January 18, 2021

Scanning your professional landscape – a crucial career planning process

Professional Careers By Design

Career decisions can be overwhelming, and they often happen so quickly, we are left wondering if we’ve made the best move of our professional lives or blown up the road ahead, leaving our career path in ruins.

This is why I encourage all of my clients to approach these decisions with intent – and with information. It’s about building a life that will work for you. There are always unknowns, but when you base decisions on all the best information you have today, you are far more likely to land in a place that meets all your needs.

Part of that work is learning to scan your professional landscape. Let me explain.

Understanding your needs

When I talk to clients about making career decisions, we start with the foundational question of “what matters most to you?” Often the answers to this question are personal in nature:

Building a secure life for my children.

Time with my spouse.

Living near my aging parents.

Staying connected to nature.

These considerations are critical to developing a healthy and fulfilling career and a work-life integration that works for you.

But they are not the only considerations. That’s why clients and I also talk about what matters most to them in their professional lives, and then we build that into the lens for decision-making, too. This is where scanning your professional landscape factors into the equation. It will help you see who will be affected by your decisions. It will give you a clear-eyed view of the place you’re at and the place you hope to go. And it will help you account for the variables and uncertainties of the world around you. Here’s how.

Identify your professional stakeholders

Professional stakeholders are the colleagues who will be affected by your decision to stay in a given role or to move to a new position or institution. Take a 360-degree perspective for this. Those above you will be affected by having to fill your position if you leave. Or by continuing to support you on an important initiative if you stay. Your peers might have to take on more work if you leave, while they might learn new skills from you if you stay. Those below you in the organization may have new opportunities if you leave, such as moving into your job, but they may also experience uncertainty and a new direction for your team if you leave.

People are always affected by our career decisions. Some effects are negative; some are positive. And some might feel negative initially but turn out to be positive, such as leaving behind an employee who really depends on you, only to land them with a new boss who is a wonderful fit and who gives them a new opportunity.

Your examination of stakeholder perspectives might be tricky or make you feel you should not make a move that’s otherwise good for you. That’s not the intent here. If leaving your organization is right for you, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. But your stakeholder analysis might help you identify ways to ease the challenge left in your absence. And it is certainly worthy of your consideration even if it does not ultimately influence your decision. This is simply intelligence gathering, and one of myriad considerations in making intentional decisions.

Scan your current situation

Scanning your existing circumstances is about examining what you would be leaving behind if you were to move into a new role, a new institution or a new industry. Considerations include the financial health of your employer. The politics of the current environment, and your ability to be effective within that framework. Possible changes on the horizon like a restructuring and the ways in which you might be affected. Is this a good environment for you, or not so much – and why?

Part of this work involves getting really clear about what you might be looking to escape (and conversely, what you are looking to avoid in your new situation). It also requires you to consider what you might want to replicate or build on moving forward. In fact, your analysis might ultimately tell you that you don’t need to make any kind of change at all. But you won’t know until you explore it.

Scan your potential new situation

Similarly, you need a clear-eyed view of whatever might be next for you. The truth is, the grass is almost never truly greener somewhere else. You will make tradeoffs with any decision. What you need to do is determine exactly what those tradeoffs might be, and how comfortable you are with them.

This is why you need to ask the same questions of any new role or organization that you ask when scanning your current situation.  What is the nature of the role or job?  Is it a “build from scratch,” a “rebuild or fix what’s broken,” or a “manage a good thing and grow it” kind of assignment?  Is the institution healthy (financially, interpersonally)?  Do you like the administrative philosophy?  Will you have the resources you need to be effective?  Can you be happy in the culture?

Don’t forget the greater context of the world around you

You may run through all these steps and land on a decision that would be crystal clear at any other time in your life, except … there is a pandemic.  The economy is foundering.  The health care system is in crisis.  There is a war.  The list of potential wrenches that could be thrown into your plans is pretty lengthy.  And though it would be nice to take them out of your career calculation, that’s often difficult to do.

For some people, these factors won’t change their decision, and that’s just fine.  What’s important is to give them thought, weigh the risks and make the best choice you can based on all the information you have at your disposal.

Making peace with uncertainty

Part of information gathering is recognizing that you will never have ALL the information.  But when you have gathered intelligence methodically and made a decision grounded in intent and what you do know, you’ll know you have made the best decision you can – and one that is more likely to land you in a spot that works for you personally and professionally.

You have the intelligence from your analysis. Now what?

Understanding what matters most to you personally and professionally plus the results of your landscape scan will help you make key decisions about your next move and the Very Next Actions (I call these VNAs) required to get you there.  Look for more on all of that in this space in the weeks and months to come.

And — as always — let me know what challenges you are facing that we should explore here on the blog or in my other resources. Comment here, or email me anytime!

Last updated January 19, 2021

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