Build a great career on what you are good at and like to do

In the past few weeks, I’ve conducted career planning sessions with several of the consultants who work with me. We structure these reviews in two parts: a look back at what worked well and what didn’t work as well during the past year followed by goal setting for the coming year. We ask the employees to take the lead in completing a questionnaire that focuses our discussion around these topics. This requires them to take the time to think about what’s really going on and what they really want.

As the leader of a team of highly talented, creative people, I know that I can count on them coming to work each day only if they truly enjoy what they are doing, and if they feel appreciated by their colleagues and challenged by the work. (For people who are good in consulting, money is never the issue.)

We therefore focus on putting together a plan for each person that will help her to grow and give her a sense of accomplishment. Over time, we have learned that this can best be done by following two related guidelines.

First, build next year’s objectives around the employee’s demonstrated strengths. In school, our teachers drilled us on the subjects on which we were weakest. And we hated it.

But the working world doesn’t have to be like school was. If an employee is not good at something, we don’t have to force them to improve on that (unless they really want to.) We can always find other employees who will be good at these things. Instead, we can channel each employee to focus on and further develop those skills and areas of expertise in which she has already demonstrated strength.

Second, we add another dimension. Each employee should like the things that she is doing. We’ve all seen workers who do things that they are really good at – and that they absolutely hate doing. Again, there’s no need for this to happen in a well managed services firm. With foresight and discipline, people should be able to follow their passions. As management expert (and Thornley Fallis client) David Maister says, “Success comes from doing what you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, how could it be called success?”

If I do my job well, I will hire people who have both strengths and passions that we can match to our business opportunities. And if I do this, I will be surrounded by happy, fulfilled, enthusiastic colleagues who are doing great work for our clients.

Do you think we have the right approach to career planning? What approach does your company take to the challenge of guiding employees to grow and prosper?