June 2012 | 

Career Move: Leaving the Comfort of Competency

career move

Good is the enemy of great, or as Svein Førland, CEO of Norway’s Sandnes Sparebank, notes, the “comfort of competency” can prevent you from reaching for higher goals. When Førland attended Wharton’s Advanced Management Program (AMP) in 2009, he was part of the executive group at one of the largest banks in Norway. At 40, he considered himself comfortable in his position as a self-described “backstage player.” But when tasked with forecasting where he would be in five years, he remarked that he would still be in the same position, and other executives in AMP pushed back.

“The group really challenged me. They didn’t see me as the person working behind the scenes. I think they saw something in me that I did not yet see in myself.” For Førland, that wouldn’t be the last time his view would be challenged. “Six months after I returned home, I was approached by one of our largest competitors, and was offered the position of CEO. Without the experience of AMP, I would not have considered it. I didn’t think before [the program] that I was ready.”

AMP proved to be a pivotal career experience. “I went to AMP to expand my views and competencies, and it delivered. I was part of a very diverse group, with only one other banker. The program stretched my imagination of what I could be, and got me out of the comfort of competency to think bigger. But I didn’t know how much bigger until six months after the program ended.”

Førland accepted Sandnes Sparebank’s offer and immediately put the knowledge he gained at Wharton to use. “In my new position, I was able to align management around a new direction by using what I learned in AMP. In particular, Paul Schoemaker’s sessions on scenario planning help us to anticipate and think strategically. We aren’t just focused on what we are doing right now.”

Three years later, Førland returned to Philadelphia to enhance his knowledge. “I was looking for a program that was smaller and would build on the AMP experience. Global Strategic Leadership (GSL) was that program. It gave me more tools and ideas about how to get people thinking about the bigger picture by understanding the economy, other industries, and the world. We need to anticipate changes and the impact they may have on us while growing our business and working on innovation.

“I recently wrote to my AMP group on Linked In to recommend GSL. It’s great for refocusing on what we did in AMP. After a few years you get lost in what you need to do every day and lose some of that wider view. But in three short days I was able get that focus back. There was great diversity, with people from many countries, many industries. You are able to get a bigger perspective when you get out of your routine and away from the people you work with. It’s comfortable to keep doing what you’re good at day by day, in the same ways. But to grow, you need to move beyond what’s comfortable. ”