Avoiding the Career Doom Loop

Everyone wants to be seen as the hero. We can all imagine being the person who sweeps in and saves his company $2 million by coming up with a novel idea. Advertisements from Microsoft, Xerox and IBM have focused on this scenario. However, that dream comes true for very few people in today's workforce. Most workers are preoccupied with thoughts that hit closer to home, such as, How can I keep my employer from eliminating my job? Whom can I turn to for advice? How can I ensure that my company sees me as valuable?

Answering these questions can help you evaluate how to avoid the doom loop in your current position. Doom loop is a term that describes the unfortunate position employees may find themselves in when they are no longer considered important to their company. We learned about it in a recent session of Women in Technology's Mentor Protege Program that was conducted by author and career coach Dory Hollander. We've combined some of her advice with our own experience to help you avoid this destructive career path.

Mary Ann Wagner and Marguerete Luter

An Insider's Strategy

One of the most important elements in achieving success is to understand all corporate messages delivered by your employer. Whether it's your CEO or board talking with analysts, the corporate literature being distributed or companywide e-mail messages being sent, be sure to ask questions and interpret what is being communicated. Understand and consider how it will affect your job. If there are updates to the vision, the mission or the strategic objectives of your company, they will be articulated in these corporate communication vehicles.

Take responsibility for relating shifts in corporate direction to your role in the company's business. This approach will be better received than if you instead waited for someone to explain the shift and its impact. When something is unclear about the corporate message, don't hesitate to ask questions. Take charge, and take responsibility. Taking the initiative to understand is always viewed positively.

As you set your annual objectives, understanding your company's priorities becomes tantamount to demonstrating your value to the organization. If you understand and can articulate how your performance goals tie in to the achievement of corporate objectives, you can begin to create corporate value in your work. When you feel that what you are working toward doesn't align with these larger objectives, then you must innovate and pull together recommendations on how you can re-engineer or simply revitalize your assignment.

As most career-minded people understand, everything is based on relationships. At times, however, you might end up working for somebody whose personality doesn't mesh well with your own. It's absolutely critical that you look beyond your immediate supervisors for champions throughout your career. Your supervisor may be in that role only for a particular period of time. Establishing relationships outside your company or workgroup can give you perspective, and they could be longer and more productive relationships than the one you have with your ultimately temporary supervisor.

Even when you have a great supervisor, it's always helpful to get a different perspective. Building a network of resources that you can call on to be sure you are clear on the corporate mission and goals can be critical to your success.

Establishing relationships is vital for support and can be done on an informal basis or through a more formal mentor relationship inside or outside your company. When considering a mentor, it's important to understand that mentors don't just help you get or prepare for the next job. They can help you be very successful in your current position.

Using Time Outside the Office

When faced with certain situations, there is only so much you can do from inside your corporate environment. If you discover that your company is targeting a market about which you don't know as much as you probably should, don't hesitate to turn to resources outside your company for assistance. You might find that your company will pay for you to take a class. You may have to pursue this on your own, but do some research and sign yourself up.

Professional associations are a great resource for perspective, revitalization, education and benchmarking. However, we can't stress enough the importance of getting involved beyond just joining. The relationships that you make within an industry organization will give you knowledge and exposure to perspectives you hadn't previously considered, because they'll come from people in different parts of the industry. The relationships formed can sometimes provide you with informal mentors outside of your role within your company. You'll get a sense of what's going on in the marketplace based on the types of jobs people have and the programs they're involved in. And this can ultimately influence the way you start to think about your own position within your company.

The perspective gained from association memberships enables you to conduct a form of benchmarking. You can understand how another individual might solve the problems you face in your role. Is the approach the same or different? This type of informal and external benchmarking can be invaluable to your company, because you can communicate and act on market intelligence that helps your employer.

In fact, some organizations offer formal mentoring programs that facilitate feedback and networking opportunities, such as Women in Technology's Mentor-Protege Program. Interchanges with external mentors and informal benchmarking are not about revealing confidential company information. It's about sharing the kind of information that all good companies want to communicate to others.

Do More When You Can

Tunnel vision should be avoided at all cost. To continually demonstrate your value to employers, you must be the kind of person who is willing to take on more. There are myriad special projects, task forces and special teams within every company that are focused on short-term initiatives that aren't assigned to an individual contributor. Employers look for people who are willing to take on those tasks. Such commitments should not be detrimental to getting your own job done, but you need to be one of the people who takes on extra assignments and completes them successfully.

Don't sit around waiting for somebody to tell you what you should be doing. Show some initiative. That might include building internal support and champions for a new idea, taking a seminar or class in a subject you know little about, joining a professional organization to build your network and gain market intelligence, or even doing something as simple as taking home some additional reading at night. And make sure these contributions do not go unnoticed.

If you don't constantly demonstrate your value to the organization you work for, you can begin to fade away. People will forget what you're doing and why you're there. Adding value directly tied to the corporate direction is critical to success in any position. To avoid the doom loop at work, take personal responsibility to ensure that you're always adding value.


Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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