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!

A Fathers Day Reflection

Each day we are challenged how best to allocate our time and make decisions that drive success and happiness.  Earlier this week I shared a post “A Model to Prioritize and Measure Life” that described an approach I have used over the last six years to help reduce this challenge.  I am sharing another recent example how this model helped me make a decision that aligned with my broader life goals.

My wife and kids have been wanting a dog for many months and the thought of a dog in the addition to all of the daily demands was stressing me out.  I could feel the tension month after month as I continued to say “no”.  The topic came up again on Father’s Day weekend and I was hoping that somehow the conversation would fade in our busy household of seven.  I could hear my wife and kids in the other room all excited as they viewed puppies online.  My wife came into my home office and repeated again how she and the kids wanted a dog and how that would make them so happy.   She said “the kids have never been this happy and excited, what do you think?”  It was at that moment that I had a quick decision to make.  Would I vault to “rock star” status?  The answer was obvious after I thought for a quick moment.

Earlier that Father’s Day morning I enjoyed a relaxing coffee in Starbucks reading How Will You Measure Your Life? and revisiting the “What’s Important” model I developed years back that has shaped my career strategy.  As I thought about my life purpose “live a happy, long and prosperous life while serving others as a husband, father …” and critical success factor “2 – Build a Happy Family” I quickly said “sure”.   All along I was just considering my needs and not the other factors that I identified for realizing happiness and fulfilling life’s purpose.

This past weekend I was out of town and the day before I came home my wife picked up our new dog and surprised the kids with a “gift from Dad”.  I too was surprised when I returned home to see a big poster in my home office.  On this day my wife made me great and I made a deposit to “Build a Happy Family”.

A Model To Prioritize and Measure Life

Where and how much time you allocate to activities in your life is in essence the reality of what you think is important. Many people live life each day unconscious to internalizing what is important let alone measuring if they are on track.   I share a simple, strategic “What’s Important” model I have used over the last six years that in many ways has guided my life choices and how best to allocate my precious time to drive happiness.  The initial catalyst in early 2006 was to improve my career plan but I quickly broadened the approach to my life.

career strategy framework

I first started with a simple definition of my life purpose and this identified the multiple roles I play in life.  I then started to identify the critical success factors that I must work on to achieve my life purpose, realize fulfillment and happiness.  As I sketched out a simple picture the model started to take shape with the life purpose in the center and the critical success factors that surround it.  I then gave more thought of how the critical success factors should be ordered in a clockwise fashion.  I set “Stay Healthy” as the first given that my physical, emotional and spiritual health is the most important foundation for any successful life.  My role as a father and husband gave way to “Build a Happy Family” as the second critical success factor.  With these two foundations in place I could be my best at the workplace and execute strategies within “Manage Career” to drive career fulfillment and success.  If I worked hard on these three critical success factors I would then use “Grow Net Worth” to fuel many of my life and family goals.  I would also be in a position to help others who are less fortunate by donating time and treasure as part of the “Enrich the Community” success factor.

Each day is filled with numerous decisions including how to allocate my time.  My biggest challenge has always been balancing my time between work and family.   It is in that moment where I think about the “What’s Important” picture and how I am doing on each of these critical success factors.  Over the years I have become more at ease living by this model and realizing when one of these critical success factors is improving or degrading.  For example, you will find me running and training each day before I start my day at Microsoft because I know this is job #1.  I made a job change to Microsoft in 2006 for many reasons including getting off of the worldwide travel circuit that helped me improve “Stay Healthy”,  “Build a Happy Family” and realize my career goals within “Manage Career”.  I am better at planning “Build a Happy Family” activities into my Outlook calendar and delivering on those promises.  I even use color coded Outlook “categories” for each critical success factor to view how I am allocating time across my weekly calendar.  I think about the different choices I would have made earlier in my life if I had this wisdom but better late than never.

During a typical demanding work day you generally do not reflect on what is important and whether you are investing your time, talent and treasure to ensure those are realized.  It is not uncommon for the short-term demands of work to capitalize my mind share but the memories of my childhood living in a divorced family and years that went by not speaking to family members quickly puts life in perspective.  I don’t wish that on anybody and luckily years ago I improved how I approach managing the demands of work with the other aspects of my life.  I will be the first to admit that I still have room for improvement but I am more conscious to the daily choices I make and the cascading impact on my life purpose and critical success factors.

The picture provides a helpful visual to model what is important but a set of goals, strategies, objectives, measures and accountability stakeholders are required to help you make it real each day.

  • Critical Success Factors – key issues that drive the ability to achieve your life purpose
  • Goals – WHAT I want to achieve broadly
  • Strategy – HOW I plan to accomplish my broad goals
  • Objective – WHAT must be done by when
  • Measures – MEASURES used to track progress
  • Accountability Stakeholder – the person who will hold you accountable for your goals

career strategy framework

Let’s return to my personal example to see how you can now build a “Personal Strategic Scorecard” to measure your “What’s Important” model and help you determine if you are dedicating the proper focus and time to realize those outcomes.  I will use the “Stay Healthy” critical success factor for the example.

  • Critical Success Factor – Stay Healthy
  • Goal (I WANT) – Physical Health: to live a long life
  • Strategies (I WILL) – Exercise at least 30 mins/day for cardiovascular health and to manage cholesterol
  • Objective (I WILL take the following steps) –  Run and weight train at the Pro Club each day before work
  • Measure – Cardio (# of minutes/day)

Building out the information above for each critical success factor will define a strategic approach to achieving your goals and the necessary measurement system to evaluate your progress.   Below you will find measures I have identified for each of my critical success factors.  I often experiment to determine if I have the proper measures and make adjustments as needed.

personal strategic scorecard

I manage my Personal Strategic Scorecard in Excel and update the measures on different frequencies.

We all have different definitions of success and what we want to achieve in life.  I encourage you to take some time this summer to sketch out your model and measures. My hope is that it will help you prioritize your life and gain timely insight to the adjustments that are required to ensure balance.  We all have heard about the marriages and family life that have been ruined when we live each week and month exclusively for our careers thinking that the other aspects of our life will just take care of themselves.  Sometimes we realize it but it’s too late and our life is changed forever.   Your life needs a strategy, not just your career.

This past Father’s Day weekend I had the chance to read the book How Will You Measure Your Life?.  I highly recommend this book to help you explore the meaning of your life and leveraging the strategic theories that Clayton M. Christensen applies to life and careers. I related to this book as many parts of this Career Strategy Framework are based on strategy and theories normally applied to the business world.  The theories and examples are powerful but it’s our choice to do something with this new found wisdom.

We live one life – make every day count and guide your daily decisions and precious time using the critical success factors that only you can define.  I challenge you to sketch your version of “What’s Important” and share it with those important to you.  This may be the most important picture you ever create.