• Raghu Raman

Writing your next 'Posting Order'

I wrote this blog primarily for officers from the defence forces who are retiring and looking to plan their next career. However, most of the advice is equally valid for those seeking a career change or retirement from the corporate or government jobs as well.

My dear brother officers and sisters,

Very often, officers who are contemplating leaving the forces, or those who are going to superannuate, wonder about their job opportunities in the civvy street.

Since I have been asked this question many times over the last 15 years, I thought I would pen down the dialogs/discussions that I have had with many friends /course mates in a sort of ‘playbook’ for the orbit shift that officers leaving the forces will undergo. While in no way, is this playbook complete, or the only way to approach your career (and life) change, my sense is that it will help you get started. More importantly, it will give you a strong framework to carry out perhaps the most important “appreciation” that you will do in your life.

Understanding The 4 Quadrants of Life Everything that we do – literally from the time we are born – can be divided into four major quadrants. Health, Wealth, Relationships and Work. Obviously these words are placeholders with broader and deeper meanings.

For instance, health doesn’t just mean your state of health, but also the lifestyle you (and your family) want. Are you open to three hours of commute every day (jobs in major metros will typically mean that) or do you want to play golf or have the leisure of evening walks in pristine environments (unlikely to happen in any metro) Are you (or your family) ok to live in a polluted city? Will you be comfortable doing a job that involves odd hours and lots of travel (Typical consulting company / Start up environment) or do you want a more fixed schedule with lots of holidays (Dean/Administrative Head of a School).

Similarly, wealth has different connotations depending on each individual. Some have financial commitments at the time of their superannuation, others don’t. Similarly, spendable wealth is different from earnable wealth. For instance, let’s assume you have two offers, one in Nashik and the other in Mumbai. Even if the latter pays you 50% more than the former, much of that delta will be consumed in your accommodation and/or commuting cost. So you might be technically earning more in Mumbai, but keeping less money than a colleague in Nashik. Similarly, don’t confuse wealth with money. Wealth is what you have left after all your money is gone. While we are on wealth, here is another aspect that you might want to consider. Please be careful while evaluating offers. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you have two offers. One of say 30 Lakhs per annum and the other of 60 lakhs. While the latter seems to be one to take without batting an eyelid, here the way it works. The employer’s expectation from you will be twice in case of the latter offer. It’s a bit like betting on coming in “Excellent timing” in an obstacle course that you have never seen, let alone even practiced on once! It is far better to surpass expectations in the early stages of your second career, than being an ‘underperformer’. Because once you lose that 60 lakh job because of underperformance, it will be very difficult to find another good opportunity. The civvy street is fairly objective when it comes to performance and taking on an offer – just because its more lucrative may not be a smart idea in the long run. Better to take the offer in which you are reasonably confident on delivering. Its confidence, not bravado that must guide your choice.

Relationships - encompasses how you want to spend your time nurturing them. An officer whose children are settled may want the leisure of looking after ancestral property, or aging parents, or simply travel around the country visiting friends etc. Another officer who still has financial commitments will have to build a strong set of new professional relationships, rather than nurturing old Fauji ones, for the time being at least. Yet others may have an academic bent of mind and want to dabble in think thanks, improving their ‘knowledge relationships’.

Work - implies what you like doing and want to do. A few caveats. The grass looks greener and cleaner from far. Lets say you have a friend who's a CEO earning millions of dollars, owning several cars and staying in an uptown house. Looks good from far. However, CEO's (and equivalents) as a category, have some of the highest instances of health issues, burnout, mental stress, broken relationships and unfortunately - even estranged & disaffected children. So be certain that ANY work you choose will have some parts that you like and some parts that you hate. That said, choice of your work preference will always oscillate between what you want to do and what you have to do. And unless you are that exceptionally rare individual who is extremely good at what they love to do - you will always have to make a compromise between what you love to do and what will get well paid for doing.

The point is that these four quadrants are placeholders and you need to customize your ‘wants’ based on them.

Now comes the difficult part.

Allot 10 points to each one of the quadrants, and now prioritise so that you get the maximum score of only 30. This will force you to prioritise one, or perhaps two quadrants, as your top priority at the moment. This is possibly one of the most important exercises that will influence your decisions for the future, so please take time doing this. Involve your better half or other stakeholders in your decision. Think through the implication of every choice. The crux being, don’t try to get 40 out of 40. That is not going to happen. Life doesn’t work that way.

Lastly, be aware of two phenomena that drive our life’s decisions. There is an external scorecard, and an internal scorecard. The external scorecard are the ones that we have been trained on from our childhood. Which school we went to, what rank we had in class, what appointment we were in the Academy, what were our course gradings, UN postings, strategic appointments, higher command, NDC, ACR rating etc. These scorecards serve as well in a professional life span, because they act as guiding posts and tell us whether we are doing “well” or not.

I think we have lived long enough to realise that the external scorecard has no connection to internal state of happiness/satisfaction. I know of officers who are heading business units worth several hundred crores employing thousands of men, and I also know officers who are working part-time teaching children in school in a small town. As you can guess, their span of command and the happiness levels have no connection to each other.

Most of the officers who are superannuating after decades of service, have lived on an external scorecard through their life. Matter of fact, some might ironically be chucking, because they feel that the external scorecard has not been fair to them. The external scorecard will never be fair on a case to case basis, because it is designed to be fair generically.

But it is your internal scorecard that actually gives happiness. [Read this to understand the concept better]

This Four Quadrant exercise, will help develop your internal scorecard. Once you have decided what your specific want/desire is, then the job you want to do, the vocation you want to pursue, or even the location you want to be in, will fall into place. Once you get the clarity, you’ll be surprised as to how the jobs will find you instead of the other way round.

Some other helpful tips.

Please don’t carry a Fauji comparison into the civvy street. This will only make you a misfit and bitter. I’ve heard some officers comment “so-and-so is doing so well in the civvy street, but he was my junior in the Army, and I had to hand hold him in everything.” Or, “I was better than him in all courses so I should get at least the same if not more pay than him”. In some extreme cases, officers carry their ranks with them into the civvy street, and actually expect a junior officer to accord him the Army seniority. Those who have been able to do a mental reboot, and think of themselves as first termers all over again, usually adapt much better. The key is to get out of your comfort zone.

Stop Rowing and start Kayaking

Those of us who have had done some rowing (especially Ex NDA’s/naval cadets) know this, that while rowing, the oarsmen are looking towards the journey that they have already covered. All of us have had some great moments achievements in a military careers to look back to with fond memory. But that’s in the past. While we will leverage the learnings from our careers, it’ll be good to focus on the future rather than constantly talking about the past. Remember one thing, our military escapades may make for good storytelling in an odd evening, but if that past career becomes the centre point of all your conversations, pretty soon your civilian colleagues will start getting irritated.

My advice to most officers who are stepping into jobs in the civvy street, is to simply stay quiet and keep absorbing for the first 3 to 6 months, before offering any “brilliant” suggestion. The logic is simple. Even if you grant that a new pair of eyes will have a fresh outlook on the old problem, it is very unlikely that you will be able to discern all the nuances of the problem, unless you have spent some time in the organisation and more importantly, understood its culture. Professing simplistic solutions for complex problems without understanding its intricacy is a surefire way of being branded as a shallow person. So stop rowing and start kayaking!

Learn to lead without authority You are going to move from a largely authority driven organisation to the civvy street with predominance of a millennial work force. Unlike the armed forces, where one has to lump and suffer difficult bosses, in the civvy street, the subordinates can ‘fire’ their boss with the simple act of quitting. And they often do. In any case, authoritative style of leadership is on its way out. Your colleagues and subordinates will be more keen to follow you if you are focused on their success – genuinely.

Lastly – I would strongly recommend two books

1. “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins and follow it like a bible. This book has been written primarily for leaders who are changing portfolios but the framework is ideal for functional transition.

2. “Transitions – Making sense of life’s changes” by William Bridges. Make no mistake, no matter how much you think you will be able to switch to a civilian mode after you hang the uniform, the changes will jar you emotionally. This book will help prepare for that.

All the very best! And follow me on twitter to be informed when I write new stuff : ) @captraman

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