Getting a leg up on career and product development

March 1, 1999

Getting a leg up on career and product development

Establishing new ventures is a great way to create marketable products--and new career skills.


Even without impediments, career management can be a mind-boggling experience. Add such hurdles as the recent accelerated growth in the high-tech industry, and chaos ensues. Both the decreasing product development cycle for technology products and the general market interest in high-speed communications products and services have done just that for many industry higher-ups.

Even a well-constructed manpower development approach gets tossed aside when the business becomes resource-constrained in these high-growth times. While these may be relatively short-term problems, proactive management of such situations can result in long-term career benefits.

Product or concept diversification is an excellent way to both clarify and solidify current tasks, while growing professionally within the safety and support of the corporate structure. Properly handled, involvement in such projects can enable you to move up the corporate ladder--or off the ladder altogether--with greater efficiency.

Case in point: a major telecommunications company was involved in many unconnected software projects. Over time, company executives realized that a business might exist around several of these software initiatives. The result? A new entity was formed within the parent organization to set a more consistent strategy and focus on network management software in particular--giving those in charge a chance to develop new concepts and their own careers.

Here`s how to get started, as well as how the telecommunications company brought these steps into reality.

First, set up a separate unit in which to develop the new concept or product. A mainstream corporate setting rarely provides the one-track environment conducive to entrepreneurial activities. This type of environment is best created in an off-site facility. If you must operate within the corporate mainstream, set the unit apart physically.

Second, set reasonable expectations at both the corporate and unit level. Remember, profits may not come right away. It may--and most often does--take more time than expected to develop a viable commercial concept and introduce it successfully into the marketplace.

Third, establish a new product-exclusive channel to the marketplace. Salespeople in the main corporation will see little revenue potential for new products in the early days--which will undoubtedly delay revenues. In addition, a new product-specialized sales force will know and sell your product(s) and your product(s) only. So work to develop new channels to the market or establish your own direct sales group. Train them not only about the new product(s) but about how they would help customers meet their business goals. The telecommunications company faced the same dilemma: Leaders of this new business unit found it difficult to convince salespeople to pitch the new product. The product concept was foreign and the revenue potential limited. To remedy that, value-added resellers were used as a successful alternative channel to the marketplace.

Finally, proactively plan your re-entry into the corporate mainstream. Chances are you will choose to remain under the umbrella of the "home" company. Throughout the development process, keep your channels of communication open, make certain to update mentors regularly about progress and issues, and let people know how many useful skills you have added to your career portfolio.

For the telecommunications company to launch this new diversified venture, the unit needed to gain immediate credibility and a working source of revenue. The credibility and initial support came from that parent company. Revenue and associated sales credit for selling existing legacy software products were allocated to this new division. Thus, the parent company and the new unit worked in tandem to gain product and revenue "credibility" within the parent structure. q

Andy Olson is a vice president and member of the Global Technology Practice at A.T. Kearney Executive Search (Chicago).

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