Are you being Intentional about your Career?


Many people still believe the myth that their employer is responsible for their professional development. Some may be lucky to work for such an employer, but the vast majority of people must take ownership and responsibility for their own career development and path. Today’s post will give you some tips to help you be intentional about your career development as you create a career with purpose. 


Historically, the common view of a career path was climbing the corporate ladder, where prestige, rewards, access to information, and power increase as you move upwards. However, the current business landscape has drastically evolved. Organizational structures are flatter with fewer levels of management as companies are de-layering and downsizing to drive efficiencies.  Moreover, the workforce is more diverse than ever before.  Boomers are living and working longer, resulting in a multigenerational workforce, each with different work expectations. Companies are also relying more on outsourcing (consultants, contractors, interns) as a way of managing costs. As a result of these changes, traditional talent development models that rely primarily on upward movement are being challenged, and our expectations of career development and progression must change as well.


The hierarchical corporate ladder is giving rise to a new model–the “corporate lattice.” The corporate lattice pursues career growth, development and organizational influence by creating and valuing career paths that move laterally, diagonally, down or up the organization. Lattice organizations provide options to customize work experiences over time, offering a multitude of ways to build careers and ultimately greater job satisfaction. There is not one right way to grow a career. Rather employees should choose their path based on their unique interests, skills and aspirations.


In addition to the traditional path of moving up in an organization, people can develop by going broader or deeper in one’s current role. Going broader in a career provides exposure across many roles in a department—or functional area. It yields a well-rounded experience whereby an employee gains a wide perspective of business operations and is thus equipped to think, and problem solve more holistically. This career path yield experts in functional areas that can add immeasurable value to the organization. 


Today’s workplace rarely witnesses a 40-year tenure at one company.  Given most people will work for several companies, it is necessary that employees be responsible for their own development, shifting from a mindset of preparing for a lifetime of employment at one company to preparing themselves for a lifetime of employability.


Below is a career development framework that I use with clients to help them take responsibility for their own career development/training and reach their ultimate career goals. You may find these steps useful as you intentionally develop your career path.


Step 1: Introspection: This step includes a disciplined self-assessment of your values, passions, interests, personality type, thought patterns and behavioral tendencies. It provides a foundation to guide future transformation. When you truly assess and understand your inner self, you gain insight into why you think or act the way you do. Understanding the why behind your actions unlocks the ability to break through your limiting beliefs. This enables you to make lasting changes and improvements in your leadership competency and skills which is an indicator of how you “show up” in the workplace to others.


Formal assessments can be very effective in clarifying your core values, personality types, passions, and interests. Several I would recommend include: the VIA Assessment (Values in Action) for clarifying core values; the Myers Briggs Personality Assessment with the Career Overlay for identifying career paths where one’s personality type is likely to excel; The Mattone Leadership Enneagram Inventory (MLEI) to help assess personality type based on your thoughts, beliefs, emotions and way of engaging with the world from a business perspective; The Korn Ferry Advance Career Assessment to help you find the perfect career fit.


Whether formal assessments are used—or rigorous informal self-assessment—the point of step one is to get very clear on your values, passions, interests, and personality type to serve as a foundation for driving your career development and path.  You must know what “lights your fire” so that you know which direction to drive your career.


Step 2: Retrospection:  This step focuses on learning from the past to identify how you define success and failure and helps you identify resources and skills that enable success—as well as key barriers and challenges that have posed challenges. By learning from the past, you can be better equipped to chart your future. 


Self-assessment here can include an exercise such as reviewing three periods in your life when you experienced success. Why did you feel successful? Was it linked to an intrinsic reward such as intellectual challenge, growing spiritually, expressing creativity, or even satisfying a need for adventure? Was it linked to externally focused values such as helping others or championing the environment or making a social connection? Were there elements of external rewards such as career advancement, more money, an increase in prestige or status, recognition in your field?


Assessment here should also include identifying factors across the 3 success periods that helped you in achieving those successes:  supportive people, habits that yielded focus/discipline, effective processes, and even obstacles that may have delayed or hindered success.


Retrospection should also consider work environment preferences.  In reviewing one’s last three positions or jobs, consider questions such as:

            –do you want job security or are you a risk taker?

            –do you prefer to be a leader, a team player ?

            –are you detailed oriented or do you prefer the big picture?


Based on your insights from Steps 1 and 2, you can create a set of guardrails for career aspirations and development taking into consideration your values, personality type, how you define success, and your work environment preferences. Since some guardrails are more important than others, categorize them as “must haves,” “if possible,” and “no way.”



Step 3: Projection/Planning Your Journey:  

Based on your guardrails, you can now craft a vision for the future by writing a Core Purpose Statement. A CPS is a simple, yet powerful statement that is founded on your personal values, beliefs, interests, and strengths. A CPS will encapsulate your value-based identity and key passions in life. It’s a statement that will serve as a compass for decision making to keep you focused, on track and moving forward in a direction that inspires and motivates you. With a CPS, it becomes easy to evaluate activities and relationships—and identify where you may be “off track” and may need to course-correct.  This streamlining ultimately enables you to better allocate time and energy to activities aligned with pursuing goals and purpose, increasing fulfillment and satisfaction. 


Step 4: Transition: Next, you should identify what tangible steps are necessary to achieve your vision. What personal strengths and opportunities can be leveraged to help achieve your vision? What challenges must be avoided or overcome to enable success going forward? This step includes an assessment of one’s leadership competency skills– and where additional training, coaching, mentoring may be needed.


In past decades, organizations gravitated to a skills-based mindset for growth and progression.  This mindset focused on “hard skills” mastery—i.e., demonstrating proficiency in technical or functional skills– as the key to progression in one’s career. Such hard skills are teachable and measurable abilities which are necessary to a job, such as project management, budgeting, technical expertise, ability to use computer programs, etc. Hard skill mastery is still important, but today’s organizations view “soft skills” and leadership as the real key to progression, contributing to individual excellence and, ultimately, organizational success.


Soft skills or leadership/non-technical skills are professional behaviors and skills needed to be a great leader. These skills are not acquired through traditional education or training, but rather are acquired through mentoring, coaching and work experience. Soft skills include emotional intelligence, learning agility, communication and listening, critical thinking, maturity/humility and creative problem solving.


Soft skills can be difficult to self-assess. 360 assessment tools can be very effective in this area. A gold-standard assessment tool is the STLI-360, offered in The Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching program, which solicits feedback from key stakeholders.  In addition to formal assessments, you can engage peers, mentors, managers in the process to get solid, actionable feedback on your leadership performance or how you show up at work.  Moreover, executive coaches and mentors can help identify the soft skills necessary for success in your company or planned career path.



Step 5: Evaluation: Finally, you can craft your own development plan complete with Areas of Focus, Specific Goals, Resources to Leverage, Obstacles or Barriers to Avoid, Timing/Deadlines, and Metrics to Measure Success. The way to ensure continued success on the road to professional development is monitoring your progress.


To measure success, self-assess progress against goals and deadlines. Keep track on a weekly basis to remind yourself what you need to focus on in the upcoming week. Solicit feedback from peers, mentors, managers at regular intervals to get solid, actionable feedback to keep the momentum and focus. 


Career development has shifted from “one and done” annual performance evaluation and planning to a continual cycle of feedback and development. Year-round career development conversations and feedback are more organic and effective, but it’s up to the employee to lead these conversations. Employees should ask managers to work these conversations into weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings and project updates. Such ongoing conversations enable sustained focus and momentum on your development, show commitment to growth and allow the measurement of progress. 


Blue Skies Strategy Consulting welcomes the opportunity to work with clients in owning their own career path and development. There are many tools and assessment available to provide guidance, clarity and ongoing coaching. Astute career development and planning can greatly enhance one’s career fulfillment, enjoyment and success.