Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Waxing Strategic: Creating a Plan to Guide Your Career

When a company (or work unit in a company) engages in strategic planning it does so to get focused on a goal or set of goals that will positively impact its function/operation. A desired outcome is agreed upon and an analysis is performed in order to figure out the best way to achieve that outcome. Strategic planning isn't exclusive to multinational corporations; individuals can perform one as well. Have you been struggling with reaching an outcome related to your career, be it getting a job at a company you admire, moving up in the company where you work, or changing career fields altogether? A strategic plan could bring you focus, break down your actions into manageable steps, and give you a clear picture of what success will look like for you.

Outcome: The first step in creating a strategic plan is determining what you want. You may be thinking "I don't know what I want!" which is fine! In fact, you could even create a strategic plan around "finding out what I want." Regardless, a strategic plan cannot function without some kind of outcome or end result. Don't be picky and don't make choosing your topic painful. Ask yourself this question: "what do I want to get out of my career that I am not getting right now?" This will help you get focused on a topic that serves you right now; it's okay for things to change in the future.

SWOT analysis: A SWOT analysis is a process commonly used in business to examine Strengths and Weaknesses (internal considerations) as well as Opportunites and Threats (external considerations) as they relate to what your outcome is. Creating one-which you can do by drawing four boxes on a piece of paper-helps you get specific about your situation and think critically about what you have (and don't have) going for you. There is a fantastic template for creating a SWOT analysis here that will help you get one created quickly. Again, think action; don't let your head fill with the "yeah, but..." thoughts that keep you from action! Be critical, but stay positive and focused on your outcome.

SMART goals: Many people have heard of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reaching, and Timely) and you can read more about them at this Daily Leap blog post. SMART goals are a great compliment to a SWOT analysis, helping you take your analysis in the latter and create something actionable with the former. Again, don't focus on making "perfect" goals; there is no such thing as a perfect goal! The only question to ask yourself here is "will this goal lead me to my outcome?" If it does, then go with it!

Anyone who has ever had dreams for their career but hasn't been able to act on those dreams would benefit from creating a strong, resonant strategic plan. Even if you don't think it will work, try it anyway (you have nothing to lose and MUCH to gain!). Challenge yourself to create your reality, not just live it!

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