Wednesday 27 March 2013

Why building your career off a template is not good enough

When I talk to employees about career development I sometimes get the distinct impression that they link career development with the next role they want to do in an organisation. Most organisations use career development as a term to describe how an individual is planning or charting their career. If one looks at the word career then as a noun it means “a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life” but as a verb it means “move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way.”

The same word takes on a structured meaning as a noun but implies lack of structure as a verb! For me career building has to be about action and we humans always have a need to try to bring some structure and planning to any difficult discussion (such as building a career!) so it is common practice for an organisation to offer guidance on how an employee can structure their thoughts and develop a plan of action to further their careers. The depature point is usually a career development template or plan of which there are many variants. One sample format that I liked is provided here if you want access to a generic one.

I do admit that most organisations do make it amply clear that the career development template or plan is only a map and that the journey is the real focus but despite this inertia does kick in and an employee falls into the trap of relaxing after building the career development plan against a template.

To put together a career development plan requires tremendous thought and insight but this is not the same as preparing for an exam. Working through a career development plan requires you to know yourself very well and have the ability to know which direction or waters you need (and want) to navigate in the corporate world. In my own experience I have not seen many employees who have translated a plan into action and then tracked their progress against the same.

Most employees create a plan and then assume that some divine intervention or luck (for the atheists reading this) will make it happen for them. Some make a plan and discuss with their manager and then wait for the manager to do something. That is not how the real world works. I have one very important piece of advice to all those reading this. Your career is your responsibility. A good manager will help you in facilitating your career but cannot be held responsible for the same. You are the only one accountable for your career. Once you have that clear in your mind then the other reasons will all become surmountable. Sorry to state the obvious but forget what they taught you in management class about an organisation’s obligation to develop employees. Employees have to ‘own’ their ‘own’ development.

When I look at the people that have been successful in building a career, they have done it by putting together a plan of action and executed the same with a firm sense of purpose. Purpose is critical. It is something that makes you wake up at night and makes you clench your fist in anguish or triumph! Having a clear purpose will help guide you through the darkest of times. Do you want a career for money? Do you want a career to create a reputation? Some want a career that appeals to an inner voice or calling. What is that inner voice for you?

My own career was guided by the advice of others and I for some reason feel that I am obligated to give back and hopefully I will benefit someone in the same way that I was benefited. Even when I am talking to people about building a career I tell them that my need to guide people and support people in developing themselves is based upon a sense of giving back. 

I initially started my career building journey on an ever changing basis. At one point it was about money, at another point it was about having people reporting to me etc. but today when I think about my career and the reasons for why I am writing this blog I am excited by my ability to motivate others in developing their careers by looking at and talking about my career and the path I took. I know this is slightly counter intuitive but when I develop my career and progress I believe that I have the ability to inspire others to develop and emulate. 

Figure out your purpose and it will help you in charting your career. Pay heed to these powerful words of Marianne Williamson “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us: it's in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear; our presence automatically liberates others.“  

Doing the template is easy but executing the same requires focus and will power. Do you find the time to work on your weaknesses? Do you find the time to develop other skills or undertake courses? When I talk to employees they all clamour to get input/insight into career development but when I talk to them about their progress I usually get a set of standard responses that take one or more of the following forms: 
  • I have too much work to do and not enough time, therefore, the opportunity cost of working on my career is too high
  • The organisation does not support career development 
  • My manager is not willing to guide me or grow me
  • Job opportunities are there but only for the favoured ones
  • I am satisfied with where I am in my career.
For those in a comfort zone regarding their careers, I must remind you that a comfort zone is nothing more than a behavioral state where you are anxiety-neutral as you see no need to take any risk. And as the whole world knows no risk leads to no reward as an outcome. 

“Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined” T. Harv Eker.

My recommendation is that you find a way out of your comfort zone. The metaphor that comes to mind is moving from your comfort zone to your danger zone (which is also the title of a great Kenny Loggins song from the movie Top gun starring Tom Cruise!).

When people talk to me about career development they make it sound like a very special occasion for which they must set aside a unique day either in a week or a month or a year. Frankly, career development is not like Valentine’s day i.e. comes once a year. And on that metaphor let me tell you how my wife views Valentine’s day: “What is the point of celebrating your love for one day when the remaining 364 days are spent in disrespecting or not paying attention to the one you love?”

Career development is exactly the same. It must not be relegated to an hour or a specific slot on your diary!
I also noticed that the harder I worked on my career the better my progression in the corporate hierarchy And yes, I have had my fair share of critics who have also considered me to be very lucky but frankly, I recall the quote from Samuel Goldwn that provides an apt response to these critics “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 

In closing, I want you to know that you need to:
  • Don’t be frustrated by any limitations arising from your DNA. You cannot change your DNA but you can use other attributes/strengths to overcome what god did not give you (this is important as it comes from a bald, average looking guy with a weight problem!)
  • Focus on your ability to develop a network of relationships in your organisation. People hire people. And if you are not visible through the work you do then your career planning on paper ultimately remains on paper
  • Are you distinguishable in how you go about building your career? The way in which you develop your skills and how you stretch yourself will be visible to people. It may take time but eventually the inner light will shine through and position you for that next move forward
  • Always remember that passion trumps expertise. People want to be around people that exude passion. Passion exudes commitment. Passion excites. Passion ignites.

Hope this helps in your career planning strategy. Happy building!


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  1. well written .. defines where i am right now and what i need to do to get off my a$$..

  2. Well written & awesome article...
    I wish I knew then what I know now...