Tell Your Career Strategy Story

Career Strategy FrameworkOver the years as a manager at Microsoft I have always told my team members that I could not support their career unless I knew their story.   While we all know that we need other people to help us achieve success most people have a hard time telling their story.  These are often the people who see others achieving success and growing in their careers.    They see transitions and wonder if management is looking after them.  What they don’t understand is that those people likely have a story that they have been executing against and sharing with others who can help the dream become reality. We have all heard the stories where someone rose to stardom while being at the right place at the right time with a compelling personal capability.  My experience is these are more the rare than the norm and the ability to tell your career story is needed more than ever in a world of hyper competition and real-time information.

Career Storytelling is an Untapped Potential

Within Microsoft I am often referred by fellow colleagues to people who are at a career crossroads and looking for assistance to craft their career strategy.  I don’t pretend to have any silver bullets given that designing a career strategy is personal and takes a lot of thoughtful time.  A few years ago I had a person visit my office looking for the simple answers.  We did not know each other and after I went through my spiel I recommended that he come back in about a month to “practice” telling his career strategy story.  Not surprising he never returned.   After years of observation I am not quite sure whether people just do not take the time to define their career strategy or they don’t know how to do it.  I am sure it’s a combination of both.  I then think about it from a company perspective and what could be more important than aligning business need for talent with the passions of employees?  The one thing I am convinced of is there is a remarkable untapped opportunity for businesses and employees to improve how career management is practiced that will result in competitive advantage for both.  Otherwise there is lost opportunity – the one life we lived could have been greater and more fulfilling.

Let’s be clear – employees need to be able to tell their story and drive broad awareness to what they have achieved, what they want and where they are going.  Again while this is quite obvious I think about the situations where I have been in talent management sessions with others managers and the instances when we could recall very little about a particular person let alone where they were going with their career.  I recommend never to be one of those people.

I am not willing to invest my valuable time with people who do not take managing career success seriously.  A year ago I was interviewing candidates for a position with my team and I met a young man over a video call. Within 15 minutes he told me his career strategy story and why this job aligned with that strategy.  He was the first person I interviewed and I was sold on the spot.  My management recommended that I evaluate many other candidates but nobody even came close.  I invested relocation funds and waited an additional four months for this person to join my team from half-way around the world.  This opportunity changed his life forever and he has been extremely successful in this new role.  I reflected on the other people who came  into my office with a typical resume’ and I would find myself trying to figure out why they were here.

“Those who can quickly tell their compelling story get the opportunity – no different from anything else in life.”

career strategy framework

Steps to Successful Career Strategy Storytelling

The steps below are in essence what the Career Strategy Framework processes are all about – creating, managing and executing a career strategy.  I encourage you to review the Career Strategy Framework overview including a reference deck. I typically tell my career strategy story with a short set of PowerPoint slides that align with the topics in the picture above.

Step One: Know What’s Important, Who You Are and Who You Want to Become – career strategy cannot start until you know what is important, gain a deep understanding of who you are as a person and define an inspiring future state of who you want to become.  These are questions that are answered within the “Know” process and I encourage you to refer to the deck and references in the Know overview.  I highly recommend two books that I recently read that will inspire you to reflect and help you answer many of life’s most important questions – How Will You Measure Your Life? and One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do.

Step Two: Define Your Personal Value Proposition – what are you selling to who and why is it so special? Summarize a value proposition that is inspiring but yet believable.  Refer to the Target overview for more information.

Step Three: Define Your Career Roadmap – summarize your current career goals (“Now”) and the potential pathways in front of you to learn and deepen the set of competencies that you will need to excel in your target market and deliver on your value proposition.  This deliverable will help you describe what you want to achieve in the short-term and explore “what’s next” during career discussions.

Step Four:  Define Your Development Plan – summarize the learning experiences that are required for your current role as well as the competencies that will be required for what’s next.  Your development plan should include both on-the-job learning experiences and knowledge you can gain by formal training.  It’s essential that you identify the stakeholders who will serve as mentors and sponsors to learn from and support your development plan.

Step Five: Summarize Market Evidence and Marketing Plan – we all like to know what we are buying so summarize the market evidence that gives your current value proposition and past accomplishments credibility.  It’s also helpful to summarize the channels you will be using to drive more awareness to your brand and value proposition.

Step Six: Practice, Practice, Practice – the key to selling your career strategy is exhibiting the confidence and passion when you tell your story to managers, sponsors and stakeholders.  The only way you will gain this confidence is to practice, practice and practice.  I tell people there is always time in a typical day to sell and influence – you just need to have your story ready.

Be Ready To Tell Your Story

This past week was very interesting and exciting for me at Microsoft.   All within a few days I had a new manager as result of a transformation and someone who I have never met knock on my door for a new opportunity within the company.  In both cases I was able to share my career strategy deck to quickly bring them up to speed on who I am, what I aspire to achieve and where I am going.   My new manager and I reviewed the deck during a 1:1 and this gave him an opportunity to learn more about me and I was able to share my passions.  As for the prospective hiring manager I was able to pinpoint the role on my career roadmap and the fact that it was a potential match for us both.   Time will tell what comes from these adventures but one thing is for sure – don’t be caught off guard not being able to tell your story when the environment quickly changes for either the good or bad.

Earlier this year during a conversation with a leader I told him that career management was one of my passions and I thought we could take it to a higher level at Microsoft.  A few weeks later he asked me to record a video on this topic and host a discussion with the broader organization.  Since then I have been even more energized by sharing this framework more broadly and leading monthly roundtables to help follow colleagues learn more about themselves and how they can align their passions with Microsoft’s business need.  A few months ago I won a thought leadership award and it was the extra motivation that I needed to create this website.   I am leading a movement to change lives and it’s the stories that always keep me coming back for more.

Everybody loves a good story – what is yours?

Start Your Career Strategy With “Know”

Architecting a career strategy can be overwhelming and knowing where to start is often a challenge.   The Career Strategy Framework “Know” process is generally where I recommend people start.  It forms the foundation for setting strategy by defining what is important, the attributes that describe you and your brand promise.  The output of the Know process use is used to define a target market and value proposition as described in the diagram below.

career strategy framework

The Know process attempts to answer the following questions:

  • What is important?
  • Who are you?
  • What is your life purpose?
  • What roles do you play in life?
  • What is happiness?
  • What identity are you positioning?
  • What is your brand promise?

The process challenges you to “Know” what’s important, who you are, and want to become.  There are three primary deliverables from the Know process including a definition of what is important, a personal profile and branding position. I recommend this part of the process be one of deep reflection outside of your normal day-to-day environment and routine. The deliverables from this process are foundational for the market analysis and targeting activities in the “Target” process. The definition of “what’s important” will also be used to allocate time, talent and treasure when you execute your career strategy.

I am leading a career strategy workshop within Microsoft and we are using the concepts from the book Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It to help colleagues clarify what brings them energy and who they want to become.  I highly recommend this book and the ongoing process to “measure” the Mojo to shape your career strategy.  Members of my workshop and colleagues who have applied this framework in the past confirm that the “Know” process is not easy but highly valuable to career strategy development.  It takes time and an iterative approach to feel “comfortable” with the your profile and an identity and brand that you want to position.  Share you draft with important people in your life for honest feedback and validation.

This presentation provides a deeper overview of the Know process including examples that may help you craft your definition of what is important, your profile and brand identity.  Today I held a roundtable discussion on the Know process and I was amazed by the creativity of my colleagues as they shared their content.  One learning for me was the recognition that introverts and extroverts have different ways of expressing their profile.  There are also cultural factors that influence how people define their profile and to what extend it is shared.

Take control of your career strategy and life by defining what is important, describing who you are and who you want to become.  What could more important to set your direction?

Career Strategy For Our Youth

What could be more important than setting our youth up for success in life?  I would argue that “career strategy” is just as important for our youth than it is for us who are working professionals. Making a transition from high school to the next phase of a young person’s learning journey can be a big step and one that influences the rest of our life.  The people we meet, the content we learn and the experiences we live.  But how much “career strategy” is really discussed at this early phase in life?  I have a hypothesis that many of the principles of the Career Strategy Framework could help young men and woman pursue their passions and identify the best learning environment for them to excel.

I am always astonished when I hear the stories of kids who finished four years of college and are not sure what to do now or discover that there is not a market for their knowledge.  Did kids pursue their passions or their parent’s interests and goals for them? Did they even think about who they are and want to become before spending thousands of dollars and four years of their life?  I am not saying that young people need to have all of the answers in life but understanding their core interests and what makes this tick is critical to getting off to a great start in post-secondary education.

It’s been many years since I went off to college with little guidance on how best to pursue my passions and develop the required set of competencies for career success.  Much of my experience was self-learned through trial and error.  Even in my graduate MBA studies there was minimal career strategy even though we went deep into strategy, market analysis and leadership.   Career strategy should be practiced leading up to college and during college to prepare for the next “learning” opportunity in the real world.  As a father of five with two preparing for college you could say I am about to “eat my own dogfood” as we say at Microsoft.

It all starts with the “Know” process and people understanding their interests, passions and learning styles that will form the foundation for setting a direction.  All of my kids are different and I know I will need to take dedicated time to help them to explore their personal profile.  They have different interests, learning styles and strengths.  Discussing the potential job market now and thinking about what skills that will be required down the road will shape the “target market” and the development plan (e.g. college courses).

“Each day of your life much be guided by passions and critical success factors for realizing life’s purpose”

Graphic Artist: Patrick Gray

I encourage those with teenagers who are preparing for college to review the Framework Overview and Know processes for the questions and ideas that I hope will open up your minds to shape career strategy for our young men and women.

I took an important step over the last few weeks with my son by listening to his core interests, discussing future career ideas and visiting a college that will be in harmony with his learning styles.  He is learning how to “sell” his style and market his talents for taking the next important step in his life next year.  As a parent I know I will be an important asset to helping him plan and support his direction.   Invest in “career strategy” with our youth and let the creative energy flow!

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