Developing a Career Development Plan
27 February, 2021
Though most companies have some kind of career development plan in place, not always does the plan serve well its purpose. We underwent a number of phases experimenting with different approaches. Nevertheless, many engineers -- myself included -- struggled to come up with a solid plan for their careers and steer their efforts in the right direction. I was never short of aspirations but I lack a concrete plan that would make my aspirations the reality. I was familiar with many different approaches, best practices and guidelines but what I was missing was a simple yet well-structured framework. Moreover, most goal-setting systems lean toward short-term results and I never thought of a career as something that could be put in a six months-long framework.
I started by looking at the resources that were easily available to me. We have annual performance reviews that detail a person’s strengths and areas for improvements and short-term career development plans that are focused around promotions and aim to identify gaps and enable someone to climb the next career ladder level. I couldn’t help but notice that we lacked tools or methodology that will showcase how day-to-day work provides learning opportunities to help our engineers progress toward their long-term goals.
Then I looked at our internal social networks that existed within the company. Our company has 15 offices across the globe, but most engineers interacted with their peers from the same location: I also went through a great number of rulebooks and best practice guides that were used at different companies; however, they would in most cases cover one particular aspect of a career development. This is when I decide to make my own career development framework combining different available resources and approaches.
My engineers were quick to adopt it, but the framework became soon popular among my managers. I was invited to present it at the largest developer community event in Bulgaria and was approached by many people outside the company who also found it useful and eager to apply it in their own companies.
My career development plan My plan was mainly inspired by ideas propagated by Greg McKeown in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Stan Slap in Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers, Simon Sinek Start with Why, a number of HRB articles on building relationships and managing up, etc. I also used Insights Discovery, a psychometric tool based on Jungian psychology, which uses a four-color model to highlight key personality preferences and associated behaviors. It includes more than 100 questions and results in a detailed 25 pages-long assessment of someone’s personality. Many findings, like “What is the right working environment for you” or “What challenges you enjoy the best,” are beneficial for career development. Since most people on the team had their Insights Discovery profile, I tried to combine it with other resources.
My framework is simple and consists of three parts: The first part would lay out the person’s core values following Stan Slap’s method. He developed an exercise that lists the 50 most popular core values and would ask a person to filter ten they find most important; and then to narrow it down to five, and finally three most important ones. The values you choose should help you decipher what are the most important things for you in a job, what type of working environment or tasks would suit you best, etc. For example, learning is one of my core values and I like to be exposed to new, challenging situations where I have an opportunity to learn and grow. Then, based on performance reviews compiled by managers and peers and Insights Discovery I would have my engineers identify their strengths and areas for improvements. They should be able to identify not only gaps but also opportunities that would help them close those gaps. In addition, they should do some serious thinking about how they could leverage their strengths to become successful The last part focuses on a vision people should have for themselves. Career development is a journey and you should have a vision that will guide you on that journey. Vision is an aspirational, high-level goal that defines how a person sees themselves in five or more years but it has to be broken down into a set of concrete and measurable goals that will -- after they are completed -- bring that person closer to their vision. I was inspired by McKeown who came up with the Intent Matrix that translates high-level purpose statements into more concrete, specific domains and actions. I would ask people critical questions to learn about their motivation, more immediate and concrete goals which should help me help us define short- to medium-term missions. For example, if a person wouldI want to improve their communication skills it would be translated into concrete actions like reading a book, or attending a training on the topic.
Once they have their plan in place, people should learn who could support them during their journey. Their “supporters” could be role models, people who can give candid feedback, support them during challenging times, help them close gaps in skills, etc. One HRB article lists six types of managers who can help their reports in different ways. I turned the article in an exercise and would have my teammates think about who of their peers fit within each of those categories. Identifying what kind of people in the network you are missing can be highly beneficial and I would be happy to help people connect with the people they need.
- Much information is available around -- books, articles, podcasts -- and a lot of feedback we are receiving in the form of performance review or promotion assessment is easily accessible. But it is not always easy to single out things that are important, moreover, to create and follow a simple framework amidst all those complex tools and methodologies.
- People are mainly focusing either on high-level goals or day-to-day actions items often overlooking the middle part that binds them together. My plan is, though simple, comprehensive and connects different levels. People like to follow plans that display a clear benefit and do not include 20 steps each with 20 exercises that have to be completed before they could see some progress. People need to see how a certain plan will benefit them, because they will be investing their time in it. If they see that small steps are bringing them closer to their vision they will be happy to follow a plan.
- Career development is a journey and like any journey it should have its itinerary, different routes and a map that will guide a person forward.
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