How to Create a 3 Year Plan for Your Career

Do you have a 3 year plan? If not, you should. Otherwise you may find yourself stuck in a role, and working for an organization, that limits your career growth and personal satisfaction.

3 year plan - chess

You should never plan to stay with any organization more than three years, let alone twenty. The organization you join today could go through changes beyond your control, gaining different clients and a new reputation overnight.

A quick look at many of the world’s top industries and companies should confirm this. This tends to happen as companies seek maximum flexibility (which is often at a cost to employees) to respond to changes in the economic environment. It’s happened to me a few times in my career. I’ve gone to work for a respectable company with a great boss; suddenly, thanks to new policies or a change in leadership, my workplace becomes a mental prison from which I begin plotting my escape.

The First 90 Days

The method I often use in the first 90 days of my 3 year plan is an adaptation of the process introduced in Michael Watkins’ book, The First 90 Days. It is within those first 90 days that I find an onboarding model that works for me. This little change in thinking has helped me to move my own career forward, and it could help you, too.

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The first 90 days of my 3 year plan are constructed of three 30-day periods. The first 30 days is all about discovery -looking, listening, and learning. During the next 30 days, choose a single task or project and try getting the most out of it by under-promising and over-delivering. For the last 30 days, evaluate, reflect on what you’ve learned, and think of what you’ve gained from the actions you’ve taken. I call my onboarding plan “DDE” as a mnemonic reminder for the three steps: Discovery, Delivery, and Evaluation. The idea behind these 90-day cycles is the same behind your 3 year plan.

The first year with an organization is made up of multiple ninety-day sprints, stops and starts. You go through the process of discovery, delivery, and evaluation constantly to ensure that you are adding value to your organization. Your first year in an organization and these 90-day cycles that make it up should help you to figure out if your efforts have been noticed, if your time was used productively, and whether or not the organization has benefited from your contribution.

First Year: Discovery

Figure out the organization. Look at, listen to, and learn from everyone that you can. Like any group of people, organizations have a distinct personality and culture. This will help you find your role within the company. Work your hardest, meet new people, network, and volunteer for some difficult projects. Be seen as a team player and someone who can be counted on.

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Second Year: Deliver

Once you’ve reached the 2nd year of your 3 year plan, make sure that everything you produce is a solid, deliverable product. Year two is all about delivering on your work, your promises, and your partnerships. Build a reputation, and take some responsibility for the company’s success.

If you’re having trouble with your new duties, go back to discovery quickly – you may have missed some important information.

Third Year: Evaluate

Now it’s time to evaluate and assess everything you’ve done so far – including your work, the relationships you’ve created, and your future with the organization. This final step of your 3 year plan is the most important; it will help you to identify your career goals and determine whether or not they can be fulfilled at this company. This reflection should begin halfway through year three. By this time, you’ve worked hard to know and be known by the organization.

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As you go through this period of evaluation, ask yourself, “Do I have a future with this organization? Will this organization sustain my career growth? Will it offer me a satisfying career? Confirm this with your boss—make sure that he or she sees things the same way as you do. If you’re in agreement and feel good about your place and future prospects in the organization, you can reset your three-year clock and get ready to start the process all over again.

Perhaps you might find this 3 year plan to be an equally powerful force in your career progression, and a catalyst for you to own your own succession plan.

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Author of Stuck in the Middle: A Generation X View of Talent Management, Dr. Curtis L. Odom has over 15 years of experience in talent development, performance consulting, training, and instructional design as a practitioner, researcher, author and speaker. Dr. Odom earned his doctorate of education from Pepperdine University and has been industry certified as both a Human Capital Strategist and Strategic Workforce Planner from the Human Capital Institute. Formerly serving in the United States Navy, he is currently a member of the International Society for Performance Improvement, the American Society for Training and Development and American Mensa.

Featured photo by Mariano Kamp



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