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17 Jul

An interesting study by Harvard a few years ago found that people who had a clear plan of what they wanted to do or achieve in their working life had a 95% chance of achieving their goal.  

The converse was also true.  Those who had a vague goal and no plan had a very low chance of achieving their goal.  Very compelling really.

The key message from the study is to have very specific goals and to plan the steps to achieve these along with a time line.   
In this article I talk about the steps you can take to develop your career.

When I took over running the Thailand division of the company I wrote a story about what I would achieved in the next three years - my goals.
The story was very detailed about projects, business, financial returns, relationships internal and external to the company and what success looked like.  I wrote this in the context of where the company was and what we were doing.  I made the story big and bold.  I wrote it as though I was there in the future and wrote it in the present tense. 
 
I then set out to define how we would get there.  I brought other people into the picture and we set out on a path. Little did I know that we were right in the sweet spot of business at that time and things started to boom.  We more than exceeded our targets and everything turned out well.  

We were lucky but, at the same time because we had planned we were able to capitalise on the situation.

I feel that career planning is a bit like this as well.  You can be lucky or unlucky but having a plan allows you to make most of the opportunities as they arise.  The timing will depend in part on luck.

It starts with a Goal

Many people do not know what job they want to do or what position they want to hold in the future.  If you are like that then your career will be determined by the winds of fate.  You maybe happy with that because where you end up is a surprise and could be just as rewarding, however, you are more likely to stagnate.

The most appropriate approach to take is to research the roles and jobs you think you may like to do.  Work out what skills and experience is expected and how you could obtain these.  This will tell you what steps you need to take and form the framework for your plan.

You will also need to determine what path your career takes.  Are you a die-hard technical specialist who wants to be the best in the field?  Do you wish to be in management and progress to CIO, CEO and in the corporate world? Do you wish to be an entrepreneur?  All these require different skills and temperaments.  They all may start from the same base but will have very different paths.

Strategies and Tactics
Once you have a clear view of where you want to go, and you know what skills and experience are expected then here are some strategies that may help you get there:

1. Review with your Boss
Hopefully, you can garner support and gain an ally.  If not, you know where you stand, and this will guide you towards a quick change for the better.  If your boss is a supporter, then he can be your internal mentor.  Review your career more than once per year.

2. Company Programs
Some organisations have programs and training courses that help staff develop and grow.  These can be sponsored short courses or, in my previous role, supported staff for an MBA program. 
 
3. Benchmark your Progress
To progress you need to be doing and learning and obtaining results that are recognised.  Just doing the work is not enough. You need to show outcomes.  This is important as it needs to appear on your resume.  You need to document the learnings and successes of your work.

4. Short term Milestones
To achieve your time line you need to meet a series of short term goals and outcomes.  These can be training, skills or work type events.  Every month you need to review how you are progressing.  Training is the easiest to do.  Consider training as your investment in yourself.  Also, take every opportunity to take on difficult or challenging tasks even if you start off with out a clue on what to do.  You will develop the drive and resilience to figure out what is required.  Along the way you will learn new skills and increase your confidence.  In large organisations you will have the opportunity to do more of the same and develop your reputation.

5. Develop your Reputation
Your profile on LinkedIn should begin to reflect the direction of your goals.  Begin to link with people you are doing the work you want to do or hold positions you wish to hold in the future.  Join groups that do the type of work you do and link up with people who are like minded.  Contribute to the group.  Contribute to the discussions and learn from their experiences as well as sharing your own.
Your network can be a source of many opportunities.  The bigger the network the better the chance of success.

6. Learn
Study the organisation you are in and how it works.  Who has the power, real or perceived, and how decisions are made and what makes things happen.  You can then use this to help you get things done.  
Study the industry you are in and how it functions.  Who are the leaders and followers and who has  the best reputation?  Understand the organisational groups and become a member.  Go to meetings and develop these people to be in your network.

7. Get a Mentor
Find a person or people to be your mentor.  This can be a role model where you delve deeply into their career and way of doing things.  Learn from their career path.  Or find a person who is prepared to help you.  To give you advice on a regular basis.  Above all you need to be coachable and be committed.  It is easy to take tough love when you know what the end prize looks like.

8. Manage your Personality
Ultimately your success or not will depend on your behaviour.  You need to leverage your strength and manage your weaknesses.  You need to maintain relationships no matter how difficult they may seem.  Learn how to manage conflict.  Don’t complain or whinge about people just treat them well and consider it a challenge.  Focus on the better part of difficult people and you will have less conflict noise and wasted energy.

9. Look after your Health
It is easy to be singularly focused on work, career and supporting activities that you lose sight of your physical and mental wellbeing.  Take time out for exercise and relaxation.  Eat well.  Physical exercise not only helps with your body but is proven to ward off depression.  Set up a routine and stick to it. 
 
A final comment.  Even if you don’t make it to the lofty goal you set yourself, you will have a very good career as you will have demonstrated determination, conscientiousness, capacity to do work and take on assignments and the ability to learn and adapt.  You will be a sought-after individual.