You may be brand new to your career or you may have been working for a decade, but at some point, we all start to question whether or not our career is growing in the direction we want it to. I felt this way in the past for a few different reasons -
Insecure about my performance 🙈 | Overlooked for an opportunity 😤 | Unclear about my expectations 🤷🏾♂️
The amazing thing is that there are tools that allow us to make informed decisions about our career and we can start deploying them today. A key item to note with Career Management is that there isn’t a magic bullet that guarantees your advancement or replaces getting outstanding results.
What career development tools do extremely well is give us important information about how we are viewed by our colleagues and information about how we show up every day. That way we can more effectively and efficiently execute our work.
Here are four foundational tools that will help to accelerate your career.
This is the secret sauce to any career development plan. Feedback is a way for you and your colleagues to have a conversation about your performance and your standing within the organization. Without feedback, all we are left with is our best guess or perception of how we are viewed based on our interactions with colleagues.
So, feedback is great. Got it. Now, how do you then source reliable, honest, and meaningful feedback? Glad you brought it up. You just need to ask. That’s the easy part. The hard part is asking the right questions, here’s a great place to start -
“Hey Sharon, I’ve been working on being a better leader in meetings, would you mind observing me at the next staff meeting and giving me some feedback on I did.”
“Hey Jim, I’m hitting my 1-year mark and I’d like to get your input on how I’ve been performing. Would you mind if I set up some time with you in a couple of weeks to get your thoughts?”
Johari Window (https://kevan.org/johari) - “Hey Jamie, I’d like to get some quick feedback, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes, is it ok if I send you a link?”
One call out, don’t get obsessed with finding out what everyone thinks is “wrong” with you. A lot of the feedback you get will be ‘nice’ and surface. It’s up to you to keep digging until you find real observations and examples to support the perspective put forward. It takes work but it’s well worth the effort.
Leveraging Your Strengths
Always leverage your strengths. Whenever we receive feedback, either from external sources or from our awareness, we tend to focus on our “opportunities” and tend to disproportionately prioritize getting better at what we are not great at.
While this is tempting, it’s far from being effective. Let’s do a quick assessment of the effort we spend on improvement and look at the likely results we can accomplish.
Strength - Organizational Skills
“Opportunity” - Poor Follow Up
If you are already organized, you can over-index on keeping all the components of your work clear, transparent, and easy to understand. This will already come naturally to you.
While you may struggle to find the energy to consistently follow up with all your shareholders, your organization can be so effective that it may eclipse your follow up shortcomings.
It is much better to leverage your time at being excellent at organization and just OK at following up than to take that same effort to get decent at following up and just good at organization.
A great way to determine your strengths and get some amazing ideas on how to execute them more effectively is contained in the book Strengths Finder by Tim Rath. This is a fantastic resource to help you uncover and leverage what you’re good at.
It’s no secret that I’m passionate about Prioritization. But, I don’t know if I’ve ever shared the reason I incorporated it as a core driver in my career. Back when I was a Food Safety and Quality Assurance Engineer, I took over a category where the previous subject matter expert was leaving that location.
There was a mountain of work at hand and new incidents happened daily. This was also my first time at this location and only the second year since my career began. I found that I was consistently working 12 hr days, on the weekends and I wasn’t making significant progress.
So, I took a step back, and here’s how I turned things around -
Aligned on my Roles and Responsibilities
I realized that there was a lack of clarity about my role and what was expected. Once I had that clarity I was able to focus on the most important items.
Align on my Expectations
Everything involved in a job role is never going to be written out. So, I got feedback from key stakeholders to understand and align with their expectations.
Prioritize and Execute
At this point, all the heavy lifting was done. I targeted the items that had the greatest opportunity and return significant compensation to the company.
You will always get your most impactful results by targeting your priorities and spending a disproportionate amount of time on executing them. I help professionals break down their work with the lens of removing busy-work, gaining laser clarity, and consistently prioritizing only what’s important. You can find more at thepriorityprocess.com/work-with-me.
Managing Your Energy
This is probably the most important tool on this list. We are all tempted to think of our minds and bodies as machines. We want to just set a plan and execute it consistently over time. However, we aren’t machines, and life is guaranteed to happen.
There will be difficult personal moments, fatigue will start to set in and even seemingly small changes like the seasons can greatly impact our resolve. Willpower is not an unlimited resource and there will be times when there isn’t much to spare. So, how can we best manage our energies?
A great place to start is the Myer’s Briggs personality test (https://www.16personalities.com/personality-types) to shed some light on what things you’ll find energizing and what activities could be draining you.
Response to Interactions
This is arguable the most popular export from the Myer’s Briggs test in popular culture, Introverts v. Extroverts. This won’t be a discussion on which personality type is “better”.
What I will say is that you should understand yours and prioritize maintaining your energy. Interactions with others, whether large groups or individuals may or may not be energizing.
Understanding your triggers and when you are de-energized is critical and will impact how well you show up day to day. With this level of understanding, you can even be proactive and create opportunities where you will thrive and limit instances where you’ll become overwhelmed or unmotivated.
Another key area that can impact your ability to function as your best self is with decision making. Some of us are quick to make decisions and feel secure once they have been made. Others like to see many options and are reluctant to rule anything out due to their potential.
It’s important to understand how you respond to the decision making process. For decisive individuals, long, drawn-out conversations about an upcoming decision can cause anxiety and distress. However, if you need to take your time making decisions, abrupt decisions may lead you to feel off-balance and unsure.
Again, this is a great area where proactivity will be useful. Preparing for the decision-making process can help you better process it. You can either research the decision beforehand to give yourself time with it or you can mentally lock in your position and allow others to catch you.
Approach to Solving Problems
Pt. 1 - Thinking v. Feeling
Some individuals prioritize pragmatically reasoning their way through problem-solving, while others spend a lot of time assessing how they feel about the solutions been generated and empathizing with their end-users.
While both methods offer great perspectives on how solutions are developed, either approach can be extremely frustrating if they don’t match your thinking. Understanding which side of the fence you are on will allow you to make an informed decision about how you approach problem-solving and work cross-functionally.
Pt. 2 - Organized v. Freewheeling
This is a hot button issue. Usually, two concepts emerge in the conversation. “Clear environment leads to clear thinking” and “geniuses and creatives are often messy.” You are probably well aware of who you are as far as your level of organization is concerned.
What I would encourage you to do, is to approach collaboration not with a perspective of organized v. messy but with an approach of clearly communicating what you need to be productive. If you need deadlines, call it out. If you need clarity, call that out too. Be open to the work style of others, but be clear about your needs as well.
Finally, as I’ve mentioned, there is no magic bullet that will guarantee career advancement or even appreciation for the work you’ve been putting in. The payoff for managing your career is gaining understanding and clarity both of yourself and the working environment that you are participating in.
You’ll be able to more accurately measure if an organization is the right fit for you based on how you are valued and rewarded. And, you’ll be able to determine if you are the right fit for an organization based on your performance and how well you ‘fit’ into the company culture. You can then make decisions that are in your best interest as a professional and offer the best version of yourself to your organization.
Oh, and remember to have fun and take care!