I have been helping a number of my teammates on their growth and development plans over the last quarter. In doing so, I have been reflecting on whether or not having a career plan is a key to professional success.
The benefits of a plan
- A plan forces you to think about what is important to you for the future. It is impossible to think about a plan or a roadmap for your career without consider the question, “where do I want to be in 1, 3 or 5 years?” In thinking about this question, generally the only way to answer it is to work hard to look internally to identify what is important to you. To me, this is one of the largest benefits of planning.
- Even if the plan is a loose set of steps, it helps you to take a step. Sometimes in my professional life, I have felt frozen – like I don’t know what to do next. A plan can help nudge you forward. It may help you to read a new book, attend a new online training, or have a mentoring discussion with someone that you respect. Even a small step is better than none.
- Having a plan allows you to share with those around you what you are interested in doing and why. This becomes important because at times, those around you can see things that can help you that you may not be able to see. If you have shared your plan, you can get help from your people.
But there are downsides to a plan as well. I appreciate how real some of these downsides can feel.
The downsides of a plan
- You can spend too much time thinking about the plan and not enough time taking steps to make it happen. The act of planning alone can be what freezes you. If this is the case for you, an imperfect a step forward or one that isn’t on a “plan” is much better than continuing to stay in place.
- With a plan, sometimes you can get so focused on executing your plan, the steps that you have outlined, that you miss an opportunity that isn’t wasn’t on the plan. Todays world of business (and life for that matter) is changing very quickly. In fact, in my 20+ years of working the speed of change has never been greater. So, we all have to stay adaptable and willing to let whatever plan we have change based on opportunity.
- Sometimes by having a “career” plan overemphasizes this part of your life. It is hard to keep life in balance and planning holistically for your life is probably a better way to think about it. I will let you know if I ever do this well. It is hard!
So, my question for all of you reading is which side do you land on? Is having a “career plan” a priority for you, and how has it helped? or hurt?
I have been doing a little study of the way I run my calendar and how it correlates to my productivity and my energy level. For the last eight weeks, I have been making notes throughout the week on my calendar relative to my feeling of productivity, how much energy I leave the office with to bring home to my family, and how effective I feel like I am as a coach and leader of my team. This week I looked back at the notes, and my calendar the days I took the notes, and decided to see what I could learn.
Some interesting facts:
- I average 45 meetings per week. Roughly 70% of these appointments are one to one coaching/status meetings with individuals, primarily in my marketing and sales team.
- Although this pace sounds like it would drive most people crazy, it doesn’t stress me out. It does stress my assistant out (who has to work to squeeze it all in). This makes me chuckle because although I know maintaining the calendar is stressful, it shouldn’t stress her out more than me. I am the one who actually has to live it!!
- The highest number of meetings within a single week over the last eight weeks was 56 (ugh!). And, that was the worst week of the bunch. I ended up getting sick that week. Don’t know if it was due to my over scheduling and lack of energy, or my kids bringing home daycare germs (or likely some combo of the two). The thing I can say is that I don’t want another week like this any time soon.
- The weeks that I have around 35 meetings or less, I feel like I am at least twice as effective in helping my team and feel generally happier with my life at home with my family.
- If I add 30-90 minute breaks throughout the day (between meetings) it helps me a ton in replenishing my energy and creativity. The best weeks are those where I have a Friday that has at least 2-3 hours of open time to clean up from the week, and a Monday morning with at least an hour of schedule planning time to prep myself.
- Confirmed….it does take a lot of energy!
One of the more interesting observations during this not-so-scientific study was about how my calendar gives a good lens into my priorities. My time is allocated on my work calendar where I place my priorities. In the first two weeks of my study, I realized that I was spending too much time in technology meetings. Although technology is important, and marketing technology is ever changing, did I really need 5+ hours a week regarding this topic? Easy answer = no. So, I adjusted my calendar (and thus my priorities) and changed it to about 1-2 hours a week. I know that this may seem like a simple realization, but sometimes we get so busy “doing” the calendar that we lose site of “planning” our time.
On the bright side, I learned that I am pretty good at this, likely by necessity. Ever since I have had kids, my ability to accomplish things in the time windows that I have (such as this 15 minutes I have to finish this blog post!), has ramped significantly. There is simply more to do than there is time, so I must be productive and decisive. I actively review my calendar daily looking ahead 3-5 days to make sure my time is scheduled where I want it to be, and where it can produce the most effective results. I know that this may sound pretty obvious, but so many people on my team (and others I work with), don’t do this effectively. Because of this lack of planning their time, they get sucked into things on their calendar that have low return on time (ROT – should I brand this?).
So for tonight, as I prep for the week ahead, changing my calendar around to create those 30 minute windows of time in my calendar to build energy and creativity, I figured I would share this with all of you. I hope that it helps someone else become a little more effective, or at least not stress about what lies ahead.
This week at work I heard the phrase “just because you didn’t plan well, that doesn’t make it my emergency.” It brought me back to my last job where seemingly everything was an emergency due to lack of planning. We were launching 300-400 different products every year and most of them got out the door only with sheer grit and determination at the 11th hour. There was no plan on what to launch, why to launch a particular product and how to launch the products successfully. They had been amazingly successful despite this based on some amazing products and an amazing team who was committed to putting in the effort required to make it happen despite the barriers in their way. This approach brought a lot of good: a camaraderie within the team, a commitment level within the people to succeed, and an amazing creative spirit to solve what seemed to be unsurmountable problems. With those good things, came many bad: higher costs of manufacturing, excess inventory costs, incomplete retail launch plans due to insufficient time, ineffective marketing plans given limited lead time for planning and perhaps most importantly – organizational stress and pain.
So, the senior leadership team set on a journey to introduce business and marketing plans to this team. And, when I say journey, I mean journey…an ever-winding journey. Our goal was to evolve to a company with a plan so that our launches would be more successful and our business more successful. We talked a lot about doing this while maintaining the strengths that the organization demonstrated throughout its history. It sounded good, and per all of the business school lessons and the experience our management team had in prior companies, it should’ve worked.
What I underestimated, and can only see clearly in arrears, is how the culture of this company impacted the degree of change that would be accepted. The culture was built as an entrepreneurial startup team – doing anything needed to make things successful. It was built for variety, unpredictability and wacky, late stage brilliant ideas winning the day. Even the slightest move toward an annual operating plan felt so imposing to this team. Their skills were not set up to succeed in this environment and it not only felt overwhelming, but it did the exact opposite of what we desired. We simply doubled the pain. Now, there was a fair amount of organizational stress and strife about the product planning process in addition to the stress (and cost) we incurred for late-stage changes that put our shipment dates at risk. So – double the pain, no gain.
Ultimately this journey was one of the factors that made me leave this job. Sitting here 5 years later, after hearing someone refer this week to a lack of planning driving unnecessary organizational stress and cost, I wonder out loud (is that possible on a blog?) what lessons I have learned (mostly through mistakes) in the last five years about introducing change into a team or company. Nothing like a list to make you think about it.
My top 10 lessons in Change Management:
- Don’t underestimate the story of an organization. This story often time helps you uncover the culture, the values that the team lives by and the strengths the organization has to help you succeed.
- That said, don’t be scared of change.
- If people don’t understand the reason for the change, the context as to why it is important, and they don’t buy-in, the change will not be broadly successful.
- Just because something is written in a textbook or theoretically the right thing to do, doesn’t mean it will work.
- Having a plan is important….being willing to adjust the plan as it meets barriers is essential.
- Creating allies in your change, particularly those with high organizational influence, is critical for your success.
- Don’t just change for change’s sake. You don’t have to make your impact through large change and innovation. Strength is often found in accepting what already is and making minor improvements that drive high value.
- Be inquisitive in everything that you do. There is most often a great rationale for why things are as they are, and understanding this rationale will help necessary change be adopted more smoothly.
- Every person accepts change through the lens of their personality. Identifying an individual’s state of mind and meeting each where they enter a conversation on change will help reduce fear of change.
- There isn’t one way things should happen. Your way is often wrong, and can be made better through leveraging the strengths of the people around you.