Everything we do in our jobs and in daily life—making breakfast, pulling and pushing inventory through the supply chain, solving math problems—involves ordering the steps of a process. Each step must follow a particular, and sometimes peculiar, order if the process is to achieve the desired result.
Similarly, our careers, and indeed our entire lives, can be seen as long, continuous processes comprising individual steps. These long-term processes are more flexible than the finite, shorter-term ones mentioned above. We are able to arrange, and rearrange as necessary, the steps we take throughout our careers to achieve our goals. Yet we still need some sort of plan to follow if we are to achieve our desired results.
This is especially important for young supply chain professionals. A strategic career and personal plan provides a framework for achieving the success we envision for ourselves, and it helps us ensure that the steps in that process are in the right order. Creating such a strategic plan involves a five-step process:
Do you need to develop a strategic plan? If you haven't already done so, then the answer almost certainly is yes. I believe it is particularly important for young professionals to have a strategy in place, but this type of plan can be helpful to older, established professionals, too. This article will introduce you to the process of developing a plan and provide some ideas on how to assess your progress toward your goals.
Now, let's look at what's involved in each of the five steps.
Step 1: Determine an overall vision
Your vision reflects what you truly want to achieve in life. Think of it as the desired result of your career or life process—the ultimate goal you can set for yourself. This vision should reflect a long-term view and remind you of where you want to be, personally and professionally, in the future. In addition, it allows others to understand the direction you are heading and what drives you every day.
The description of your overall vision can be short or long. "Learn patience and create harmony" and "Live happily" are examples of short vision statements. "Be an internationally recognized thought leader in supply chain management" and "Have the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expect of me" are examples of longer vision statements.
When developing this vision of your future, don't be afraid to think big. Remember, this is about the rest of your life and what you want from it most of all. And think in positive terms: that you cannot fail, that money is not a barrier, and that there is nothing to fear.
Step 2: Create a purpose statement
Businesses often create a mission statement that identifies their objectives, their stakeholders, and how they will provide value. Similarly, young professionals need a personal "purpose statement" that summarizes their skills, identifies their stakeholders, and explains how they will provide value. Essentially, this statement tells others how you will achieve the vision you created in Step 1.
Your personal purpose statement should quickly and simply describe what you do, whom you do it for, and how you will create value for them. It should be about as long as a tweet; limiting the statement's length will help you focus on what you do that creates value.
Here are just a few examples: "To help others discover a better way to order their process(es) so they can turn the impossible into the possible"; "To educate others so effectively that they achieve results they never thought possible"; "To inspire young supply chain professionals to be confident and proactive about their careers"; and "To help interesting people do interesting things." 1
Step 3: Develop goals for each area of life
Goals are the steps that will move you closer to making your overall vision a reality. Accordingly, each goal, whether short-term or long-term, needs to align with your vision. You can use your purpose statement to help you validate whether your goals are aligned with that vision and will move you closer to achieving it.
Develop your goals to be "SMART," balanced, and aligned. SMART means Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely. As you set goals, be clear about the outcome you want to achieve.
Making each goal very specific creates a visual image you can work toward. Here are just a few examples of goals you might choose for yourself: Become a vice president of supply chain by age 30, publish six industry-related articles each year, start a third-party logistics (3PL) company by age 35, improve your communication skills, and maintain strong, rewarding relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Each goal also needs to be measurable so you can quantify it and track your progress. Don't say, "Be a member of the Council of Supply Chain Management's board of directors," as that is vague and easy to game. Instead, say, "Be chair of CSCMP's board of directors by age 38."
Goals should inspire you to take action. They should also be within your realm of control. If achieving a particular goal depends upon serendipity or on someone else taking action, then you should rethink it.
Goals should also be both germane to your vision and realistic. If they are not realistic, then you will become discouraged when any new barrier comes along. You don't need to do this all on your own, though. If someone else has already accomplished what you are trying to achieve, research what that person did to be successful and think about how their actions might apply to your own situation. Similarly, you could find someone who has already achieved the success you desire and is open to mentoring you.
Set a date or at least a time frame for accomplishing each goal. If you do not set a deadline, it will be easy to procrastinate and put off working on a goal that will be imperative for achieving other goals that come later. For example, suppose your vision is to be an internationally recognized thought leader in supply chain. Some of your earlier goals—becoming a supply chain vice president by age 30, writing six industry-related articles per year—will help you achieve the later goal of being chair of CSCMP's board of directors by age 38 and help you move toward achieving your overall vision. In short, if you do not achieve the first goal by a certain time, it may become harder to achieve another goal you've set.
Balance is also important when setting your goals. As the writer Thomas Merton once said, "Happiness is not a matter of intensity, but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony." If we focus too much in one area, other areas of our lives will suffer.
To achieve balance, create goals that are specific to the different areas in your life. The areas you focus on should reflect what you believe is important in your life. Career and business, financial security, healthy lifestyle, fun and relaxation, and family and personal relationships are just a few examples of life areas where you could set goals. Each area should have at least one goal that you will work toward, but no more than five at any one time. Working on too many goals at once will spread your focus too thinly, making it harder to achieve any significant progress or causing you to take short cuts.
Nevertheless, you will always have multiple goals, and as your career and personal life change over time, you may add or subtract from your list. To help you maintain focus on the most important ones, you can adopt a technique commonly used in business. Out of all of the goals in your life areas, pick three to five that best represent your personal and career priorities. These will be your key performance indicators (KPIs), and they should be the first things you see each time you open your strategic plan. See Figure 1 for an example of KPIs.
Finally, remember that the purpose of your goals is to move you closer to achieving your overall vision. If there is a mismatch between your vision and your goals, you may become discouraged, as you will not see progress. If necessary, change your goals to better align with your vision.
Step 4: Measure progress
The only way to ensure you are accomplishing your goals, and thus are on track to achieving your vision, is to measure your performance. Being able to see your progress will encourage you to continue working toward your goals or to take action if you are missing them.
For goals that are easily quantifiable, measuring success using percentages can be effective. For example, if one of your goals is to work out 20 times per month and you do that only 15 times in a month, then your performance is 75 percent.
For some of your less easily quantifiable goals, such as improving communication skills, you may need to take a different approach to assessing your performance. One effective method some companies use to measure this "softer" side of performance—360-degree feedback—is outlined in "A hard look at the soft side of performance," an article by Kate Vitasek and Tracy Maylett that appeared in the Quarter 4/2011 issue of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. If you choose to gauge your performance using 360-degree feedback, work with the people who have an interest in your success. A close friend, a mentor, the organizers of a conference where you give a presentation, your editor, and your boss can all provide you with different perspectives on how well you are doing and what you can improve.
Of course, you will need not only to measure but also to chronicle your progress. Tracking your performance can be a daily, weekly, or even monthly activity. It is not important how you do it: with pencil and paper, a chart on poster board, or software on your computer. However you choose to track your progress, use a method that will make it easy to display, update, and use. The format should clearly display all of your goals and your progress toward achieving them. It should also be easy to update, including noting adjustments and achievements as goals are achieved and your life changes. If the visual representation of your plan is difficult to maintain and update, then you'll simply give up. Finally, the method should be something that's uncomplicated and easy to use. Learning new software just to document the plan and track your performance will make it less likely that you'll consistently follow the plan over time.
I have found that Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote are especially suitable for creating a strategic plan. Both are simple to use, and many people already use them in their professional lives. The ability to carry and display the information across multiple devices (computer monitors, mobile phones, and tablets) is very helpful. As you iterate bit by bit, you can save the various versions and compare them.
One easy way to visually assess your progress is to use color to indicate the status of each goal. As shown in Figure 2, you might, for example, use green to indicate meeting a goal, red for missing a goal, blue for working on the goal, and black for not working on it yet. This will make your progress instantly visible. You should never feel bad, by the way, if any of your goals are red or if you're missing a goal. This is simply a signal that you may need to redirect your time and energy because you are either out of balance or need to re-evaluate your goals.
Once you have established a way to document what and how you are doing, set a regular time to think about your progress. Pick a day, week, or month, or if daily, a time of day, when you will have time to reflect on your goals and how you are performing.
Step 5: Take action
At this point, you've set your overall vision and created a personal purpose statement. You've outlined your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them. You are tracking your performance, so you will know which goals you will achieve and which you are at risk of missing. The final step is to create a plan of action, such as a weekly schedule for working on the goals in each life area. (See Figure 3 for an example in the career/business area.)
This plan of action will be especially important when you are failing to make sufficient progress toward any of your goals. If you miss a goal, ask yourself why you missed it, and then outline the specific steps you will take to achieve that goal and get yourself back on track.
Allocating time to work on your goals is necessary if you are ever to achieve them. Granted, it's not easy to find that time when you have to balance job, family, school, and other personal and professional responsibilities. Creating and adhering to a schedule will help to keep you on track and ensure you are proactively working toward your goals.
Another, less obvious, aspect of taking action is finding a mentor. This should be someone you trust to help guide you, and with whom you are willing to share your desires, dreams, and goals. Seek out a mentor who will speak candidly about your strengths, but even more so about your weaknesses out of a genuine desire to help you improve. You want someone who will hold you accountable if you miss a goal.
Sharing your goals with your mentor will allow him or her to help you find opportunities to achieve those goals. Don't stop there, though. Share your goals with everyone, talking about your vision and what you want to achieve—engaging in what might be called "karmic benchmarking." When we share goals with others, we open up to each other and gain insight into how we can help each other be successful.
Using the plan over time
Your strategic plan is more than just a list of your vision, purpose, and goals. It's an effective system for evaluating future decisions, whether personal or professional, that will affect your life. It provides a basis for understanding how each future decision could impact your ability to achieve your dreams and desires. In addition, it provides a way to proactively manage your progress because it requires you to develop a plan of action for when you miss goals.
Young professionals typically face such decisions as whether to go back to school, take an international position with their current firm, or accept a position at a different company. Those who have created and maintained a strategic plan like the one described in this article will have a practical, forward-looking framework for making decisions that will reflect both their individual goals and their long-term vision.
As each new situation develops, evaluate the impact it is likely to have on your overall vision. Ask yourself such questions as: How will this help me move closer to my vision? Which goals are in conflict with this decision? Which goals need to be postponed or re-ordered? Will this decision cause me to lose the life balance I've created?
Your strategic plan isn't a one-time creation—don't "set it and forget it." It is a living document that requires regular attention. Review it daily after you first create it, making sure to follow the schedule you've established. Once you're well on your way to achieving your goals, you may not need to review your progress so frequently. Depending on your situation, you might want to set aside a couple of hours each month to update your progress and make sure you are focused on your vision. At the end of each year, spend some time reflecting on what you've learned during that time and what skills you still need to develop or improve. Then adjust your goals, making sure that they continue to require you to do your best and will help you make concrete progress.
Wishes can come true
I first wrote down my goals for life in high school. In my junior year, one of my teachers gave an assignment to write down 25 things we students wished to achieve by our 10-year high school class reunion. The descriptions of our wishes had to be very detailed and specific. Instead of "I wish for a Lamborghini," we had to write something like "I wish for a bright, candy-apple-red 2009 Gallardo LP560-4 with tan leather interior and a thing dangling from the rearview mirror that tells time." Naturally, some of my teenaged wishes were fanciful and not realistic.
When the time came for my 10-year reunion in 2009, I was amazed to find that I had accomplished 15 out of my 25 wishes. Yet I had only thought about them a few times in the 10 years since I had graduated. What if I had regularly focused on them? How much more could I have achieved?
Shortly after that reunion, both of my mentors, a former college professor and a business associate, asked me what I wanted to accomplish in my life. It wasn't the first time they had asked me that question, but it wasn't until I had given careful, serious thought about what I wanted to achieve and create during my life—and then developed a strategic plan for achieving it—that I was able to provide them with a clear answer.
Having a strategic plan that balances both my personal and professional goals has given me something I haven't had before: purpose. It provides a structured way to evaluate decisions, create order, and reduce risk to support my future success. In short, it helps me decide which is the right path to take in all aspects of my life.
Creating a strategic plan will provide you, too, with purpose and balance. Equally important, it will allow you to not only see but also shape your future, and to be more confident of achieving the life goals that matter to you most.
1. Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career (Crown Business, 2012).