Many thanks to Paul Simon for the very sound advice, but we are not seeking one of 50 ways to leave a lover. Of course, the term originated as "What's the plan, Stan?" in a children's rhyme featuring a dog named Stan. But the thought is timely.
Those who have spent much time in the supply chain world can easily fall into a hectic life that is strangely comforting in its repeated challenges and catastrophes. We bob and weave, extinguish fires, overcome ineptitude, work our way up, get caught in rightsizing, move on to the next job, and are rudely awakened one day to discover that it is time to go to grass. Turn in your keys. Enjoy the stale cake at the farewell party. No more passing Go and collecting $200.
Now what? How did you get here? Where are you? What happened to the passing years? Was this the plan? Was there a plan at all?ENVIRONMENT AND PRECEDENT
We are surrounded by plans and planning in our jobs: targets, objectives, timelines, budgets, and resource requirements and constraints. We focus daily, sometimes continuously, on fill rates, on-time shipments, inventory levels, throughput performance, and more. We face deadlines, measure progress, track milestones, and perform after-action analyses.
True, real life and random events throw us a few curve balls, but we always have the plans to return to, to pick up the pieces, and continue on toward the ultimate objective(s). Do we have something similar to provide a life and career path, a course to return to when things go awry?
Why not? And what should one look like?STARTING OUT
Everyone's career plan will look a bit different, but they all must begin with an ultimate goal. The goal will then help to highlight some essential steps along the way. Here are some considerations.
The goal must be reasonable, or at least remotely realistic. "Gee, I'd like to be a Formula One racer" is not a goal. PeeWee Herman's envisioning himself as the next Denzel Washington is not remotely realistic.
Take stock of where you are and what you have done to date in order to lay out what experiences you need to gain, what skills you need to acquire and develop, what industries you need to understand, what functionality you must master, and what roles your styles and preferences best prepare you for. Then, translate these to an actionable plan, including a timeline.
And note this well: The development plan that your company has laid out for you, while evidence of enlightenment, is not at all the same thing as your life plan. Also note that the career plan is only one of many that a full and rewarding life leverages. A family plan, financial plan, job plan (whether or not your employer provides one), service plan for causes and communities—all are important and parts of the whole you.MOVING FORWARD
Unfortunately, the next steps are not a matter of rote execution. They begin that way, but real life will surely interfere. You can't change reality, so you'll need to adapt your plan. As Iron Mike Tyson often says, "Everybody's got a plan until I hit 'em in the mouth." As recently as a couple of days ago, a tough-as-nails U.S. Army general opined that "No plan survives its first encounter with reality."
Some steps will take longer than expected. Some interim objectives (milestones) will prove to be infeasible. Opportunities may become limited at the time they are, by plan, needed. In short, each forward step will help provide deeper insight and greater clarity for both the immediate next steps and the ultimate objective of this self-development journey that you are in control of.
So, we are back to Paul Simon. Make a new plan, Stan. Adjust, refine, recalibrate—continuously follow an elusive, moving, and changing target. There is nothing wrong with that, and a lot that is right.
Don't be afraid to leverage an opportunistic opening, by the way. Just be careful to examine it with some discipline to see how it might accelerate your progress toward your goals. On the other hand, don't abandon all rigor and focus, and fall back into depending on opportunistic openings. To do so would completely invalidate an organized and disciplined approach to accomplishment—and likely considerably suboptimize your potential for yourself and for others.
As you go through the process, enlist a trusted confidante and mentor. Not a buddy from work, probably, but someone who will tell you hard truths, help you think through options, and be a rock when extraneous events threaten your endeavor.
Be prepared to sacrifice, along with working like an indentured servant. A pay cut may be the price of gaining other industry experience. A lateral move might be the painful way to pick up a necessary functional skill. Family time could suffer if additional education will unlock a heretofore-sealed door.GENUINE PRIORITIES
It's easy to get tangled up in the priorities and objectives of an employer. Make no mistake, you've got to deliver value there, both as an obligation to the organization that ultimately pays the bills and to acquire what you need to keep moving forward with your personal development and achievement.
But if you abandon your own plan to devote your all to your employer's plan(s), you are likely not becoming as valuable as you might be to that employer and quite possibly diminishing your chances of moving on to another opportunity in another setting.
Do be careful to sidestep the trap that sacrifices all in order to meet your plan. Too many postpone quality time, family time, along the path, thinking that it will all pay off in the end. Wrong! Lots of little payoffs in enjoyment, in play, in being a spouse and parent must be taken to keep an emotional balance along the difficult run to the goal line.
Don't forget to plan the succeeding stages of professional life, to avoid Ross Perot's giant sucking sound when you leave active corporate employment. Transitions and roles into the next incarnations are vital to mental health and happy longevity. Forget, btw, your father's idea of retirement; Florida, golf, eternal sunshine, and group activities at the "active living community" are all components of a short cut to the end of one's days—a form of suicide by stagnation.THE END OF THE LINE
So, here we are at the end of the plan's line. Time to get off the bus at the intended stop. But wait! This isn't where you planned to go. All this, and you've failed?
Not really. Your end of the line is, if not exactly what and where you'd planned, somewhere along the path that you laid out and you controlled. It is not a place you landed by happenstance, tossed about by the swells, waves, and vicissitudes of the seas of change.
This trip, as we so often discover, is much more about the journey than it is the specific destination. It begins with the superficially simple question of what you want to be when you grow up. And you get to ask—and answer—that question over and over again, as you grow, progress, and see more clearly over time.
Just about the last thing you want and need—and deserve—is a firm handshake and a cheap watch of someone else's choosing to close the story of your professional life. So, hop on the bus, Gus.