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Product life cycle is a concept which is taught in all the sales and marketin g institut ions. It deals with the life cycle o f a pro duct and how it gro ws o ver tim e. It is possible to manage one’s career much as a manager would manage th e life o f his products. Hence it i s imperative that the principles of good career management are learnt early in life, in fact even befo re a st udent enters the career o r job market.
Product li fe cyc le
In the diagram below, the X-axis refers to the time and the Y-axis to the sales of the product.
The sales history of the product in the diagram above follows a typical S-shaped curve. This curve is divided into four stages known as introduction, growth, maturity and decline. Introduction is the period of slow growth as the product is introduced into the market. At this stage, the profits are almost nonexistent, sometimes even negative. Growth is a period of rapid market acceptance and substantial profit improvement. Maturity is a period of a slowdown in sales growth because the product has achieved acceptance by most of the potential buyers. Profits peak in this period and start to decline because of increased marketing expenditure to sustain the product against competition. Finally, decline is the period when sales continue a strong downward drift and profits erode down to zero point. This typically happens when the product is replaced by a better one. Although used in marketing, the same concept is applicable to our careers as well. Initially, when we begin working we also start from a zero point in terms of salaries and designations. With time and careful management of one’s career, one is promoted with additional responsibilities, designations improve and the salary package also increases. The culmination point is retirement, which is analogous to the decline stage in the product life cycle. Broadly, most products follow the S-shaped curve although the S- shape could be an elongated or a compressed one depending on the product.
Careers and product life cycle
Let us take a look at two careers: 1. Finished College, Joined a company as a management trainee. Grew to area manager, retired as a regional manager. 2. Finished college, joined a company as a management trainee, then got promoted to an executive, did relevant training, grew into the area sales manager, joined another company as logistics manager, did relevant training, retired as a general manager operations, became a consultant in logistics for a computer concern. What is the fundamental difference in the two careers? It is not just related to the caliber of the individuals. In fact, both individuals started from similar positions. In the first one the person let the career path be decided by the company, whereas in the second one the person had his own career plan chalked out and fitted in companies and training accordingly to help him in his career path. It is possible for us also to manage our careers by
a. making the growth stage one with a steep slope. In other words rising quickly in the initial years b. increasing the height of the curve at the maturity stage, that is increasing our salaries during the
prime of our careers and
c. by stretching the decline or the retirement stage as much as possible.
Manag emen t of one’s car eer
In what follows, we shall see how to apply the principles of good product cycle management to our careers. The initial years A rapid rise in the initial years essentially means putting in long hours of work to learn the ropes. In my early years, one of my bosses used to urge several of us young trainees to work extra hours and learn and learn. He would insist that each of us should know how to send a fax (it was telex in those days) independently, how to operating the EPABX. Initially I used to find this baffling. Today I am grateful for the extra learning that I go in the initial years. A related skill that you learn in the initial years is like learning mathematics. No matter which class in school or which year in college you are in, you will still need to use the addition, subtraction methods or the multiplication tables you learnt in your earlier years. None of what you learn in your earlier years will ever go to waste.
The growt h and dec li ne yea rs
Here it would be useful to look at the way organisations extend the product life cycles of their products. When a product has reached the maturity stage, one obvious strategy would of course be to be content to simply defend the current position of the product. However, this would definitely mean a flat curve. In career terms, if one stagnated and was content to remain at the same position, then the designation and salary would remain more or less stagnant, save the mandatory increments given each year to offset inflation. A good product strategy is to attempt market modification or product modification. In market modification, the manager looks for new markets for the product or tries to reposition the product so that it will attract a larger number of buyers in the same market. In product modification, managers attempt to break out of stagnation by initiating changes in the product such that it will attract a larger number of buyers or increased buying from the same buyers. This product re-launch can take several forms. A strategy of quality improvement would look at improving the reliability, durability etc. of the product. Feature improvement strategy would focus on adding new features to the product. The third strategy is style improvement, which aims at increasing the aesthetic appeal of the product. Now let us apply the same concepts in the case of one’s career. Once you find that have reached whatever level it is that you will reach in an organisation and chances of promotion are dim, perhaps it is time to look elsewhere. In other words, use the principle of market expansion. For example, you are the area sales manager in the organisation and have risen through the ranks. The next level is that of regional sales manager. However, the organisation has a policy of recruiting only MBAs from premier institutions for the post. You have three choices; first, wallow in self pity, two, drop out of the job and get the MBA degree and third, look for another organisation which will value your years of service and is not insistent on an MBA qualification. By deft maneuver, you have managed then to avoid stagnation. This kind of job-hopping will help up to a certain point. Too much of it may actually be counter productive, because one of the things that organisations look for when scanning resumes is the length of time you have spent in an assignment. Short stints, couple with job changes underscore a not so dependable person and are not hot favourites for recruitment. The second alternative is product modification. In order to delay decline from happening, the product is improved, features added or aesthetically repackaged. Similarly, a person can prevent a flat maturity (same salary) by renewing skills and knowledge continuously. Learning on the job and role enrichment does not necessarily provide the inputs that the person needs to grow in his career. The rate of obsolescence in today’s technological world is very high. If you are a computer programmer, you need to continuously learn new languages and add to your repertoire. If you are a manager, you
need to learn the art of delegating, motivating (in general, sound leadership skills) as you move up the ladder. Repackaging can also do wonders for your career. If you have become associated as a stodgy, dull boring, unexciting manager, may be it is time to take a re-look at your wardrobe and invest in power dressing. It could even be time for you to learn how to assert yourself.
How to m ake the r ight decis ions?
Is my career stagnating? Do I make a job switch? Do I learn a new skill? Do I attend a training programme to improve my management skills? These are questions that will plague you as they have plagued me. There are no easy answers. In such case, it is wise to seek the advice of another person. In Blow Your Own Horn, Jeffrey P. Davidson advocates that, ”If you can get competent help to advance your career use it.” Think of it the way Olympic athletes do. As they rise in the ratings, they find that each move becomes more and more critical and they have learned that the coach can give them the competitive edge. Some achievers see using ’professional help’ as a sign of weakness. Far from it. You are still doing everything on your own. The career counselor only helps you to do it better. If you are still reluctant to use a career counselor, find a mentor. The best mentor is a person who has retired and who can help you based on his experience. It is best that the mentor is from your own chosen field. Seek as much help and advice as you can from as many sources a possible. You will then be able to make an informed decision based on an extensive cache of information. One of the most difficult problems to conquer when you climb up the ladder is to avoid what is called executive isolation. Most of us tend to work and live with the same set of people. Over a period, we may even begin to think alike, closing the doors to new openings. The key here is to widen one’s horizon and meet new people while keeping the ears open for new opportunities.
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