Updated: Apr 3
I love the concept of a value chain. It's a concept I've built much of my coaching approach on, as I believe that by managing your career as a business, and as a result understanding how to leverage the different links in your career value chain, you can take your career trajectory from "ho hum" to high value in much the same way a business can.
Businesses have a value chain and so does you career
Think for a moment about a product that you can buy from two different businesses. Got one in mind? It could be pizza, a pair of jeans, a cup of coffee.
It's essentially the same product, but I'm pretty sure that you have a preferred business that you are going to buy that product from. Those two products may look similar, but the ingredients used to make them might be different in quality. The way in which they are packaged could be quite different. The way in which that product is marketed to you, the way in which it connects to how you feel, the way in which the product is priced may all be quite different from one business to the other.
When you start to examine how one business leverages its value chain differently to the other, you quickly get a sense of how one product may be perceived to be of more value to you than the other.
Of course value is in the eye of the beholder and understanding what is valuable to customers is crucial. The same thing can be said in your career.
Now imagine two colleagues that you work with or have worked with in the past - two colleagues who are at the same level in the organisation and are tasked with doing the same sort of work. Got them in mind?
Frequently two people who start out with the same qualifications for the job, can deliver their work in quite contrasting ways, making the experience of working with them the difference between choosing to work with them and actively avoiding them.
It often has little to do with their technical abilities, and is more a function of how they build relationships, communicate, take initiative, are curious and eager to learn, manage expectations, remain relevant to their colleagues and clients and are a pleasure to be around.
It's your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude. - Zig Ziglar
The reality is that employee A exhibits accountability and growth behaviours while employee B exhibits victim and fixed mindset behaviours. If you’re going to manage your career like a business, which set of behaviours do you think are going to make you the most successful?
Treat your career like it's your business, because it really is.
Without conscious intent around how you manage your career, at some point it's likely you'll wake up and find that the career you have is not the career that you want, or worse yet, that you have become irrelevant in this rapidly changing world.
Probably the most frequent thing I hear clients saying to me is "My work should speak for itself" . That's the same as a business saying "Everyone should know my product exists without me having to do any marketing".
Great technical delivery is just one piece of your career though, it's just one link in your career value chain. But to be successful, we all have to operate as a business within a business - and what I mean is that there are functions that need to be performed beyond the scope of your technical delivery.
When you manage your career like a business, you are the product or service.
But you are also the CEO of YOU Pty Ltd, your Director of Competence, Learning & Development, your Director of Consistent Delivery and Expectation Management, Director of Marketing, Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations, and the Director of Innovation and Relevance to name a few.
In your career value chain,
the inputs to your products or service are your competencies (knowledge, your skills, experience, behaviours and natural aptitude),
how you manage yourself is the difference between adding value to your competencies to consistently deliver good quality work and meet expectations, or derailing yourself and disappointing your colleagues, project managers and clients,
you need to be your own ambassador, by communicating what you do, positioning your expertise, building strong relationships and ensuring that your network knows you and advocates for you,
the experience that your colleagues and clients have of working with you, is the difference between them choosing to keep working with you, or seeking ways to sideline you,
how you go about investing in your competence, your network, your mindset and your self leadership, will determine whether you remain relevant and of value in your career, or derail yourself.
Being conscious and actively working on each element of your value chain has a compounding effect on the strength of your career and the extent to which you are able to influence your career trajectory.
10 steps to managing your career value chain for optimised career profit
Step 1: Take stock of and develop your competence with a clear view on "competence for what?"
Your competence is the input that you bring to every position you hold in your career. What makes you competent for one role, doesn't necessarily make you competent for the next role in your career.
When you are planning for your next role, or when you have already made the leap into your next role, ask yourself "are the competencies that got me here, going to be the competencies that make be successful here?" If the answer is no, then start assessing what competencies you need to be working on to stay relevant and successful.
Step2: Leverage your self leadership by developing self awareness
We often operate unconsciously and act or react on reflex based on how we've developed coping mechanisms to stay safe or comfortable in life. But those automated behaviours don't serve us when we are trying to take the next step in our careers.
Reflecting on where we are stuck in automated reactions can help us identify where it's time to consciously step away from how we have always done things and take the responsibility to choose how to respond to a specific person or situation. Reflect on where in your career you hold yourself back because it feels safer to do so.
Now that you are aware of where you might be holding yourself back to stay safe, what would you consciously do differently if you chose to be 1% more courageous in that part of your life?
Step 3: Get clear on where you might derail yourself through inconsistent delivery
If your pizza is delivered hot within 10 minutes, and the next time, cold and an hour late, you probably won't buy from that pizza restaurant again will you?
It's the same in your career. If the people who work with you don't know what to expect from you on a day to day basis, it's likely they'll choose to work with someone who is more consistent and clear in managing expectations. Being inconsistent in how we delivery on work is just one of 5 ways in which we typically derail in our careers.
Take a moment to reflect on where and in what ways your colleagues may experience you as inconsistent?
What's one thing that you could do to be more consistent that might fundamentally change how people choose to work with you?
Step 4: Position yourself as the person your network needs to know
Just because you are good at something specific, doesn't necessarily mean that your network knows this. They may be missing out on your expertise and you may be overlooked for opportunities. The reality is that you need to be good at what you do AND advocate for yourself too. I often hear clients saying "But it's not humble to talk about my achievements". I totally understand - I find it difficult to talk about my achievements too.
But in the same way this blog may be of value to you (and is written without me blurting out my achievements), you can advocate for yourself by sharing your expertise with your network - there will be people in your network who find what you share to be of value.
What's something in the work that you do that would be valuable to others if you shared it, and that would position you as the person they need to come to for that specific piece of expertise?
Step 5: It's your job to ensure that communicate in a way that your listener understands.
When we speak there are 4 layers to what we communicate:
the words we say
what your listener hears
The difference between what we intend and what is understood can be vast because we all make sense of information through our own lens or filter. Reflect on a time you feel or know you have been misunderstood. How could you have phrased what you said differently? How could you have been more explicit in your intentions? How could you have checked for common understanding?
Step 6: Your mindset is critical infrastructure that you need to invest in
Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you are right. - Henry Ford
This is one of my favourite quotes because it says everything about mindset. If you think you can't do something, it's almost guaranteed you will take actions to prove yourself right. Equally if you think you can do something, it's pretty likely you will act on that and find ways to achieve a goal. I can attest to how many times I have made sure I get in the way of my goals by allowing my inner chatter to talk me out of something for fear of failing, looking stupid, not getting it right first time, or coming across as being too much.
It's taken me a long time to learn that when I step away from my inner chatter, when I see it for what it is and dial it down, when I focus on the facts of what I have been able to achieve and remind myself that this is just the beginning of what I want to achieve, my determination and focus get me back on a path towards my goals and aspirations.
Your mindset is everything. Take some time to reflect on the thoughts that you have about yourself, that just perhaps don't need to be held as true for you anymore. Reflect on how those thoughts maybe keep you safe, but get in the way of what you want to achieve. If you put yourself in charge of the business of You Pty Ltd, and you believed in yourself, what would you be doing differently today in your career?
Step 7: Cultivate curiosity about the pace of change in your industry and the world of work, and stay ahead of it
The Covid19 pandemic, and the rapid shift to working from home, caught a lot of people short from the perspective of being technologically ready, let alone relevant from the perspective of a number of professions that became obsolete over night. Well few of us could have predicted what would happen, most of us for several years before this had been talking about needing to take the leap into the 4th Industrial revolution - Covid19 catapulted us well into and possibly beyond that.
In your own career it's worth checking regularly to see how you are remaining relevant and keeping pace with change. Where shifts are happening in your industry and profession at a local and global skill? Are you still learning and growing in your position, or have you stagnated into a comfort zone? Who is choosing to work with you and who seems to have stopped asking you onto their projects? How connected are you to your industry and trends in the industry? What experiences do you need to have to broaden and deepen your competence? What skills do you need to actively start developing?
Step 8: Cultivate a personal board of directors because there is no reason to navigate your career on your own
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. - African Proverb
None of us get where we are without others being involved - some help us, some hinder us. Some people we gather intentionally, some we gather unintentionally. When you manage your career like a business, consciously, intentionally and purposefully, you are quite likely to find that you've surrounded yourself with people who give you perspective, tell it like it is, share information with you, and help you make decisions. This is your personal board of directors.
Imagine for a moment that you are the CEO of your business and you are sitting at the board room table with your directors. Who is at the table with you? Who have you chosen to surround yourself with. Who have you asked (consciously or unconsciously) to advise you?
Take some time to read "10 seats that you need to fill on your personal board of directors" to help you reflect on whether you are optimising on who you surround yourself with.
Step 9: Self preservation is self care - take time to pause and make space for you too
You are your greatest resource - you have a responsibility to look after yourself through good boundaries, clear communication, taking breaks, managing yourself, finding ways that work for you with regards work-life integration, managing upwards, coping with organisational politics... AND knowing when to walk away.
Increased cynicism, criticism, impatience and irritability, emotional outbursts, lack of satisfaction from achievements, feelings of disillusionment, using food (or other substances to feel better or simply avoid feeling at all, struggling with sleep, headaches, tension and other physical complaints - these are all signs of burnout. Reflect on whether any of these are starting to feature regularly in your life - and see them as warning signs before you go too far down the 12 stages of burnout.
**I write this as much to you as I do to myself as I constantly have to remind myself that tomorrow is another day and that burning myself out again is of no service to anyone, least of all myself.
Step10: Analyse the strength of your career value chain
You are a shareholder, director and employee in the business of You Pty Ltd. When you only act as an employee in the business of You Pty Ltd, you are at risk of taking a very limited view.
Step into the role of being a director and ask yourself which aspects of your career value chain need attention to give you a strategic advantage in your career?
And then step into the role of being a shareholder in the business of Pty Ltd and ask yourself, if you were a shareholder in the business of You Pty Ltd, how likely is it that you would be investing in yourself?
I thrive on conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.
I believe "managing your career like a business" means:
having insight on where you want to go in your career,
the agility and resilience to change track when necessary,
competence to navigate transition points, and
self-awareness to manage yourself.
I've built a coaching business around helping my clients who are mostly professionals in STEM careers, to leverage their career value chain, develop courage, compassion and creativity in the way they lead themselves and others, and unlearn the stories in their head that hold them back so that they can rewrite and start advocating for themselves using a narrative that is more reflective of their true selves.
If you'd like to book a discovery call to explore one-on-one coaching with me you can do so here:
Get on the waitlist for my next Career Value Chain group coaching and mentoring programme starting in May 2023?
How well are you managing your career value chain. If you tick even 1 of the statements below you potentially have a weak link in your career value chain.
I'm not sure what to do to build my competence
I wait for others to lead me rather than leading myself
I'm derailing my career but I'm not sure what to do to change that
I speak but no one listens - I feel unseen and unheard
I'm getting in my own way with my negative self beliefs
I don't feel comfortable advocating for myself - it's not humble!
I feel like I'm on my way to burnout - I'm tired, cynical and disengaged.
I can't see the future so I am not sure how to stay relevant
I wish I had people to guide, advise and encourage me.
I'm launching my next Career Value Chain Group Coaching and Mentoring Programme in May 2023. The programme has been tried and tested over the last two years with mentees on the Women in Mining South Africa Mentoring Programme and now I'm offering this programme independently to young professionals. Click here to get on the waitlist and receive more information.