Career planning….

…for people that don’t (necessarily) care about careers!

As someone who has spent his entire working life since I left university doing things that are very hard to describe without saying “it’s sort of a combination of….”, I’ve always struggled a bit with “career planning” and the inevitable development discussions with my various managers – and they’ve probably struggled just as much with the conversations as I have.

The truth is that the roles I find interesting and challenging very often don’t exist but have be made by taking a role that does exist and then adding my own twist to it. Which means that discussions about developments are extremely difficult because there will almost always be elements of any standard role that I either don’t much care for or aren’t particularly qualified to do. I’ve never really thought of my work as a “career” but more as a series of assignment chosen based on what is available, what is interesting and what is challenging at any given moment – i.e. the “logical next step”. There was no “plan” to start out with and there still (mostly) isn’t now 10-12 years later.

Fortunately then to help alleviate this situation one day a few years ago inspiration struck and I came up with a model that I think better suits me and hopefully also many others with similar profiles. It’s basically just a two-axis grid which shows function or job type on one axis and level/type of involvement on the other. I used:

as my dimensions, but it could just as well be:

or something else that suits your context.

You then plot roughly where you see yourself being right now and then where you want to go. Not exactly rocket science, but very useful as a primer for discussions, because:

This model takes something that is absolute (what do you want to do?) and makes it relative (what do you want to do more of/less of compared to now?) and that makes a big difference because suddenly you can think of individual tasks or assignments rather than positions. It’s also a big difference for “the other side” (i.e. the manager) as you can spend less time discussing positions that may or may not exist let alone be available to fill, but instead give you as a manager an insight into what your team wants to do. This you can then use to “shuffle the deck” in the best possible way and try to give people tasks that they find challenging and inspiring, which in turn should improve development, satisfaction and retention all round.

It’s probably not a silver bullet for all situations, but use it wisely and it should make some of those hard discussions a bit easier. Feel free to leave a comment if you try it 😀

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