Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career planning 3: thinking through and taking first steps forward in an ongoing iterative process

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on May 6, 2017

This is my third installment to a series in which I seek to break open what can become a hidden workings, self-imposed black box construct of career strategy and planning, where it can be easy to drift into what comes next rather than execute to realize what could be best for us (see Part 1 and Part 2.)

I started this series by laying out a road map to it in its Part 1, for many if not most of the topics and issues that I will address here. And I proceeded to address the first of those points in Part 2, approaching careers and career planning from a big-picture perspective and by offering a longer-term career progression mapping tool that centers around understanding your needs, goals and priorities as they change over time.

My goal for this third installment to this series is to shift focus to a more here-and-now level of career development that coordinates with that. It is important that we career plan with an active awareness of where we have been and where we seek to go, and with a big-picture understanding. But we still live and work and decide and act in our immediate here-and-now context too, and of necessity. And with that noted, the second to-address point from Part 1 that I will address here, is:

• Thinking in terms of where you are now, and in terms of next possible steps that you might take now to specifically reach where you seek to be next.

And that is where initial planning first turns to initial action and follow-through. As a bridge between these two time frame perspectives, I often at least initially couch the set of issues and decision-based actions that I address here, in terms of the following two basic organizing questions:

• Where do you see yourself in five years, for what you seek to accomplish between now and then, and for where you seek to be at that point in time in your career and in your life? (Note: five years is arbitrary so pick a closer but still somewhat distant time point if that would work best for you. But I would generally recommend you’re not pushing your next-step of consideration time point any further out than five years for purposes of this exercise.)
• And what can you do today that might at least incrementally help you to move towards that goal?

Think and plan longer-term, and act in the here-and-now and with both shorter-term and immediate goals and requirements in mind, and with a matching awareness of that longer-term perspective as well.

Realistically, you have to meet you’re here-and-now needs now, and pay your bills and meet your current obligations now. You need to actually live in you’re here-and-now. Career planning and life planning in general, add in longer-term considerations to that so you do not simply drift from immediate here-and-now to immediate here-and-now and entirely reactively.

• Career planning is where and how you add proactive into this mix and into your work life as a whole. And this posting is about developing step by step practices in doing this, and ones that can become second nature to you that you would automatically turn to,
• Making proactive an automatic part of your work and career life.

And when you do this, you of necessity also gain a greater awareness of change and its potential, and certainly as that might impact upon your already considered possible paths forward as you reach towards the goals that you have longer-term set for yourself: those five years out and longer.

A great deal of this involves increasing your awareness of the context that you live and work in, and of the potential that this creates for shaping and reshaping what is both likely and possible for you, and at what costs and with what benefits depending on what actually arises. Let me take this out of the abstract with an example that has become all too real-world for way too many of us: the possibilities of employer retrenchment and staffing downsizings, and certainly for those of us who work in volatile industries, but actually for all of us when economic downturns are possible or if we work in a type of job or in a type of career path that might become automated.

I have written repeatedly in this blog of not simply taking any given current job or work circumstance for granted. Even a job that we really love and that we look forward to returning to, and every work day can change. And that holds, even when our employer actively wants us working there and wants us to stay.

• We can find ourselves with a new supervisor or boss, or with an ongoing supervisor or manager who we have comfortably reported to but with them now reporting to a new next level-up manager who seeks to empire build or otherwise make sudden and significant change and according to their own goals and plans.
• Our job itself and our basic tasks can be changed and in ways that move us out of our comfort zone and in ways that we might be hard pressed to become as comfortable with.
• And we can face a growing disconnect between what we are held responsible for and what we hold authority and voice over, and with more and more of what we do taken out of our hands, as far as even day-to-day decisions about it are made – but with us still responsible for all of the consequences.
• Workplace demands and pressures can change, and once collegial teams that have always worked together very smoothly can break apart and be replaced as old team members move on and new ones join in, who might have very different goals and agendas and ways of doing things, and ways of communicating.

This just lists a few of the possibilities of how a workplace and work environment can change and not always for the best. And on top of that, I add the possibilities of challenge to the entire business and its realizable potential for maintaining profitability, where as a worst case that can mean staff reductions as less profitable areas are trimmed back or cut out for financial, cash flow and liquidity reasons.

All of these points: all of these possibilities hold at least a few critically important points in common. And one that arises in particular significance in the context of this series, is the need for greater awareness of our work and its evolving context.

Change, and in both its positive and negative forms can arise suddenly and disruptively and without real warning. But most of the time, at least in retrospect, it turns out that there were indicators of what was to come and certainly for the negative possibilities there. To focus on the possibility of downsizing, that is a move that is almost never taken by a business without some warning signs and for all to see. Consider for example how a business can at least slowly, gradually drift into difficulty because of:

• A progressive loss of market share, that might or might not stem from their failure to keep what they offer compellingly relevant to the market,
• Or from overall market shrinkage where the same market share or even an increase there might still mean less business transacted – fewer sales, smaller sales or both and less revenue and profit generated, and with time a need for staff “right-sizing.”

I couched that in more retail business terms but the same applies to mission driven nonprofits and essentially any other business that might face loss of revenue and a need for belt tightening. Downsizings happen in circumstances that can be lot less predictable, but there are in fact almost always at least some warnings that they might take place too. And that is when the types of stay or go questions and decisions that I address for a wide range of contexts in my recent series: Should I Stay or Should I Go?, should come to mind (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 416-458.)

If your current employer is heading in a direction that might lead to your being caught up in this type of a reorganization and regardless of your contributing value to the business, should you begin actively looking for new opportunity elsewhere, while working and with a steady paycheck still, or should you simply wait and hope for the best – and take a reactive approach to whatever happens? Prudence would probably dictate you’re at least looking so you can know your options and so you can have as wide a range of them as possible as you enter what might be a period of workplace and employment uncertainty. You should just do this with care so as not to tip your hand as to what you are doing, except under terms and at a time when that would be in your best interest, while continuing to offer value where you are now as a great employee while looking.

That addresses possible downside possibilities, but it can be just as important to keep your eyes open to new positive opportunities too, where positioning yourself for them might mean strategically developing new skills, taking on special assignments that would be doable for you but that would open the eyes of your supervisor to the range of what you can do, or both. Note: I did not add simply doing more of the same there, as that is not going to open doors to your doing new and different, in and of itself. That, on its own is mostly just going to further label you as reliable for what you have always been doing there, and nothing else.

• Ultimately, this posting and the issues that I address here, all centrally revolve around awareness and planning, and in an immediate tactical manner and with a longer-term strategic awareness.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to address the third point offered in my Part 1 list for this series:

• Learning from the experience of others: positive and negative and developing your own best practice priorities and goals from the insight that this type of research can bring you.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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