Success Engineering: How to Design your Career & Legacy

Author By Jim Lara
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When it comes to designing your own career and legacy, are you orchestrating your career? Are you really in charge? Are you working “with” people or “for” people? If you can truly answer “yes” and “with”, then it’s likely that you already have a set of well-defined career objectives.

And what’s more, you’ve probably got a strategy to develop some career-furthering skills and experiences in the next 12, 18 and 24 months.

If that’s you, then well done, my friend. Because you’re in the vast minority. There’s actually very little competition for professionals who’ve taken the time and effort to craft a solid plan.

In our work with hundreds of aviation professionals, we ask some of the above-mentioned probing questions when the topic is their professional career. And the answers to those questions are often devastating. For example, we’ve heard:

  • “I don’t know. I guess no one is in charge of my career.”?
  • “I’m really just going from one day to the next.”?
  • “My goal is to stay employed, so I’m doing my job and keeping my head down.”?
  • “I’ve finished school and have all the skills I need.”?


Wow! Is that what these “professionals” really say? Unfortunately, yes, it is. And, these are all too common responses.

So if you don’t have a plan (yet), please keep reading. I’ll share the exact steps you need to orchestrate a successful development plan.


Success Engineering Begins with You!

A clear, well-written career plan has several aspects. Three of the most important of them offer a focus on you, your current employer and your prospective employer.

First things first. You really have to start with YOU!

Think of the two to five-year horizon. First ask yourself, what are my short-term career objectives? You should expect that these will change over time. That’s normal. For now, focus on the objectives that you can visualize and clearly define.

Once you’ve defined your objectives (in three sentences or less), you’re ready to take stock of your current position.

Now ask yourself, how can I master the skills, experiences and exposure(s) I’ve outlined to meet my career objectives?

Again, write them down in very clear, specific and objective language. (This exercise ought to remind you of that wise old proverb: “Complexity is easy; simplicity is difficult.”)

If you’re unable to easily state your objectives and requisite skills and/or experiences, you need more clarity. Go back and revisit the draft of your goals and objectives.


Design your Ideal Work Environment

Next, visualize your ideal work environment. Some may express a desire to be an entrepreneur, but most will opt to work in a more structured company environment.

So which environment is right for you?

Are you exercising some control and selecting the environment you want to work in? Or are you accepting whatever’s offered to you?

If you’re in an “accepting it” mode, then ask yourself, is my decision based upon my current career plan? Or am I more focused on meeting other, secondary objectives?

For example, you may have some immediate compensation level goals in mind. Maybe it’s a specific geographic location, or a desire to work with acquaintances.

My advice? Shift your focus from those secondary considerations. Instead, put it on meeting the milestones in your current career plan.


Look at “The Big Picture”

How about your prospective employer? How much do you know about the organization where you’ll be working? And the people you’ll be working for? It’s important to learn as much as you can about “the big picture.”

One way to do this is to adopt the perspective of a potential investor.

  • If it’s a public company, how has the stock performed over the last two years?
  • What’s the reputation of the company’s leadership??
  • How strong and dynamic is the board of directors, and who are they??
  • Which business sector does the company compete within??
  • Where is it positioned within its sector??

Remember, if a firm is not No. 1 or 2 within its sector (or doesn’t have a plan to get there quickly), it will be very difficult for it to become the market leader. And, if it isn’t a market leader, the firm’s revenue, cash flow and profitability will be less than that of its top competitors.

That means there will be less long-term stability for you, the employee.

Now let’s get specific about the organization you’re going to be working in.

  • What’s their reputation??
  • How’s their turnover??
  • Is the organization vibrant, innovative, challenging and fun??
  • Or is it stagnant, old-school, inconspicuous and trailing its peers? ?


Consider How You’ll Add Value

You can ill-afford to waste your time with an organization where you aren’t growing. You should always be developing new skills, experiences and capabilities, every single week.

If you’re standing still, you’ll actually go backward. And, what’s worse, you’ll be “out-competed” in a short period of time.

Think about how you can consistently add value—either to your current or future employer. Then ask yourself:

  • Which skill sets am I using at the Mastery Level??
  • For which of the requisite skill sets would I rate myself as being at the novice level??
  • Will my professional development plan help me grow my skills to the Mastery Level??
  • Will my employer help me achieve several career milestones each year??
  • What’s my plan to grow my capabilities and invest in myself??


Think About Younger Generations

Let’s not ignore how different career development and success engineering can look to our different generations.

For employees in the “Gen X” and Millennials categories, the playing field can look vastly different, and the challenges are often unique. For them, the “soft” benefits will carry more weight when they’re assessing whether a company is a good fit for them.

And, as a younger employee, re-evaluating that fit will continue once they are on board and deciding if they want to stay for the long term. For them, it isn’t just about dollars and cents, a company’s stock price or debating “how the job will help their long-term career goals.

One millennial I spoke to said she will prioritize working for an employer if they share her beliefs (both professionally and personally). This generation also has a similar mindset regarding community outreach efforts. They’ll ask: “Is this company making a positive impact on their customer base/employees?”

Younger professionals will also expect flexibility in work schedule and environment. For example, being able to work from home on occasion, having the freedom to design and decorate their office space/cube as they’d like; having the ability to take a long break mid-day for exercise or a spontaneous coffee break, and the freedom to wear what they want (within reason, of course).


Success Engineering is a Lifelong Pursuit

True success engineers know that their developmental work is never complete. For them, it’s not in the cards to say, “I’ve made it! I no longer need to focus on professional growth.”

Even in your senior years, you must continue to grow and develop. If you don’t, you’ll become irrelevant in a very short period of time.

The path to career success requires personal discipline, realistic perspectives and brutal honesty. It also requires some insight and vision. Plus a relentless pursuit of your well-crafted career plan.

This is, at the same time, both tough and easy.

Remember: you’re the one in charge of YOU! So you’re the only one capable of success engineering your career plan.

To meet each of your career milestones, you need to put yourself in the environment that’s most conducive to achieve them. (The one that will help you acquire the requisite skills and experiences.)

When your commitment to lifelong learning and development is consistent with your objectives, you’ll be a success.

But again, you have to believe in the proposition that YOU have the power to make all the choices for yourself. And those choices will ultimately be the ones that define your professional track record–and eventual legacy.


Now What?

Now, you may be saying, “Okay, I get it, but I could really use a “coach.” That’s where we come in.

Just give us a call and we can discuss what level of “coaching and mentoring” would be perfect for you. We have many tools and techniques that will help you achieve clarity and specific action plans. Of course, everything is completely confidential.