Published on LHH.com 06/14/2016
My father was an intelligent, moral and respected man. A physician, he worked his entire life at the Workers’ Hospital of Lima. When I started working, I tried to follow the example set by my family. In particular, he told me there were three keys to building a career: work hard in school and get good grades; find a job at a good organization; always work hard throughout your entire working life. My father would say, “If you follow these concepts, you will have a great job for life.” Although these concepts are timeless, the whole idea of having a job for life is an endangered species that is, quite frankly, approaching extinction.
Today, we know that in order to thrive, we must be able to change and adapt to a constantly evolving work environment. Today, most organizations can’t guarantee their own survival, let alone offer lifetime job security to their employees. And yet, our appetite for building an impactful, satisfying career has not lessened. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that just as many working people today want a meaningful career as ever before.
The big question is how do we find our way to that career? To answer this question, it’s important to remember that today, we are not paid to go to work. We are being paid to add value to our organizations. In the past, our individual accomplishments were considered filler – inconsequential details that took a back seat to the titles we achieved or the length of time we served a specific organization. How can you add value to your organization?
Before we can tackle that challenge, we need to know whether we are currently adding value. Put another way, we need to be more conscious of whether our accomplishments add up to a body of work that justifies our salary. In my experience, however, very few people have a clear sense of whether they do, in fact, add value. In short, we need a list of our achievements that serves as proof of the value that we bring to our jobs, and identify areas for improvement. How do we do that? Literally, by putting pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard. Compose a list of your achievements and contributions. Be rigorously honest and refrain from embellishing or taking credit for the work of others. If we are honest with ourselves, the list will help us plan out our careers in several important ways. First, the list will be an invaluable source of background when we are drawing up a career plan or intend to ask for a raise or promotion. Clearly articulating what you’ve done, and perhaps what you think you can do in the future, is the best way of keeping your career on an upward trajectory. The list can also serve as an important reality check. If you record every accomplishment and contribution you can think of, and it doesn’t add up to very much, then it should motivate you to find ways of adding more value to your organization, and fast. I have met many people who complain about a lack of opportunity or advancement but never actually take stock of their contributions. If they really confronted their body of work, they might realize it’s time to step it up and really justify that promotion or raise.
The value list is the first important step to creating more value for our organizations, but it doesn’t stop there. We need to find ways we can boost our contributions at work to create the kind of value that results in satisfying careers. It’s no longer about a job for life. Career planning now is about finding ways of adding value throughout your working life.