A well-planned career path makes you more likely to succeed. By charting your way, you build a system that takes you to your goals. But how do you map a career? This article explains Ten Steps To A Powerful Career Plan. Start your 2018 by following these steps to chart your career. If you already have a career plan in place, then use this article as a checklist to find and fill any gaps in your career plan.
Step one: Know your goals
Knowing your goals is probably the most critical driver of your career success. Although there are professionals with a clear purpose, there are many more who lack the clarity on where they want to be. The ones with clear goals have an edge that others do not. The advantage comes from the control mechanism that a goal helps you build. Your goals ensure that when you go off track, you don’t let yourself veer off away from the goals but get back on track.
To get clarity in your career, start by answering some of these questions. Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist? You also need to know whether you want to be a business leader or a functional leader? Similarly, do you aspire to reach a certain level in the organization or do you have some other success criteria? To begin with, you need a minimum clarity on these aspects of your career.
I wrote at length about why goal clarity is essential for career success earlier. There I discussed the three different types of career advice seekers I have come across and how the ones with clear goals attract the success they desire. You can read that article here.
Step Two: Identity Possible Role Models
There are two ways of looking at your goals and yourself. First, you are a pioneer who is aiming for goals that no one has ever pursued before. Second, you want to succeed as someone else has. It may appear to be a minor distinction, but this simple difference can make a massive impact in how quickly you achieve your success.
Many young professionals think of themselves as pioneers who are creating their own footsteps in the sand with no predefined paths. Others think of themselves wanting to succeed like (or more than) someone else. The second way of thinking is a lot more helpful than the first one. If your worldview includes role models, you can learn from them and gain a significant advantage in moving toward your goals. If you do not think about role models, you will reinvent the wheel very often. And it will slow you down.
Even if you are driven by being a pioneer, try finding other pioneers as role models. Say you want to be the bitcoin pioneer. Go back to dot-com pioneers and learn from them.
Step Three: Understand The Results Associated with Role Models
As a next step, identify what results do your role models deliver? It is the results that they deliver that make them successful. Thus, for you to be able to operate at their level of competence, you need to produce appropriate results.
I wrote about results-based paradigm for careers earlier. There I discussed in detail how your success is entirely dependent on the results you produce. You can read more about results-based career paradigm here.
Step Four: Identify the Skills You Need to Produce Those Results
Why do two people deliver two different levels of outcomes? If you think more about it, you will realize that the results you achieve boil down to the skills you have built. So the secret to delivering superior results in a consistent manner boil down to the skills you develop.
Three Ways to Identify Key Skills
How do you find out which skills are needed to produce specific results? There are many ways to do so. First, you can read the job descriptions for roles you eventually want. A good job description often mentions the skills expected in a position. Second, you can assess the skills needed to deliver a result through reflection. And third, you can ask others who possess those skills or those who are in in the know. Here, your role models can be helpful – in understanding how you will get there.
As you talk with others, do keep in mind that not everyone is articulate and self-aware to be able to understand why they are successful. Some people have the skills and produce the results but just cannot articulate the skill sets that make them successful. Sometimes, people even have incorrect theories about what makes them successful. But if you talk to more than one person, you will eliminate idiosyncratic (and inaccurate) theories of success for your goals.
The Seven Skills You Will Need
After working with and mentoring thousands of aspiring business managers, I asked myself ‘why do some business professionals succeed but others fail to do so?’. I wanted to identify the skills that set the most successful business leaders apart. I wrote about those essential skills for a business leader in my recent eBook ‘The Seven Disciplines of Highly Effective Business Leaders.’ You can read it for free here.
In my online academy, you can master many of these skills fast. Take a look at the academy page to see all the offerings. If you are pursuing business skills, you may want to explore my Mini-MBA program that teaches you these seven skills in a structured manner.
Step Five: Assess Your Skill Gap
Once you have understood the skills you need, you can assess the skill gap you need to fill. Although this seems like a straightforward exercise, it is a challenging step.
A Challenging Exercise
It is not an easy exercise primarily because most people are not aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Your actual skills and uniqueness are sometimes hidden from your own sight. And thus this is an ongoing work you need to do if you want to build truly sustainable success.
Early in your career, you won’t know the natural skills you possess. The areas where you can naturally excel will be hidden from you because you would not have come across situations that reveal your inherent strengths. And this is why experimenting with different roles early in your career is helpful in discovering your natural skills.
Early in my career, I was working in Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) where I needed to work with a large amount of data. There I realized that information technology (especially the design and conceptualization of systems) comes naturally to me. Although I had no IT background, I ended up designing some quasi-intelligent systems for Citibank. I did it so well that I got job offers from some leading IT companies. If I had never tried that role, I would not have realized that I have an inherent strength in system design.
In short, your assessment of your skill gap is not a one time exercise but an ongoing work you need to do for yourself. It is the same work that will help you become more self-aware over time.
Step Six: Build a Skill Path
Once you understand your skill gap, you are on your way to acquiring and developing the needed skills. I wrote about three different types of skills you will need in a business career in an earlier post. You may want to read about the three skill types here. I explained there that you will need domain expertise, industry skills, and business skills to success in your career.
How To Build The Needed Skills?
How do you build skills? You do that by taking on roles that require those skills. Think of your skill set as an ever-expanding quiver of arrows. You use one skill set to get into a position that allows you to build another critical skill. Using subsequent roles to build missing skills is an excellent way to chart a skill path.
But this is where you will also realize that there are some skills you can acquire easily and much faster than others. At the same time, there are some skills that you will find very hard to build because they go against the very grain of your personality. For example, you may be someone who is energized by people, but your goals require you to build some skills that need periods of solitude. Or you may be someone who gets depleted in a high-pressure environment but your career goals require you to build high-pressure sales skills.
A Test Of Fire In Your Career
When you face a situation where you know the skill you need to build but find it hard to build, it is a critical time in your career. Such a situation is a test of fire for anyone. At that junction, you will either go through a transformation or change your goals. People who succeed, find a way to deal with missing skills consistently. And once they overcome this hurdle, they grow in their abilities immensely.
Here is another personal experience. I have always been a broad strategic thinker who is excited by big ideas and visions. This also means that I am not naturally someone who has fantastic attention to detail. I remember a time very early in my career when I was working as a speechwriter for a CEO. I had to go through rewrites of the speech dozens of times. It was a extremely frustrating experience. I didn’t really enjoy editing and rewriting the same speech fifty times!
But then one of my long-term goals was to become an accomplished writer. I had to go through a metamorphosis to become a writer. And now, I look forward to the edits and rewrites. In fact, when my first book (The Dark Side of Innovation) was in the last stages of publication, I was going through an edit a day of the entire manuscript. This meant going back and froth with my editor. I drove him nuts due to not wanting to give him the final go-ahead to the document. Each time he said the book was okay, I wanted just one more edit. Eventually, my acquisition editor put his foot down and said enough – and sent it to the printing process!
Another Method to Compensate for Missing Skills
There is another method that people sometimes use to overcome their skill gaps. They find a partner who complements them. I recall vividly that one of the most boring aspects of project management (for me) was a detailed CPS (critical path schedule) tracking. It was something that I just couldn’t do with a high degree of energy. So I had someone who compensated for my missing skills to do this tracking while I focused on the most critical aspects of that enormous project. If you use this approach, you will also need to find a way to partner with someone else each time you need that skill.
In your career discussions with your managers, you are better off leading with results and skills rather than positions and rewards. But when you discuss skills with your immediate manager, you may only identify the skills you need to get to the next level of achievement and results. By talking with role models closer to your longer-term goals, you will get a better understanding of the long-term skill path you need to travel.
Step Seven: Build Your Marketing Plan
Organizations exist for organizational goals rather than for the needs of an individual member. And as a member of a group, it is incumbent upon you to drive your career towards your goals. Obviously, your success depends on the contribution you make to the company. But it is also true that when there is a conflict between an individual’s goal and an organization’s goal, organizational goals take priority. This means that sometimes you may find yourself getting pigeonholed or not getting the right opportunities to build the skills you need to build.
To ensure you get the needed opportunities to progress, you need a marketing plan. The reason why others hire you or give you opportunities is that they believe you will produce more value than anyone else will in that role. So for you to get the needed roles that are important to your career success, you need to market your skill set and the results you are delivering and can deliver. It requires a well thought through marketing plan.
For step seven, you need to step back and consider how you are currently communicating your skills, your results, and your ambitions to your company and potential managers.
Step Eight: Build A Reasonable Timeline
Skills take time to develop no matter how minor the talent involved. And when you understand your skill gap, you should take a long hard look at how long it will take you to build these skills.
There are skills that you can acquire fast whereas others take a long time. Be mindful that some skills may take longer to master.
In an earlier article, I had discussed in detail how time-based career management is a flawed way of looking at a career. But since you are following the ten steps here, you will not make that mistake. Nevertheless, you need to have a realistic time frame in which you can build the necessary skills.
Step Nine: Use Mentors And Advocates to Accelerate Your Journey
If you have identified role models correctly, you may have built a mentor-mentee relationship with one or more of them. While they can help you in getting clarity about your path, they can play an even more critical role. They can be your advocates who can help you move into the right positions. But that is an unexpected gift you sometimes get rather than something you are entitled to.
By taking advise from your mentors on a regular basis, you may create unexpected opportunities. Such mentors may guide you on how to build the right skills. They may also help you become self-aware. Sometimes they may help you get into roles that are right for you and at other times can be your advocates.
Step Ten: Get Moving
Now that you have a good understanding of where you are and where you are going, it is time for you to take your first step. Review your existing plan and identify the missing pieces. Is it lack of self-awareness that is holding you back? Or do you lack the understanding of your skill gap? Or are you missing the right mentors? What is the most significant hurdle in your path? Overcome that obstacle today.
Ten Steps To A Powerful Career Plan
These ten steps enable you to chart a successful career. Use the new year as a new opportune time to outline your career path. Use the template above to chart your career.