Every day organizations spend time refining and rewriting their strategic plans. It’s part of the rhythm of business. But how often have you applied the basic principles of strategic planning to your career? Say what? You haven’t? You’re missing out on one of the most powerful tools out there.
Don’t worry – this isn’t some high falootin’ strategery post. I’m not caffeinated enough to write something like that. It’s a simple approach you can apply to your career in an hour or so and have much greater clarity on where you’re headed and what kinds of opportunities you need to be looking for.
To keep it simple, I’m going to relate a conversation I had recently on the topic. The individual was doing some great introspection about where they are and where they’re headed but couldn’t find a clear path from where they stood.
I said “forget about where you are.” The discussion got interesting from there.
“Let’s apply strategy to your career planning.”
Articulate the Vision & Mission
The first step in good strategic planning is defining where you want to go. Forget about today. What’s the vision of who you are and what you do 5 years out? 10? What kind of work isn’t “work” for you?
Take a moment to reflect on the most satisfying aspects of your job. What projects gave you the greatest sense of accomplishment? What situations were the most interesting, exciting, or entertaining for you? Now how can you craft a future career or job description that’s full of nothing but those things (or at least 75% of your work would be doing those things)?
That’s the vision. That’s the goal: to build a career that’s personally and professionally satisfying. You have to define the endstate of where you want to be in order to lay out a logical path for getting there.
Define Existing & Required Core Competencies
Now that you’ve written your ideal job description, what skills and capabilities will you need to have to land that job and then execute it well? Do you need to know finance? People leadership? Project management? A specific set of industry experiences like healthcare or financial services?
Make a list of the skills and experiences you’d need to be considered for the ideal job you defined in the previous step. After you’ve done so, perform a candid assessment of where you stand in relation to having those skills. Try using a scale from “Expert” to “No clue” and be very honest with yourself.
This map of existing and required core competencies will help you lay out the path of experiences you’ll need to have to get to your ideal job.
Determine Where to “Compete”
In classical corporate strategic planning, companies need to decide where to compete and understand how they’ll win in those markets. In the case of your career, your “where to compete” is about what jobs and roles do you need to take on to fill the gaps in your competencies.
If you need to make your project management bones, identify projects you can lead at your organization. If you need experience in healthcare, it might be time to switch industries. If you need to learn finance, find a mentor from the Finance department. You get the idea. You need to immerse yourself in a few specific areas (I recommend focusing on no more than 2-3 at a time) to build skills and demonstrate competency in these arenas.
Once you’ve mastered a skill or can clearly demonstrate impact in a specific competency, go ahead and check it off your list. Congratulations! You’ve moved one step closer to your ideal job. Now get back to work and identify the next skill to build or experience you need to have and make that happen.
Execute & Refine Your Plan
The task of building skills and competencies is never done. The world around you changes on a regular basis. Your ideal job at age 25 might look very different at 35 and 45. Be prepared to refine your strategic plan on an annual basis.
As you refine the plan, reconfirm your vision and endstate. Once you’re comfortable with that, reassess your skills and competencies and figure out what opportunities and experiences you need to pursue in the coming year. Doing so helps you maintain focus on the most important aspects of your career strategic plan.
Knowing that next set of skills to build also helps you be prepared to pounce when that perfect position opens up. One of my favorite sayings is “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” The more in tune you are with the skills you’re looking to build, the more rapidly you’re able to assess a new role and determine its fit with your longer term career strategy. That speed of action can make a huge difference in whether you get the role or not. I’m always more likely to hire the candidate who can articulate why the job is compelling to them than I am the individual who says “it sounds like a cool position.”
Sure this strategic planning process is greatly simplified (what do you want from me on a Monday morning before I’ve had my coffee?) but even a rudimentary strategy is better than no strategy at all. Take an hour or so to map these things out. You might be surprised by what you find.
What other tools do you use to plan your career? How do you think strategically about where you’re going? Please share your thoughts with a comment.