Career Planning into Uncertainty

Originally published on the Veredus website.

I recently had the privilege of speaking to a London/South East group of the LGC Future Leaders for Local Government, about Career Management at a time of such uncertainty.

This blog is intended to capture a few of the key messages, and is aimed at people mid-career. It’s a five-step process and requires you to visualise a circle, and a fuzzy triangle!

1. Apply all your knowledge of demographic trends and economic projections around pensions to calculate the age that you think you will be when you can retire from work. Then subtract your current age. For me it’s about 30, for my audience it was about 40 and for a new grad it’s probably more like 50. That’s a long time.

2. Now visualise the circle I mentioned. It’s a pie chart of those years that you just calculated. How much of that time do you think you’ll spend in your current sector or with your current organisation? (All of it? Really?) How much time will you spend in the private sector, public sector, working for yourself? How much time will you spend juggling work and further study? How much time will you spend prioritising your career advancement, really focused on putting in the hours and building your base of achievements, and how much time will you spend giving a higher priority to family, or other objectives? The importance of this exercise is to get you thinking beyond merely the next job, and realising that you have many choices, especially if you can look beyond the immediate question of what to do next.

3. Now think back in time, from now, your years to retirement, think of what the world and context was like then, what was going on and what was the right career strategy for that time. Then consider the various trends that will play out over the remaining decades of your own work life. Pretty quickly you’ll realise that aiming to replicate the career path of people currently at the top of organisations is unlikely to be the way to get there, that the world has changed and is likely to change again many times.

4. Now think about the triangle. The base of the triangle represents the breadth of your experiences: you can aim for an apex above any part of the base. Wider experiences and skill sets lead to more options. The base can obviously be widened through a wider range of work if possible, but study, reading around and networking can extend the insights and skills that you can bring to bear. For example, a career accountant will, all else being equal, be a better candidate for a Director of Corporate Resources role if they have spent time and attention with HR colleagues, understanding their issues and contribution, rather than simply focusing on a deeper and deeper financial specialism. Good use of LinkedIn groups, subscribing to the right Blogs and (this will surprise some) intelligent use of Twitter can be very helpful in expanding the base of the triangle.

5. Why is the triangle “fuzzy”? That’s to symbolise what one very senior CEO described as “hinterland” – having more to what makes you “you” than simply work. We talk about authenticity in leadership and being true to yourself: there needs to be a “self” there that you can be true to. No-one on their deathbed says “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”

It is vaguely worrying that when I get invited to talk about career planning it is almost invariably to groups from just one sector, or just one function (and sometimes one function in one sector!) – it suggests a development model that is unlikely to be the working reality of many people within that function or sector. If, as with the LGC Leaders programme this is clearly understood and breadth is welcomed then this is less of an issue – but it will be a shame if budget retrenchment drives development and career planning into silos. In that context I had a very cheering conversation with a County Chief Executive who is thinking about leadership development for cohorts of future leaders across the public sector within the County. It poses the interesting question of that is the best form of cohort for leadership development – people with the same issues, or people with different ones?

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