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.

Career goals and more perspective

Career goals in perspective - focusing on the important things in life.

This was originally going to be a post about setting up a career plan for 2014. It was going to outline the process I’ve used to analyse and select the strategic path for the upcoming year and then establish the relevant SMART goals. As it turns out, it’s a lot more important to talk about the context those goals are set in instead.

Downtime

The blog’s been quiet for a little while. Certainly not for a lack of want or ideas, but because I’ve been quite busy. Big project and general work has been keeping me occupied, and I took a few weeks off at the end of last year to hang out with the family and plan out the upcoming year.

The missus wanted to go overseas for a wedding, so I valiantly (and somewhat foolishly) volunteered to look after the two boys so she could enjoy it without having to run around worrying after them. Yes, that’s right. Single parent to a five year old and two year old for three weeks, and one who doesn’t normally look after them on a daily basis.

Looking back, though, it was fantastic. Once the efficiencies in their routines had been worked out and I had optimised the daily activity flow, we had a great time. We didn’t even turn the TV on for almost three weeks – and they didn’t ask for it either.

Not very unlike taking over in a management role, really. Figure out the networks of influence (the two year old needs more work to be won over), where you want to take the team, and get runs on the board early. But that’s a post for another day.

In any case, I got another opportunity to gain some more perspective towards the end of the three weeks. You read about these things, feel touched for a moment and then move on, but there’s nothing like a little person reminding you about what’s important in life.

Buying cheap bikes

I had put the little one (who is called Talhah) down for his afternoon nap, and was lying on the lounge relaxing. The five year old (named Hamzah) was sitting on me, chattering away as he does. Suddenly, he remembered that I had promised to buy him a “Big Boy Bike”, meaning a children’s bicycle with training wheels that didn’t look like a toddler’s tricycle.

Hamzah Baba, can we buy a Big Boy Bike today?
Me  Sure.
Hamzah But baba, we have to make sure that we buy a really cheap one. It should only cost one dollar.
Me But we can buy a nicer one than that. How about we get one that’s in the middle – not too cheap, and not too expensive?
Hamzah No, let’s get a really cheap one. Then we can save lots of money.
Me But why do we need to save lots of money?
Hamzah If we save lots of money, then you don’t have to go to work and can stay home and play with me. I miss you when you go to work, and I love it when you stay home play with me baba.

That hit me really hard. He kept chattering on, but the last few years flashed before my eyes and I had to admit that I wasn’t around a lot. It’s one thing to say that you know what’s important in life, and quite another to have life remind you that you’re not really focusing on it. Thankfully, this one didn’t involve a car accident.

Career goals in perspective

I find it interesting that most people – myself included – struggle so much with the work-life balance equation. I know that I have two very distinct streams of goals for work and life. Work goals include things like professional achievements, education, etc. Life goals include being healthy (spiritually, mentally and physically), having deep, meaningful relationships with people who are important to me, and raising my kids to be good humans with strong values.

Invariably, though, I tend to construct and pursue career goals at the expense of life ones. The strong reminder I got from the conversation above with my son was that there needed to be a change in that approach. Career goals need to be set in the context of what’s going on in my life. The overarching principle that should – and will – guide all my career goals this year onwards is that these goals will not come at the expense of my family. No career success is worth it if I have to look back in regret about missing out on teaching my kids how to ride their Big Boy Bikes.

Starting again

Easier said than done, but a good first step is to acknowledge the need for change. Next comes finding some pragmatic approaches to make it all happen. I’m starting with managing my energy, as explained by Tony Schwartz in his 2007 HBR article titled “Manage Energy Not Time: The Science of Stamina“. His company’s website – The Energy Project – also has some great ideas and resources.

What are your thoughts on career goal setting in the context of life, and ways to make it work better?

Perspective

Syed’s blog is brought to you today by the word “Perspective”.

Perspective: a way of regarding situations, facts, etc., and judging their relative importance.

Lots of times, even when we know what’s important to us, it takes something external to give us perspective. With ever-connected, always-on, increasingly busy lives, we get lost in the day-to-day and forget to give the really important things in life their due. We get so caught up in our careers, in trying to be successful, that the little things that become big things slip by without noticing.

Like your kids.

 Syed Ahmed - Father's Day 2013 - My son's perspective of me

 

So what triggered this post?

I’ve been away sick with a cold last week, so I left home yesterday morning knowing that there would be lots of work when I got into the office. On top of that, some unexpected issues had come up over the weekend, so those would also need to be looked at. Typical Monday morning, except on steroids.

Then, at 9:30, I got a call from my wife, saying that she had just been in a car accident. She was going out to drop my older son to pre-school, and unusually, had also decided to take the little two-year old with her. He’s also got a cold, so she thought she would take him to the doctor for a check-up after dropping the older one off.

As she pulled out of our driveway, a car came tearing down the street and smashed into her from her right, ripping the front bumper off.

Thankfully, no one was hurt.

After calming her down over the phone and dealing with the ensuing insurance process, I got her to take some photos of the damage to the car and send them to me.

It wasn’t until I saw the photos that it dawned upon me how close I had come to losing my family. If she had pulled out a second earlier, the other car would have ploughed straight into her and my two year-old at about twice the speed limit on our street.

Game over.

Perspective

Nothing I can do at work, no achievement, no success, no insights, no innovation can ever compare to the most important, precious thing in my life. My family.

I’m writing this as a reminder to myself (and hopefully to whoever else is reading this) that there are much more important things in life than work. When at work, be at work. Focus, be hyper-productive, kick goals, get it done. But don’t bring it home.

Keep it in perspective. Don’t let your hunger to get that big project over the line force you to sacrifice the really important little (or big) things in your life. Alternatively, if you have to deal with it at work, don’t bring any negativity back home with you and share it with your family.

I’ve been there. Done that. Put in 80 hour weeks. Worked and studied full-time simultaneously. Missed out on life. Looking back, I’m not glad that I did, but I’m trying to learn from it.

Remember what Stephen Covey said:

“Nobody on their death bed wished they’d spent more time at the office.”

 

Career lessons from riding motorcycles

Syed Ahmed contemplating career lessons on his Suzuki GSX-R600

After seeing how some people had learned invaluable life / business / leadership / parenthood / relationship lessons from The Godfather / Wesley Snipes / dogs / cats / horses / rocks (yes, you read that right), I thought I would write about some career lessons that I had learned from riding motorbikes.

Note: Okay, so I didn’t really learn these career lessons from riding motorbikes. I just got the idea while reading an article with some pretty generic and tenuous linkages between business leadership and domesticated animals. Having said that, I’m not contesting that the authors of those pieces didn’t learn invaluable lessons from those sources. Sometimes inspiration comes at strange times and from strange places.

In any case, I thought I would test my powers of abstraction and relate my love of motorcycle riding to a few career management lessons. Here are five, in no particular order.

And yes. That’s me on my Gixxer in the picture above. Pausing to reflect in a moment of enlightenment.

1. Ride because you enjoy it

There aren’t too many things that compare to the feeling that you get when you ride a motorbike. The rumble of the engine directly underneath you. The immediate, unadulterated feedback from the environment around you. The thrill of leaning into a curve. If you pay close attention, you’ll see most riders knowingly nod at each other as they go by on opposite sides of the road. Behind the helmets they’re smiling, because they know what fun the car drivers are missing out on.

Ride because you want to. Because its fun. Because you love it.

Career parallel

This equally applies to your career. Pick something you enjoy, that you love doing, and you’ll look forward to waking up in the morning and to the challenges that lie ahead. If you don’t, you wake up every day dreading what lies ahead.

This love also keeps you going when it gets tough. Much like riding when it’s stinking hot or pouring down, you’ll hit patches when work’s not too much fun or the pressure’s suffocating. Remember why you do what you do, and that the bad patch is only temporary. It will pass, and you’ll get to crank it on a clear strip once again.

2. Never stop learning

You never get to a point when you stop and say to yourself “I’m a perfect rider. I don’t need to learn anything else.” That’s because that can never be true. There’s always room for improvement. Good riders – especially smart, experienced ones – are always practising and looking at ways to improve their roadcraft skills.

Career parallel

Hippocrates summed it up at the beginning of the Aphorismi:

“Vita brevis, ars longa”
Life is short, and art long

It is commonly understood that Hippocrates was talking about art in terms of craft (as in craftsmanship). Constantly strive to get better. There’s always more to learn. Even when you think you’re a master.

3. Work your way up to a big bike

One of the main reasons for motorcycle accidents is people riding beyond their abilities. It takes times to learn and understand the dynamics of riding safely, and many people overestimate their skills. Figuring out and building the confidence to do things like braking hard and cornering at speed takes time, and unless you understand how to do it properly, results in accidents. Sometimes even death.

Start on a small bike that you can control, and learn your roadcraft. Then move to a bigger bike and keep learning.

Career parallel

I’ve seen lots of people in a hurry to build their careers, and they do it at a pace beyond their ability. Sure, you might be able to talk or lie your way into a role, but the crash at that speed will hurt. A lot.

Slow down. Get excellent at what you do. When you step up to the next role, it will be based on a solid platform of skills and insights.

4. Plan your route, but be ready for detours

I’ve had GPS Sat Nav in all my cars for about the last decade, so I’m used to kind of just following the instructions the nice lady with the American accent gives me. On a bike, however, it’s a completely different story. Although sat nav systems are readily available for motorbikes and of course my smartphone has the functionality, it’s not very easy to just look down at your device and poke at it with your armoured gloved finger and re-adjust. (You could, but you’ll most probably be plastered against the back of a bus shortly after.)

On a bike, you have to first figure out where you’re going, memorise the directions, and then off you go. If you get lost or encounter a detour, the best thing to do is work out the general direction you were originally heading in, and get back on track. (Ahhh … life before GPS.)

Career parallel

It’s unlikely that your career will also take a smooth, linear path. If you’re incredibly lucky, you might get an amazing mentor who might give you directions to make the right turns with enough notice. More likely, however, you’ll have to deal with lots of obstructions and hazards along the way – office politics, horrible bosses, back-stabbing co-workers, redundancies and an ever-changing world. If you’ve got a general direction in mind, though, you find it a lot easier to get back on track and keep moving towards you goals.

5. You’re responsible for your own safety

The common understanding among motorcycle riders is that you should ride like everyone is out to get you (specially taxis and courier minivans). When you first learn how to ride, they teach you about the safety bubble, how to buffer, look out for hazards and deal with various other road safety issues.

There are lots of drivers out there who are careless, negligent, impatient, psychotic, and otherwise general idiots – so much so that the term SMIDSY has now entered common parlance among riders. At the end of the day, though, how safe you are on the road is largely a function of how safely you chose to ride.

Career parallel

You’re responsible for your career. You might get lucky and work for a small founder run organisation with loving, caring people who are passionate and excellent at what they do.

If not, recognise that many people in the corporate world will choose to take advantage of you. From your colleague who manoeuvres for your next promotion off the back of your efforts to your boss who steals your ideas and steps on you for his, it’s up to you to protect yourself.

I’m not saying that everyone is like this, but the world is full of people who operate like taxi drivers – they’ll cut you off and do whatever it takes (ethical or otherwise) to get ahead of you.

 

As you can see, riding motorbikes can provide deep career insights as well as a fun mode of transport. What are some of the career lessons you’ve picked up from travelling on two-wheeled vehicles?