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Map Your Career Path

Author: Marc Effron Originally Published on the Harvard Business Review

It’s easy to be confused about how to grow in your career. My experience with even the most successful global companies is that they’re between average and poor at developing future talent. They’re often not transparent about your real needs and vague about the most effective development options.

The challenge is that you’re competing against every individual in your industry who wants to be a high performer. If you grow more capabilities more quickly than they do, you’ll perform better today, earn opportunities to perform better in the future, and a virtuous cycle will take hold. Development matters. So how can you chart the shortest, surest path to success?

Grow Yourself Faster

The research is clear about how we grow most successfully: it’s a combination of on-the-job, social, and formal learning, also known as the 70-20-10 model. This research-derived mantra says that roughly 70% of your professional growth will come from the work experiences you have, 20% will come from your interactions with others, and 10% will come from formal education.

Think of growth as a cycle — successfully perform, get feedback, and perform again even better. Experiences power that growth cycle, so you’ll want to understand which experiences matter most and gain as many of them as quickly as possible. To begin, you want to be very clear about your starting point and desired destination on that development journey — an obvious item that’s often missing from a development plan.

Two key steps to grow faster are:

  1. Determine your from/to.

  2. Get the experiences and create a personal experience map.

Determine Your From/To

If you want driving directions from Google Maps, your app asks you for two pieces of information: your current location and your desired location. The more precisely you enter each coordinate, the more likely you’ll get where you want to go using the fastest possible route. Your growth process should follow the exact same path, clearly specifying where you are today and your preferred destination.

The challenge for many of us is that we’re delusional about our actual origin and destination. We often think we’re starting far ahead of where we objectively are and that we’ve arrived when we’re still hundreds of miles from our goal. You can get to a more accurate assessment with a framework that my colleague Jim Shanley calls the “from/to.” The from/to is two brief statements — one describing where you are today and one describing your next big (not your ultimate) destination.

Examples of great from/to statements include:

  1. From an individual contributor who adds value through technical expertise and closely follows others’ directions, to a people leader who creates a clear strategy and delivers results through a small team.

  2. From a business strategist who can appear aloof and dismissive of those with less intellectual horsepower, to a general manager who aligns and inspires her region through personal connections and demonstrates genuine care for people.

The directness of those statements may surprise you. These from/to statements are real examples from successful executives who made tremendous progress once their needs were made this clear. Both of those leaders are now CEOs — one of a $10 billion retail chain and another of a specialty eyewear company.

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