If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s that every manager of people or talented individual contributor has a shelf life. Not sure what I’m talking about? Allow me to give you the definition below:
Shelf Life – The reality that being a manager in corporate America is tough and you have a shelf life of anywhere between 2 to 5 years—at which point people start tuning you out or gunning for you and you’re a dead man walking.
Yes, there are a lot of people that live at the same company past their shelf life, but they’ve been allowed to hang and they’re just mailing it in. Most of us don’t have that luxury. The only way around the stark reality of the shelf life in corporate America is to reinvent yourself. Reinvention from a careers perspective is hard—most of us are old dogs that are incapable of learning most new tricks.
That’s bad news for those of you who have reached your expiration date. Like a moldy loaf of bread, you’ll be avoided, or worse—thrown in the garbage dumpster for the rats to chew on as you decay.
But wait, old dog. There’s another way to increase your relevancy after your shelf life has expired. It’s called declaring war on the enemy of your enemy to make people take a second look at who you are—your skills, your world view, your ability to help, etc.
Need an example? I give you the curious case of the hacker group Anonymous, who just declared war on ISIS, which kind of makes you redefine who they are. More from Tech Insider:
The international activist group Anonymous has declared “war” on ISIS, the extremist militant group that claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Paris over the weekend.
Anonymous posted a video to YouTube on Saturday. In the video, a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, who claims to represent Anonymous, said the group intends to hunt down the members of ISIS, adding “we will find you, and we will not let you go.”
“We will launch the biggest operation ever against you,” Anonymous said. “Expect massive cyber attacks.”
As for what Anonymous plans to do exactly, that’s uncertain. But Anonymous could disrupt ISIS’s communications (via social media and other websites) through distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, or it could try hacking ISIS computers to share the identities of its members. For as long as the group has existed, Anonymous has operated almost exclusively online and has done most its work through hacking and these DDoS attacks.
What do I love about this and what can you learn form this related to your career? Let me count the ways:
1. Anonymous has made a lot of enemies in the past—mostly governments. So have you, if you’re a high performer who has to confront bad stuff and bad people to get results. If you’re out there hustling, the number of enemies you have probably increases every year, whether you know it or not. The same is true for Anonymous.
2. The enemies of Anonymous (like your enemies in your own company) mostly lie dormant. They’re not actively out to get Anonymous, but you can bet if information came to light which could be used to knock Anonymous down a peg or two, that information would be used and it would sting.
3. Anonymous (like you) is probably misunderstood by the people who dislike it. Like you, it has a set of values and when it reaches out to sting someone, people get miffed and pissed.
4. In coming out with a video declaring war on ISIS, Anonymous is proactively seizing an opportunity to force us to reconsider them, perhaps even like them.
The corporate equivalent are departments who are at odds in the same company. Customer Service is getting beat up by Sales. Customer Service has also been at odds in the past with Finance. One day Sales is doing the usual whipping of Customer Service, but then something unusual happens—Finance comes riding in and, in response to the observed whipping of Customer Service, decides to pick a fight with Sales and back Customer Service.
You can do the same thing with people. Just add the world “Director” to each of the functional areas above in an example using the leaders of the departments. Everybody is at odds with each other, then the Finance Director comes riding in with some unforeseen support of the Customer Service Director.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. If you want to extend your shelf life inside the company, think about your enemies and what you could do to make them reconsider who you are. It might be the most strategic move you can make to start 2016.
I’ll never look at Anonymous the same way knowing they might be gunning for ISIS. That’s reinvention, my friends.
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He’s also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.