“I’ve decided to leave my company…I’m not happy,” were the opening words from a young, high potential middle manager from a Silicon Valley Tech company that called me earlier this week. His reasoning was, “They’re not interested in developing me. They seem apathetic about making an investment in my career. I want to be developed. I need a career plan.”
I controlled my initial urge to reach out and slap this person (would have been hard through the phone line), and instead offered some sage and succinct advice – “Ownership of your career and development plan resides with YOU, not your company. You want a plan, make it yourself!”
Look, gone are the days when a company would dictate your career and development path. Now, employers are more focused on their business plans and bottom lines – and not on their employees’ career needs. So developing a plan is another item all workers need to post on their to-do lists. Bottom line on personal development, career coach Janine Moon of CompassPoint Coaching says, “You own it. You’ll always have to take care of skills and knowledge and make sure they’re current.”
What does this imply for professionals seeking meaningful career trajectories, now that the paternalistic corporation is history? It means setting broad career goals and constantly sniffing out opportunities to move closer to what you uniquely can offer, and to move up while doing so. Plus, it means choosing tactics that boost your own success while being loyal to your current employer – but only as long as your respective interests coincide.
How did it come to this? Many business leaders I speak with think the following:
Tomorrow is today. The focus on short term results is such that investments that don’t pay back immediately are not made. Training and development are expenses (in time and money), for which payback typically exceeds the next quarterly earnings cycle.
The future is unclear, changing and unpredictable. Business is changing so fast that what you learn today might be obsolete tomorrow. The Harvard Business Review says, “It is in settings of high uncertainty where traditional career planning is both a waste of time and potentially dangerous.” Strong words.
They don’t know how to do it. Eric Jackson writes in Forbes that most bosses never engage with their employees about where they want to go in their careers – even the top talent. They don’t know how to do it, they rarely get trained on doing it – so they simply avoid it.
They think they don’t have to. Oh, now I’ve uncovered the elephant in the room. Some companies think they can easily acquire talent with the skills they need from the outside. Why develop talent – just go buy it. Even better, rent it from a 3rd party source.
So, you can’t rely on your company to come through and manage your future. You have to do it yourself. But how do you move forward? Here are some steps you can take:
- Determine a direction, not an end goal. Instead of formulating the logically perfect ending job and the optimal path to get there, begin with a direction, based on a real desire, and complement that with a strategy to discover and create opportunities consistent with that desire.
- Think broadly. The more you know and can do, the more options you will have. Don’t focus on just one area (Marketing, Sales, Operations, Finance) especially early in your career. Finding what you really enjoy is important, but understanding how organizations work and function will give you more opportunities down the road.
- Identify gaps in your skills. Look around at the skills and credentials held by your peers. In your industry, what skills and credentials are needed to position you for advancement? In Science you need a Ph.D. In marketing, maybe an MBA. To be a Project Manager, you better be PMP certified. Identify your skills gaps, then put a plan together to eliminate them.
- Communicate your desires. Look I never held it against an employee that wanted to better themself. Make you intentions clear – but, do not threaten. Continue to show your value to your company – and, ask what can be done to help you. Build a business case why your company should invest in you.
- Measure your Progress: As you move along in your career, assess your progress periodically. I recommend your life and career plans be reviewed once per year, with deliverables and milestones set on a quarterly basic. But, use your own metrics; find what works for you. Just remember to do it!
- Budget Your Own Money: Coach Moon advises to, “Build a pool of money to ensure your own development over the course of your career.” Sure, you want your company to fund your development, but don’t just rely on them. Have your own stash of cash and invest in yourself!
- Consult Your Mentors: Talk regularly with your professional allies and mentors, which should not just be your bosses. Find experienced people inside and outside your employer that take an interest in your personal and professional well-being. They can offer input and suggestions that you might not see for yourself.
- Know when you have to go: Many companies don’t get it – and they never will. Don’t stick with a company that lacks the opportunities or culture to empower your career progress. Sometimes you just have to move on.
Finally, there are some good companies out there that do understand the value of investing in people. The Hay Group reports that top companies, such as UPS, Disney, McDonald’s and Marriott International differ from lower rated ones in a major area, “They actually believe what every company proclaims about people being their most valuable asset. They understand that people are an asset, not an expense.”
Unfortunately, we can’t all work for these companies. But, what we can do is have a personal career and development plan, invest in ourselves, and have a realistic view of what we can expect from your current company.
What do you think? I’d like to hear from you.