How to Make Good Career Decisions

by Sharlyn Lauby | Posted | Career Management

How to Make Good Career Decisions

A couple months ago, we asked you to weigh in on whether or not companies should tell employees that they're part of the succession plan. Most of the people I heard from said "absolutely" - employees need to know where they stand.

Now I'd like to add the other thing employees need in this conversation - the ability to say "yes" or "no".

Organizations could be setting themselves up for a big surprise if they make the assumption that everyone wants to be a part of the succession plan. This is simply not true. Yes, some employees will... but, others might not want the opportunity.

True story - years ago, my boss approached me about pursuing a career in operations. He felt that my expertise in human resources would make me very successful in operations management. While I was incredibly flattered, it wasn't what I wanted to do. I can't imagine what would have happened if the company put me on some fast-track to operations leadership without asking me first. I could have possibly ended up in a career I didn't like or hurt my working relationship with my boss by turning down an opportunity after the company had invested in me.

How to identify your most productive self

Luckily, he gave me a choice and I figured out how to decline the opportunity. The situation made me realize that no matter what career path you are pursuing, there are a few questions you should be able to answer for yourself:

Think of the moment in your life when you were feeling most productive, most healthy, most successful, most self-fulfilled. What was happening in your life at that time? What was the situation that made you feel that way? Describe in some detail the specifics of the situation, how you felt in that situation, how you felt about yourself, and how you behaved.

Ultimately, every career decision you make should align with the answers to these questions. Whether that's starting your own business, changing companies, accepting a promotion, whatever... that career decision should help you feel productive, healthy, and successful. If it doesn't, then you should ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?"

Identifying your most productive self can take patience

Figuring out the answer to these questions takes time, self-awareness, and serious thought. The answer won't arrive in a flash. It might evolve over time. The point is each of us needs to figure out what our most productive state looks like and then make career decisions that will get us there.

In addition, it's possible that a career decision will move you closer to your most productive state without completely getting there. And that could be valuable. It's about recognizing what your career decision will do for you.

In my experience, I've found when employees would talk to me about not being happy and satisfied in their careers, it's because they were making career decisions that moved them away from being their most productive, healthy, and self-fulfilled. They made career decisions contrary to the answers above.

Once you know your most productive state, start practicing how to articulate it: "I'm at my most productive when I'm doing ____________________." Look for activities in your current role that you can use as an example. For instance, "I'm my most productive when I'm able to be enterprising. For example, when I was able to volunteer for the health and wellness fair committee without asking permission first."

Ensuring your work aligns with your most productive self

Now that you are aware of your most productive state and can articulate it, there are three things you should do to help your career opportunities.

1. Share this information with your manager. Start including this information in conversations with your manager during performance reviews, one-on-one meetings, etc. If your manager doesn't know, how can you expect them to help you become your most productive self? This information helps your manager understand you and the types of career opportunities you want in the future.

2. Respond to opportunities in the productive context. If you're presented with a career opportunity that doesn't excite you, decline the offer using your most productive as a reason. You can say, "That sounds like a great opportunity. I've found that I'm at my least productive when I'm doing _______________. So I don't know that I'm a good fit for this assignment."

3. Use it during meetings. Every once in a while, we end up attending a meeting where we know we're going to leave with an assignment. Instead of trying to avoid the inevitable and ending up with a work assignment you don't like, volunteer early for an assignment that aligns with your most productive. If you have to take on more work, why not take on work that you will enjoy.

I wish I could say this works every time but we all know there are times when we will have to do work that doesn't align with our most productive state. The goal isn't to eliminate all forms of least productive work. It's to spend the vast majority of our time doing our most productive work.

That's when we know we're making good career decisions.

Your turn: How do you ensure you're doing work that aligns with your most productive self?

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It\'s everything you need to get executive buy-in and ongoing support for your proposed talent initiatives.

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