Growing Within Your Company:
The Yogi Berra Approach to Career Planning

by Pam Lassiter, Principal of Lassiter Consulting

Pam LassiterYogi Berra must have stayed up nights thinking of good one-liners to entertain and challenge us. The way he interchanged words and mixed metaphors made us stop and think, as well as laugh. Trying to find the Hall of Fame in 1972 to receive an award, he responded to his wife's frustration with, "We're lost, but we're making good time!" Ever feel the same way about your career?

When you think about your career at all, you may feel like you're "making good time" because things are busy and your title and/or company are fine for the time being, but what is your destination? Typically, we're "living in the day" with our jobs, not thinking about the Big Picture, our career. We're thinking about today, about the fires that we're trying to put out that keep combusting on our desk, about deadlines. The concept of thinking about how this job may/may not contribute to your career is nice, "but I don't have time for it now. I'll get around to it." Do you?

The Yogi Berra Approach to Career Planning?

Thinking about your future, about where you want to be heading, even if it's just two jobs away in your company, starts putting you in control. Even if your boss has plans for you, wants you to replace someone, to move to a different location, or to expand or consolidate your division, think before you answer. Having someone else do the hard work of shaping your career can be a relief, but saying "yes" without testing whether the new direction is in both your and your company's best interests winds up being in neither.

Joyce Mullen, Vice President, Americas Software and Peripherals for Dell, is newly promoted to responsibility for a multi-billion dollar business and an acquisition. This didn't happen by accident. "I didn't target the precise job, but I did target the type of role that I was looking for that includes broad influence, is very important to the company, and has P&L responsibility." She got it. Not targeting one specific job, but still being "clear and consistent about the contributions I want to make" let Dell hear an important message (Joyce is going to make them more profitable) and let them see that she could do it in several roles.

Taking control of your direction boils down to analyzing two main forces: your internal needs (goals, values, competencies) and external needs (your company's direction and trends in the marketplace). This doesn't take a lot of time. Doing the up-front thinking about what engages you, where you like to spend your time, what your values are, and what competencies you'd like to build is fairly easy because the research is in your head. Reflecting on these while you're driving, brushing your teeth, or eating lunch works. Just take notes during (or after, if driving) your thinking so you can build on your ideas over time.

Analyzing external needs is actually a lot of fun. You get to be The Futurist. Where is your company headed, i.e. where is it going to be making its money? Where is the competition heading? I heard John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, saying at a breakfast yesterday that the consumer is going to be driving all buying decisions, that our information will be coming from multiple sources as it converges and the consumer won't care about its source, and that the need to travel will plunge quickly thanks to technology. What does that have to do with you? Jobs get created in front of trends and you can choose which trends you want to ride.

You have more control over your career than you realize. If you decide what engages you and how it's going to make the company and industry you focus on more profitable, bingo, you have a career direction. You can decide on the building blocks you need to work towards it, whether it means getting to know some new people, volunteering on a project in another part of the company, or becoming a leader in a professional association that gives your company (and you) great exposure. Congratulations, you've just ducked a pinball career that reacts to everything that it bounces off of, and told Yogi Berra that you're not lost and you're making great time.

About the author

Pam Lassiter is the author of "The New Job Security," a Wall Street Journal, careerjournal.com Award Winning Book, and principal of Lassiter Consulting, which provides senior-level outplacement and retention services to companies and executives internationally. Pam hosted ExecuNet's New England regional networking meetings for 12 years and makes appearances on national television and radio programs. Her articles on career management appear in human resource and business publications including Fast Company, Fortune, The Financial Times, Bloomberg radio, and CFO.