Thoreau observed that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The desperation can easily derive from the lack of planning for those lives. If you seek to avoid desperation, it may be time to make an action plan to articulate and then achieve your goals.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
One advancement-minded woman decided to clarify her goals and, at the same time, engage her boss in the clarification process. She set up a meeting with him and asked these questions.
1) “Here’s where I am.” (She sketched out a simple organizational chart.) She continued, “Here’s where I want to be.” (She placed an “X” on her targeted goal.) “Now,” she asked, “how do I get from here to there?”
As her boss spoke about the various ways she could achieve her goal, she took notes and asked questions of her own.
2) After learning how to get where she ultimately wanted to be, she then posed another question to her boss, “Will you help me get there?” She sought clarity on this question because she needed to know if she had his support or if she had to find another mentor. If he was willing to support her, they could plan her career strategies together. If not, she would have to find the support she required elsewhere. (Further clarification regarding her boss’ reluctance to serve as a mentor would no doubt benefit her career as well.)
Here are other questions to help you achieve career-clarity. (Separate those you’d need to ask yourself from those you want to ask others.)
What are my special talents?
What do I need to learn?
Whom do I need to approach?
How could I demonstrate my leadership?
Am I prepared for the future?
Is the organization prepared for the future?
What are some trends I need to learn more about?
What am I doing with my natural talents and abilities?
What do I believe I can do?
What do I believe I can’t do?
Have I found a mentor yet at work?
If not, who would be a good candidate?
Should I consider having a mentor on the outside?
What are some things I’d like to do, but have never tried?
For what do I have true passion and preference?
How long has it been since I did a career-assessment?
What conditioned habits or beliefs do I have that might be limiting me?
What are the most important values in my life?
Does the work I do reflect those values?
What are the qualities I like most about myself?
What are the attitudes, habits, traits, etc., about myself that I would
most like to change?
Who are the four people (living or dead) whom I like and respect
most? Why? What is it about them that I admire?
Who is the most successful person I know at work? How and why does
this person influence me?
When have I been thoroughly satisfied with a work project? What was
the project? Was I working on it alone or as part of a team?
This word first became popular during the Total Quality movement of the 80’s. Its value remains, however, a quarter century later, for those interested in continuous improvement. When you benchmark, you compare yourself to others who are demonstrating successful behaviors. The comparison process can be done individual-to-individual or organization-to-organization.
Benchmarking projects can take years. Or, they can be conducted in a matter of hours. Because it is your career goals being examined and not organization-wide improvement, a micro-process rather than a macro-process is suggested below.
1) Identify someone inside or outside the organization who has achieved the success you are seeking. If you intend to do several benchmarking projects during the course of your career, then identify someone who is a few rungs above your current level. If you want to do learn in quantum leaps rather than incremental steps, find the person holding the job that represents the height of career goal-attainment in your opinion.
2) Contact that person. Explain that you have sincere admiration for what he or she has accomplished. Ask if the individual could set aside a half-hour or an hour for an informational interview. The higher the person’s position and the less familiar you are with him or her, the more formal should be your approach. Someone outside the company, for example, should probably be sent a letter requesting that interview. Someone inside the company, by contrast, whom you may have met on several occasions, could be reached via an email.
3) Prepare the questions you will ask during that interview. Depending on your circumstances, you will fashion questions that are relevant for your situation. Here are a few examples. (Have at least five more questions than you think you will need. And, use open-ended questions rather than those that will evoke a monosyllabic answer.)
a) Have you always aimed for your current position or did it just happen to “fall in your lap”?
b) What is the best piece of advice you could give me in my quest to follow a path similar to your own?
c) What is the best decision you ever made regarding your job?
d) Would you be willing to share with me the worst mistake you ever made? If so, what was that mistake?
e) What courses or topics should I be learning more about?
Etiquette is not merely a topic for Miss Manners and those wondering which is the correct fork to use at a dinner party. There’s a growing body of information regarding business etiquette. Here are recommendations regarding proper protocol in the various stages of the benchmarking process.
• Be sure your initial inquiry is totally professional. There should be no grammatical errors in your correspondence. The tone should be business-like and definitely not fawning.
• Do your homework. Learn what you can about the individual you will be learning from. If he or she has appeared in the newspaper recently, be sure to read the article and comment upon it at a relevant time during the interview. If the person is not known outside the organization, speak to a few people who know the individual. Use some of the facts you learn about his or her career at an appropriate time during your exchange.
• Before conducting the interview, thank the person for his or her time. Engage in a moment or two of “small talk”—comment on the office or express your admiration for the company itself.
• Listen well. Don’t merely move from one question on your list to the next. Don’t interrupt. Follow up on a comment the interviewee may have made. Ask questions related to such comments. Don’t dominate the conversation. Remember that you are there to learn, not to expound on your own experiences.
• Show your respect. If the person has agreed to a half-hour, don’t run over. And, take notes. Such action suggests the interviewee’s words are important enough to be remembered.
• Follow-up with a short note (not electronic, an actual letter) thanking the person for his or her time.
BRING YOUR AIR CASTLES DOWN TO EARTH
Thoreau also offers this advice: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.” Dream on, but don’t stop at the dreaming stage. Heed the Transcendentalist’s advice: “Now put the foundations under them.” The foundations require an action plan. Make it and schedule a periodic review of your progress by someone who is not leading a life of quiet desperation.
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Dr. Marlene Caroselli (email@example.com) is the author of 60+ books and a corporate trainer/lecturer on education and business topics.