The Great Swamp of the Mid-Career Professional
- Published on October 22, 2012
- Written by MATT DOERNHOEFER, CBCP
So here I am, brushing the shavings off my fresh certification. I’ve got four to six years of BC/DR experience under my belt. I have a good job as a planner-analyst that I have been working at for a while. I feel like I’m ready for a new challenge. Now what? Logically, I would start thinking management. Realistically though, this may be more difficult than imagined.
So what does this mean for the career path? How does one make the jump from planner to manager in an organization? Now we enter the great swamp of the mid-career. During this phase of the career, I as a mid-level planner, am not sure what I should do with myself. Management beckons, but seems forever out of reach so long as I am a planner. I have the knowledge and experience to get the job done but finding a slot that will actually hire me as a manager is a whole different story. I think the biggest issue is that as a planner, I haven’t led or supervised a small team like I would in other positions. In a lot of situations, continuity planners run solo and they frequently are the manager, planner and executor in one. In these situations, leading is a relatively easy task.
A brief search for business continuity in any job website will produce interesting results. A good number of planner positions, a fair amount of manager positions, and a few senior manager/director positions. Periodically, you will see an executive level business continuity professional, but this is an exception rather than the rule. What is missing from this picture? There is very little in the way of a senior planner. Since our profession tends to run without the vast hordes of personnel like IT or human resources, we often have to make do with a single staff member of support or potentially no support at all.
Unfortunately, the certifications process do very little to differentiate between leadership and management skill levels. These standards are great for establishing a baseline level of knowledge. The certification standards however, do not differentiate between someone who has had certified for 10 years or 10 months. Master-level business continuity certifications are the gold standard. They demonstrate mastery in the profession. Again though, there is nothing in between to establish a competency in between the two certifications. We enter the swampy middle-career phase.
Other considerations are for each individual organization. As a mid-career professional, it is often difficult to find the necessary impetus in your own organization to move forward into a management role. This is especially true if you are stuck in an organization that is ostensibly stagnant. Often times, in order to get into a management position, one will have to change organizations at least once. If this is not the case, often times these personnel will have to leave the business continuity world behind and follow the standard project/program manager path. If one has been brought aboard as a mid-level planner, it sends a message that the organization has at least partially bought off on the concept of business continuity. The ability to manipulate and turn the conceptual idea into a full business continuity program is a much greater task. If an organization has a business continuity manager in place, that person usually has the bureaucratic weight to accomplish quite a bit more than just bringing on a mid-career planner. Large organizations that have a full, robust business continuity program in place are rare. Positions in these types of organizations are jealously guarded, and they tend to promote from within. This is understandable, but it creates a problem for the mid-career planners that require a management position to move into.
In my experience, I often run into professionals that have 20-30 years in the business. These are the thought leaders and the most active and experienced in our profession. This is a wonderful thing, however, the old hands are getting close to retirement and the slack must be made up somewhere. Enter the mid-level planner. There are those of us (I count myself among them) that are not sure where to go. We don’t feel like we have enough experience to go into the world and hang up our own sign as private consultants, and we aren’t sure if we have enough experience to truly manage. In turn, we are reliant on those management positions in order to further our own career.
I am not concerned too much about the next generation of planners. Colleges and universities are starting to jump on board with business continuity education. They are training students and the new junior planners with all the information they need to make a good start in business continuity. On the other side of the spectrum, you have the individual who just had the entire business continuity plan task dumped on them and will pick up and carry the torch. These two sources provide the next generation of planners for managers to utilize. Further, the community itself is very well focused on education and certification.
What does this call for?
We as professionals should attempt to take charge of our own community. We should work hard to establish the professional levels to which we should be held accountable for. Our profession as a whole is up and coming in terms of popularity, and it can only benefit us to establish guidelines and in essence better define our own profession. We can help ourselves by helping others by providing a more robust career progression standard. Frequently companies hand out the title of BC manager without all the trappings and responsibilities of a management-level professional.
We need to establish a manager level competency. This manager level would focus more on the program management aspects of the profession – budgeting and work-breakdown structure – much like the Project Management Professional certification criteria.
I believe a master-level certification works best to establish someone as an independent consultant more so than a management professional. As continuity planners we are given a certain set of program management training as the basics of project and program management are largely the same. This is a good start but it is not enough. We need to have a leadership program that helps create leaders in the BC community. We put forth all our effort into the baseline knowledge, but we do little to assist planners in becoming managers.
This stratification will assist professionals in knowing where they stand. By stressing a senior planner position in our ranks, that will not only bolster our capabilities, but also provide a good adjustment period for a seasoned planner to become a good manager. Good leadership is a skill that must be learned. While some people are naturally attuned to the skill, it still must be honed and refined to create a good leader and manager. The leadership and management skills that we as business continuity professionals have to be honed and developed in a safe environment in which we can learn, but still make mistakes safely. Not only will this benefit our credibility, but it will allow us to train the future leaders of the profession.
I put this concept forward to the community in hopes that our thought leaders will consider the next generation of up and coming planners/managers. Now is the time for action while our community is still malleable. We as the planners, managers and consultants have the capability to expand our own profession by creating the need and desire for the senior level planner. The training of planners to be managers can only help us in our quest to expand the concept of business continuity and sell it to the rest of the corporate world.
(Special thanks to Mark Armour for assisting me with this article. His insight as an executive-level continuity manager was critical in obtaining perspective.)
Matt Doernhoefer, CBCP, is a business continuity planner for NJVC. He has been working in the field of business continuity for six years.