is to never become complacent with your abilities. The skill set that is serving you well today might gradually become obsolete. Successful professionals are aware of these developments and pounce at every opportunity to re-skill themselves. This includes undertaking short-term or part-time courses that enriches your profile. This may also include taking a short sabbatical from your work to go back to college. Some mid-level corporate professionals even take a break to pursue executive management courses which help them re-equip themselves for higher roles. At Sun Life Asia Service Centre India, an exclusive tie-up with a premium business school allows employees to pursue one-year executive general management program. Strengthening the organizational pipeline of managers, the program allows employees to enhance their managerial effectiveness. 
At some point in your career, you must step back, take stock of yourself and decide what new skills have been added to your field which you do not know. In a nutshell, be a life-long learner. 

Embrace technology wholeheartedly 
While technology comes naturally to some people, there are others who are comfortable being technologically challenged. Whatever category you belong to, it is important to be aware of technological changes that are transforming your professional world. For instance, a marketing professional in today's world can ignore the importance of social media at his own peril. When social media becomes an important part of the game, all your strategies have to be reconfigured to include this all-important game-changer. And you must know how it works. 

Keep challenging your comfort zone 
It is very easy to become complacent when you have spent years doing the same work. This 'comfort zone' has to be challenged all the time. Keep working on yourself and your growth as a professional. Make sure you are industry aware and on top of new developments that are taking root in your area. Most importantly, don't let yourself slide into the comfort zone even if you are not switching jobs. Challenge yourself by undertaking assignments that you have never done. Delve into strategic initiatives that you have never undertaken. At Sun Life Asia Service Centre India, cross functional teams are made to drive strategic organizational initiatives ranging from diversity & inclusion to rewards & recognition. Taking up new responsibilities allows people a constant learning experience. One should keep looking for cross cultural assignments that will help them grab and cultivate newer ideas and working strategies.

Adopt greater flexibility
Years of experience give us deep insight into our fields. The flip side is that they tend to make us resistant to modern strategies and newer ways of thinking. You must not let your years be undone by this strategic flaw of rigidity. The corporate world today is adopting greater flexibility in its dealing with both clients and employees. At the same time, newer ways of doing things are also being embraced. Make sure you are flexible enough to wholeheartedly accept these changes. Be open to initiatives like flexi-timings and allowing work from home options as long as the work is delivered. Make employee convenience an important determinant of your decisions. Every company needs to retain talent; make sure your rigid actions do not contribute to your organization's attrition rate.

Adapt to cultural changes 
The past 20 years have brought radical changes to the way the corporate world works. Apart from technology, another driver of this change has been the new generation of millennials. They are not wired (or brought up) to follow orders without questioning; they are more assertive and perceived to be more impetuous. No wonder, it takes more effort to retain them and keep them satisfied in their jobs. This generation has also contributed to bringing about a shift in the corporate culture transforming it to become more casual and employee-friendly. Every manager must learn to adopt these changes to suit the needs of the time and contemporize his/her style of leadership. You must keep talking to the younger employees to understand where they are coming from. To bring about this mind shift, at Sun Life Asia Service Centre India, managers are taken through a mandatory program on leading millennials effectively. This makes them open to suggestions and receptive to cultural changes.

Keep networking
Even if you have spent years at an organization, you must never start believing that your job is secure for a lifetime. You never know what might go wrong, forcing you to job search once again. As many as 7800 employees were laid off by Microsoft after it overtook operations at the former mobile giant Nokia. With years of world dominance, Nokia employees would hardly have anticipated this sudden downturn of fortune. Make sure you keep taking into account, developments such as these.  

A survey by Adecco Staffing, a part of the world's largest recruitment and workforce solutions provider, found that hiring managers are three times more likely to hire a mature professional rather than a millennial. This puts statistics on the side of experienced professionals. However, you need to ensure that you have enough contacts to provide references when you hit the job search button. You must never stop networking; keep reaching out to people in the industry; maintain your social circle intact and make new professional friends. They might come handy when the going gets tough.