Who Is Responsible For Your Career?

Two perspectives on professional development

by Russ Westcott

1. You're a quality technician. Your present employer provides periodic in-company training programs you can attend and occasionally allows you to attend a workshop or course. You have averaged a promotion every four years in your 11 years at the present organization. Your professional development has neither been a topic of conversation nor a concern of yours at any time. You feel professional development is the responsibility of your employer. You're happy enough with the way things are.

2. You've been working in quality for over 16 years, had three employers and are considering another move. Your goal is to become quality director of a major company. Your plans for growth and development and your time lines have mostly been on schedule. Your criteria for each advancement require an employer who supports both On-Site training and promotions and pays some tuition while you work toward your degree. As you do with your personal health and financial stability, you believe your professional development is your own responsibility.

Granted, there is much more to know about these two individuals. But the two perspectives appear to reflect the prevailing split viewpoints among quality professionals.

It was true years ago that many employers did assume the role of prescribing career paths for their employees. For example, one large insurance company published a 50-page book identifying job families and individual positions within each family. For each family, flow diagrams were presented showing the job incumbent the appropriate career path to follow to the top of the family.

Not made clear was where to go after that or how to switch to another path. Career path discussion was an integral part of each employee's annual performance evaluation.

As upward mobility became less of an option, employers began to suggest lateral transfers to build cross functional job skills. Somewhere along the way, the concept that the employer was responsible for professional development disappeared. It was everyone for himself or herself from then on.

Concurrently, employers stopped emphasizing employee loyalty when it became evident that they themselves failed the loyalty test with their employees. Massive downsizing continues as organizations churn and shuffle the cards, striving for financial gain--or survival. Employees move from employer to employer (some with portable benefits, most without) as they struggle to retain their economic status--or just survive.

Throughout this chaos, however, many professionals have managed to fulfill their goals for development and growth by being flexible, nimble, alert, future focused and goal driven.

It's not luck. Look at the plans and actions that distinguish the quality professional of the future.

1. Environmental scanning is used by successful companies in understanding the whole global environment in which they operate. They observe the competition's strategies, they know what their customers think about their products and services, and they constantly look for new opportunities. They also know their own strengths and weaknesses. Given the knowledge available to an individual these days (Internet, TV, radio, print), there is little excuse for not continually scanning the environment. There is a vast difference between spotting and reacting to a developing trend and just going with the flow.

2. Vision and mission statements assist successful companies in communicating direction. Do you have a vision of where you want to be five or 10 years from now? What is your mission in your work life? Don't know the answers? Work them out and write them down. Create your own compass.

3. Goals and objectives expand on vision and mission. Express two to four key goals to achieve over the next few (five or so) years. Objectives set up measurable and achievable yearly targets. Try for one to three objectives to support each goal.

4. Action plans are details such as timelines, resources needed, budget and steps to take. You'll need action plans to achieve each of your objectives.

5. Implement plans, monitor progress and reward accomplishment. A plan is worthless unless carried out. Monitoring progress against your plan is essential to enable correction in direction, if needed, and to measure achievement. With interim milestones, you have the means for recognizing interim achievements--and rewarding yourself.

Sounds like work? It is. But if you continue to stand still, you'll eventually get run over. Take responsibility for your own professional development. Apply quality management principles to your life and work.

Visit the ASQ Career Forum at www.asq.org to discuss career challenges with your colleagues.

RUSSELL T. WESTCOTT consults on organizational performance improvement, quality management systems and Baldrige criteria application and coaches individuals seeking a career change. He co-edited The Certified Quality Manager Handbook, second edition, which was produced by the Quality Management Division and published by ASQ Quality Press. Westcott is an ASQ Fellow, certified quality auditor and certified quality manager.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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