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Career dilemma – when should you move on?

Annelize van Rensburg; Text: Danica van der Veen

Career Dilemma: How do you know when it's time to move on?So you’ve made it to an executive, and you’ve been sitting pretty in your career for some years. But how long should you really stay in your current position? How long is too long?

If you’re in a competent executive, you’ll find that there is very little pressure from the board for you to move on, reason being that finding a suitable replacement is quite challenging. On the other hand, after several years in a top job you’re probably pretty tempted just to stay put, enjoy the position (and the big office) and give it one more year, or two… or more.

A shortage of talent around us and a very comfy comfort zone inside us create quite a dilemma for executive achievers. If you don’t really understand how long is too long in your current positions, you’ll generally decide not to change things up, and end up doing nothing. 

Unfortunately, this kind of inertia has a cost attached. You may be losing out on the chance to take on an even bigger job, grow new skills, move into a more prominent industry role and increase your earnings. Your company also pays a price; if you’re not moving everyone underneath you becomes complacent, competitiveness is compromised and the business is in danger of a slow death. Meanwhile, new talent coming through the ranks sees little chance of promotion and will up and leave, disabling internal appointments.

With the growth of your career, the success of your colleagues’ careers, and your business at risk, it’s important to recognise when it’s time for you to move on to greener pastures. Annelize van Rensburg, director of Talent Africa, gives us some advice on how long should you stay in your current position.

1 Realise the onus is ultimately on you

Although the ‘do-I-go-or-stay?’ dilemma affects affects everyone in a business, it’ll generally be your responsibility to come up with answers. Some boards are pretty static and reluctant to lead a shake-up involving top talent. They can often justify a ‘steady-as-she-goes’ approach as trading conditions are tough and the big need is to stay on course without adding any risk. The likelihood is that the timing will be left up to you. Your own inner fire should set the pace: expire, retire or inspire?

2 Consider the five-plus-five pattern

Senior executives suggest the five-plus-five time-frame is a good standard to follow. Allow yourself five years to redefine strategies, lead changes, build buy-in and deliver results. Then spend the next five years maximising the gains that are starting to appear, consolidating, renewing your team and bringing in a likely successor. After those 10 years, it’s probably time to move on up or out. Bare in mind though that the five-plus-five time-frame is being shortened as technology and industry changes are speeding up.

3 Move forward after self-assessment

If renewal, personal growth and the excitement of new challenges are priorities to you, there’s only one way to go… Fire yourself! Give yourself the boot. This does not always mean resigning. Sometimes you fire yourself up through personal re-invention or through shaking up structures and redefining the job and the role. Moving on – through an exit or the implementation of change – will ensure you stay  mobile and on top of the job (current or new). Of course, clinging indefinitely to your comfort zone may also get you fired. But you won’t be doing the firing, the board will.

Want some more career tips? Find out if you’re ‘ready’ for a promotion, or read these 6 secrets to successfully achieve your goals.

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