This change may affect your marketing career

10th June 2013

How would you approach your current employment, or your next job interview, if you knew it would last for only 2 to 4 years?

Technology is a dodgy world when you only half-know what’s going on. I have avoided upgrading my smartphone because I cannot handle the trauma of changeover. Somehow, despite my efforts, I lose many of my contacts, some of my calendar, and spend days recovering from an unwanted return to ‘default settings’.

 My smartphone strategy is less than smart. As Ali G mused during the recent Brit Awards, given we have seen iPhone 1, iPhone 2, iPhone 3, iPhone 4 and iPhone 5, who can tell what’s to come in the future?

 The changes of the Information Age are wide indeed and may leave us with few choices, despite the attendant trauma.

 LinkedIn is a site which has become both important and tricky for those employed or seeking employment. I have read that Google’s senior management predicts employees’ intentions to quit based on the frequency of their online updates, often inadvertently broadcast to all and sundry. If she’s updating her work experience on LinkedIn, she likely on the move!

 It is sobering to consider that one of the finest online brands for professionals, LinkedIn, seems willing to betray its users with privacy defaults and options which catch you out whilst protesting that they are, in fact, helping you out.

 Perhaps, in marketing at least, we are each of us permanently on the market and should all be regularly updating our CV’s online. To hell with what employers may think.

 The practice of marketing is becoming more and more modular. Many marketing roles are effectively project-based, albeit rolling-over to new assignments all the time. Even among those engaged in brand and portfolio management, many marketers see their roles as project-related: preparing X for launch, getting Y re-positioned; launching Z in new geographies, etc.

 A recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that the job market for leading professionals is moving from permanent employment to ‘a tour of duty’ (a phrase deeply understood in an American psyche now permanently at war).

 The article’s central thesis is this: employment is no longer for life, and many workers (especially entrepreneurial managers) will take a new job for 2-4 years to achieve something important with the explicit understanding that they will then move on. This is not to say they MUST move on, rather that the spirit of the deal (‘the new compact’) acknowledges that employment is temporary collaboration, not indefinite commitment. The focus is not on permanent employment, but permanent employability.

 Seeing employment as a ‘tour of duty’ would herald quite a different world – one where moving on is planned, expected and valued by all parties. It eliminates the illusion of permanence from the workplace. Because permanence, the article argues, has long-since ceased to exist.

 Thus, polishing one’s own personal brand, via LinkedIn and other means, is not only normal, but expected.

 Sounds uncomfortable? To many, I’m figuring the answer is probably yes. Seeing one’s job as ‘a tour of duty’ seems to laugh in the face of stability, mutuality and peace of mind. One of my favourite podcasts, On Point, recently took up this very issue and the discussion was particularly interesting.

 And yet, this is a ship that’s fast approaching – and marketing is likely its first port of call. The growth of professional search and placement services, such as Alternatives (in Dublin), seems to be part of a wider movement.

 Just as upgrading to the latest smartphone comes with both hassles and benefits, so too a shift in the way we think of employment.

 Because, as Ali G so insightfully muses, who can tell what’s to come in the future?

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  • David says:

    A great article here, my one question is the “why”. Is this shift from a culture of permanence a result of the employee, the employers, or simply the economic conditions? In my immediate family, my father was made redundant of his job of forty years, my younger sister, a recent graduate, can only find offers of short term contracts, whereas my older sister, who has children and a mortgage, will not under any circumstances be leaving her job through choice. Just from the experience in family it would appear this cultural is being dictated by companies, who I’m sure will argue are responding to the economy.

    • D. Thanks for this. I think the why is mostly macro reasons, driven by technology and a more fluid workplace. Companies will do it if they get advantage from it – and many are competing in a global market, not just domestic. For me, a ‘tour of duty’ is not for everyone, but for many it could offer a clearer job ‘compact’ that is more honest and trusted. I like the point that one is likely to be more employable after it…

  • Nuala says:

    Yes Brian, an excellent article. I think a “tour of duty” approach has been around for some time particularly is the US where my husband and I worked for years. Sometimes though, facing yet another “tour of duty” can become too much and you have to bite the bullet and set up your own business . This was a decision that my husband came to where after two years in an MD position (which we moved to the UK for), he was made redundant. He decided to set up his own Marketing Automation business and it has been tough but we are confident that when things stabilise it will have been a worthwhile decision. This is a path that many have taken and there is of course enormous pressure to keep your skills honed, build networks and bring in business. Once the business has become successful however, the big advantage is that you are in control of your own destiny and don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder for someone to show you the door.

    • Hi N. Great to hear from you and thanks for your comment and experience. It’s almost like tour of duty is in between full-time-pensionable and freelance / small business owner. Each scenario has its advantages and challenges. For my part, I am with your husband: for all of its challenges, and after some time in corporate life, I choose owning a small business as the right choice for me. In looking back, even for the 11 years I was with Mars I managed it as a ‘tour of duty’ job, changing country and role every two years. Exciting but also tiring and energy-draining!

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