Over the years as a manager at Microsoft, I have always told my team members that I could not support their career unless I knew their story. While we all know that we need other people to help us achieve success most people have a hard time telling their story. These are often the people who see others achieving success and growing in their careers. They see transitions and wonder if management is looking after them. What they don’t understand is that those people likely have a story that they have been executing against and sharing with others who can help the dream become reality. We have all heard the stories where someone rose to stardom while being at the right place at the right time with a compelling personal capability. My experience is these are rarer than the norm and the ability to tell your career story is needed more than ever in a world of hyper-competition and real-time information.
Career Storytelling is an Untapped Potential
Within Microsoft, I am often referred by fellow colleagues to people who are at a career crossroads and looking for assistance to craft their career strategy. I don’t pretend to have any silver bullets given that designing a career strategy is personal and takes a lot of thoughtful time. A few years ago I had a person visit my office looking for simple answers. We did not know each other and after I went through my spiel I recommended that he come back in about a month to “practice” telling his career strategy story. Not surprising he never returned. After years of observation, I am not quite sure whether people just do not take the time to define their career strategy or they don’t know how to do it. I am sure it’s a combination of both. I then think about it from a company perspective and what could be more important than aligning the business need for talent with the passions of employees? The one thing I am convinced of is there is a remarkable untapped opportunity for businesses and employees to improve how career management is practiced which will result in a competitive advantage for both. Otherwise, there is lost opportunity – the one life we lived could have been greater and more fulfilling.
Let’s be clear – employees need to be able to tell their story and drive broad awareness of what they have achieved, what they want, and where they are going. Again while this is quite obvious I think about the situations where I have been in talent management sessions with other managers and the instances when we could recall very little about a particular person let alone where they were going with their career. I recommend never being one of those people.
I am not willing to invest my valuable time with people who do not take managing career success seriously. A year ago I was interviewing candidates for a position with my team and I met a young man over a video call. Within 15 minutes he told me his career strategy story and why this job aligned with that strategy. He was the first person I interviewed and I was sold on the spot. My management recommended that I evaluate many other candidates but nobody even came close. I invested relocation funds and waited an additional four months for this person to join my team from halfway around the world. This opportunity changed his life forever and he has been extremely successful in this new role. I reflected on the other people who came into my office with a typical resume’ and I would find myself trying to figure out why they were there.
“Those who can quickly tell their compelling story get the opportunity – no different from anything else in life.”
Steps to Successful Career Strategy Storytelling
The steps below are in essence what the Career Strategy Framework processes are all about – creating, managing, and executing a career strategy. I encourage you to review the Career Strategy Framework overview including a reference deck. I typically tell my career strategy story with a short set of PowerPoint slides that align with the topics in the picture above.
Step One: Know What’s Important, Who You Are and Who You Want to Become – career strategy cannot start until you know what is important, gain a deep understanding of who you are as a person, and define an inspiring future state of who you want to become. These are questions that are answered within the “Know” process. I highly recommend two books that I recently read that will inspire you to reflect and help you answer many of life’s most important questions – How Will You Measure Your Life? and One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do.
Step Two: Define Your Personal Value Proposition – what are you selling to who and why is it so special? Summarize a value proposition that is inspiring yet believable.
Step Three: Define Your Career Roadmap – summarize your current career goals (“Now”) and the potential pathways in front of you to learn and deepen the set of competencies that you will need to excel in your target market and deliver on your value proposition. This deliverable will help you describe what you want to achieve in the short term and explore “what’s next” during career discussions.
Step Four: Define Your Development Plan – summarize the learning experiences that are required for your current role as well as the competencies that will be required for what’s next. Your development plan should include both on-the-job learning experiences and knowledge you can gain through formal training. It’s essential that you identify the stakeholders who will serve as mentors and sponsors to learn from and support your development plan.
Step Five: Summarize Market Evidence and Marketing Plan – we all like to know what we are buying so summarize the market evidence that gives your current value proposition and past accomplishments credibility. It’s also helpful to summarize the channels you will be using to drive more awareness of your brand and value proposition.
Step Six: Practice, Practice, Practice – the key to selling your career strategy is exhibiting confidence and passion when you tell your story to managers, sponsors, and stakeholders. The only way you will gain this confidence is to practice, practice, and practice. I tell people there is always time in a typical day to sell and influence – you just need to have your story ready.
Be Ready To Tell Your Story
This past week was very interesting and exciting for me at Microsoft. Within a few days, I had a new manager as a result of a transformation, and someone who I have never met knocked on my door for a new opportunity within the company. In both cases, I was able to share my career strategy deck to quickly bring them up to speed on who I am, what I aspire to achieve, and where I am going. My new manager and I reviewed the deck during a 1:1 and this gave him an opportunity to learn more about me and I was able to share my passions. As for the prospective hiring manager, I was able to pinpoint the role of my career roadmap and the fact that it was a potential match for us both. Time will tell what comes from these adventures but one thing is for sure – don’t be caught off guard not being able to tell your story when the environment quickly changes for either the good or bad.
Earlier this year during a conversation with a leader I told him that career management was one of my passions and I thought we could take it to a higher level at Microsoft. A few weeks later he asked me to record a video on this topic and host a discussion with the broader organization. Since then I have been even more energized by sharing this framework more broadly and leading monthly roundtables to help follow colleagues learn more about themselves and how they can align their passions with Microsoft’s business needs. A few months ago I won a thought leadership award and it was the extra motivation that I needed to create this website. I am leading a movement to change lives and it’s the stories that always keep me coming back for more.
Everybody loves a good story – what is yours?