Stuck in a Rut? How to Shift Your Career from Stalling to Success

Posted by: The Blue Ocean team

From career stalling to career success

Do you feel like you can’t stand out to your superiors and land that next big promotion, no matter how hard you work? Whether you’re a recent graduate or well established in your career, you may reach a point where you feel like you’ve stopped moving forward.

One solution is to adopt a blue ocean mindset. This will help you get clear on where your career stands today, and map out where you want to be and how to get there in a way that sets you apart.

Making a blue ocean shift is about setting your own rules rather than benchmarking the competition and being just another me-too.

Get clear on where you are now

The first question you need to ask yourself is: is my career really stalling? The ‘as-is’ strategy canvas can give you the answer.

Kim & Mauborgne’s strategy canvas is an analytical tool not just for companies and organizations, but also for individuals to get a clear understanding of where they stand today and the current state of play.

When it comes to your career, this involves identifying key factors you compete on (e.g., language skills, leadership experience, etc.) and plotting them on the strategy canvas. Or in this case, think of it as your career profile. How does it compare to the profiles of other people in your career track?

Plotting your career profile against your peers is useful as it shows the extent to which you stand apart (or don’t stand apart) in the job market.

Do you have a ‘me-too’ career?

What you may find when drawing your strategy canvas is that, as ambitious or driven as you may be, your profile is not significantly different to others in the same track.

This leads to the next question: how can you expect to get noticed and promoted if what you ‘deliver’ in your position is no different to what your colleagues do? In business lingo, that makes you a ‘me-too’. It doesn’t matter if you’re an investment banker or an art auctioneer at Sotheby’s – if your strategic profile doesn’t stand apart from that of your peers, you’re a me-too.

Let’s take a look at a strategy canvas showing the career profiles of recent graduates. There is not much differentiation, with most graduates giving similar emphasis to factors including focusing on matching up to their peers, using conventional job search methods and creating generic resumes.

As-is strategy canvas of a stand-apart graduate

© Kim & Mauborgne, Strategy Canvas

Visualize where you want to be and how to get there

The next steps involve visualizing where you could be in the future and finding out how to get there. Here, your task is to identify and assess potential blue ocean opportunities and develop alternative career strategies.

To do this, you need to start thinking like a blue ocean strategist. Consider what factors of competition you can eliminate, reduce, raise and create that will help you to stand apart. You can do this by filling in the Eliminate-Reduce-Raise-Create (ERRC) Grid, a second blue ocean analytic tool.

Eliminate: Ask yourself which factors you and your peers compete on but that add no significant value to where you want to be.

Reduce: Similarly, which factors should you focus less energy on?

Raise: What factors, skills, or added value can you work on to be the very best and stand apart?

Create: What can you bring to the table that is different? What factors can you create that none of your peers has?

To reignite your career, you need to break away from your competition.

Create your blue ocean ‘career space’

Finally, draw your ‘to-be’ strategy canvas. This will show you in one simple visual how to stand apart from the competition and make a blue ocean shift in your career.

Let’s go back to the recent graduate strategy canvas. Which of those factors could be eliminated, reduced and raised for a graduate to stand apart from the pack? And what factors could be created that other graduates aren’t doing or focusing on at all? Use the ERRC grid to determine which factors to eliminate, reduce, raise and create.

To-be strategy canvas of a stand-apart graduate

© Kim & Mauborgne, Strategy Canvas

Eliminate focus on matching your peers:

As you can see in our example, we eliminated one factor: focussing on matching your peers. Don’t miss out on unique opportunities because you’re too focused on how to achieve what your peers have achieved. Broaden your thinking by looking across industries and beyond the obvious routes for your major.

Reduce conventional job search and generic resumes:

Yes, you need to make sure you’ve got an eye-catching and well-written resume to apply for jobs, but don’t limit yourself to conventional job searching methods. Talk to people around you and tell them what you’re interested in.

One way of getting ahead in your job search is reaching out to people who do your dream job. Whether or not it will lead you straight to a job opportunity, you will gain some valuable feedback that will put you on the right track.

Raise soft skills, networking and short-term goals:

Graduates tend to focus less on perfecting their soft skills, networking and setting themselves short-term goals. You may be a genius data scientist (hard skill), but that won’t get you far if you don’t know how to communicate the results.

Make time to work on your soft skills – how you present yourself, how you communicate on your work etc. These skills will help you become a better networker.

Networking skills aren’t just important to help you find a job – any employer will value your ability to create meaningful relationships on behalf of the company.

Although some people are able to create and stick to a long-term career plan, this can be an almost impossible feat for most. Try to set yourself short-term goals and stick to them. It could be anything from an online course to exceeding your KPIs for the month.

Create opportunities to volunteer, find a mentor and keep learning:

Volunteering, or any extra-curricular activity or responsibility, on the side of your job is another excellent way of avoiding tunnel vision. Pursuing a serious hobby or doing regular volunteering on the side is not only valued by employers, it is also a constant source of inspiration, creativity and discipline.

Finding a mentor and ongoing learning are both important goals that any recent graduate who wants a successful career should focus on. Just because you’ve finished studying does not mean you should ever stop learning.

And remember, don’t focus on seeking hot or popular career opportunities. Don’t try to out-compete others to win in a crowded and cut-throat career space. Go for jobs that you love to do and are meaningful to you to create your own blue ocean career space.

Start drawing your ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ career strategy canvases right away.