I work for the most amazing company that invests in and empowers its employees to achieve more each day. Quest stop #63 landed in Dallas to lead a workshop for a technical leadership development program at Microsoft.

A select group of 80+ employees took part in a 2-day conference that included delivering their career strategy to a panel of leaders for coaching. I became involved in this program 2 years ago given my work across Microsoft helping fellow employees craft a story to communicate their strategic direction. The workshop included an overview of the 7 career strategy framework principles with example artifacts to reinforce the key points.   As I reflected on the event there was one principle that stood out as the topic of conversation during the workshop and dinner – the value proposition.

Principle #2 – “Strategically apply your time, talent and treasure to a target where there is a market opportunity that aligns with your profile to create a compelling and sustainable value proposition”

All of the attendees had created career decks prior to the event and almost everybody agreed that a value proposition would have added clarity and focus to their marketing message.   The framework proposes a syntax for synthesizing the value prop:

As a <role>, I <what impact do you deliver>…..
I look for <describe target buyer>…..
I <describe how you deliver value>…..
My unique <what makes you unique and why someone should choose you>

Let’s look at the syntax in more detail:

  • role – this is your opportunity to position how others see you by quickly placing an image of your current or aspirational role in their mind.  You also need to consider the roles you are best positioned for, given your strengths and the weaknesses of others.
  • target buyer – this part describes the specific market where you are choosing to compete including the type of problems you are attacking.  You need to give consideration to the markets and organizations that value your skills and capabilities.  You may have a fantastic set of capabilities but it will be a sub-optimal target if your assets are not valued or relevant.  The target can also be described by other characteristics including organization size, culture, industry, location, etc.
  • how you deliver value – here you need to weave together the set of skills and assets you use to execute the core activities that create value.  Don’t leave it up to buyers to figure this out.
  • uniqueness – given the competitive landscape you need to describe what is unique to your offering that others may not have the ability to deliver on.   You can evaluate others who are playing in the market you have selected and identify an area of opportunity.  For example, if you are in a highly technical role there may be soft skills or leadership qualities that may help you stand out.

Here is an example value proposition from my personal deck:

“As a Data Science Leader, I turn data into $ by generating insights and actionable decisions that optimize business outcomes. I look for learning organizations with an analytics-based competitive strategy and data-driven culture. I lead teams that utilize cutting-edge technology including cloud, mobile, and Big Data analytics to tackle large-scale and complex business problems. I hire, develop, and export talent throughout the organization as the most important company asset.  My unique combination of business acumen, talent management, and data science expertise enables effective collaboration with business leaders to understand competitive challenges and lead teams that deliver insights and decisions at the pace of today’s business”

Other considerations for developing your value proposition include:

  • Realistic but aspirational – the value proposition should represent your current capabilities but stretch you enough to grow in new dimensions given the market opportunity.
  • Maturity model – this relates to the one above in that it’s helpful to position your value in a maturity model continuum so you don’t oversell your abilities.  For example, my value proposition is stronger now than it was a year ago given my experience at Microsoft and completing one year of a graduate data science program at the Berkeley School of Information.  You may be targeting a new area to set your strategic direction and have limited value prop evidence to back up your claims.
  • Multiple value propositions – for people who have been working for many years or have made significant transitions it’s not uncommon to have multiple value propositions that target specific opportunities using specific competencies.   For example, I now have three value propositions that would give me the flexibility to pursue any of them if the opportunity presented itself.   If I had one value proposition that leveraged all of the attributes and experiences of my profile it may not be convincingly relevant given the specific requirements and expectations of many roles.
  • Future value propositions – the dynamic market creates new opportunities so outlining a future value proposition can act as a north star to focus your time and development activities.  This may be relevant to those who are looking to make a significant change to a new market or career.

A common theme I see is that many people have a solid list of skills but it’s not always clear how those can be combined to attack the “best” market opportunity.   The lack of a value proposition always makes your “buyers” work hard to figure out what you are selling and how you can create an impact.  People are busy and can often make quick calls on whether you are relevant to their business or not.  Make it easier by crafting a value proposition that clearly communicates what you are selling and why your offering is differentiated.   Although most people realize that any product needs great marketing, I rarely come across people who have applied strategic marketing principles to themselves.  Once you get a clear value proposition all of the other framework principles are focused on strengthening and selling your offering.  This time of year is a great time to take stock and refine your value proposition.  Is it clear what you are selling? Is it credible? Are you stagnant in selling an offering that you have lost the passion for?

I closed the session by sharing the journey I started eight years ago at Microsoft to formalize a career strategy framework and help others to increase their impact and fulfillment.  I thought about what could create more impact than getting people into the right roles at the right time.  Nobody asked me to take on this problem so I was driven by opportunity and the gift of helping others. At that time I did not realize I was starting a journey but I thought it was time to formalize the quest.  One day after returning from the same conference a year ago I went back in time and counted all of the events and people I connected with.   I was about to return to Berkeley for a second time as a graduate student and I thought about a vivid goal of connecting with enough people to fill California Memorial Stadium.  So there it was – 63,000 fans in the stadium.  The quest to connect with 59,617 more people seems far away but it’s bold goals that stretch us to pursue something that is bigger than ourselves.  Think about your passions and what you want to change by selecting a quest where you are driven by natural energy and fulfillment.   While my quest is focusing on helping others it’s also a way to help me practice what I preach.  It drives me to think deeper about these principles and how they can be refined to drive action in others.  I highly recommend the book The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life for those looking for a fun read over the holidays to formalize a quest.

What is your quest for 2016?