Self-Assessment (What’s my current situation?)
Here’s an assessment exercise you can do on your own: conduct a personal SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Start by creating two lists, one for your strengths and one for your weaknesses. The items in these lists should relate to both the larger goals of your organization and your own personal career goals.
Then, identify opportunities to take initiative at work by playing to your strengths. Lastly, identify threats to your success if forced to rely on areas of weakness.
To get the most out of this exercise, be open and self-reflective. The more honest you are with yourself, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to capitalize on strengths while avoiding threats that could sabotage your career.
Goal-Setting (Where am I trying to get to?)
When setting goals, look for opportunities to play to the strengths in your SWOT analysis. For example, one of my clients, the director of a sales team, identified relationship building as a strength from her SWOT analysis. From this strength she saw an opportunity to improve the sales team’s effectiveness by improving relationships with Marketing and IT, so she created a goal around that.
Managing your boss’ expectations is essential in both setting and achieving your goals. Under-promise and over-deliver (don’t do the reverse) and keep in touch with your boss about your progress, ideally with short, highly organized weekly meetings. Use the “SMART” framework for goal setting: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
Setting your work goals in consultation with your boss is essential, since your true “job” is to please your boss. You may not like that; perhaps you think you’re smarter than your boss, or that you have better ideas about how to make customers happy. Even if your customers love you, if you’re treating your boss badly or neglecting her/him you’re destined for trouble. Remember, your boss has outsize influence on whether you get a raise, promoted, laid off or receive professional development opportunities.
Lastly, set goals with your long term career vision in mind. This vision should take into account what you enjoy doing that you do well, your work-related values, and what you want your life to feel like 15 years or more down the road.
Leadership Initiatives (Where am I trying to get to?)
Employees that demonstrate leadership go beyond their job responsibilities and goals; they stand out in their organizations via the initiative they take to bring about positive change. They are the first to get promotions or raises and the last to be let go in a downturn.
Leadership involving three components: 1) having a “leadership vision,” that is, seeing an opportunity for a better way to approach something specific at work, 2) influencing others to get on board with your vision, and then 3) showing results. With this definition, you can lead from any level in the organization, from the entry level to the c-level.
Look to include one to three leadership initiatives in your SSP. You can come up with initiatives by questioning the way things are done by you or others in the organization. Ask “Why are we doing things this way? Are there better alternatives? How do other departments or organizations approach similar challenges?”
Relationship Management (How am I going to get there?)
Your work relationships are so important to your ability to reach goals and lead. Even if you’re, say, a computer programmer working mostly on your own, good relationships with stakeholders (your boss, other programmers or developers, business end-users) will make people want to hire you, promote you, work with you and work for you.
Take a strategic approach to relationship management by first creating a “stakeholder map” consisting of people who you depend on for success or who depend on you for their success. Your map is composed of three lists:
1. Those above your level, including your boss, your boss’s boss, and those you report to via a “dotted line.”
2. Those roughly at your level including strategic business partners.
3. Those below your level, including direct reports, vendors and others who may not report to you.
Once you have these lists, look at each of the names and ask yourself: “What is my relationship with this person like right now?” “What would I like it to be?” And, if there’s a gap, ask “What can I do to close this gap?” Sometimes just a simple “good morning” or lunch invite goes a long way to closing a gap. Other times it’s harder, but even with the hard cases there are ways to improve the relationship.
Professional Development (How am I going to get there?)
If your SWOT analysis identified any weaknesses that could pose a threat to your success, you’ve got three choices: 1) structure your goals to avoid the weak areas, 2) get a new job, or 3) address these weaknesses through professional development.
One of my clients was a poor presenter, but her job required her to present regularly. There was no way around this part of her job and she wasn’t willing to quit. So she tackled this weakness head-on. She joined Toastmasters, worked with me on her delivery, and took every opportunity to practice. In a couple of months she began to develop a reputation as a strong presenter!
Also, plan to bring cutting-edge skills and knowledge to your employer to ensure you maintain your relevance and don’t become obsolete. Think of your job as being an investigator for your employer. In addition to research and coursework, talk to people to get exposure to the latest innovations. A great way to get this exposure is to join the right professional association. You’ll be able to learn from thought leaders and network with colleagues at other organizations to see what they’re doing.