Seven Specific Strategies to Treat Your Career like a Business — and Make it Big!

Terry Connely, a former GGU Ageno School of Business Dean reflects on his first-hand knowledge of what works to achieve success. He says that some ideas may seem counterintuitive, but winning strategies always depend on demonstrating distinctive competence: “To be outstanding, don’t fear to stand out – even if that sometimes means going against the grain.”

1. Strive to make a difference.

Always aim high–even “to change the world,” to borrow the cliché. At the very least, strive to change “your professional world” for the better! Put another way, consider it a core goal of yours in any organization, job or meeting, to make a difference because you are there — to leave the situation better than what you found at the start. When you think about it, why else do anything? When you are in your office or cubicle or shared space, ask yourself this question every day: “What is the difference between me and a potted plant”? (This challenge works particularly well in boring meetings.) Never waste an opportunity to make a difference.) And remember: “good enough” is not.

2. Have a Strategy

Plan your career strategy as if it were a business strategy. Identify your “distinctive competence” (What am I really good at doing that I love doing, and want to build on to separate myself from the crowd?). Make it the centerpiece of what you seek to do, and how you can expand your capabilities from that base.

Do your own SWOT Analysis about your existing strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats in your career “market.” Do a Scenario Analysis of that market and the world around it anywhere from three three-to-five years out, and identify the likely “Change Drivers” and Key Issues that will most affect your success in any of the scenarios you foresee. Review and revise along the way. And always make sure the career steps you take have Strategic Fit with one another (that they are not contradictory) and with your distinctive competence. Set your priorities once you have set your strategy and stick to them – no flinching!

Do your own SWOT Analysis

3. Sideways Leads Up!

Manage your working relationships sideways, not just up and down the ladder. It’s not just a case of who you work for and who works for you. Reporting lines do not solely, or even primarily, define your “lane.” Your lateral relationships will provide the most telling feedback – if you ask, and listen. This is especially true of a workplace featuring “360 degree” performance reviews. Get out ahead of those reviews by keeping in touch with colleagues who are not in your direct chain of command. This is particularly useful in workplaces where there are known rumor mills or cultures like the Navy where everyone expected to “get the word” even if it is not written down. Remember, your peers may well be around longer than your first boss.

4. Do not slavishly target compensation as your benchmark of progress.

The larger the organization is, the more likely that its compensation incentives and plans will lag its strategic intentions. People that have climbed the ranks fight to keep the incentive structures that rewarded them in the past, and only give lip service to new strategies, but in the current strategy.

Even if the current strategy doesn’t seem to be changing soon, work in anticipation of a new strategy and the pay will catch up if you excel. Do not slavishly target compensation as your benchmark of progress toward leadership roles. Your best career advancement choices may be counterintuitive from a pay point of view in the short- or even medium-term. Identify yourself as a supporter of pay for performance, but be sure there is an appropriate definition of performance. Don’t gossip about pay, and don’t argue about pay with your boss unless you are comfortable leaving the job. Concentrate on making yourself useful — then, indispensable! Then you won’t have to argue about pay.

Your best career advancement choices may be counterintuitive from a pay point of view.

5. Think more about the business than your job.

Think more about the business than your job. The corollary is to choose to work in a business that you enjoy thinking about! Cultivate abroad perspective on your enterprise whether for-profit or non-profit. Immerse yourself in understanding its strategy, and even offer considered thoughts about it may be working well or whether there is a better approach than what you see. Listen to your peers because the best ideas come from their perspectives, not just yours

6. Form your own Board of Advisors.

A “Board of Advisors” is a group of people who are familiar enough with you and your competencies, and who will give advice to you in a constructive and straightforward manner. Anyone can profit from such a Kitchen Cabinet, which can be comprised of friends inside and outside your firm, executive search contacts, former classmates and colleagues, relatives, former teachers and even financial advisors or ministers. Some folks just know us better than we do – get to know them, take them into your confidence; and, if you trust them, listen

7. Be willing to go abroad.

Look to broaden your experience, including geographically: try not to look askance at an overseas posting or an inconvenient move – but get something in exchange for the extra burdens. At the very least, be sure you have a fair and reasonable expat financial and support package if you are being asked to move your family abroad. Domestically, you should be fairly supported financially in terms of the cost of moving, and do not accept that getting a promotion is sufficient. But by all means get the promotion, too. Be sure that you do not, however, link your career while it is on the way up with a new location that is on its way down, unless it is to be your job to turn the satiation around and you are not being set up to fail or provided insufficient resources to succeed.


More About Terry Connelly

terry-connellyTerry Connelly is an economic expert and Dean Emeritus of the Ageno School of Business at Golden Gate University. With more than 30 years experience in investment banking, law and corporate strategy on Wall Street and abroad, Connelly analyses the impact of government politics and policies on local, national and international economies, examining the interaction of global financial markets, the U.S. banking industry (and all of its regulatory agencies), the Federal Reserve, domestic employment levels and consumer reactions to the changing economic tides. He holds a law degree from NYU School of Law and his professional history includes positions with Ernst & Young Australia, the Queensland University of Technology Graduate School of Business, New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore (corporate, securities and litigation practice in New York and London), global chief of staff at Salomon Brothers investment banking firm and Cowen & Company’s investments, where he served as CEO. In conjunction with past Golden Gate University President Dan Angel, Connelly co-authored Riptide: The New Normal In Higher Education (2011). Riptide deconstructs the changing landscape of higher education in the face of the for-profit debacle, graduation gridlock, and staggering student debt, and asserts a new, sustainable model for progress. He is a board member of the Public Religion Research Institute, a Washington, DC think tank and polling organization, and the Cardiac Therapy Foundation in Palo Alto, California. Connelly lives in Palo Alto with his wife.


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