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You need a plan, not a Fairy Godmother

Thursday, February 19, 2015  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Alicia Whitaker

When time comes for your performance appraisal, you may already know what you need to do to perform at a higher level in your current job. But do you know what you need to do to achieve your career goals? Do you know what’s possible? Or how to take the next step?

Related: "Boost your career with these 5 actions"

It’s likely you got where you are today with a combination of hard work, goal achievement and positive relationships. But what do you need to do to get beyond where you are today? The short answer is: You need a plan, you need to enlist your manager and mentors in the plan, and you need to take the time to work on developing skills and abilities you need for the future.

It’s easy to assume everyone knows how much you achieve and contribute or that there’s a corporate Fairy Godmother who is looking out for you. A very small percentage of us have sponsors who are pushing our abilities and promoting us as a candidate to do new and challenging jobs. Many managers are clueless about employees’ longer-term goals or the fact some team members may be willing to take an out-of-the-box career step, such as a cross-functional move to another part of the business, an international assignment or a spot on a high-risk project. Company leaders may assume you are happy where you are and have no desire to do something else.

So, it’s easy to feel overlooked and be overlooked. The remedy involves some introspection regarding your interests, passions and potential goals.

Reality check

If you can identify a handful of things that may truly challenge and excite you, take the next step and do a reality check by speaking with people who are doing some of those things. The best way to find those people and those types of jobs is to enlist your network — peers, managers, mentors — to find them. Once you find them, you can learn more about the reality of the work, what it takes to be good at it, what’s difficult, what you need to learn, etc.

If those types of assignments continue to be of interest, do some gap analysis. What required skills do you have and what do you need to learn? Many companies have a Leadership Competency Model that decision makers use to hire and select people for key assignments. Use this model to analyze your strengths and development needs. Check out the NEW Career Accelerator Model, which identifies career accelerators and derailers for women in the retail, consumer goods and services industry. Arm yourself with a short list of skills that need developing. It’s important that it is a short list, you don’t want to feel overwhelmed. If you take on development actions step by step in a manageable timeframe, you’re more likely to do what you need to do.

The next step is both obvious and challenging: Let people know about your interests, goals and development needs, starting with your manager. Have a conversation with your manager in the spirit of "I know that I need to be in charge of my career development and I’m enlisting your help and feedback."

Make it clear that you remain committed to your current job and team goals, but are taking action for the future. Share what you’ve learned, what you’d like to learn, and gain your manager’s support. She may very well be able to open doors for you by sharing her network, supporting your development plan and using special projects or assignments within your current job to give you the opportunity to learn new skills and develop broader relationships. She may make you aware of terrific possibilities you haven’t considered. She may also give you a reality check.

The important thing is to take action. Don’t let the year go by without making an investment in your career growth and the learning you need to propel that growth. Having a plan and taking action will make you feel powerful and accountable. Just do it!

As a principal with Whitaker Associates, Alicia Whitaker partners with top leaders to initiate and execute bold changes in how global talent is managed and developed. She assists executive teams to change their organizations, specializing in executive coaching, team building, talent assessment and development and succession management.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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