For years I’ve worked with teams helping them increase the agility of their product development efforts, leadership and culture. The thinking went that with a culture based on evidence-based decision making, continuous learning and customer centricity the organization could overcome any obstacle thrown its way without a company-wide panic. Since we have a learning loop built into everything that we do and we respect the evidence and insight it generates we create the environment where course correction is not only welcomed, it’s celebrated.
One of the places where we haven’t focused this approach nearly as much is ourselves, and more specifically our careers. Most folks take a standard approach to their career path — the one we’ve all been taught. Go to university. Get a degree. Find an entry-level job. Work your way up to management. Get the corner office. Save for retirement. Incremental improvements based on the assumption that the next best job will always be there, as will those promotions and corner offices. The reality we’re facing today — even before the pandemic threw the business world into disarray — is that those assumptions are rarely true. The loyalty we show to our employers is rarely reflected back to us and that straightforward career path we were promised often ends up looking like a zigzag line, if it’s even continuous at all.
(My new book, Forever Employable: How to Stop Looking for Work and Let Your Next Job Find You, has more tactical exercises like this.)
Why then haven’t we taken a good look at applying the basic principles of organisational agility to our careers and professional growth? The amazing thing is that these principles can be grafted onto to your professional path very easily. Let’s take a look.
We start with a problem statement to solve:
I set out to become successful in software engineering and follow a traditional subject matter expertise career path. Given the increasing volatility in the tech space, lower barriers to entry and the commoditisation of software engineering, finding the next best engineering job has become increasingly difficult. This causes me stress and anxiety about how to provide for my family and ensure stability and financial security for the foreseeable future.
How might I improve my professional development activities so that I ensure I always have a broad spectrum of opportunities available to me as a next best step in my career? I’ll know I’ve achieved this when I see at least one inbound job opportunity that I believe is a good fit per month.
In this statement, we’ve identified the current condition, the challenge to that condition and what the target condition could look like in terms of outcomes — changes in the behaviour of my target audience (in this case, it’s employers).
We move on to declaring assumptions:
I assume that my target audience is made up of CTO’s at companies I want to work for (a specific industry or type of organization), and that that the benefit they would get from hiring me is a better software engineering team and culture plus less stress on their day to day workload.
I also assume that I can get their attention by posting short videos on YouTube that share some bit of my knowledge or expertise. My expectation is that this content will reach this audience and ultimately motivate them to contact me when they have vacancies.
We then write our hypotheses:
I believe that by providing short videos on YouTube showcasing my tech expertise to CTO’s at companies I want to work for, I will build a strong audience that will continue to grow and consider me for future employment.
I will know I am right when I have at least 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year and I receive at least one relevant inbound job lead per month.
Finally, we run experiments:
Before you set out to buy a $10k home video studio invest $10 in a steady tripod and position your iPhone on it. Record yourself in front of a whiteboard sharing a 5 minute video of something you feel would be valuable to the people you’re trying to influence. Post it to YouTube and tell everyone about it. See what kind of feedback you get, make another video and post it again.
This is one, very specific example of how to apply the same exact principles of agility and continuous learning we use in product development to your own career. The template is nearly identical. The variables will change based on how you’d like to proceed in your career and where you’d like to grow. Just like in product development, our ideas are not always going to be right about what’s good for our career or is a good next step. And just like in product development, our goal is to influence the behaviour of others in a way that benefits them and us. In this case, you’re not focusing on customers of products but consumers of your skills, expertise and experience.
Want to learn more about this? My new book Forever Employable has tons more information.