Most of us will recall many a childhood party that involved a game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’. Blindfolded and invariably spun around numerous times to disorient, we walked aimlessly towards a board with a picture of a donkey, firmly holding the missing tail and hoping to get lucky as we aimed to pin it to the right end of said animal. Many of us considered ourselves lucky if we even managed to connect the tail to any part of the donkey let alone the right end! Generally speaking there was lots of ensuing laughter at how ridiculously misplaced our judgment actually was.
Interestingly I meet many people who seem to have adopted a ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ approach to their career. Progressing through their careers blindfolded, directionless and hoping that their knowledge and skills are ‘pinned’ to the right job or manager inside their organization. Often they too find themselves disoriented and making poor decisions due to a lack of career planning or clarity about what they want.
Whilst we all know that rich and rewarding careers don’t just happen, too often career planning is something that is relegated to the ‘too hard’, ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I don’t know what to do’ baskets. Why? Because it is hard; and it does require time and action to figure out what you do want. It requires us to reflect, get curious about what is possible and challenge ourselves on what actions and directions to take. The risk though of not planning is finding yourself stuck or overlooked for new opportunities when they do arise. With no plan, how can we be ready to position ourselves for the right opportunities when they are presented?
Creating lasting relevant careers that offer genuine challenge and fulfillment requires you to ‘dig your well’ long before you are thirsty. As leadership expert John Maxwell explains, ‘if you are preparing today, chances are you will not be repairing tomorrow’. Preparation as he notes, doesn’t just begin with what you do, it begins with what you believe. If you believe that your success tomorrow depends on what you do today, then you will treat today differently.
As leaders we need to do this not only for ourselves but also with the people that we lead. Failing to understand what our people want, can and will do sees us risking retention of key performers, engagement and ultimately productivity. How can we ensure that we have the right people, in the right place at the right time if individuals don’t know what they want and leaders don’t know how to help them work it out?
Creating career choice and confidence requires us to build knowledge in three key areas: Clarity, Demand and Transferability. These three elements should form the basis of your career plan and be underpinned by strong networks that allow you to understand how you are regarded and to position yourself effectively.
- Build clarity: Around what you can do (Skills, Knowledge, Experience); what you want to do (Values, Career Anchors) and where you think you best fit (Personality, People, Culture).
- Build demand: Become the expert in what it is that you do and the way in which you do it. Learn how to position yourself as the expert and give people and organisations a reason to want to engage with you.
- Build Transferability: Identify where your skills and capabilities also apply. Remain relevant to the future of your business, your industry, and your networks and become nimble enough to adapt and leverage with the inevitable changes ahead.
It is always worth remembering that the organisation owns the role, whilst you own your career. As such the more that you invest in owning it, the greater agility, relevance and confidence you will have in growing a purposeful career.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts below.