By ROSHAN THIRAN
In my previous role as human resources (HR) leader, I had to deal with Heather (not her real name). Heather had faithfully served the organisation for more than 20 years but was rarely visible. As part of a restructuring, Heather’s role had become redundant.
Heather was extremely upset and angrily voiced her frustration that her loyalty and achievements meant nothing to the organisation.
As she spoke, a sad reality started to dawn on me. Heather had spent 20 years working very hard and waiting in futility for her company to manage and take care of her career.
She toiled in her tasks, but took no part in planning and managing her own career, depending instead on HR and her “bosses” to “take care of her career.” Unfortunately for her, her dependence on them didn’t quite pan out as she hoped.
Heather is not a case in isolation. Surprisingly, many people truly believe that their HR department is planning their careers.
Part of the problem may be because HR leaders tend to try to “play God” and convince people at the hiring stage that there is a grand plan for their careers and HR will brilliantly orchestrate this pre-ordained journey up the corporate ladder.
But having seen and worked in some of the best organisations in the world, I know for a fact that most companies don’t really have career plans for their entire organisation.
There may be a handful of organisations that monitor a select group of high-potentials but for the majority of us, our future is not mapped.
We are unique
Career planning is an individualistic process. No two people are the same, have the same background, or have the same career aspirations.
Each of us is created distinctively different with differing ambitions and expectations, and your bosses (or HR) may not know what these are (as they may change often).
This is why it is close to impossible for HR or your bosses to play the role of your career planner. Even though it is comforting to think that “my company is looking out for me,” we should liberate our minds from this myth.
The Myth of Expecting
Somehow, because our good grades in school got us into university and our good performance in university got us a great job, we believe the same applies at work.
We believe that if we work hard and stay loyal, the company will take care of us and somehow at the tail-end of our career, we will be in a senior role.
And this is reinforced when we look across the organisations and see some examples of how these “loyal” leaders are bosses. But unfortunately, that was the world in the past where loyalty was usually rewarded.
The 21st century is a whole new realm. In the past, holding the same job showed loyalty and enabled you to be an expert in that role.
In today’s changing and evolving world, lack of career movement may indicate to the world that you have stagnated.
“Many people think, ‘If I work extra hard, I’m going to get noticed.’ But it doesn’t work that way. If you want to advance, some of the responsibility falls on you,” claims Michael Slade, a HR director.
The first female partner at Accenture, Susan Butler, who authored the book Become the CEO of You Inc recalls how early in her career she would throw herself into each project assigned to her. Yet, when time came to be promoted, she never got the advancement.
“I didn’t know, but I learned this later, that I needed to perform the job I wanted before I got promoted,” she explains.
I believe you need to approach your career as if it were a Sdn Bhd. If you set yourself up as you would a company, you would then have to formulate a business “career” plan, assemble a board of directors who will advise and help your growth and be proactively looking to “sell” yourself, just as a company would sell its products or services.
“Many of us are letting things happen to us rather than making things happen for us,” warns Butler who raps those that play victim and wait for circumstances to “happen” in their lives instead of proactively driving growth in their lives.
She adds “we only have one life and if we don’t take responsibility for it, who are we outsourcing it to?”
Some of us may have mistakenly outsourced our careers to HR or our managers. Don’t do that – it’s your future and it is too important to leave in the hands of others. Don’t let others define your future.
But we can change that dependence and quickly take on personal ownership of our careers. But having depended on “others” all our lives, starting to take charge of your own career can be a daunting task.
So where do you start?
At the Olympics, the best athletes win gold. But before they struck gold, they first ingrained in their hearts the goal to win that gold.
Everything begins with a goal. Remember, you only win a football game if you score goals. The same applies to your career. The only way to win in your career is to have goals.
Write down your goal. A study conducted by Gail Matthews at the Dominican University clearly establishes that “those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals”.
Some believe Abraham Lincoln’s success was due to him writing down goals. In fact, he claims, “A goal properly set is halfway reached”.
Then share the goal with others. Sharing it creates accountability and commits you to work on the goals.
The final step is to build a plan to achieve those goals and execute on the plan. You must own your career plan. Don’t wait for others to provide feedback or make a decision on your next move.
Understand your strengths and development needs and develop a proactive action plan. You won’t meet your career objectives unless you face up to where your skills are strong and where you need help.
Don’t be afraid to ask for support and advice along the way. Clement Stone reminds us “no matter how carefully you plan your goals they will never be more than pipe dreams unless you pursue them with gusto.”
At the end of the day, your growth and career destiny is solely your responsibility.
This means, you will need to determine what competencies, skills and expertise you need to achieve your career goals and then it is your responsibility to attain that experience.
So, stop blaming others and take full responsibility for your own career. Nelson Mandela, while in prison, read a poem on the unconquerable soul. The poems ends with these lines:
I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
There are many things in life that we have no control over. Our career is not one of those areas. We can be the master of our careers – if only we take responsibility.