In business, as in life, being clear about where you are headed is essential to getting there.

Companies spend countless hours and untold dollars figuring out their strategy and the plans to achieve that strategy.

What is astonishing to me, however, is the passivity many business professionals employ in their own careers. I have observed over and over the pregnant pause and verbal stutter after asking a simple question, such as, “What would you like to be doing in five years?” Or, “In what role do you see yourself in three to five years?”

Smart, capable, driven, and self-described ambitious business leaders have stared at me tentatively and then said things like, “I just want to be doing work I enjoy,” or “I’d like to be making a difference,” or “Maybe, eventually, I’d like to be running X, Y, or Z. But not for a long time. I know it takes a lot to get there.”

These same nice, talented, hardworking folks who are also the ones seeking development plans, career paths, and professional development programs from their employers.

So while they don’t know their own goals or ultimate aspirations (they can’t NAME IT), they sure want the company to have a P-L-A-N.

The problem with this approach is that the onus for career development and advancement is placed squarely on the company’s broad, boxy shoulders (and deep pockets) with the implication that it is the organization’s job to figure it out.

But it’s not. It’s not the company’s job to worry about the next step in an employee’s career. Or the one after that. Honestly, why should they care? They have other obligations to fulfill.

  • Your company has an obligation to deliver value to its shareholders.
  • Your company has an obligation to have a longer-term strategy and shorter-term plans in place to deliver that value.
  • Your company has an obligation to make sure it has the right people with the right talents in the right roles at the right time to deliver that value.

WHAT?!? Doesn’t my company have an obligation to develop ME?

Frankly, only to the degree that you are one of those people who have the talent and capabilities to deliver current and future shareholder value.

It’s your job to know what you want in your life and career. Just like the company has an obligation to have a plan, so do you. For your life.

And just like the company has to clearly articulate that longer-term plan, so do you.

Companies write it down, present it, and put their strategies on posters and in PowerPoint presentations. They do this for a reason. So that everyone is very clear on where the organization is headed. And within this clear framework, all decisions (resource allocations) are impacted by said strategy.

It provides clarity, focus, and narrows choice. Which is actually quite freeing.

The company NAMES IT so they can CLAIM IT.

The same applies to you. You have to spend the time evaluating what matters to you, what you are passionate about, what you love to do, and where your greatest talents and weaknesses lie.

Then clearly state where you are headed and lay out a plan to get there.

The support channels you engage along the way is a topic worthy of another blog (which I promise to address).

But the first step is to NAME IT. Because if you can’t name it, you’ll never claim it!