Everyone needs a career plan

Most of us are going to spend the vast majority of our lives in work. If you start at 18, you’re probably going to be going for around 50 years. Depressing, isn’t it?

Whilst not everyone wants to be CEO, given the amount of time you’re going to commit to your working life, don’t you think you’d better have a plan? I’m not taking about the, “by the time I’m 30 I want to be xx”, but understanding what you want to be doing, where you want to be doing it and what makes you happy.

It may not always feel like it, but the simple truth  is that you have ultimate control of your career decisions. We all need to pay the bills, we all need to be economically productive, but most of us in work have choices that we often fail to see. (NOTE: NEET, long-term unemployed and areas of low social mobility are topics for another post.)

When I speak to employees who are seriously unhappy at work, more than not I can  track it back to a feeling of being “done to” on one level or another. And when you discuss it further, there is usually a choice or decision that has been overlooked or disregarded. Part of the importance of having a plan is that it puts you in control, it makes you conscious of the work decisions that you are making.

Let’s say you have a new boss that you’re struggling to get on with, you have a choice. You can put effort into building rapport, you can try to adjust your style to adapt. Or you could decide that you just can’t get along and look to move team or leave the business, that’s the ultimate choice. Which route you choose should relate back to your plan. Is the company in the right place for me, am I doing a job I want to do, is this part of a longer term career path?

What often happens when people don’t have a plan is they sit, react and get resentful. They defer responsibility, “I didn’t appoint them”, “they’re an arse”, “things use to be so much better”. And whilst all of these points are probably true, it doesn’t really matter because they are the circumstances you’re in. So what are you going to do with it?

Having a plan gives you forward energy, it gives you control and it makes you beautifully responsible for your own happiness. If we’re going to spend so much time in the workplace, it feels a shame to spend it feeling angry, sad and powerless. So take a little time, reflect and spend it on yourself and ask yourself the question, where do I want to be?

Are you in A job or THE job?

Most of us in our careers will move between jobs and employers. We will spend time in roles that we love and roles that we need to do. The ability to recognise which type of role you’re doing, and why, is critical to being both successful and happy.

You’ll do “a job” for a number of different reasons. It might be necessity – needing to pay the bills put food on the table. It might be development – learning a new skill, getting sector or management experience. Or it might be more personal – the need to stretch or push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Doing a job is fine. It gets you where you need to be at the time that you need to be there, it provides a means to an end – as long as you know the end that you’re after. It only becomes a problem when you forget and confuse it with being “the job” and then it seems to lack something else.

By this I don’t mean that there is one perfect ideal role for all of us. For some that may be the case, for others there will be more than one. It really depends on your career, your drive and your desire. And of course, “the job” may not be a constant state over time – things change.

Working in “the job” has a higher level of fulfilment, it meets your needs on more than a functional level. It could be the people who you’re working with, the fit between your work and home. It might be the ability to do things that you’ve always wanted to do, or work in an industry that you’ve always wanted to be in.

When we look back over our careers, I bet we can all differentiate between the two. Sometimes it is harder to do so in the moment. So if you’re feeling downbeat or ill at ease with your current employment situation, ask yourself – is this a means to an end, or an end in itself? If you can be clear where you’re at, why you’re there and where you’re going next, the whole thing becomes a lot more tenable and clear.

7 lessons I’ve learnt in HR

I was asked last week, what advice I would have given myself at the beginning of my career. After a little bit of reflection, I think it would go a little like this.

  1. Reward yourself
    There are a number of specialisms that you can often move in to. It is very easy early on to be lured into resourcing or learning or employment relations. But if you want to make it to the top of your profession, the one you really need to get your head around is compensation and reward. That’s the area that really requires your attention, thought and understanding.
  2. Brands don’t matter
    The best jobs aren’t always with the best known companies. It is very easy to be attracted by the thought of working for the bigger brand names, the ones that will be familiar to your friends and family, but the best opportunities will often lie elsewhere. Rather than looking at the logo on the add, look at the reviews of the company, think about the experience that you want to develop.
  3. Titles mean nothing
    When I started my career, job titles were pretty standard across companies and between teams. There were always a few areas of overlap, but it was pretty linear. Very quickly things started to change and it all got a whole lot messier. Job titles mean almost nothing. You can be the CEO of a business of one, or a Manager of hundreds of people. Think content, think scope, don’t think business card.
  4. Move around
    You will learn more by changing industries than you will ever anticipate. Explore the opportunities to go elsewhere, learn from different cultures, different models, different sectors. Show you can be successful in any environment and adapt your practice. There are assumptions made that industry experience is a necessity, it isn’t, that’s just a lazy lie.
  5. Go global
    Our workplaces, our organisations and our workforces are increasingly international. And whilst people have broadly the same constitution whether you might be in the world, the way in which they interact, the way in which they consider issues and they way in which they work together will be different. Getting experience of this doesn’t mean jumping on a plane every week, instead think about how you gain good international exposure.
  6. Have fun
    Nobody is going to die from the work you do. Well, not normally. So don’t forget to enjoy what you are doing, have fun, be playful, be light-hearted and remember that the more positivity you exude the more you will get back. People spend more time than they should at work and helping them to enjoy that experience is part of your job too. Don’t think discretionary effort, think discretionary enjoyment.
  7. Don’t dig in
    Don’t go in to the trenches when you think you’re under attack, but instead seek to understand how you can change, learn and grow. A lot of the work that you do won’t be welcomed by a standing ovation and streamers and balloons. But you need to differentiate the normal reaction from the times when you get it wrong. Understand that you can learn from other people in the business about how to do great work, not just from conferences and journals.

Six characteristics of successful HR leaders

Integrity – maybe the most important quality that a good HR leader needs to have (and one that is often overlooked) is integrity. I’m not just talking about handling the wealth of data and information that you have at your fingertips, but the conversations, the confessions, the knowledge and the insight. If at any point, your honesty and integrity is not felt by those around you, then you are going to struggle to be effective or successful.

Bravery – being a good HR leader means going out on a limb from time to time, it means having a willingness and a confidence to speak your mind, to swim against the tide and to stand alone. The best leaders I’ve seen have a quiet bravery, they don’t seek to draw attention to their stance, but instead recognise that their job is sometimes to ask the questions and hold the line that others won’t.

Generosity – one aspect of an HR leader’s work is that we see people at their worst. We hear the conversations, we see the behaviours, we experience the emotional turbulence that can occur. Being able to treat every situation, every moment and every interaction with a generosity of spirit is key to remaining objective, thoughtful and balanced. We are privileged to be involved in those moments, even if it doesn’t feel it at the time.

Perceptivity – it perhaps isn’t surprising that some of the best HR leaders I’ve met are also some of the most perceptive people. They listen, they observe, they feel. And through this, they ask the questions, see the information, feel the emotion that often other people miss. They will be the one that will follow-up with a colleague after a meeting because they sensed that something wasn’t right, or that asks the question to unlock a problem in a group.

Serenity – the volume of stuff that goes on in an HR leader’s world is often gargantuan in size and emotionally charged in nature. The ability to live with this without leaking on to those around is a key attribute for success. Nobody needs to know how busy you are, or how much you need to achieve – they’re looking to you for emotional leadership and calmness in the face of adversity. Be the swan, not the March Hare.

Humility – the realisation that it isn’t about you is key to being a successful HR leader and fundamentally underpins all of the other qualities. Great ideas, solutions and interventions will always be owned by someone else. Thanks will often be implied and sometimes slow to come. The hits that you take, the challenges that you face and the difficulties that you overcome will go unnoticed and you have to be ok with that and draw strength from your colleagues and your team.