Go big, go small, or go home?

You joined a start-up with the intention of making an impact. Small team, big results. But what happens when things outside your control muck this up? You may have been (or are) here before: the scrappy company gets devoured by the big corporate machine. Why?!

But maybe it’s not so bad! In fact, it could actually be the biggest growth opportunity of your life so far. A chance to leverage the channels your new company has access to and scale the goodness you and your team is building. But this doesn’t happen by accident; it requires a good vision and strategy methodical planning, and support from leadership.

Career action planning is a two way street

To set actionable career plans that don’t just sit on your hard drive and satisfy some corporate machine’s HR checklist, you need to be clear about what YOU want. But in order to do that, you also need to know WHERE you’re heading, which is the vision your people leader sets. This is why career action planning is a two-way street.

As a people leader, you need to get sure you understand your team’s mission and vision. If you don’t, ask your leadership team questions before setting goals with your direct team. The blind leading the blind helps no one.

Let me illustrate this concept with a simple example:

Assume I’ve been planning to cook roast beef for four but now I have to make Cioppino 12. I don’t have the time to prepare my kitchen.

Vision change can at first seem overwhelming. But what if you looked at it this way instead:

I was planning one dish, which I can make in my sleep but now I get to learn how to make something new. And I can switch sous chefs onto new areas so they can dust off their strengths in new areas to learn as well.

It’s important to acknowledge the vision and opportunity. It makes it a lot easier to make goals that feel real.

What’s cookin? Any new recipes needed?

Next, you need to reassess the goals and needs of the greater team. Have they changed or do you foresee changes as the business scales? 

Anytime you can, try to plan ahead for different scenarios and help your team assess where they may need to pivot, including resetting or adjusting goals. Our team uses the Objective Key Result (OKR) planning process, albeit a bit forced, but issues aside it does help with alignment as well as realignment (in a relatively quick fashion) across multiple functions. For example, if our VP doesn’t have a priority listed that we feel is a miss, we can have that conversation. It helps encourage a collaborative and transparent goal-setting process that folks are more inclined to participate in.

As goals change, we may also need to change up roles and responsibilities. To do this well, revisit each team member’s top 1-3 strengths: the skills they have that they also enjoy using. Focus on what drives their passion and motivates them to do exemplar work. Compare their strengths to the revised goals to identify where you can activate folks’ potential in new ways.

Acting like an elephant ballerina

Back to not getting overwhelmed (well-being is critical to your work and home families), the change required can feel like a lot. The trick is to find a working hack: how can you make small changes to test the waters and solve a piece of a problem at a time? If this sounds familiar, the next section is based on the Agile principle of thin slicing. 

When your team is given a big challenge to solve, break it into pieces. Of those pieces, what can be solved relatively quickly with limited resources? The trick here is to not plan too far ahead because changes will come up and it makes it easier to change direction with agility.

And as a change comes up, you’ll start to build your tool kit of experience to continuously strive to get better at seeing things before they happen. Sounds like a mind reader? Think of a time when you were relieved to have your manager at your side as you worked through a tough challenge. Most times the manager was probably so successful because they referred back to a past life story that gave them a hint into that current story’s end.

You’re not alone

For some of the challenges that are more tough to thin slice, identify who you can lean on for support. On our team, we knew this would require sponsorship, mentorship, and collaboration to support career growth on our team. We would also even have to get out of our comfort zone and design a career development model to set expectations that line up with our goals. But that’s okay because we had each other’s experiences to pull from. Imagine the power of 25 managers with a range of one to 20 years of experience. That’s powerful stuff.

Stay tuned for the next post on how we combined our leadership brainpower to experiment with career development modelling and cook up a talent planning recipe you don’t want to miss!

Lessons learned 

  • Get clear on your organization’s vision first, then look for the opportunity
  • Flow with change and make changes to your team’s goals based on business strategy and mission/vision
  • Thin slice the larger challenges and tackle one piece at a time
  • Lean on your support system: manager, mentor, and other folks in your trusted circle

Supported people are happy people!

Enjoying Ramen in Akemi, a small beach town in Japan

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