In-house professionals: Take Control of Your Career Destiny (Part 2 of 2)

Yesterday, I challenged in-house professionals to think about the negative impact of viewing their career as a linear ladder with titles and organisations completing the rungs of that ladder.

In this article, I am going to provide some brief practical steps to help you start planning the future.

  1. Form your game plan

“If you don’t know where you are going, you are likely to end up somewhere else.” (Laurence Peter).

I’m amused when I hear GCs and other senior in-house professionals claim that they ended up in their role by accident. I don’t believe them. Everyone has a game plan. You may be driven by a desire to please (parents, teachers, clients…). You may not have classified this as a game plan. But your career has been driven by it.

How much more powerful and purposeful would you feel if you had a clear idea of the direction and destination of your career?

I fully appreciate that the end destination is not always clear. And lawyers often move in-house because they are drawn to the possibility of non-legal roles, which only become clearer once you spend time in an organisation.

Start by asking yourself the following questions and write down the answers:

  • What role(s) do you want to be performing in 1, 3 and 5 years time?
  • What does each role look like? Go beyond the title stuff and really think about what activities are involved in that role. Think outside your current reality – is there a role in a different team or different department that grabs you?
  • What is important to you about the role? How does this fit into your overall ambition?
  • What steps do you need to take that progress you towards that role?

This bit does take time and effort. But the cost of not focussing on this could be stagnation, frustration and loss of mojo.

  1. Celebrate and build on your Strengths.

Gallup regularly publishes surveys assessing the positive impact of companies that adopt a strengths-focussed approach (http://www.gallup.com/topic/strengths_based_culture.aspx). We have all experienced well-meaning, but misguided managers who spend more time highlighting our weaknesses and sending us on courses as a means of ticking their ‘people development’ boxes.

So, write down what you are good at. If you don’t know (really?), then ask others or take part in strengths-focussed questionnaires available on-line. Think about how utilising these strengths makes you feel. Lawyers are notoriously bad at thinking beyond their legal technical skills. If you are struggling to describe your strengths in generic terms, then imagine you are talking to a non-lawyer – perhaps your grandmother or an uncle.

Then, check back that the roles that you’ve written down in your game plan build on and stretch your strengths.

  1. Get help

You could have the greatest game plan, but if no-one else knows about it, how can they help you? There will be opportunities out there right now, particularly in larger organisations, which you don’t know about.

Involve your line manager in your thinking. If you are not comfortable doing so, first ask yourself why, then consider getting yourself a mentor or coach. Many organisations have established formal and informal networks of mentors and coaches, both within a legal or compliance function and across the wider firm.

My experience is that few managers regularly include the topic of career ambitions in their 1-2-1s with their team members. But, equally, lawyers don’t always raise the topic with their managers. If they do, it is often presented as “I want to be promoted”.

This has to change.

Imagine how much more effective the conversation would be if a manager asked or, even better, if the lawyer volunteered the answers to, the questions that I posed in point 1 above. Both parties could work together on constructing the game plan.

  1. Execute

Get on and execute your game plan. Take that first step. If you have trouble holding yourself to account, then try codifying aspects of your game plan in your objectives. Get committed about your career.

Remember: don’t assume your line manager or the firm where you work will provide opportunities for you. Take Control of Your Career Destiny.

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