When I started my career about 25 years ago at one of the largest energy companies in the world, my manager sat down with me and essentially mapped out what my career was going to look like over the next 30-plus years. He shared with me the likely career path, geographical locations and types of roles I might expect during my tenure. Interestingly, I don’t recall being asked in that conversation how I felt about his plan for me or what I might want to do in my career.
His assumption was that I would be loyal, do whatever I was asked to do, and in return I could expect the company to reward me for my loyal service through a series of periodic promotions and assignments, which might result in an occasional relocation.
The corporate world has drastically changed since then. Over the past 10 years or so there has been much said about the lack of loyalty in the employer-employee relationship. Now, oftentimes, we hear from our leaders, “you own your career”.
What Exactly Does It Mean to “Own Your Career”?
- Clarify your career goals. You don’t necessarily need to plan out the next 30 years as my boss did for me, but try to get a clear idea of what your goals are for the next few years. If you aren’t sure what your goals are or have too many ideas to process, find a friend or a coach who can help you clarify what’s important and narrow down your objectives.
- Define the skills you will need. Honestly assess your current status. What do you already have going for you, where do you need further development, guidance, education or other help? Take responsibility for seeking feedback and developing your expertise and skill set (see my post on Identifying and Marketing Your Expertise).
- Create a short development plan. Write down your goals (include the why behind the goals), skills needed, specific ideas you have on developing the skills and when you will do what. Most organizations have some sort of individual development planning form to help you get started. However, the form is less important than the content.
- Share it, Review it, Live it. Share your plan with everyone you know, including your manager. Don’t wait to be asked about your plan—or wait to share it in the once or twice a year development conversations. The more often you share your plan, the more your commitment will grow. Review and update your plan regularly. Put it in to practice.
- Leverage your organization’s resources. Your company may not have much in the way of career development resources or, on the flip side, it may have a lot to offer. Find out about courses offered or sponsored, assessments or other tools available, tuition reimbursement programs, mentoring or coaching programs, and any other available resources. Your peers are often excellent and underutilized resources. Find out what they’re doing and seek their advice.
- Do good work. There is no substitute for strong performance. Future career success often is linked to past performance and success. Even if you want to change directions and do something completely different in your career, leave a good legacy in your current role.
- Don’t whine. If you get passed up for an opportunity you wanted, figure out what, if anything, you could have done differently. Don’t blame your boss, HR, or your horoscope. Learn from your mistakes. Communicate your disappointment in a positive way and ask for input on what to do differently next time. Be willing to hear the truth. If you get the sense your desired career path is not going to be a realistic possibility within your current organization, then start thinking about your alternatives.
I am sure some people might read this list and think that I’m letting organizational leaders and direct managers off the hook. I’m not. I think there are roles to be fulfilled on the part of the organization (meaning senior leadership and HR), the direct manager as well as the individual. However, no one will ever care as much about our careers as we do—let’s not leave our career success to chance or in someone else’s hands.