Many years ago, I was in a mid level human resources management job in my hometown, in a wonderful, diversified company that provided me with enormous job satisfaction, extraordinary compensation, terrific benefits, and great experience. I liked the job, loved the boss, and learned a lot. And I knew it couldn’t last forever, maybe even not much longer. The year we paid no bonuses, I made a plan. The three things in my plan were:
In order to qualify for another senior level human resources job as good as this one, I must complete my undergraduate education and obtain a master’s degree. (I had five years of college but had left school before graduating.)
In order to have the greatest number of choices of jobs in my profession, I must become an experienced and confident traveler. (I had developed a fear of flying, and had not had to travel much over the prior ten years.)
In order to build a good future in my profession, I must get a good job in a Fortune 500 company and build a more substantial list of professional accomplishments.
It took me five full years to do these things, but I can’t tell you that I would have done them had I not a serious conversation with myself. To be honest, there were five things; I also had to dump a loser boyfriend and get comfortable with the idea of relocating to small Midwestern city far from my native Pittsburgh. If you want to list ten things, that’s your choice, but you have to have three, and you have to write them down and revisit them from time to time.
If you look at my three things, you’ll see a couple of important words that tip you off to what I was determined to have in my career. These are the things I work for; look for the things you work for when you identify and compose your own success factors.
First, I used the word “senior” level. I knew I wanted to move up in my profession—I wanted influence and I wanted to be the top HR person wherever I worked. Throughout my career, I found that I was sufficiently “different” in the way I approached the HR profession to warrant avoiding a reporting relationship with a more traditional HR executive. I love reporting to business people, and I don’t mind breaking HR traditions when I do; it’s easier to just admit it than to try to defend it when things don’t work out.
Second, I work for choices. I always want as many choices as I can garner. In the instant situation, a fear of flying was going to limit me in ways I could no longer deny. Getting over it was going to have to happen if I was to have the choices I craved in my next job. Besides, it was a silly fear, it made no sense, and I could not defend it.
Third, I am future oriented. I am always looking down the road. I’m a planner. I know a future doesn’t just happen; you build it. I’d spent many years and was about to spend many more in a wonderfully entrepreneurial company with some of the most terrific folks I’d ever meet. But I wasn’t well-educated, and now my experience was not as competitive as my peers, as well, having taken place in a largely unknown place, no matter how financially productive that had been for me. If you want to do HR you have to do it in great places with good HR names associated with them.
When you establish your success levers, you must:
Be precise; state what you mean. This isn’t the time to be general, obfuscating, coy, or excessively demanding of yourself. Getting an MBA is not the same as just going back to school. You might not need an MBA; you might simply need to master principles and the language of accounting.
Be truthful with yourself. If you have spent the last ten years addicted to a raft of Tivo’d soap operas or you spend your evenings with Nintendo or Wii, and now you are going to have to use that time and your intellectual resources more productively, this is important to acknowledge, and this is one place in the planning process where you must mention it.
Correlate what you must do with why you must do it. “In order to build my reputation as a clear-headed, reliable EMT supervisor, I must stop spending my off-hours in Bob’s Bar and begin using the time to volunteer for additional shifts.” “In order to build a stronger network of caring people who will help me, I must volunteer for some committees at the church.”
That’s all: Precision, Truth, and Correlation. But once you have articulated what you have known all along, it isn’t as big, it isn’t as scary, and it isn’t avoidable. It’s there to be done.