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?

  • Peter Scott

    I think your approach is right on the mark. Too many companies (including the one I work for) consider the employee a commodity, something that starts out as a differentiated asset for the first six months or a year, only to slowly erode over time. What you describe is the place where employees can get out of their own way, relax, create, and grow.

    Kudos to you and your team!

  • Hey Joe, You got your blogging groove back. Good post. The title fits with my thinking these days. Have a great holiday if I don’t talk to you again before then. cheers.

  • By the sounds of it, Thornley Fallis a great place to work. In past firms I’ve worked at, there has been some attempts at career development, but most have been trying to fit the employee to a particular mold instead of what the employee really wanted. This approach seems much better for really building a career, and for keeping great talent.

  • This approach makes perfect sense. It takes the fear equation out of the mix. And too often our responses, and directions, are guided by fear; which rarely makes for a successful business collaboration.

    Great post Joe.

  • Sean Reid

    Great post Joe! Dead-on. Too many managers either avoid career development discussions altogether or only pay awkward lip service to the topic. There is a fear that career discussions will lead to employees leaving or fan disinterest in what they are currently doing. On the contrary, my experience of positive career development discussions only fosters heightened engagement with the company I work for and the role I play.

    Also, liked the plug of David Maister. His book the Trusted Advisor (given to me by my career coach!) has been highly formative for my career thinking and aspirations in recent months.

  • Joe:

    Great post.

    What advice do you have for someone who is in the position of one of the people in the pictures who doesn’t work for an organization as concerned with “what they like to do” or “what they are passionate about?”

    I think it’s great for people who are in the position that you are, but not being in that position, how can I use your advice to hopefully work my way into that spot someday?


  • Hi Joe – It is so refreshing to see the head of an agency take this approach. Too often employers try and fit their employees into defined roles instead of allowing them to focus on their strengths. Have you read “First, Break all the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman? It is about how to look past knowledge and skills and find the right fit for each employee by focusing on strengths.

  • Joe, you are speaking my language! As you already know, as a coach, I live and breath that mantra — both with myself and my clients. In coaching engagements, I always start with the exploration of strengths, core values and passions — and thread it throughout the conversations. A fantastic resource for identifying one’s signature strengths is the the Via Signature Strengths survey by Martin Seligman which can be found at: I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to deepen their awareness around their strengths/gifts.