Associate Client Partner, Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
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5 Ways to Start the New Year Strong—Careerwise
Wherever they may be on the corporate ladder, everyone wants to get ahead in 2024. Many people assume a new job is the answer. Indeed, one recent survey found that more than one-third of workers plan to quit this year.
But experts say making improvements internally is the better way to go, especially with many firms anticipating hiring freezes and layoffs. There are many moves that can not only have a positive effect on your career but also help you feel more engaged, says Flo Falayi, a Korn Ferry executive coach. The trick is finding the right steps to take in today’s environment.
Set a goal… and the smaller milestones needed to hit it.
Even just thinking about a big new work goal can be powerful, says Mark Richardson, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and two-time Olympic medalist. “It fires your intrinsic motivation,” he says.
But once you figure out that goal, make sure you set yourself up to achieve it. Cindy Comisky, a Korn Ferry executive senior partner, recommends using the SMART model, which stipulates that any goal must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. It’s an approach that eliminates vague assertions like “I want to get promoted,” and fills in the specific steps you must actually meet to get a promotion. The SMART model also establishes a clear timeline and makes tracking progress easier. And it can help you align your own work-related goals to the broader goals of your team, business unit, or organization. “That way you can demonstrate how your progress impacted the business on your résumé,” Comisky says.
Do more with less.
Don’t expect to have more money or people helping you to finish projects this year. According to one survey, 52% of firms say they are likely to implement a hiring freeze in 2024. Many other companies report they’re in cost-cutting mode because they’re unsure where growth will come from organically.
In these times, it’s essential to be able to become more innovative and agile, says Cheryl D’Cruz Young, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Sustainability and ESG Center of Expertise. Using fewer resources (whether time, people, or money) to complete projects successfully is a skill in and of itself, one that will be valued by any employer, current or future.
Don’t take things personally.
It’s going to happen: Your boss will no longer be interested in the project you’ve spent months on, or they’ll initiate a hiring freeze that prevents you from backfilling your team. In those cases, and others like them, it can be easy to attribute the outcome to your manager’s vindictiveness or your own personal failing.
In most cases, however, you had nothing to do with it. What you did, or felt, likely didn’t force a change in the company’s business priorities. Instead of wallowing in your disappointment, says D’Cruz Young, “ask how do you, objectively, do your job with what we have and move forward.”
Admittedly, this one can be tough, experts say. Still, putting emotional distance between yourself and a work decision can both improve your productivity and reduce your work-related stress.
Who has the spare time to network, develop new skills, and other career essentials? That’s why Korn Ferry senior client partner Kate Shattuck recommends finding projects that you’re passionate about and that also build your professional skills. Seek out assignments that put you in contact with new colleagues or people outside the organization. Learn who they are and what their goals are. You’re effectively expanding your network, Shattuck says.
If you do have downtime, consider taking on a volunteer project—such as fundraising for your alma mater or developing a panel for a conference—that pushes you to develop a new career-enhancing skill. Such projects can help you develop your abilities, meet new people, and pursue your objectives. “In some ways, this is like creating an internship for yourself,” Shattuck says.
Some surveys indicate that more than half of US employees experienced some sort of moderate work-related burnout in 2023. Avoiding that feeling will benefit you both emotionally—no one likes feeling worn down—and professionally, since less stress can free you to be more engaged and productive.
Those breaks don’t have to be monthslong sabbaticals, either. “Take moments to pause and reflect,” Richardson says. Take stock in, and give yourself credit for, what you have accomplished, he adds.
Use at least some of those breaks to get outdoors, Shattuck advises: “Being outside helps you creatively.”
For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.