21: Mapping Your Professional Destiny

Primary tabs

Career planning is an often overlooked and yet critical professional development activity. A career map and annual inquiry ensures purposeful career choices are made, as well as helping to protect against the winds of change and inevitable bumps. Chris Nickerson shares his career framework and strategies that will help you outperform your peers. Chris Nickerson is a highly collaborative and experienced Human Resources executive with over 20 years of experience with organizations such as American Express, IBM and Merck. Chris has a passion for improving business performance and organizational effectiveness by applying deep, customer-oriented change leadership and HR solutions. Chris developed a value-added publication that has been used at Cornell University called the Geometry of Career Management.

Key Learnings From This Episode

Download the Show Notes

  • The Geometry of Career Management and the story behind it. The Geometry of Career Management is a career framework that has evolved organically over the last five years. As an Executive Coach by training, Chris met with 200 individuals and discovered a similar need for a path or roadmap for their careers. He recommends beginning by defining your trade. Next consider the industry in which you will apply that trade? Finally, assess where you want to go from a professional destiny perspective, whether it be altitude in terms of title, job scope in terms of size, etc.? If you can put trade, industry and career destiny in a framework, you can then triangulate where you want to go professionally.
  • How important is it to choose the right trade from the beginning? Chris’s model does not prescribe that you need to know your ultimate role through to retirement. You should take a stab at where you want to go over the next five years so you can map out some intentional career moves; obtain mentoring or coaching support; and any formal education. Chris advocates that you make some decisions as soon as you can so that you are not having inefficiency or churn in your career. Every career journey is going to have roadblocks or detours. The model prescribes some of the ways to protect against some of the change that will be fairly guaranteed in your career.
  • Picking a trade based on strengths. Using the term ‘skill and will’ Chris suggests marrying one’s cognitive and emotional contagion for a trade. You can be really good at something but really dislike it. Alternatively, you can like something but there may not be much of a demand for it within the marketplace. Chris advocates finding the sweet spot between ‘skill and will’ - that is really the Holy Grail for a career where you love to go to work, it is a trade that is in demand in the marketplace where you can earn a wage, and derive professional satisfaction.Chris Nickerson HR Studio Podcast Quote
  • If someone is an aspiring leader, does Chris recommend an individual get a wide breadth of experience or become specialists? Specialists and generalists are both needed in the world. When you combine the two, it is considered a ‘T’ leader. A ‘T’ leader has plenty of breadth but he/she has also majored in a certain discipline or specialty. He/she has the technical credibility and background, but also the very broad business acumen around driving change, managing revenue and building talent. If the future is not known, similar to a tree, the broader the root system or foundation, the more an individual is going to be able to handle the winds of change in the future. With the world becoming increasingly evolved and uncertain, Chris’s coaching focuses on individuals going wide. Get a wide foundation early. It will allow you to walk a mile and see a mile in different trades, you will start to ascend the corporate ladder and you will outcompete your peer set because you have that width.

    Chris also promotes ‘relevance’ and suggests that when you go wide, it has to be relevant to the buyers of your trade. It is that delicate balance of being a team leader, having enough relevant width to get you to where you want to go, but also having that specialization - where you are relevant and credible to the folks with whom you work.

  • How does an individual develop a career map? First consider the trade you want to perform each day and lean in developmentally for 5 years to get really good at it. Ensure your brand in the marketplace demonstrates your expertise. After 12-18 months, re-assess and make mid-course corrections or refinements in that trade. If you are not firing on all cylinders, you can make certain changes without completely abandoning your map. Add on to the various roles and trades that you have over your career so that your cumulative capabilities and CV are compelling.
  • What steps should someone take if they want to move to another industry? How do you decide what industries to target? Chris suggests conducting research and seeing what emotional reaction you have to various industries including alignment to your core values. Pick six industries and research them via trade conferences and networking. What is the dominant access – your industry or your trade? If it is your trade, that lays out a path where you are essentially less loyal to the company but you are loyal to being an expert in your trade. If you are more industry centric, then you have to be increasingly open to doing a different trade within that industry. You should be willing to evolve your trade if you want to stay in a particular industry.
  • Is knowing your professional destiny the most important part of the pyramid? Consider what professional fulfillment is for you in terms of lifestyle and work/life balance goals; how realistic your goals are; and whether you and your company are in alignment in terms of aspirations? It is important to be self-aware. Ask for greater transparency if necessary to assess whether you are in the ballpark or not. This will allow you to create more of a clear career plan. Consider how much time is left in your professional career. Consider three things: 
  1. Can you accelerate your career trajectory?
  2. Should you lower your career aspirations?
  3. Can you move to a different company or different industry?
Test the waters in your current situation to see if your view of your ultimate altitude is congruent with your company’s. If not, what strategies can make them more concentric? If they are never going to be concentric or if you do not have enough time between the present and retirement, what can do to accelerate or change the rules of the game or change the game itself? Pace matters. You can go up the corporate ladder too slow and become stale and passive - your brand may ‘grow old on the vine.’ You can go up the corporate ladder too quickly. Someone may become too specialized and become irrelevant. There are risks in being too narrow. An upward diagonal career trajectory is recommended, getting elements of width and altitude in each role.
  • How to initiate a conversation with an employer about geometry of career management? Employees should ask for transparency (e.g., from their manager, HR, etc.). Set a time limit on where you want to go in the company. If that does not work out, then be proactive and make some changes.
  • What is the 70/20/10 breakdown? People develop with three different interventions:
    1. 70% is experientially – experience gained ‘on the job’
    2. 20% are the sponsors and mentors around you to help support and commit to your success
    3. 10% is the formal learning whether that is through text books, university, conferences, social learning, and/or coursework. The three combined is typically known as ‘blended learning’.

Treat career management as your second job. Invest in yourself.

Recommended Reading and References from this Episode

Chris Nickerson HR Studio Podcast Notes
Chris Nickerson HR Studio Podcast Notes
Geometry of Career Management
Geometry of Career Management
Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - 8:00am
Human Resources
Kyle O'Connor
Chris Nickerson
HR Studio Podcast