Creating Your Shorter and Longer Term WorkLife Plan
“You can’t predict. You can prepare.” Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance
Some time ago I was asked to write an article for www.communication-director.eu about managing and developing your WorkLife in times of uncertainty. I wrote that you need to come up with a WorkLife plan that’s two-fold: both short-term and long-term. I have adapted the article for this book.
Do you remember Petra’s story back in Chapter 6: Not Speaking Up and Why that’s Sometimes OK Too?
Let me refresh your memory by telling you her back story to how she found herself in that situation, and how her story is continuing.
A Case Study
Petra’s Story: Developing Your WorkLife In Times of Uncertainty
Petra is working in a leading retail organisation. It is a great company to work for: she works with people she likes; her good work is recognised and rewarded; and during her two years there her career has advanced.
However, although she is grateful for the opportunities she has received, her heart just is not in it. You see Petra’s background is international development. This is what she studied at university and on graduating she worked in her chosen field in her native Poland. Then she moved to London with the intention of continuing her career path, but unfortunately could not get a job within the industry.
After weeks of job searching, reality struck, her savings were dwindling, and she needed to work to earn a living. So, she took a step back and considered her skills and experience that could be transferable to another role. She recognised she had strong administrative and organisational abilities, and began to apply for roles that demanded these skills. Her search led her to an administrative role in retail at the organisation she is with today.
However, Petra’s story does not stop there, because she did not intend staying in this role. She had a plan, which was to continue to look for opportunities within international development alongside working her day job. But then the economic crisis hit, causing uncertainty across all sectors, which meant the timing just was not right.
Nevertheless, Petra was not about to give up on her dream, and while she knew she needed to bide her time until the economy recovered, she recognised she wanted and needed to keep her hand in within her chosen field. This led her to become a volunteer with Amnesty International, which had a branch support network close to her home. (More about opportunities on your doorstep a little later in Petra’s story). The experience this opportunity gave Petra was immensely satisfying and rewarding. It gave her a sense of fulfilment and allowed her to stay on the path of what she knew was her real purpose in her WorkLife.
Actually, her experience gave her so much more beyond this. Her genuine interest in people helped her to build a strong network of contacts. Being non-British, this was important to Petra because she had arrived in the country not knowing anyone, which made it difficult to learn about opportunities.
In particular, Petra made a strong connection with James, who led the volunteer group. James had a wealth of knowledge and experience within the industry; and very quickly through Petra’s dedication, hard work and initiative he saw her potential and came to value her as a key member of the team.
Petra had great respect for James, and she was learning so much from him through his leadership. She knew she could learn so much more if he were her mentor. This idea came to her through conversations she had with many people who had been mentored by James. They all spoke really highly of him, and the positive impact he had had on their WorkLives. Petra knew how valuable it would be if James would be her mentor, and she began to think through how she could approach him. She knew he was nearing retirement, and she wanted to be respectful of his time. In the end it was James who suggested it. Petra had done so much to help everyone else, he wanted to help her, and so their mentor/mentee relationship began.
Petra’s passion for pursuing a career in her chosen field was very apparent. Because of this people in her network were happy to make introductions to others who they considered it would be good for her to connect with. She was grateful for this, and always prepared well for each meeting by way of finding out more about the person and their organisation, compiling questions to ask that would help her understand the day-to-day activities and demands of the role, and also their perception of the future of the industry. This was valuable information for Petra for when the time came for her to resume her job search. This is because her intention was to not only apply directly for jobs advertised, but also to approach organisations speculatively for jobs relating to future projects, with the purpose of bringing her name to front of mind when they were ready to begin the recruitment process.
Petra always enjoyed these meetings and found people were really helpful and generous in sharing their thinking. That was until she met Mary (remember Mary? Back in chapter 6), who began the meeting by asking why she wanted to move from where she was, when she had a perfectly good job, and so many people were out of work, going on to say: “You should be thankful to have a job.”
You may recall, Petra was stopped dead in her tracks. She did not respond, not knowing what to say. She somehow got through the rest of the meeting, which thankfully was short. But it left her feeling deflated and questioning her decision to want to make a career transition.
She arranged a meeting with James who helped her evaluate the reasons why she initially deemed this transition to be important, and she considered if these were still relevant and important: and the answer was a resounding YES.
James also shared these Words of Wisdom: “It’s important to remember, when you ask someone for their advice, opinion, feedback, they’ll feel obliged to give it. You then need to figure out whether to take it on board or whether to think, well that may be good advice for someone else but in line with what’s important to me and knowing what I know about what I want to achieve in my WorkLife life, that’s not for me right now.”
He went on to say: “It’s also important to surround yourself with people who believe in you, who believe that change can take place even in the toughest of circumstances, and who also believe change is good.” It was at this point that Petra was reminded of the old adage: “That other people’s behaviour is about them, not you.”
He finished by saying: “Taking control of your own WorkLife development will allow you to stay true to your passion and purpose, and this is possible even in the most challenging times.”
Evaluating the situation and hearing these words of wisdom helped Petra pick herself back up.
On reflection, she was reminded how much she had accomplished by looking for opportunities outside of her work. By offering her skills and time she had also created opportunities to develop new skills, knowledge, experience and insights into the industry – while all the time expanding her network, making new connections and developing good relationships.
And so, she continued her pursuit of her chosen career. In doing so, she discovered a great opportunity within her own organisation. As part of their corporate social responsibility they worked with a number of charities, one of which was a human rights organisation; and through her organisation’s intranet she discovered an opportunity that involved a two day-a-week secondment for eighteen months. (I never cease to be amazed at how often what we’re looking for is on our doorstep!)
She prepared her application, which first had to be approved by her manager, who did not relish the prospect of losing her, but at the same time wanted to support her. This then had to be presented to the Board of Directors, and it was approved.
With the support of her mentor James, Petra considered what she wanted to get out of the secondment over and above the hands-on experience; and she developed a plan to help her achieve her objectives.
Interestingly at the time she was reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, and regarded the book as her ’Virtual Mentor’. In particular, Sheryl said that as well as believing everyone should have a long-term plan, she also believed everyone should have an eighteen-month plan. Petra modified Sheryl’s thinking to her own situation on these two fronts.
She considered targets she could accomplish with her new team, which she suggested and were accepted. Her new manager was happy for her to take a proactive role, and was impressed with both her approach and the suggestions she put forward, which demonstrated her in-depth understanding of the organisation and the world they operated within. (Her good research work was paying off).
She set more personal goals for learning new skills within the eighteen months, drawing on Sheryl’s advice by asking herself: “How can I improve?” Sheryl’s words rang true, in that she knew if she was afraid to do something it was either because she was not good at it, or that she was too scared to even try. In fact Petra felt everything Sheryl said was written for her, right down to wanting and needing to develop her negotiation skills; and so she followed through with the approach Sheryl had taken, gathered courage and let her new boss know this was an area she would like to develop. He was happy to facilitate this when opportunities arose, proving the old adage: “When the student is ready the teacher will come”.
Petra is now getting stuck in and enjoying her secondment. I have every confidence this opportunity will support her in achieving her longer term WorkLife goal to secure a full-time position within human rights, and to get back to where she knows she belongs.
Develop Your WorkLife Story
One benefit of keeping a strong focus on your vision is that it makes it easier to find alternate routes when you encounter roadblocks. Map out alternate pathways in advance before there is a roadblock.
In the short-term you can advance your learning agenda in times of uncertainty by keeping the vision of where you want to be, and take advantage of every opportunity to gain the knowledge and experience that will move you closer to that vision. Eighteen months is a good time period to focus your shorter term WorkLife growth and development plan.
Creating Your Shorter Term WorkLife Plan Assignment
You have to actively think about what your WorkLife looks like, by looking at what you are doing today, and what you want to be doing in eighteen months’ time; then identify what the gaps are in where you want to be.
You can do this by asking yourself the following questions:
How can I improve?
What am I not good at?
What am I afraid of?
Use the information you’ve gleaned from these questions to establish your:
- Rate yourself in all the areas you identified. This provides a baseline for improvement.
- Look for opportunities where you can work on improving the area/s you identified you want to improve upon; look for opportunities to become good at what you have identified you are not good at; and look for opportunities to overcome your fear in areas you have identified you are fearful of.
- Depending on how often you are able to work on these areas, set time aside to assess how you are doing –as a suggestion, once a month is good. As you go through your self-assessment, rate how you are doing now, and compare it to where you began. From your re-evaluation give yourself feedback on how you are doing to help you identify what you want and need to do to continue your improvement plan.
- Continue this loop by continuing to look for opportunities to do what you have identified you need to do, then continue with regular re-assessments, re-evaluation and self-feedback.
Creating Your Longer Term WorkLife Plan Assignment
Begin by thinking about your dreams and aspirations. Do this by asking yourself what you will be doing at the pinnacle your career – when you’re feeling challenged, engaged and not wanting anything else.
You may not have a clear picture at this point, your vision may be blurry, but that is OK. Your goal is to work towards bringing your bigger picture into focus, in order to see all of the wonderful details of your WorkLife in a captivating cinematic image, because after all you are creating your own captivating WorkLife story. Similar to the film LaLa Land, you will go from black and white images, to outline the details, then adding colour to bring those images to life.
Ask yourself the following questions to help you understand your dream, your aspirations, your bigger picture:
What size of company do I imagine working for?
What industry do I want to be in?
Do I want to be in a very individual contributor-type role or a management-type role?
Create Your WorkLife Action Plan
From this information begin to articulate your envisioned future. You are the author of your WorkLife story. Now is the time to start writing your continuing chapters. Each chapter begins with an outline: the key points you have gleaned from answering these questions. Then as you go about your daily WorkLife, continue to reflect on what all of this means. Take whatever clarity that comes to you to add more detail to your outline.
From this craft an action plan to map out in greater detail exactly how you are going to reach your longer term WorkLife vision for yourself. At various stages you will most likely identify that you need a new learning opportunity, so you will need to figure out how you are going to position yourself so you are in the right place to learn and grow along your WorkLife path.
This will be an ongoing process, and you will use the same strategy you used in your shorter-term plan to assess and reassess what you want and need to do to achieve your dreams and aspirations.
With this understanding of how you envision your future, you have everything you need to take the action needed to start to build your WorkLife action plan. Think of it as a roadmap to self-actualisation.
The Moral of this Story
It is all too easy to let the urgent demands of the workplace, ailing economies and times of uncertainty trample over your need to focus on your own growth and development. Yet, especially during lean times, if you do not manage yourself, no one else will. Take a step back and acknowledge the environment has shifted; and while you may not be doing the work you were expecting to be doing, ask:
What can I do in this context to make sure that I’m still growing toward my vision?
Of course, this practice applies when things are more stable too, and more opportunities are available. The point to remember is, that by taking responsibility for creating your shorter and longer term WorkLife plans in support of your growth and development, you are in control to do what you want and need to do to advance your WorkLife.
Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback
You need to look beyond your workplace to detect shifts and changes that might impact your WorkLife. You will need to be aware of your company’s growth areas and limitations, as well as changes in the skills that your industry will require. You should also look to good practices across other industries.
Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning
A simple way to do this is by having conversations. Below are a few questions Petra found helpful in stimulating good dialogue, which she posed to people socially over coffee or at events, and also online in groups and forums that were of particular interest to her. She found LinkedIn an excellent resource for this:
- Are you optimistic about your industry’s future?
- Are there specific reasons you feel this way?
- Do you see new opportunities?
- What do we need to get better at? Faster at? Smarter at?
Words of Wisdom
You then need to consider the implications this information and knowledge has for your WorkLife in terms of revising and fine-tuning your action plan. While you cannot predict every eventuality, you can prepare.
© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated
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