My Diverse Career “Tour of Duty”
by Terri Mayes
If you look up the definition of “tour of duty” you will get mainly military references, likely because this is traditionally a military term. But, more recently, this term is also attached to a specific and planned career track.
Harvard Business Review covered one aspect of the topic in June 2013 with the article Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Compact written by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh. The article is a great read and important for business leaders to comprehend as our economy continues to shift and the tradition of the ever loyal employee/employer compact has ended as a norm that we all counted on at one point if we are a pre-millennial employee. The article focuses on the importance of external networks for employees and the reality of the fact most people will work for several employers over the course of their career in our current business environment. It then goes on to show how employers can benefit from this shift.
I have quoted that article in many conversations and speaking opportunities. I have also added my own additional perspective to the topic. For the purpose of this article, I am going to discuss a tour of duty in the context of an internal network and an internal purposeful career plan that includes defined periods of time in diverse roles within one company for the purpose of mutual benefit to the employee and the employer.
My own 15-year career within one fortune-100 began in a call center environment. I moved through the ranks of that organization over 6 years and was ready to challenge myself further. I was fortunate enough to have a SVP and EVP that saw potential in me and encouraged me to move outside of their organization and take what I had learned to make an impact in other parts of the company. Why did that recommendation make such an impact on my career? And who “won” by me leaving their organization where I believe we’d all agree I had a positive career track and had made a positive impact to the business?
That recommendation impacted me because it opened a window of understanding to how my own actions can impact my career growth, make me more valuable to the company, and frankly more marketable outside of the company. The truth is that adaptability and entrepreneurship are the keys to achieving and sustaining success in any company. To foster an environment where those attributes are desirable and rewarded benefits employers, and where employees act in a way that demonstrates a willingness and ability to be adaptable, learn new skills and roles in a company, and demonstrate entrepreneurship is truly a win/win. I argue that both my leaders and I won by leaving the organization but moving to another part of the company.
Diverse perspectives benefit everyone.
Diversity as a topic in and of itself is a passion of mine. In this case I’m talking about diversity of knowledge and experience within an individual. Goal achievement and problem-solving are enriched when the players can bring a 360 degree view of the problem. If those that are responsible for solutions are blind to any aspect of the issue, the result is not comprehensive and therefore, poses the risk of flawed outcomes.
My career within the company had me working not only in call centers, but also in the supply chain, in sales, in sales and call center operations at HQ, running business lines as a general manager responsible for merchandising decisions and the profit and loss of the business, and then at HQ in human resources. My tour of duty in such a diverse career path gave me two critical assets;
- An internal and external expansive network. If I needed to get something done for a customer or to better run a business or project, I knew who to go to and how to get something accomplished in the most expedient and cost-effective manner.
- It provided me the ability to see a full picture of a business need from the market needs, the customer desires and experience, to the operational aspects of the business, as well as the internal human capital considerations. I was therefore, able to mitigate any risk of flaws in planning and problem-solving.
It provided me the ability to see a full picture of a business need from the market needs, the customer desires and experience, to the operational aspects of the business, as well as the internal human capital considerations. I was, therefore, able to mitigate any risk of flaws in planning and problem-solving.
Those assets (in addition to my work ethic and communication skills) afforded me promotions, recognition, and special assignments. It afforded the company a fully engaged employee that repaid this investment in spades.
I am thankful to my leaders that led in a way that benefitted them (who do you think championed the call centers in every aspect of their work?), but also benefitted me. And I’m thankful to me as well – for taking risks and opportunities that were outside of my comfort zone and leveraging my transferable skills in each role while I gained additional skills.
Have you considered looking within your own organization to explore diverse opportunities for career growth? Can you identify your own transferable skills that would make you a good candidate for a role in other parts of the organization? If not, give it some thought. What would be the benefit to you and to your company? And perhaps talk to a career coach about creating your own purposeful tour of duty.