How to Create a Career Strategy for an Executive
I’m going to leave you with some thoughts on developing a career strategy for an executive. Most of our clients are fairly successful and senior, usually in their thirties, forties, some of them around fifties. They’re senior managers, executive managers, executive vice presidents and CEOs. Some feel trapped because they know they’re not as successful as they could be—even though looking in from the outside, people see them as successful. These men and women have the resources and time to plot out a new career strategy, but they don’t know what to do—as opposed to more younger people who have more room to grow. When you’re 30-50, many people get stuck at a certain point, but a lot of our clients are stuck at a good point in their careers.
But the difference is it is good when people look from outside in. Our clients feel they are not where they need to be, they’re not doing their life’s work, not as successful as they could be, not leveraging the skills they have or feel they should eventually learn.
For clients in our executive coaching program, we use the Career Strategy Journal, which maps out how they need to plan their careers. I’m going to talk you through some of the insights in that journal.
Let’s look at any senior client. Let’s say they’re around 35-45, and they’re a partner at a consulting firm or a senior executive in industry. When you’re at that level, you’re usually not doing the work yourself. There’s clearly a problem if a client feels they’re too busy and need to put together a report. You have to get other people to do the work.
In that case, you have a system problem. Your job is to manage the organization and take it to the next level. You’ll never get to that level if you’re caught in a trap of thinking, “I have to do the work to show people how to get to the next level, and when I get there, I will stop doing the work.”
Let’s talk about systems. Recently, I talked to a client in an Advice Session, which is different from private coaching. Coaching sessions have a long backlog to get into. With Advice Sessions, if I have time I talk to some clients. And I was teaching him how to create a system for being in sales for a technology company. I asked him, “How do you spend your day? What are you going to do in three months, in five months?” He said, “I don’t know. It depends on what people tell me I need to do. It depends on what opportunities come up.” That’s the problem: he didn’t have a system.
The reason I became a junior partner and then a senior partner was because I had a system. So what was my system? Obviously, as a partner, I needed to bring money into the firm. I created a pretty good system that other partners eventually liked to replicate.
This was my system: I had seven clients, and then I had time to deal with about five other clients, whether a partner would invite me in to talk to them, or someone would reach out to me directly because they had heard about the work I had done. But I had these seven core clients, which were multibillion dollar conglomerates in the resources sector, banking and government. In my system, I did a strategy visioning workshop for every client once a year. I’d get the executive committee and CEO together for each of my seven core clients, and I’d run a workshop for them.
The workshop was split into two parts. In the morning, we talked about what was happening in the sector—the latest big issues, trends, discontinuities and changes, and I’d bring in some other partners to talk and present the work. After lunch, we would either do a scenario planning session or a value chain mapping exercise. If they were digital and IT strategy clients, we talked about what their digital and IT strategy should be. At the end of the workshop, the client always figured out that they were missing something. There wasn’t alignment between operations and strategy, or digital and strategy, or operations and digital. They missed a priority, or they were missing part of the value chain.
Notice that I didn’t go to clients and say, “We think there’s an opportunity for you to acquire companies. Let’s put together a proposal to help you do that.” If you get into a cycle of only talking to clients when you know and they know you want to sell them something, it becomes awkward. But if you tell a client that you’re going to do a workshop for them and it would cost comparatively less than the overall fees we charge them, and often I would do it for free, but its not to help us but to help you.
I got one day with the entire executive committee. We would uncover what the issues were. Then naturally, the other partners and I would follow through on that. With only seven core clients, I could do one workshop every month. And I have five other months to serve other clients and do workshops with them. I would fly to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Botswana, the UK, Asia, Australia. I knew what my year was going to be like because my system involved 12 major visioning workshops. FC Insiders can learn more about preparing for visioning/strategy workshops here.
At every level of your career, you need to have a system in place so your agenda isn’t just getting up early, going to the office and looking for opportunities. You need to do that—but you need to do that within your system. In my visioning workshop with clients, I looked for opportunities for that client, but my system was 12 workshops a year. It was a very successful system. FIRMSconsulting also has a system. If we are looking at private equity investments and we partner with someone, it’s going to be very tiring for partners to get involved in developing the e-commerce plan for a company we’re working with or an acquisition. That’s why we’ve produced so many journals and programs. If we have a portfolio company that’s dealing with competitors, that team gets a copy of the Competitive Strategy Journal so they can see exactly how to think it through and respond.
If you have many different opportunities in corporate strategy restructuring and transformation and turnarounds, we have a Turnaround and Restructuring Journal, which shows you how to think through and develop a turnaround strategy. If we have a portfolio company that needs to come up with a marketing strategy, our Marketing Strategy Journal shows them how to do that.
These journals allow us to work a lot quicker, but we also have something called Strategy Value Blueprints. This is a set of steps you would follow to achieve an increase in revenue, a reduction in costs, and to build a sustainable brand. For example, if we had to take over building a luxury brands business in Europe, the first step is to go to these websites and create these accounts. Step two: This is the template and text to create your first ad. Step three: This is the copy in the ad you need to run. Step four: This is where you need to point people to from the ad. Step five: This is what you need to collect from people. Step six: Once you collect their contact details, this is the first thing you send them. This is the second thing you send them. This is the third thing you send them. Step seven: What metric must you hit before you can launch a product? Step eight: How do you develop that product?
I’ve given you different examples of how to create systems, but that’s what you need to focus on in your career. You always need a system.
This is an excerpt from Monday Morning 8 a.m. newsletter, issue #13.