Right-To-Left Career Management

I had a client, a successful CEO who said he always practiced right-to-left thinking for his business.  Despite my many years of career consulting with some very smart people, I hadn’t heard that one, and don’t remember it from my management texts, strategy books, or LinkedIn posts, so I had to ask what he meant.  He said that he, like most executives, had an intuitive image or vision of what he wanted the company to look like five to ten years out.  It wasn’t fully formed, but had some sense of business size, scope, revenues, products/services, and value.  He put this on the right side of a large piece of paper.  In the middle he put a couple of intermediate phases, and on the left started putting down immediate action steps to eventually achieve his goal.

Simple enough so even I could understand it, and easy to use as a tool to engage employees, investors, and customers in the company’s planning exercises.

I also thought this would be a highly effective career planning tool and have used it with a number of clients to help refine their career thinking.

For example, I worked with a McKinsey consultant who eventually thought he wanted to run a company.  We did a bit of refining and some serious reality checking, then built a plan.  It was clear he needed operating skills, especially general management/P&L exposure.  This exercise helped identify three or four near-term scenarios that could get him to his goal, and this informed and focused his search efforts.  In two moves, he was a company division President, built personal assets and a network of potential investors, and bought a small, now rapidly growing company.  So how do you use right-to-left thinking for your career?  Start by answering the hackneyed interview question, “Where do you want to be in five years?”  Only this time, answer it just for yourself.  You are not allowed to answer “I don’t know”, because in your private thoughts you have been thinking something- Head of Marketing, CFO, successful entrepreneur, non-profit executive, high-priced consultant, whatever.

Refine your image a bit- Where?  Any industry preference?  Size of company, culture, etcetera.  Then build a model of the skills (personal and professional) necessary to do that job well.  Check with people doing it for insights and validation.

Then do a reality check- Do you have those skills and/or can you develop them?  Does it really look that exciting close up?  What’s your motivation level?  If it’s not a fit, some rethinking might be in order.  If it is a fit, build your near-term action plan to expand your skills and experience credentials.  This generally involves identifying types of positions that will help you check off the boxes and can lead to the ultimate goal.  The plan may include outside education/training, and will definitely include network building.

All of this will help you focus and energize your job search.  Two final thoughts.  You may want to arrange for a couple of mentors and/or professional career advice.  Also, plans change and fate intervenes.  Be open to both and enjoy the ride.

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