Career Planning Framework – Next steps

Career Planning Framework - Next Steps

If you’ve decided to use the Career Planning Framework discussed previously to think about setting up your career goals, one of the questions that you may have is how to add details to the defined segments. For example, if you’re using the People / Processes / Tools framework, how do you actually go about breaking it down further?

As always, there are a number of options. Here are some thoughts.

Tools

This is probably the easiest segment to think about. Essentially, Tools refers to what you use to do your work. It’s important not to get too tied down into the specific tool at this point, but rather think about it in general terms first. Once you’ve got some ideas down, the specifics can be used to set up the SMART goals.

For example, if you’re a software developer, your tools might consist of the programming languages you use, the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) application you use, the testing harness you apply to verify the integrity of your code, etc. Tools can also consist of the way you think about your code, including application and system architecture patterns and anti-patterns, or the way requirements are articulated (e.g. User Stories or Functional Specifications).

If your role revolves around project delivery – usually manifested as Project / Delivery / Iteration Manager or Scrum Master – your tools would include planning, tracking and reporting artefacts as they relate to an outcome’s functional components, finances, risks, etc. They would also include how you approach release management, communication strategies, etc.

Again, the point of this exercise is to think about and create a list of tools that are used in your field of work, which can then be used as a basis to set up SMART improvement plans.

Processes

Processes refers to how you do your work. This is important because while there’s value in getting good at what you do, you should always be looking to improve how you do it too. Yes, some things require painstaking attention to detail and will always take time, but generally the more skilled you get at something the more efficient you get at doing it. Explicitly thinking about the processes involved in doing your work makes you stop and factor in how to be more effective.

Generally, there are two broad areas within processes that you might want to consider:

  • the methods that you apply to get things done
  • the number of people involved

Methods

Method refers to the steps or sequence of activities that you use to do your work. You might also refer to it as your workflow or way of working, but it essentially describes how you take one or more inputs and turn them into an outcome.

When thinking about methods, include both macro-level approaches (such as Agile or Human Centred Design) as well as micro / personal ones which make you more productive (such as Getting Things Gone or the FranklinCovey planning system).

Number of people

The second aspect to consider when thinking about processes is how effective you are when dealing with other people. Micro methods generally only involve you, but as your circle of influence increases, you will need to increasingly collaborate with others to get things done. Think about how good you are – or need to be – within processes that involve others in your team, and then others outside your team. On a maturity continuum, your process effectiveness should be increasing from singular (yourself) to multiple (many others).

People

Last, but most definitely not least, is the People component. People refers to the individuals you may interact with to get your work done. Sometimes, there might only be one individual involved: you. But more often than not, you will also need to collaborate with others to get to desired outcomes.

When decomposing the People segment, it is useful to consider at least a couple of perspectives:

  • Personal – the personal behavioural characteristics that you want to develop
  • Social – the soft skills you need to effectively work with others

Personal

Personal skills are internally focussed and will not only make you work better, in most cases help out in other areas of your life as well. These can include both values that you want to develop as well as specific skills:

Examples of Values

  • Resilience
  • Mindfulness
  • Tenacity
  • Courage

Examples of Skills

  • Speed reading
  • Sketching
  • Meditating

Social

Social skills are externally focussed and are aimed at improving your effectiveness to communicate and collaborate with others. Like personal skills, development of social skills lends itself to improvements in both work and personal situations. Examples of social skills include:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Communication (verbal and written)
  • Negotiation
  • Conflict resolution
  • Leadership
  • Management

Together, these skills define how you behave when working alone or with others, and can be a useful way to organise the People component of your development framework.

Hopefully this is helpful in fleshing out the Career Planning Framework and getting you a step closer to creating some SMART goals. If you have any thoughts or other approaches, I’d love to hear about them in the comments or via email.

A basic career planning framework

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about how to help my teams approach career planning through their personal and professional development goals. Many people get stuck in the idea that their career progression is determined by the configuration of the role they’re currently in and the opportunities that are available within the organisation that they work at. The problem with this is that they are then confined to how their role is structured in that organisation, and the opportunities for growth within that context only.

Don’t get me wrong. For most people, that probably is the most useful and meaningful approach for career growth, especially if they’re following a linear career path (i.e. growth within a single profession). But it’s also a good idea to broaden your horizons and think about your role and career from an industry-benchmark perspective.

Visually, it looks something like this: (notice how all self-respecting career conversations must include at least one Venn diagram …)

Career Venn (current)

As you can see, the there are two things you should work on:

  1. expanding and improving your skillset relative to industry-level benchmarks for your profession
  2. using your influence and expertise to introduce a greater level of appropriate and relevant skills / practices into your organisation

 

Career Venn (target)

In this post, I’ll focus on the first aspect – how to think about adding new skills and improving on the ones you already have relative to your profession.

Career planning – a multi-level approach

At this point, it’s a good idea to take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture. There are probably three levels to think about.

At the highest level, there is the Craftsman model, which generically outlines a path to mastery within a discipline.

Craftsman Model

At the most granular level, there are SMART goals, which enable the setting of trackable and achievable short-term outcomes.

SMART goals

The middle level is where most people get stuck. There are a few ways to break it down, but essentially what you want to do is

  1. Make a list of all the things that are important in your discipline or field of work
  2. Rate yourself against some pre-defined scales
  3. Identify which areas you need to improve / focus on

Again, visually this would look like
Career Planning Radar

The perimeter of the outer circle indicates two things: the composition of skills and behaviours that make up a profession (what and how you should be able to do) and mastery of those things (how good you are doing them). Could this visualisation be depicted differently? Sure, but it gets complicated quickly, and remember: models are simplifications of the messy realities of life so we can get started on doing stuff instead of just thinking about it.

Putting it together

Using the three steps outlined above, here’s an overview of a possible approach.

Make a list

This is probably the most difficult aspect of the process – how do you go about creating the list? To help put structure to this, here’s a method that loosely uses the good ol’ People / Processes / Tools framework:

  • Tools: what are the skills required in terms of core tools and knowledge to be really good at what you do?
  • People: what are the skills required to work with, influence or manage yourself and others?
  • Processes: what are the skills required to get your work done in the most effective and efficient way?

Use these three broad categories to brainstorm and research what constitutes capability in your profession. There’s no right or wrong answer here – just think of as many things as you can and add them to your list. If something feels like it might belong to more than one category, don’t worry about it and just stick it in one. Also, don’t worry about having an equal number in each category.

When you’re done, you can plot these out and create your capability baseline resembling something like this:

Career Planning Radar PPT

Rate yourself

Once you have the list, self-assess each skill to determine your level of competence for it. You can pick any arbitrary scale, but make sure you use it consistently. It’s also generally a good idea to pick a quantitative one (or at least one that maps to a numerical measurement). For example, you might use the Craftsman scale:

  1. Novice: Completely new to the field or particular skill
  2. Apprentice: Some level of skill but requires supervision or assistance
  3. Journeyman: Proficiency in the skill and can work independently
  4. Master: High levels of expertise and ability to teach others

Once you’ve completed the rating exercise, plot the results into the original capability diagram to get a view of where you sit in the context of your profession. It could look a bit like this:

Career Planning Radar PPT gap

Select focus areas

Finally, have a look at the areas which have gaps between where you are and where you would like to be. It’s a good idea to pick ones which you might be able to apply in the immediate or near future and would have a positive impact to both you and others that you work with. Then, for the areas and skills you have selected, figure out what needs to be achieved in order to move up a level. Remember, this doesn’t need to be a whole level, but could just be an incremental increase in ability. For some things, moving a whole level can take years.

Career Planning Radar PPT gap identifiedOnce you’ve picked the areas for focus, each can now be mapped to individual SMART goals … but that’s a post for another day …

So there you have it –  a relatively simple career planning framework that can get you started.  Remember, this is just one of many approaches that you can take to structure your thoughts, and many of the steps can be tweaked to better fit your situation.

If you’ve got ideas that can improve this one, I’d love to hear about them (in the comments or via email).

 

No more gaps

Sellys silicone sealant - fill the gaps!

 

Don’t worry, this post is not about filling in household cracks or joinery gaps, but rather about gaps in organisations.

 

As a look back over my career so far, I must admit that I’ve followed a relatively linear path.

I worked in tech-support and enablement roles while I studied IT at university, became a software engineer, progressed through to IT architect roles and into Technology Management. While this trajectory has exposed me to a wide variety of ancillary disciplines, I haven’t had to make dramatic moves such as to Sales or Law.

However, one of the things I think that has immensely helped me along is the appetite to step in and solve problems around me, regardless of whether they were included in my job description or indeed had much to do with my direct role objectives. In effect, the propensity to fill the gaps.

Gaps are everywhere

All too often – especially in large organisations that are configured along specialised value chain silos – people become fixated with only their particular role. This can be driven by many factors: departmental politics, penalising cultures, an over-emphasis on KPIs. The end result, however, is that there often emerges a “gap” between people’s functions that no one is willing to fill.

This in turn leads to some remarkably unfortunate – although predictable – behaviour, manifested in things such as “passing the buck”, “finger pointing”, and “shifting blame”. People get defensive, collaboration pretty much dies and significant amounts of energy gets spent in setting up DMZs to conduct “hand-overs”.

Sometimes the gaps occur not between departments but within them, especially in project teams. Usually manifested as team dysfunction, this can be observed either in new teams that are going through their forming or storming phases, or even in well-established teams that are under immense pressure or on a death march.

Be the Gap Filler

Yes, it may not be in your job description. Yes, it may mean having some awkward conversations with people that you may not like and who probably don’t like you (at the moment). Yes, it may mean that you have to do some extra work. And yes, it may all be terribly boring.

But just like the little boy who saved Holland by sticking his finger in the dike, you will become the person who makes the most tangible difference.

It may not feel like it at the time, but people will notice. Your manager will notice, and appreciate you for it. Things will start working. Communications will get easier. Crises will become opportunities. When you need help, people will remember and help you. And if you’re aspiring to move into management, here’s a key: good management is about taking on the hard problems no one else wants to solve, and some of the most difficult ones are ones which involve gaps.

So assess the situation, determine where the biggest gaps are and go fill them.

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About Me

Hi, I'm Syed. I blog about technology, management and all things in between.

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