I love running almost as much as I love helping my clients achieve their career goals.
While I was studying for my Career Coach Certification, I discovered that creating career action plans was very similar to planning for a long-distance race. As an avid runner, I’ve been developing and following action plans for over 10 years – even if I never actually called them “action plans”.
In 2015, I completed my first Marathon (yup, that's me in the photo above crossing the finish line) - 26 miles (or 42 km) of bliss and pain to achieve a life-long dream.
The steps I took to get fully prepared for a distance I had only ever dreamed of running, are the same steps many of my clients follow when creating a realistic and achievable path to their ultimate career goal.
1. Define Your End Goal
When you’re creating a plan, you need to start with the end. Obviously, when I was building my marathon plan, the end was clear – I wanted to run a marathon. But, what exactly did that look like? What marathon did I want to run? Did I just want to cross the finish line or did I want to complete the race within a certain time? What, specifically, did success look like for me?
The same goes with your career plan.
What do you really want? What will really make you happy? What will motivate you to jump out of bed on Monday morning? What does career success mean to you – not your spouse, friends, family, colleagues – to you.
Many clients find it helpful to use assessments to clarify their goals. Sometimes you’re not sure what will make you happy, you just know you’re not happy now.
One of the free assessments I recommend is 16personalities.com. It delivers job and workplace environment recommendations based on your work style, preferences, and values. This assessment also offers relationship and general life insights.
Get as specific as possible with your goal so you can envision it in your mind.
You’ll want to return to this image or vision as you work through your plan – it’s great motivation! I saw the above picture in my mind on nearly every training run leading up to race day.
2. Get Real with Your Starting Point
Before you can develop a plan or strategy, you need to assess how far away you are from your goal.
Going back to my running example, my maximum running distance when I started training was about 10 km. Most of my running workouts prior to my training plan ranged between 3 km and 10 km, depending on how I felt that day. If I had built a training plan that required 15 km runs or 60 km weeks, I would have failed and probably injured myself. I built my distance slowly, as I gained endurance and strength.
If you want to be a District or National Manager, and you’re currently a Sales Representative, there are going to more steps and mini-goals to progress through than if you’re moving from Area Manager to District Manager or Supervisor to Manager.
Identify any gaps you need to fill. Are there education or professional development courses you should complete? Do you have any weaknesses in your current role that seem to be holding you back? Are their qualifications or credentials required for the positions you want?
Don’t be scared to reach out to people in your desired role to learn how they got there – connect with people within your own company or through LinkedIn. Most people will be happy to share their story and advice – you may even land a mentor in the process.
I read countless first-marathon stories and researched oodles of training tricks and advice. It did my confidence a world of good to learn that the people I aspired to be, were once where I was starting.
3. Connect the Beginning with the End
Finally! This is the action part, this is where you map out the steps. When training for the marathon, I planned every single run, cross-training session, and rest day for 4 months. There was a marathon-related entry for every day on my calendar.
I strongly advise creating a list of "small" goals that will lead to your larger, ultimate goal, and "mini" goals that will lead to your smaller goal.
For example, say you’re looking to move into a leadership position that requires managing a budget, but it’s not something with which you have experience. It may be a good idea to take a “Finance for non-Financial Managers” course.
Taking the course would be a “small” goal on the road to the ultimate “promotion” goal. The “mini” goals might look something like: Schedule Meeting with Friend/Co-worker who has taken the Course; Research Course Offerings/Schedules; Sign-Up/Pay for Course; Complete Course; Add Course to LinkedIn & Resume.
Be sure to give yourself deadlines for both the “small” goals and “mini” goals. You’ll be amazed at how you progress through your action plan steps, when you break them into small, bit-sized pieces.
A goal like “send one email to a LinkedIn connection with my dream job on Monday” is much more likely to be achieved than “get a mentor”. Not to mention, accomplishing one “mini” goal after another will be far more motivating than struggling for a month or two to complete a “small” goal.
One last thing – be prepared for set backs.
Understand that you will hit a stumbling block or miss a deadline. Accept it, forgive yourself, adjust, and move forward.
Not every one of my training days went as planned. There were days when I came up short on mileage or the weather was too severe to run outside. On some of those days I completed an alternative workout, while other times I just accepted that rest may be more productive than running.
It will all come together – just have faith in your plan. When you concentrate on taking action with the mini-goals, the rest of your goals tend to fall in place.