Clearly define your career path
through a six-point X-matrix

by Jack B. Revelle

When you think about your career, what do you do? Do you just mull it over and maybe write down a note or two? Or do you start by writing down what you want out of your professional life (your long-term objectives) and then consider what short-term objectives you need to meet?

Do you determine what short-term tactics are necessary to ensure you’ll achieve the short-term objectives? Do you then decide which performance metrics you’ll need to use to ensure you’re staying on track? If all this sounds like some sort of strategic planning process, you’re absolutely right.

I got to thinking about this during the past few months while writing my latest book, Strategy Planning and Deployment Excellence System: SPADES. We know the most successful companies’ vision, mission and value statements are used as the basis for strategic plans. I asked myself, and now I ask you—why shouldn’t individuals do this, too? Do you have a personal mission statement? (See mine in the sidebar, "Personal Mission Statement.")

Personal Mission Statement

Enhancing the success of American organizations by providing cost-effective, statistically based counsel in the form of advice and assistance, and supplying business and government marketplaces with practical, pertinent texts, software, videos, webinars, virtual seminars and seminars, as well as other relevant training materials.

At this point, you might be thinking that strategic planning is certainly something that organizations of all types and sizes should seriously consider, but how important is strategic planning for a career or for any professional—quality or otherwise?

By the time you finish reading this column, I hope you’ll begin to realize the importance of career planning.

Reaping the benefits

If you have a long-term career goal, you must prepare yourself to reach that goal through a combination of education, experience and networking.

Now, the all-important question: What do you need to do? For example, if you want to eventually run for the highest elected public office in your state (governor), you’ll need to:

  • Get an undergraduate degree. In what and from where?
  • Obtain a graduate degree. In law?
  • Study for and pass your state bar exam. Which prep course to take?
  • Select your specialization. Intellectual property or wills and trusts?
  • Begin your legal career. Take a position as an attorney in an existing law firm or as legal counsel for a commercial organization? Start your own law practice?
  • Join the bar association. When? At the state or county level (or both)?
  • Participate in bar association social and pro bono functions. Which ones?
  • Run for first public office. City or county district attorney? Where? When?
  • Run for state attorney general. When?
  • Finally, run for governor. When?

The basis for SPADES is the X-matrix in Figure 1. We’ll walk through it as it pertains to a young professional’s career planning.

Figure 1

In section 1, the individual begins by listing no more than four long-term goals; for example, become an independent consultant before age 40. Section 2 is where short-term goals are listed; for instance, become a member of a consulting organization or an internal consultant within his employer’s manufacturing or service organization before the age of 35.

This is followed by section 3, where the individual’s short-term actions or tactics are listed; for example, gain the attention of the right person or people within a consulting organization or the employer’s organization. Section 4 provides an opportunity to list whatever improvement items should be addressed; for instance, earn a master’s degree or MBA before age 30.

Section 5 is where the people doing the action are listed for each of the short-term tactics. In the case of an individual who is planning his career, he would be listed, and his boss or mentor would probably be included, too. Finally, in section 6, the individual lists whatever expenses might be associated with completing each of the short-term tactics; for example, travel, marketing, education and training costs.

See the correlation

By now, you have likely noticed there are five correlation matrixes used in the SPADES X–matrix.

  1. (AxB): Correlations between long-term goals (A) and short-term goals (B).
  2. (BxC): Correlations between short-term goals (B) and short-term tactics (C).
  3. (CxD): Correlations between short-term tactics (C) and improvement items (D).
  4. (CxE): Correlations between short-term tactics (C) and people doing the action (E).
  5. (CxF): Correlations between short-term tactics (C) and financial expenditures (F).

The five correlation matrixes are employed to make certain that each dependent variable has a corresponding independent variable to ensure it can be achieved; for example, the correlation matrix (AxB) exists to document the necessary relationship between (B), the independent variable, and (A), the dependent variable.

For the sake of clarity, I should point out that while (B) is an independent variable in the (AxB) correlation matrix, it becomes a dependent variable in the (BxC) matrix. This concept holds true for the remaining correlation matrixes. The correlation matrixes are important in the properly constructed SPADES X-matrix because they provide a fail-safe component; for instance, each dependent variable has at least one independent variable designed to support it.

If you’ve never taken the time to strategize your career, I encourage you to give the SPADES X-matrix approach a try. I advocate its use because it was developed by extracting and merging the best features of all the other strategy planning methods that have been created so far.

But no matter the strategy planning method you select and employ to plan your professional career, do yourself a favor and start now, wherever you happen to be in your career. The sooner you begin, the better. But better late than never.

If you’ve already begun to strategize your career, check out your existing plan by overlaying it on the X-matrix to see what may be missing. And remember to do an annual review of your plan to ensure you’re still on track to meet your long-term goals.

Jack B. Revelle is a consulting statistician at ReVelle Solutions LLC in Santa Ana, CA. He earned a doctorate in industrial engineering and management from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. ReVelle is the author of several books, including Home Builder’s Guide to Continuous Improvement: Schedule, Quality, Customer Satisfaction, Cost and Safety (CRC Press, 2010). ReVelle is an ASQ fellow.

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