Thursday, October 14, 2010

Career Planning: What Can You Learn from Coca-Cola and Melinda Gates?

At the heart of your responsible career planning is your desire to bring your values to work.  How can you use your skills to advance a cause you believe in?  While watching Melinda Gates' TED Talk on what can international development learn from Coca-Cola, I realized that her insights are not only applicable to international development organizations, but also to anyone's responsible career planning strategy.  Indeed, on the job market, you are the product.  As a job seeker, you need to learn how you can best leverage your values and skills so that you can be as visible and desirable as possible to employers whose missions align with your values.  In short, how can you become as desirable as a Coke product on your job market of interest?

In her TED Talk, Ms. Gates reflects upon what nonprofits and government can learn from Coca-Cola in terms of accelerating the pace of international development.  Coca-Cola has been incredibly effective at penetrating very remote markets.  Coca-Cola has been very creative in leveraging channels that enabled their products to reach consumers in areas with very little infrastructure.  People in these areas are living in dire poverty and yet they are buying Coke products.  How did Coca-Cola achieve this, especially given that Coca-Cola produces soda, one of the most unhealthy products available on the market?  Of course, as many major companies, Coca-Cola is not a model company when it comes to Human Rights or Clean Water Access.  As a responsible professional, spending a little bit of time understanding how Coca-Cola achieved such success might help you refine your career planning strategy and build your responsible career path.  To build a responsible career that successfully blends financial return with social impact and environmental responsibility, compare and contrast your approach to the following three ingredients that have contributed to Coca-Cola's distribution success:

A solid analysis with new data immediately used to refine the product offering - Coca-Cola has developed an extensive system that enables them to track consumer behaviors dynamically.  If there is a decrease in sales in an area, they are able to quickly identify the factors playing a role in that decrease and build strategies and tactics to address that decrease.  Similarly, your career planning strategy starts by being able to reflect upon and clearly articulate who you are, what is important to you, and what skills do you want to bring to market.  Every new project at work, volunteer activity, book or course will enable you to further refine your understanding of which skills and values you want to bring to work.  By continuously reflecting and refining your elevator pitch and LinkedIn profile, you will be able to not only develop a more targeted career planning strategy to compete for opportunities, you will also attract contacts and opportunities that best align with your values and skills.

A strategy that taps into local entrepreneurial talent - Coca-Cola has developed an extensive array of micro-distribution centers.  These centers are generally formed of individuals on the ground that find creative ways to distribute the product in remote areas using local transportation channels that best adapt with the local geography and infrastructure.  Coca-Cola provides them with funding to make this happen and in return, Coca-Cola gets increased visibility in a largely untapped market.  As a responsible professional, what have you done to identify untapped opportunities to create social, environmental and economic value in your current job?  Have you been connecting with like-minded professionals in and beyond your current organization to share ideas and resources?  These small steps to creatively develop your network and your entrepreneurial brand will help you become more visible and desirable as a responsible professional.

A marketing campaign that is inspirational and uplifting - Coca-Cola has a brilliant slogan: 'Open Happiness', which is appealing and uplifting to everyone, no matter where they are or how poor they are.  What is your brand and your marketing campaign as a responsible professional?  Simply put, your brand can be defined as 'what people say about you after you leave the room'.  You might consider creating a short anonymous survey with questions that previous and present colleagues, as well as current and past supervisors can complete online to gain more insights into your current brand.  What can you do so that you are sure that your brand revolves around terms such as 'problem solver', 'open to new challenges', 'positive energy', 'constructive approach', or 'can do attitude'?  The more you can emerge as a positive individual that does his/her best to help others find solutions to their current projects or challenges, the more you will attract your next opportunity.

In sum, Coca-Cola has succeeded based on a strong culture of continuous data-driven self-improvement process, combined with innovative distribution channels and an inspirational brand.  What can you do today so that your career planning strategy will combine a strong self-knowledge and awareness of your preferences, a wide and supportive network, as well as a positive attitude to establish yourself as a valuable contributor to get business done better?

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