Career planning – how a five-year plan can help

When my manager at the time suggested I write a five-year plan in 2012, I couldn’t help but cringe. It just seemed such a “management” thing to do. However, I thought highly of my manager and their commitment to CPD, so I knew they wouldn’t ask me to do something they didn’t think would be useful.

Here I share my experience of creating a five-year plan and what I got from the process.

How you do it

The first thing to do when writing a five-year plan is to write a job evaluation. This involves writing down the main parts of your role and sorting them into one of two columns or lists – “things I enjoy” and “things I enjoy less”. The idea being that you think of ways you can steer your career path towards the things you enjoy and away from the things you enjoy less.

Based on the job evaluation I came up with a list of goals for the next 5 years, prioritising them according to importance and giving myself a timeline for achieving them. After a couple of years, my manager and I went back through them and were both pleasantly surprised by how many I had achieved. Next year – five years after I first wrote it – I intend to go back through it fully to see what I’ve achieved, how and why I haven’t achieved some things (e.g. where my interests and aspirations have changed).

The approach I took was based on a combination of these three approaches:

One thing to bear in mind is that you don’t have to be ultra-specific about your five-year plan. You can look more generally at the types of tasks you like doing rather than the specifics of your current job. That way you can repurpose it if you change roles, move sectors within LIS or move out of the LIS sector.

The idea of a five-year plan is to give direction to your professional development, it is not designed to restrict you to only those activities. I find it works best when viewed as a dynamic document, open to change. So when reviewing your five-year plan, not achieving a goal isn’t a sign of failure – there may be reasons why you are no longer interested in that goal.

And your plan doesn’t have to be for 5 years if that feels like too much. You could write a shorter plan for say 18 months and review it sporadically to see how you’re progressing and if you want to change things. This can be particularly useful if you have any milestones that it would be useful to work towards.

What might you get out of it?

Similarly with the process of CILIP Chartership, it made me think about myself as a professional in a very holistic way. CPD and skill development is often focused on essentially making you better at your current job. So that made me think about what kinds of things I was interested in and what things I was keen to develop within my role. The evaluation formed the foundation for my appraisal objectives in that and subsequent years.

It’s by no means a silver bullet. It can’t change what you get paid etc, but it can help to give a feeling of direction and with that an element of control. I tend to feel like if I know where I want to go, I’m more likely to get there. It was also helpful when I started getting itchy feet at two years in to my role – I looked back at the evaluation and realised that the things I wanted to do long-term were being delivered in my current role and that I didn’t want to change jobs. It also helped me to define some of my goals, which are not necessarily the same as most people’s. The next logical step for me is management. But the process of writing a five-year plan helped me to identify that line management was not something I specifically aspired to.

This enabled me to focus on developing in other ways. I defined this as horizontal, rather than vertical, development. Once I knew that I wasn’t too interested in vertical progression through the organisation, I could think about the ways in which I wanted to broaden my skillset and the remit of my role. After 3-4 years of broadening and changing my role, it became clear that my job title and job description needed to change to reflect what I was actually doing.

When thinking about management, over time it helped me to identify that I am interested in many of the pastoral elements of management and some of the procedural ones, but not all of it. This enabled me to incorporate these elements into my role, through project management where I lead project teams. During the project I am responsible for managing the workload of the project team members and ensuring their welfare, in collaboration with them and their line manager. This aspect I enjoy. The pastoral side, in particular focusing on welfare, is something that comes fairly naturally to me and is of interest – I like to make sure that everyone is ok. I am also interested in coaching aspects of management, which I satisfy by positioning myself as someone who various people (within my organisation and externally) feel comfortable in discussing their career plans with. I also mentor candidates undertaking CILIP professional registration, this gives me the opportunity to coach others through their professional registration but also provide coaching on general career aspirations and direction.

So although a five-year plan feels like the most “management” thing to do, it can be a useful exercise. Just ensure that you do it in a way that works for you, to inspire and encourage you.

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4 thoughts on “Career planning – how a five-year plan can help

  1. Really helpful post Elly – thanks.

    The not wanting to line manage position is one I see expressed quite frequently. I like your approach to understanding the aspects of people management that are a good fit – this seems a better way to go than what can appear an unthinking dismissal of such roles. You sound like you would be a rather good line manager!

  2. That’s interesting to hear Alan because I feel rather in a minority when I say it. But that may just be my perception and sensitivity. I’m very much in favour of unpicking huge concepts like “management” because then it liberates us to follow the parts we enjoy and means that what we can offer in that capacity doesn’t essentially go to waste because we don’t want the other aspects. Thanks for the kind feedback! Glad you found it useful.

  3. People who actively seek line management because they want to line manage rather than because they want to advance vertically are unusual I suspect. I cannot for the life of me remember the book it was in but there is a case that this pattern of people gaining line management as a side product of seeking other responsibilities is one that generates poor outcomes for the people they manage. We should be seeking to promote people managers into post that involve managing people. Seems self evident but…

    Was interested also in your comment about goals but I suspect that would be better discussed in a less online setting!

  4. Your point about promoting people who are good at and interested in management resonates so strongly. I have long felt that – and our profession is not alone – that management is often the only way to progress. And someone being good at a job doesn’t mean they will be good at managing someone doing that job. I am also – with caveats – not averse to professional managers who have not come through the ranks. Although that may be a can of worms.

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