During a troubled economic period, although many employees are dissatisfied, they tend to remain in their current position, due to job security concerns.  However, history indicates that it is also during challenging financial times that the most innovation and entrepreneurial energy are unleashed.  People who are laid off or downsized feel the freedom to take a leap of faith, and pursue their dreams of starting their own business.  Such entrepreneurship benefits the whole, as many of these start-ups are then able to hire more people.  However, even if you are not ready or even interested in being an entrepreneur, many of the same principles necessary to succeed in this arena are critical in this transformed employment landscape.  Employees need to approach their career from an entrepreneurial perspective, always proactively exploring the next steps in their business (i.e. your career) plan, innovating and considering how they can grow.  Employees are no longer promised 30-40 years of job security, and therefore, you must be more dynamic in planning your career trajectory.  The following are some tips to succeed in managing your career, from an entrepreneurial perspective.

1) Analyze the organizational landscape – many employees are not aware of their place within the organizational hierarchy.  While an organizational chart may be helpful in orienting you to your company’s structure, it is often incomplete or not up to date, especially after a merger or an acquisition.  Therefore, after reviewing the organizational chart, if your job title and reporting mandates are unclear, it is important to clarify them with your supervisor or human resources department.  Many people get stuck because they do not understand the steps for promotion and how they can advance to a desired position.  By analyzing the organizational hierarchy, you are then clear about how to make it to the next realistic promotional title.  For instance, typically, one doesn’t jump from a Marketing Coordinator to CEO directly, since there are many more steps in between on the organizational chart.  Once you gain clarity, then you should begin to plan your course of action to be promoted.

2) Create your personal business plan –  the business plan is the blueprint to any entrepreneur’s success.  It involves an analysis of your business from financial calculations to marketing strategies to a discussion of competitors.  It is used to convince possible investors to provide capital to your business.  Therefore, in that vein, once you have examined the organizational landscape, your personal business plan should involve an analysis of your current position and your plans to advance, with an estimated timeline.  Your personal marketing plan should include how you are “value added” to an organization, and how your skills contribute to the overall mission and bottom line.  It should also include how you can make contact with important stakeholders (e.g. upper level managers, VP’s) in the organization and how to secure essential mentors.  Your goal is to understand how to convince your company’s major decision-makers to invest in your growth and development.

3) Clearly articulate your role and vision – whether you are an entry level employee or a seasoned middle manager, it is always critical to understand your role within the framework of the greater organization. Some employees get so overwhelmed with their day to day responsibilities, they lose focus about how their role impacts the larger institution, to their detriment. Therefore, it is essential that you clearly brand yourself relative to your duties in your company, and perhaps, more importantly, clearly discuss your vision for expanding it. Your colleagues and your managers should not only know what you do, but also your plans for how to improve your position, to make it more efficient and productive.

4) Innovate – the best measure of a successful entrepreneur is not how much money he or she makes, but how well he or she is able to innovate. From Microsoft to Google to Facebook, innovation is usually the primary driver for a company’s astronomical success. While innovation is not always an explicit part of one’s job description, it is most certainly one of the best ways to secure your position in an organization. If you are able to discover ways to increase efficiency or productivity, or find a solution to gain market share, you will certainly raise your value in an organization. In order to innovate, you must look beyond your role, and understand the bigger picture of your organization’s needs and future plans. Innovation oftentimes involves developing creative solutions to every day concerns. Consider the gaps in your company, either inefficient billing processes or unproductive marketing strategies or poor customer tracking procedures. Make sure that you are well informed about the gap or problem and develop a solution which will be widely accepted in the organization. You want to ensure that the innovation will not jeopardize someone else’s position or infringe on a colleague’s duties. Therefore, it may be useful to discuss your proposed innovation with colleagues or trusted mentors before presenting it to your manager.

5) Implement – once your innovation has been approved, it is critical that you implement it. Many potential entrepreneurs have great ideas, but fail to bring their ideas to fruition. Therefore, being able to operationalize your innovation will be the ultimate test of your entrepreneurial spirit. You may meet resistance, institutionally or individually. However, if you clearly communicate the possible benefits of your innovation, not only for yourself, but for the organization, you will find more support for your idea.

6) Evaluate – once the innovation has been implemented, the journey does not end. The crucial, and oftentimes daunting, task is to properly evaluate the success of your innovation. You need to figure out when and how to do so. Since you want to demonstrate that you are “value added” to the organization, you want to ensure that the timing and procedures for evaluation will benefit your position. If you evaluate too early, the effectiveness of your innovation may not yet be apparent. If you evaluate too late, people may not fully appreciate the power of your idea or you may not duly get credit. It generally takes 6-12 months to appropriately assess a new procedure. In my work as an organizational consultant, I always strongly endorse a follow up evaluation 6 months after a training or a new process is implemented. Generally, after some initial reluctance, there is excitement and energy about a change. However, some of that enthusiasm can be easily dissipated, as people slip back into their old habits.

Therefore, you want to strategically consider when you believe such an evaluation can occur. Further, you want to consider how the evaluation will be handled. Will you be charged with the outcomes assessment task? Can it be handled by an outside firm? How much organizational capital, both social and financial, will go into the process? If the evaluation is a simple task of measuring the effectiveness of a new scheduling process, it can easily be handled within the organization. However, if the assessment entails reviewing how a new marketing strategy has gained more market share or an untapped customer base, it may require an outside evaluation. While you may be tempted to influence the results of the evaluation, so that you can get the outcome you desire, it is important to obtain as accurate of an assessment as possible. As any successful entrepreneur will tell you, you can learn just as much from an innovation which does not work, as compared to one that did. If the evaluation demonstrates the success of your innovation, then it will be an easy step to solidify your position and show your value. If it does not work, it is essential that you are able to identify the reasons for its failure, and more importantly, discuss follow up actions which will benefit the company. There is no shame in an unsuccessful innovation. Risk-taking is at the heart of great entrepreneurship, and growth and development. Therefore, don’t hang your head about an idea which didn’t work, simply do an innovation autopsy, and consider what needs to be done differently the next time. You might need more organizational buy-in or more time to evaluate. Whatever the reasons, you want to make sure that you fully understand them, and account for them in your next innovation process.

7) Seek new opportunities – globalization, for better or for worse, has provided new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs must always explore growth areas and consistently fine tune their business plans. Therefore, as you consider your own career development plan, you should always be vigilant for better, growth potential opportunities.

We no longer live in a society where you are promised 30 years and a secure pension at one company. Thus, while excelling at your current position, you should map out opportunities within and outside your company which will benefit your career advancement.

Although you may not have contemplated being an entrepreneur, and do not feel inclined to ever pursue such a path, it is still crucial to consider these elements as you plan your own career growth.