“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you will fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
– Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker
I am an advocate of career planning, beginning with a personal vision statement and including career journaling as well as periodic progress and satisfaction reviews.
Having a plan minimizes the chances of making wrong choices or losing focus.
When I rose through the ranks, from crime writer and investigative reporter, to running the largest private EMS company in Texas and later founding an executive search and outplacement consultancy, having a career plan was not that critical. My career blossomed in the analog age. I was still filing my stories for The Houston Post on a Western Union teletype from the police station, or using an IBM Selectric typewriter. There were not even fax machines or cell phones. To communicate with the City Desk we used the old-fashioned dial telephone or two-way radios when we were in our cars. My point is this: communication and connectivity required time.
When I founded my search firm in 1994, the pace of business moved faster than my newspaper days, but compared to today, a snails pace would be an apt description. The Internet was extremely limited. Personal computers offered basic support: word processing, spreadsheets and other new odds and ends, but nothing like we know today. We had small cell phones but they were far from “smart”; reading emails was confined primarily to a desktop computer in the office or at home.
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Today, clearly all of that has changed. Business now moves at the speed of light. This includes how businesses process information and what we expect from our employees.
Many of the executive jobs from the analog era have been eliminated or they are radically different. As the inevitability of the global economy takes hold, more and more executive jobs are being eliminated through market disruptions, especially in industries like retail, telecomm, consumer financial services, media, publishing, and healthcare. The other inevitability is also affecting our personal career paths: increasing competition for the best jobs.
In my age of career advancement, it was easy to be lucky. Today, luck is absolutely the last thing you will want to depend on when it comes to your career. You must have a plan and you must execute flawlessly, from continuous skills and knowledge improvements to executing your deliverables in each job you hold and successfully evaluating career advancement opportunities.
You can have a good education and good experience in terms of where you have worked but if your record of accomplishment is not consistently good, you will face increasing consequences as you attempt to move up the ladder. Companies want and hire candidates of value — those individuals who have a high likelihood of meeting their performance needs.
As the digital age evolves, as technology disrupts how businesses operate, executives who fail to plan are, in the words of the cliche, planning to fail.
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Here are my takeaways on career planning:
- Begin with a Personal Vision Statement (PVS). How you want to be perceived, how you want to treat others and what you want to do with your life.
- Build on the PVS, creating a career strategic plan. As a CEO, hopefully you would not want to operate a company without a plan, so why would you want to run your life or your career without one? This plan should be updated periodically —every three to five years. Pay particular interest to your continued commitment to your overall career direction, your passion, or lack thereof, for the work you are currently doing, your engagement with your current employer, etc.
- Begin keeping a career journal. Record your jobs, employment dates, your accomplishments, details about important decisions and periodic assessments of how you can improve your leadership abilities.