Sunday, February 13, 2011

Key Career Planning Lessons from Nokia's Slide

One of the most talked about Tech News in past week or so has been Nokia CEO Stephen Elop's letter to the employees making people aware of current state of the Organization.

I am not sure how this letter got public but reading through this had me split into varying thoughts. One of the thought, i was feeling sympathy for the Nokia employees who received this. It must have been Earth shattering for a lot of them, after all who would feel comfortable in the organization when the CEO itself is describing the business to be a "burning platform". But at the same time, Other thought line is about the Learnings one can extract from the situation Nokia is in currently.
One of the aspects about Elop's email that catches immediate attention is his use of a burning platform metaphor to make people understand the extent of downfall of Company's business.

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform's edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.
As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a "burning platform," and he needed to make a choice.
He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times - his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a "burning platform" caused a radical change in his behavior.

This immediately reminded me of Vineet Nayar's HCL transformation story in his book Employees First Customers Second . Vineet says One of the first Ingredient in making people onboard for any change initiative is by making them show the reality as is. People, quite naturally, have the habit to rest on Organization's past laurels and most often do not see the need to change. Mirror Mirror exercise is nothing but a metaphor to make sure that people view the reality as it exists as against seeing the reality in the rear view mirror (where they can see only positive results and laurels).

It is quite evident that getting large employee population aware of the need of change and getting them out of their comfort zones cannot be done in any soft manner. It requires a Strong communication by all possible means. That is where Elop's metaphor about burning platform helps him take charge of situation and people understand the heat of the situation.

Are there any learnings we can take from this saga in the way we plan our careers ? Some that came across my mind-

Do we often play the Mirror-Mirror exercise during our careers ?
i.e. Do we tend to get complacent (often without our own knowledge) and tend to rest on our past professional laurels ? Do we really take a real hard look at the way our careers are going and prepare ourselves for the Action how-so-ever risky (but with immense value potential) it may be.

Do we always wait for the platform to really burn before we accept that a change is needed in our careers ?
Here Change does not necessarily mean Changing the Jobs, most of the people in the IT industry (atleast in India, i know) are really good at that. The Change here mean Change in the way we perceive work, Change in the way we do the work, Change in the direction we wish to take our skill levels to. Are you really expert at initiating such change ? We often aim for expertise in our Subject area not in skills around Change Management and other Soft skills.

Are we really aware of how the ecosystem is taking shape around us ?
If you read Elop's email full length, you will realize how Nokia actually misread the way Mobile phones ecosystem was shaping up around. The massive popularity of Apple's design + Low cost manufacturers like Macromax, Karbon + growing dominance of Android platform almost consumed Nokia's business. And all this happened in no less than 2 years. The World Leader and a household name like Nokia came down almost tumbling within as less as 2 years. Astonishing!
The understanding of the way the industry is growing is not only important but also essential while planning for careers in today's time. Gone are the days when just knowing and mastering what you are supposed to do in your jobs was enough. Its isn’t clearly just enough. No doubt that one need to become expert at the very thing that defines our job but don’t just limit or narrow your thinking around that. Have a broad view of the job, the view that gives you a broad sense of way ecosystem is shaping up in the career of your choice.

Recession is a Reality. Do we make a mistake of blindfolding to the possibility of a Recession while planning for Career ?
Coming to my first point in this write-up when i mentioned that this email from Elop would have caught many employees by surprise. Why would such a situation be a surprise for employees ? Recession and Slow growth is a reality of today's times. I think the world will rarely see Hundred years old organizations anymore considering the rapidity of the change around us. Companies will come and go and Economies will go up and down following more or less irregular patterns. Do plan for 4-5 recessions in a career spanning 30-35 years. It is no rocket science but requires a bit of foresight and willingness to go beyond the comfort zones

Do not Quit when the chips are down.
Great careers are made when one learns how to deal with the crisis. There will many who would be planning for career shift from Nokia after reading Elop’s email. Most of those who choose the career move when they see crisis around are often looking for that elusive comfort shield . No doubt everyone has some personal/financial commitments w.r.t. the jobs they are in and in some cases Career move in crisis when chips are really down may be a good Option. But not always! Staying on and persisting often opens up the treasure of learning that one will never get in more relaxed, complacent Work environment.

Is your career on a burning platform ? Are you game for that elusive leap into unknown or stay on the platform that’s burning ?

Change Mindset,Not Jobs!

Please share your thoughts!


Unknown said...

Vineet also had actually described a similar example to his employees..'If the office is on fire the employees need to take a plunge to save themselves". I bet it is more than a coincidence. Nokia CEO is actually following Vineet.

Anuj Magazine said...

Thanks for your insights, Venkatesan. This may be true and may be not. But wont really get into that debate here.