I caught up with Allison Rimm, a consultant, coach, and award-winning educator who inspires individuals and organizational leaders to create breathtaking visions and plans to bring them to life. She is the former Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning and Information Management at Massachusetts General Hospital, a multi-billion dollar organization renowned for excellence and innovation. As she says, a successful business requires a mission and a plan and there is no more essential business than the business of your life. In her new book, The Joy of Strategy, A Business Plan for Life, Rimm provides a structured, step-by-step program to create your own personal strategic plan along with inspiring stories of people who’ve followed these steps to find soul-satisfying success. The following is a brief interview I did with Allison about how her book applies in a work environment.
Dan Schawbel: You talk about having a mission in the book. How do we identify what we want to do in life? How do you develop the right mission and tie it into what your company does?
Allison Rimm: Every great strategic plan starts with a declaration of an entity’s purpose that expresses why they exist, what they value, and what they intend to accomplish. Your mission is nothing short of your purpose here on earth, and you’ll start your personal strategic plan by spelling it out. Let’s start with what that mission is. I love Matthew Kelly’s definition:
“Mission is where your talents and passions collide with the needs of others and the world.”
With that in mind, the first thing you need to do is identify what you’re good at and what you love doing. Once you’ve found your sweet spot, think about who needs your special talents and how you might serve them. At work, think about how your special talents and interests align with your company’s mission. Are you using your gifts in your current job? If not, think about how you can contribute more fully in your current position. You may want to look for opportunities within your company to better align your talents with your job responsibilities.
Dan: Do you think all employees should have their own strategic plan to follow?
Allison: I sure do. A strategic plan helps individuals discover what’s most important to them and guides them to spend their precious resources (time, focus, energy and money) on those activities that will help them fulfill their mission and vision of success. If you don’t know where you’re going, it will be very hard to get there. I’ve coached countless people who don’t have a vision of what they want to achieve. As a result, they cannot make strategic decisions about their career that will lead them to a fulfilling outcome. An effective strategy helps you align your actions with what matters most and places spectacular results well within your reach.
Dan: What do we do if our company can't offer us what we really want to do?
Allison: The first thing I’d recommend is challenging the assumption that your company can’t offer any of what you want to do. It may not be in your main job description, but there may be opportunities to do what you love if you look for them. Do you love working with kids? Maybe your company has a loaned executive program, for example, that would allow you to work in a local school for a couple hours a week while teachers go to professional development programs. Look for ways to use your talents to help in some meaningful way.
If you’ve really looked carefully for opportunities to pursue your passion and have come up empty, it may be time to look for a new place to work.
Dan: What do you do if you're stuck at your job and don't know what to do?
Allison: Of course, economic circumstances can make finding a new job very difficult, so what do you do if you can’t just move on to the next gig overnight? It helps to take the long view on your career and start doing things now that will position you for success when that new opportunity does arise. Need new skills? Take that accounting class now. Start networking and getting to know people who can help you find your next opportunity.
I’m not a fan of postponing joy, so while you’re preparing for the next job, I’d recommend doing anything you can to find a way to your skills and talents to connect with others and make a meaningful contribution wherever you are right now. As I mentioned, you might be able to do that by looking beyond your job description and help out a colleague or another team that is working on a project that plays to your strengths.
It may be that you really can’t find fulfillment where you work right now. If that’s the case, consider volunteering for a non-profit that does work you care about. Pursue hobbies, enjoy the outdoors – do anything that adds joy notes to each day. Try to learn something new and meet someone new every day. You never know what opportunities will open up while you’re taking positive steps toward creating a future you want to be a part of.
Dan: How do you maintain a work life balance when the demands of the workplace are increasing?
Allison: In The Joy of Strategy, I describe the eight steps to creating a business plan for your life. One of those key steps is setting priorities and goals, those things that will bring you joy and set you on the path toward achieving the kind of success you desire.
Once you’re clear on what you want, you can do what I call a Time and Emotion Study. Take a hard look at how you’re actually spending your time both on and off the job. That allows you to do three important things:
A. You can make sure that you are doing everything that you must do as time-efficiently as possible.
B. You can ditch any activities that do not bring you pleasure or contribute to your success.
C. You can make sure to set time aside on your calendar to accommodate your priorities.
Once again, taking the long view and focusing on your priorities helps. Given the realities of the workplace, you may not be able to find the perfect balance every day or even every week. But if you maintain a focus on your priorities and commit to being fully present for whatever it is you are doing, your chances of feeling balanced and fulfilled over the long haul are greatly enhanced.