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Career Planning – Achieving Your Plan by Keeping it SMART

Welcome to the third and final article in the series focused on career development plans. Hopefully by now you have completed the actions outlined in articles one and two. If not, here’s a quick summary to get you caught up:

  1. Reflect on your current state – where are you in your career today?
  2. Outline your future state – determine where you want to be and by when
  3. Analyze the gap between where you are today and where you’d like to be
  4. Create a plan to close the gaps
  5. Socialize your plan and ask for feedback from everyone in your network

You have probably made a few New Year’s resolutions in your personal life. Let’s get you on track to do the same for your professional life and, unlike resolutions, use some tips to stick to them!

The trick to sticking to any plan is to keep it SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time bound). The same applies to a career development plans.

But, before you execute on this year’s plan, what can you learn from what you set out to do last year?

We do not often reflect on why we were not able to achieve our targets. Did time get in your way? Shifting priorities? New interests? Taking the time to understand what has worked or not for you previously will help to ensure a better outcome this year.

Execute Your Plan

Make it Specific

Pick one to two areas to develop within the Education, Exposure and Experience buckets. What do you want to learn?   If it’s an experience, outline specifically what it is and what you hope to achieve from it.

Make it Measurable

For each of the areas in which you seek to grow and develop, what are you trying to learn? How will you know you have achieved your target? Set some measures that will help you understand if you are moving the needle on your own personal growth.

Make it Actionable

We’ve all been in that place where you bump into an old friend and say something like, “We should get together soon and have coffee or lunch.” Months pass and that date never happens. Why? Because it was never actionable to begin with. Similarly, if you think about your career as a coffee date that you’ll get around to “when you have time,” it’ll never happen.

So instead, put pen to paper, Outlook, Post-It – whatever your scheduling and organizing scheme is – and book the time. Consider it a date with yourself. If it’s a course, what are the options for dates and times? If it’s job shadowing, who will you shadow? When?

Make it Realistic

Before you over-schedule yourself, take a hard look at your calendar – professional and personal. Consider your work commitments that cannot move and be sure you are not creating conflicts for yourself. Developing yourself takes commitment and energy.

Take a moment to reflect on when you feel most energetic. If it’s in the morning, you probably don’t want to schedule an evening course that you will need to drive to after a long day at work.

Similarly, if you are like me and rarely get a moment to yourself on the home front, committing to reading a bunch of books is not that realistic (I’m learning too!). Also remember, don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s better to thoroughly complete two to three goals vs. achieving ten goals at 50%.

Make it Time Bound

Apply a work breakdown to your objectives for the year by outlining what you will achieve each quarter. Depending on your goals, it may make sense to further break down your goals into monthly or weekly objectives. For example, some of may be considering continuing education in the form of an MBA or other Master’s.

If you choose to continue working while pursuing this endeavor, you’ll want to be thoughtful about which courses will help you with your current or future, desired roles, the order of those courses, how many you can handle taking at once, and where in your schedule all of this will fit.

Fast Forward Three Months…

How’s it going? Are you accomplishing your goals? More importantly, have you set the time aside to review your plan and assess what you have been able to achieve and what you haven’t? Do you understand what is getting in your way if you aren’t on target?

A plan is important, but more important is the process of planning, and checking progress against your plan, making necessary adjustments as you go. Just like resolutions, the key is not to give up the first time you face a setback.  

Stephen Covey says, “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” So, get out there and execute on that plan. Let 2015 be a year of growth, learning and development that puts you on the road to the career destination of your choice.

Precillia-RedmondPrecillia Redmond is the senior director of corporate human resources and administration at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Precillia earned her MBA from the Olin School of Business at Babson College and specializes in human resources strategy. She already has her dream job and enjoys Forté events.

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