Career Transformation – A personal reflection

I do not remember what moment prompt me of personal career reflection of late but I realize that now I am on my 7th company and my 12th role, this exclude my university work which when I include then I am on my 10th company and 15th role. I cannot say that every role and company is always enjoyable, but for sure many of them are filled with lovely memories and all of them – with their ups and downs – are truly invaluable learning who made me who I am today, professionally and as an individual (which means a mom, wife, daughter and friend). I have done local, global, individual contributor, small team leader, mid-size team leader and large size team leader. I have done sales, marketing, finance, consulting and done projects on people / HR, procurement, technology. 

I am sharing my experience today with the hope that all of you who read this will do so much better than me, achieve your aspiration earlier and hopefully surpass even your wildest aspiration in your career. 

Is your career transition to frontline facing from back office role ?

I learn that transitioning to frontline facing role from back office / functional role require development of customer relationship management and engagement skillset, such as how to handle difficult conversation with customers and as well negotiation. A lot of online training available to help you prepare for the real engagement and also typically companies provide a lot of training opportunity for front facing roles especially in customer engagement and negotiation. Although nothing beats real practice on the ground, but to ensure you are doing ok to begin with, a lot of preparation will do you good. I am an introvert person so frontline facing role has always been a trial for me but I learn that in my case a lot of preparation help me do ok in these engagements, as well as mentally ready to focus on those I need to engage. However, excellence in the role require investment in relationship building, thus time management need to be reset for the first 90 days toward informal engagementsinternally and externally even when a lot of work on structure and analysis still required. Most frontline facing role is always in on a team, teamwork within frontline facing roles typically very tight as they have fighting in the trenches close to the enemy line, often people in frontline facing roles see their roles are fighting on the ground while the rest of organisation cool their heel off in the headquarter. With this thinking, sometime they also have aversion to people transferring in from ‘head quarter’ or ‘functions’ and thus if you transition from back office or from HQ you will need to engage the team toward acceptance (natural acceptance always the best vs top down instruction),there is no way to cheat this you will need to spend time to engage and learn from the team and by that spend time with then on the ground / in the market to build camaraderie that will help not just individual success but team success. 

Are you transitioning from sales / business development team to back functional / center of excellence / internal consultant role ?

We need to always remember that company primary objective is generating profit to keep itself sustainable and thus frontline facing and revenue generating roles are always the roles that will be the most critical, the rest of roles basically enabling and servicing these frontline roles to be successfully generating revenue for the company. Therefore functional and subject matter expert roles exist solely for servicing and enabling frontline roles, therefore all deliverables need to be geared to make the life of frontline roles easier, defend these frontline roles from making mistakes that dilute or leak values and make frontline roles more efficient and smarter as well competitive in the market. With this in mind, to be successful, role holders need to be in tune with dynamic of markets and frontlines, it is absolutely impossible to do so if funtional / subject matter experts do not regularly check the market / operation out through market / operation visit. Thus, your first 90 days you will need to spend a lot of time definitely not behind your desk. You are in the market and talking to as many as possible and observe front line role holders, even when you transition from frontline roles, you will still need to do this given you have now different optics as functional role holders.

Functional or subject matter expert need to understand the latest development of their respective field, for example HR, finance and technology, to be relevant to help frontliners win in the market. You will need to read / learn quickly so you are not behind your peers in the competitor nor your customers peers, otherwise how can you develop potent arsenals or offers for the frontliners that is differentiated in the market. As a finance professional, in the era of digital and sustainability, if you are not familiar with use case for digital investment proposal nor you understand carbon accounting enough to advise nor you know where to seek for expert advise, you will not be differentiated in your role as best-in-class for sure. There are many online course and materials for you to help or start off so there is no reason for you not to be able to do so.

As subject matter expert or functional role holder, you will have to be able to leverage various tools relevant to you well. Invest time toward fast tracking on skills to use these tools, for example technology element of the role for example if this is functional marketing role, focus on bootstrap yourself in digital marketing for example through online learning. This way you are skilled to launch digital marketing campaign. If your role is transition to finance role, upskill your finance modelling skill for example. 

I took leave typically at least two weeks (well, this is almost every role in my case), one week to rest (which is very important to do to ensure you switch hat and unlearn your previous role) and one week to read myself up to new role, especially those functional / subject matter expert role. 

Transition from Independent Contributor to Team Leadership

If this is your first time to transition to be team leader, congratulation ! Now the next phase for you is to plan transition not just your technical aspect of your role as above but also the leadership part of above. There are many many leadership you can read up about leadership, read them. Any of them will help to enhance your leadership knowledge, ready for you to implement. Never stop with your first book, try schedule to read 1-2 leadership book every year and read up articles on leadership in magazines. With new technology, new business dynamic and new generation among others, good leadership evolve to enable us to navigate and lead successfully and these books help cheat by learning from others and add their experiences to yours as well avoid making mistakes others make and faster getting to the magical ingridients that will help you succeed. 

You will need to schedule time with your team one on one to get to know them. Spend time to know them professionally and personally. Ask questions, probe, listen and take notes. Understand their career plan, development plan, their inputs about the company, the business, the team and the work. Everyone have invaluable inputs that will be useful for you to take into consideration. Get them to know you as well, make them comfortable to get to know you and ask you questions. Sometime you will come across team member who may not like you, may look down on you or do not trust you. Learn about these difficult team members to help them to achieve their ambition, understand how you can enable them function and ask question to help you understand why they become who they are. It will take more than one time to understand your team member, take time to understand them as part of your sincerity to help them individually and help the team to thrive and prosper. Within 90 days as much as possible get to know them not just as your team but as colleagues and friends who you will fight shoulder-to-shoulder in the trenches. 

Transition from Team Leadership to Independent Contributor

Transition from team leadership or team work to become independent contributor is no less easy and equally hard especially when you have spend many years in team work. Equally hard to transition from local role to regional / global role. Afar, regional / global role look sexy but as you assume one, you will soon realise it is a lonely road ahead with everyday fighting to earn respect others to accept your help and often you indeed struggle because your stakeholders know more and possibly sometime more competent than you, at least to begin with. 

Building relationship with your stakeholders are very critical and very challenging. Get to know them on and off work to allow you to work well and have good working relationship. Now that pandemic is over, try to visit these stakeholders and their markets regularly. Being independent contributor, typically it is a subject matter expert, then you need to be one truly. Reading up, joining master classes, earn yourself external credibility and build yourself external network in your chosen role, they are all part of the work. If you are regional / local digital marketing advisors, how can you not able to talk at length what is the best algorithm for your company website to attract traffic ? How do you not know to work with external partners to monetize data lake you already have ? Seek actively experts in your chosen field externally to coach you. 

In the case you are in regional / global role, do not zombied out your role by just doing what you ask to do. Plan proactively aggresively how you can take the most for your own development and network. Networking in a regional / global role, upward, lateral and downward is important. You can learn from them but also networking amongst regional / global role holders help you learn your rope how others thrive and insight in term relationship you need to build for your success, they too can refer and help you build as much as you do theirs. Having virtual coffee with others with similar role set help you feel less lonely and isolated too as well help you stay connected. You also still want to maintain offline relationship with others in local role in the country you reside as after all that’s your root and possibly your future. 

Transition to New Company

Choosing to move on from your present company to new one, it is akin to get root canal, even if you get anesthesia, the pain is still there. It is choosing between two pains. It is never easy. Especially if your present company is where you have work for many many years. You must have the right reason to do so and remember, most of the time, as long as not emotional decision only, it is always the right decision if you have made the decision. 

Moving to new company is one of the highest stress moment in one’s life, it is nearly the same as creating new family and sometime it is going into a well established tight knit family. Coming into new family, it is always observing the culture and tradition of the new family and fitting in. To do that, observation and getting to know each and every member of the family is important. If you are introvert like me, this process is truly painful because you are inherently shy. Give yourself time and take things in stride, step-by-step and ask for help whenever you need one. Asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. If you dont do things well and you get scolded, dont let it get you down. If you get one, the rest must already receive many. Learn and do better. Assume accountability and embrace challenges. Nothing beats being thrown in trenches together and covering for your fellow fighter to build chemistry.

Everytime you feel you cant hold your role anymore in transition period (which last from 6 months to many years as some family warms slowly) you need to remember that you have decided to move on and so focus on fitting in, contributing actively and learning ferociously. Dont feel dishearten if you cant contribute much or feeling ignored, everyone around you is also adjusting, not just you. Help them adjust as much as you help them adjust to you and if you are senior, make it easier for everyone and be a role model of not giving up easily. Remember why you move and stick with it. 

Spend time to understand history, backstory and adjacent knowledge to your role and to the industry (on top of course understanding the industry itself), reflect how these knowledge help you do well at work and plan to assimilate to your work. 

Books to Help Me in My Career Transformation

Everytime I move to new role or company, I read The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins to help me structure my mind and plan for successful transition. I also like Leadership in Turbulent Times from Doris Kearns Goodwin, it is a leadership book that help me to reset my mind what I need to focus on as new leader, bearing in mind that all of the leadership position I assume is always in turbulent times, transition to new role in anyway is always turbulent even in peace time. I reread Strategy  A History by Sir Lawrence Freedman and Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt to refresh my mind on strategic thinking. I read others too but these are my go to books whenever I need to reset my mind at work.

Lastly, take a break before you assume your role. I do. It helps me reset my mindset, refresh my body and strengthen my mental well being. Do something totally different to get your creative juice flowing and your innovator glow. You need to be positive and happy coming to new role to help you stay resilient. Remember, whatever happen it will always for the best and all the trials and tribulations can only make you stronger and better.Fortius, Altius and Citius. 

All the best with your career transformation !

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