How do you chart your career and career goals? What kind of milestones do you use to plan your career success?
Is this how you do it:
1. By the time I’m 30 years old, I want to be vice president of operations. Or,
2. I would like to get promoted to the next level within the next two years.
If you do, then you are not alone. Most people tend to think to think of their career as milestones over a timeline. Many people are realistic in the kind of timeframe they set while some are not.
I vividly recall that an undergraduate business school student of mine told the entire class that she wants to retire by the age of 30. Wow! She hadn’t even started working, and she was thinking of retiring in the next ten years or so.
Time-Based Career Paradigm
Although this time-based career management paradigm is typical, it is not a particularly helpful one. What makes one believe that passage of time has anything to do with his career progression? Is a career an organic plant that grows on its own? Or is there any reason to believe your job is like an escalator that automatically pushes you upward?
If time-based career management paradigm sounds ridiculous, why do most people use it? There are many reasons for this. First, it is possible to understand the passage of time, and thus it is a natural parameter to use. Second, we often talk about time to a level in organizations which makes people tend to think of time as a driver of career progression.
Problems with Time Based Paradigm
But there are several problems with using time as a measure of career success or career goals. These become obvious when people start using time as a measure of career success rather than just milestones.
First, there is no correlation between time and career progress. There is absolutely nothing about time that drives career progress.
Second, it puts an external pressure on you but is unhelpful in explaining what you can do to achieve your career goals.
If It is not time, then what is it?
This questioning brings us to an important question: what leads to career progress? Why do some people become senior managers whereas others fail to do so? What is the real difference between an executive vice president and an assistant manager? It has little to do with the fact that an executive vice president has worked for 20+ years whereas an associate manager has only worked for a handful of years? I am sure you have seen situations where a vice president is younger than an associate manager.
Results: A More Accurate Paradigm
The fundamental difference between someone in a senior position versus someone else much lower in the career ladder is the results they generate. It is the impact they produce. A plant accountant and the Executive Vice President of supply chain create a very different level of results. That is why they manage very different levels of responsibilities.
How Do You Produce Different Results?
In essence, career progress varies across people because different people acquire different skills over time. It is not the passage of time, but how you use that time to build your skills that makes the difference.
When an organization manages its people and their careers, they look at people’s abilities to produce results more than anything else as a determinant of their career success.
Results Based Paradigm
So why not manage your career as results milestones rather than time? It would make it much easier for you to understand how you can achieve your career goals. It would put you in the driver’s seat of your career. Using results will help you make decisions on where you should spend time, what skills you should acquire, and how you should measure your progress.
How to Chart Your Career With a Results-Based Paradigm?
So how do you create a result based career management system for yourself? There are two ways of doing it.
First, you can focus on an intrinsic method of setting goals for the kind of results you want to produce. You usually do this when your goal is to become proficient or advanced at a set of activities or outcomes you want to create. An example would be that you want to be ready to lead an M&A transaction or be able to lead a team of finance professionals for a country organization. If you are in marketing, you want to be able to produce a highly successful advertisement copy.
Second, you can focus on an extrinsic method of setting goals; you can use external benchmarks for your results. For example, you have a goal of being among the top 10 marketing professionals in your industry. Or, you want to produce an award-winning advertisement copy. Or, you want to the produce the highest returns on an emerging market fund.
The intrinsic method often depends on your effort and your speed of learning a skill. But the extrinsic method also involves what others are doing. It boils down to the relative rate at which you learn the needed skills versus your peer group. Although the latter may produce a higher stress level for you, both these methods are far superior to the dominant way of charting a career on a time-based paradigm.
Using Time in Results Based Paradigm
Even with the results based paradigm, you can use time for setting milestones. Often, time-bound goals are better than goals where a timeline doesn’t exist. But there is a major difference between the two. When you use a time-based paradigm devoid of results and skills, you invite all the issues that I described earlier. On the other hand, when you use time as a milestone in a results-based paradigm, you do yourself a major favor.
Using time in a results-based paradigm will automatically help you focus on building the skills you need to achieve those results. The time pressure will make you more focused on the right action. As a result, it will help you focus on the skills you need to build. Once you understand the effort involved, you can decide whether you have the time and commitment to grow to a certain level. You may very well choose to spend your time and effort elsewhere. In short, this paradigm makes your career progress your choice rather than a function of time.
The Real Benefit of Results Paradigm
When I offer this way of thinking, people often share one doubt with me: what if I develop my skills but my manager or my organization refuses to reward me with appropriate roles? What if others do not recognize the results? Wouldn’t all your efforts have been in vain?
Results based paradigm makes it irrelevant whether others recognize you and your achievements. It makes you benefit doubly. First, you receive an intrinsic reward for building your skills and growing and learning. Second, the skills you develop and the results that you produce make you more marketable. Even if your organization does not reward you, the market will value you.
However, if you focus on time-based career management system, you miss the critical part of your career progress. You are not in the driver’s seat, and your efforts to develop your career will not have a laser-sharp focus. As a result, you will be less effective in managing your career and achieving your career results.
In short, you need to stop using a time-based career management model and moved to results and skill based career management model if you want to become more effective in managing your career success.
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