Rita McGrath argues in her book The End of Competitive Advantage that neither businesses nor workers can stand still and expect to thrive in the 21st century economy. McGrath, who is a professor at Columbia Business School, says that what she calls “transient advantage” – constantly innovating and trying to determine which skills will be most valuable next—is what will make you successful over time in your career.
McGrath provides a simple assessment in her book to help you figure out if you have transient advantage.
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Answer yes or no to the following:
- If my current employer let me go, it would be relatively easy to find a similar role in another organization for equivalent compensation.
- If I lost my job today, I am well prepared and know immediately what I would do next.
- I’ve worked in some meaningful capacity (employment, consulting, volunteering, partnering) with at least five different organizations within the last two years.
- I’ve learned a meaningful new skill that I didn’t have before in the last two years, whether it is work related or not.
- I’ve attended a course or training program within the last two years, either in person or virtually.
- I could name, off the top of my head, at least ten people who would be good leads for new opportunities.
- I actively engage with at least two professional or personal networks.
- I have enough resources (savings or other) that I could take the time to retrain, work for a smaller salary, or volunteer in order to get access to a new opportunity.
- I can make income from a variety of activities, not just my salary.
- I am able to relocate or travel to find new opportunities.
How did you do?
What we know about the last recession was that many people with great skills got caught flat footed. If they were comfortable in their current position, they simply weren’t thinking about what might be next. They assumed that the status quo would go on forever – even when logic was clearly not on their side.
Every smart careerist has two strategies: a reactive one, for when things change, and a proactive one that anticipates change and plans for it.
Here are some events that may trigger a change in your career:
- A merger or acquisition
- A change in management: promotions or departures in top management
- Changes in team structure
- A significant change in process, such as the introduction of a new system or software
Most of the time, your manager or team members will alert you to what these changes (and others) may mean for your position or workload. But not always. You should develop a keen sense of what’s happening in your division or your company. Do managers seem more stressed than usual? Are there more closed door meetings than normal? Are you suddenly being asked to report different kinds of results, itemize projects, or take on new tasks? Keeping your head down and working hard may not be the best survival strategy.