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Creating a Strategic Career Plan

December 11, 2020

Finding Your Purpose and Creating Your Own Career Strategic Plan

What is your definition of success? According to Creighton Healthcare Executive Education program director, Laurie Baedke, high performance leadership begins with clarity around how you define success.  That clarity lays the foundation for building your own career strategic plan.

Companies and organizations create strategic plans by charting out short-, mid- and long-term goals, objectives and vision. It allows the entity to break down goals and objectives into milestones and tactics needed to achieve progress.

Baedke says we should be doing the same strategic planning for ourselves and our careers. Many times, we follow the current and “go with the flow,” mirroring what our peers are doing. To create an intentional career strategic plan, we must look at ourselves as an asset and determine if the path we are on aligns with who we truly want to be.

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What is a career strategic plan?

A career strategic plan is a road map. Before the times of GPS and smart phones, we used an atlas to reach our destination. In our careers, it is critical for us to determine a destination and use our sense of direction to leverage our asset–ourselves.

Creating a strategic career plan starts with awareness. Baedke says, “You need to understand your leadership style and what makes you unique in the way you show up. You must start with a pursuit of clarity.” There are so many things in life that pull our attention. It is crucial to quiet distractions and start with an awareness of who you are and what you want to be. What are your goals? What are your values? What motivates you? What impact do you desire to make?

It is not a common practice to sit down and create a career development plan, but it’s critical to figure out what is important to you. It takes disciplined thinking to cut time out of your busy schedule and establish the boundaries that are necessary to intentionally sit with protected time to drive that clarity. This clarity will set the foundation for evaluating your career path.

Finding What’s Important

Baedke explains a story she heard from Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing. While he was vacationing in Hawaii with his wife, they went snorkeling. Being engrossed in what they were seeing, he soon realized they had drifted over a half a mile from the shore. In order to get back, they had to swim for several hours, fighting against the current.

It’s easy to find yourself drifting in life. You might start with a plan but get distracted with what you’re doing and seeing, and not realize where you’re headed or how far you’ve drifted without any thought of direction.

“Unless we are intentional about how we show up, we can find ourselves so consumed in what’s going on around us that we miss going in the directions we intended and achieving the outcomes we need in life,” says Baedke. 

Take time to find and name what’s important to you. If you’re drifting, where would you rather be?

Similarly, you’ll need to reflect on whether your plan is your true calling, or if you’re just following someone else’s path. Taking stock will help determine if you are on the right path, or if you need to pivot. Baedke compares this thought to a ladder leaning against a wall. You may be taking steps up the ladder, but is the ladder on the wall you want to be climbing, or are you just getting to the wrong place faster? Answering that question is another step to creating an effective career growth plan.

How to Write a Career Plan and Execute It

Like a business’s strategic plan, a career plan has several important components: naming your mission, identifying your values, setting goals, and modifying behaviors. We’ll take a closer look below. 

Mission or purpose. What do you want to do, or what have you been called to do, in life? What draws you and makes you come alive? To determine your mission, you must gain clarity on what your purpose is. We all have a purpose that we are most drawn to that energizes rather than drains us. When creating your career plan, name your mission and purpose.

Values. Do you understand your values? Reassess them so you can use them as a filter in your decision-making process. We all hold many values, but there are three to five that are truly core values to you. Identify your values, write them down and use them to steer what you do.

Goals. Once you have named your mission and your values, begin setting goals that will help you work toward your ultimate purpose. Goals affect performance by directing attention, mobilizing effort, increasing persistence and motivating strategy development. Consider short-, mid-, and long-term goals that will enable the career ascent and impact that you desire. As you set goals, you should also set benchmarks or milestones for yourself to keep you moving on the right path. You could set a reminder on your phone to check in at certain intervals or evaluate the first Saturday of every month, for instance. The key is to keep them top of mind once you’ve set them. 

Behaviors. Break goals down in to behaviors that will help you actually make progress. Our habits drive behaviors. Even the most brilliant plans, if never nudged into motion, are useless. You must bridge the “knowing – doing gap” and define the behaviors necessary to achieve the goals you’ve set.

The Power of Habit

As you put together and work on your career plan, remember the power of habit. Humans are creatures of habit.

According to a study “Psychology of Habit,” by Wood and Runger, nearly half of our actions are performed daily and in the same context. When we have habits that are productive and positive, they are helpful because they:

  • Make us more efficient
  • Reduce the decision-making burden
  • Free up mental energy for more demanding tasks

An important step in the career strategic planning process is to take stock of your habits. According to Baedke, you should evaluate what habits are helping you achieve your goals and which are standing in the way of your goals.

Baedke explains there are innate characteristics–such as being a morning or night person–that drive our habits. These characteristics define how and when each individual can get their best work done and set themselves up for success each day. Get to know yourself. Understand your innate strengths and take time to consider how they can help you work toward your goals.

Your Career Plan is a Work in Progress

Finally, remember that this process isn’t set-it-and-forget-it. You’ll need to perpetually take stock and ask, “What is my purpose? What are my values and goals? Who do I want to be? Am I investing time and energy in making progress toward my goals?”

Strategic career planning gives you permission to live a life that’s more reflective and focused on what you want to be. It lets you be a more values-focused and more productive leader. When you make a plan, work toward it and take the time to evaluate it, you’ll move forward intentionally rather than drifting along.

For more information on Creighton’s Healthcare Executive Education programs, please contact the director of Healthcare Leadership Programs, Laurie Baedke, FACHE, FACMPE at lauriebaedke@creighton.edu or 402.280.4948. Laurie is a well-known speaker and co-author of the book The Emerging Healthcare Leader–A Field Guide. She has studied emotional intelligence extensively and presents nationally on the topic.