Career building blocks
How to create an agile professional development plan
About the author
Heather leads the CIPR public affairs diploma and digital communication diploma courses. PhD, BSc, PG, RSA, CAM
Conditions of rapid adjustment and unpredictability have an impact on career development plans. Looking ahead, it is important to prepare for change, regardless of your current employment situation.
Uncertainty escalates the need to adopt agile professional development practices – and apply a dynamic and flexible set of career building blocks.
I have incorporated techniques from agile project management in a set of seven career building blocks that support the creation of an agile professional development plan (PDP).
Drawing on graph theory, this idea is illustrated as a complete knowledge graph. The career building blocks act as nodes (or vertices) that are connected in pairs by a line (or edge).
You can think of this as a dynamic, multidimensional model by imagining the twenty-one connecting lines as being flexible and stretchy. This web of knowledge informs the agile PDP, which fits in the middle as an essential guide for making decisions and directing your career.
The first step towards creating this complete knowledge graph is to craft a database of information that is, has been – and will be – important in your career development.
Step 1: Crafted career database
Each career building block represents a concept that prompts you to reflect critically on your career. You can then apply the three stages of career reflective thinking, which I explained in my earlier post: career upscaling to improve the quality or value of your career. The outcome of this reflective process is a crafted career database comprising a unique collection of thoughts, experiences and intentions.
Elements within the database can be explored, examined and assembled innovatively to enhance your personal and professional development. Over time, you can analyse, amend and add to you crafted career database as an adaptive resource.
How the career building blocks fit together to create an agile professional development plan is a personal choice.
The second step in constructing a complete knowledge graph is to analyse the relationships between the seven career building blocks.
Step 2: Assembled knowledge graph
To assemble the complete knowledge graph, I recommend using a creative approach called bricolage. This helps you to curate and connect information concerning the individual career blocks by focusing on the twenty-one connecting lines between them.
Bricolage was proposed by Levi-Strauss in the 1960s as a fluid and open-ended problem-solving method. It involves imagination and resourcefulness to combine types of knowledge and sense-making techniques.
As an example, I will explore three edges between four of the career building blocks: ambition to assets, assets to associates, and associates to actions.
Ambition to assets edge
Ambition and assets were discussed in my previous post: Investing in career capital for high impact results. This provided advice on building a portfolio of career assets in three key areas:
- Economic capital (financial assets)
- Social capital (relationship assets)
- Cultural capital (knowledge assets)
I explained how managing a portfolio of assets helps to achieve the short, medium and long-term objectives that underpin career goals and realisation of your personal and professional ambitions.
For this first edge, connecting the ambition and assets nodes, I suggest using a simple flow process:
- Determine the mix of assets that will help you achieve your personal and professional ambitions;
- Review your current collection of assets;
- Identify where you may wish to address areas of weakness or reinforce your strengths in relation to your chosen field of work.
Assets to associates edge
I propose that the second edge, linking the assets and associates nodes, concerns social capital. This is gained through building connections, managing relationships, and participating in professional networks. It also includes aspects of emotional intelligence (such as empathy and sympathy), as well as being trusted and having a good reputation.
In their agile framework, van Ruler and Körver use the familiar term ‘stakeholders’ to consider those who have a stake in a communications strategy. These are categorised as:
- Enablers: who are crucial for a strategy to succeed;
- Partners: those who communicators need to work with and who make an active contribution to achieving the strategy’s ambitions.
When translated to a career context, the notions of partners and enablers can be explored further along the edge linking associates and ambitions. This underlines the career importance of social capital, and its significance within an agile professional development plan.
Associates to actions edge
From career literature, I’ve featured a relational matrix along the third edge, between the associates and actions nodes. This would detail the network of connections that provide mutual emotional and practical career support.
The agency within these relationships comes in the form of multi-directional career encounters. That is, your experiences with others that have (or can have) an effect on your career development.
I hope that this brief exploration of a partial knowledge graph encourages you to use a bricolage approach to examine the twenty-one edges connecting the seven building blocks for your career.
As I have indicated in respect of ambitions, assets, and associates, it is feasible to consider the edges and spaces created by linking combinations of blocks. I will explore this idea further in my next article focusing on the concept of associates and its relationship with the antennae, accountability and author(ity) building blocks.
Step 3: Agile Professional Development Plan
The final step is to use the rich results from your partial or complete knowledge graph to create your agile professional development plan (PDP). You may have identified particular nodes and edges where you would like to focus your attention. Or perhaps you prefer to create a holistic plan for a specific period of time.
One helpful agile technique is to author a user story. From a career perspective this would be a short description of a feature of your career development that highlights what you want to achieve and the reason why. You can then break this down into tasks to be done for the story to be realised successfully.
Make a note of your ‘conditions of satisfaction’ – how you will know that story has become reality and its time to update your career database, amend your knowledge graph and revise to your development plan.
Concentrate on an end goal and date to reach this. Create a focused log of tasks and prioritise these. Don’t overthink at the start. Only include what needs to be done. Work smarter and overlap actions when possible. Do the right thing at the right time. Review daily what you’ve finished, reflect and move on. Look to eliminate waste and be more efficient and effective. Communicate your achievements and seek feedback. Celebrate success.
Don’t think of your PDP as a series of linear steps to complete. Rather you have a set of career building blocks and connections to fit together in an agile way. Your agile PDP could fit onto one page, a set of cards, or other means of visual representation.
Finally, I’d like to share some agile principles that you can apply to your professional development plan:
- Be an active learner – look for ways to continually improve.
- Be innovative, flexible, spontaneous – and responsible.
- Be collaborative and look to resolve problems.
- Be open to advice and listen to how you can help others.
- Be aware of priorities and work towards getting things done.
- Be mindful of adding value and removing wasteful actions.
- Be respectful and courageous.
- Be proud of your achievements and recognise your progress.