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Career Tip: Change or Stagnate! -- Personal SWOT Analysis for Career Growth

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Are you in career stagnation?
I feel one of the hardest challenges for IT professionals is to reach beyond their comfort zone. Ask yourself, are you feeling too comfortable in your job? This can be a key indicator of stagnation, complacency, and career stall!

It's good to take ownership and control over your future. I believe there's a lot to be gained by incremental improvements on a continual basis. I often advise IT pros to assess their situation at least monthly and look at opportunities to move forward. Ask yourself, "How can I add and gain value and what do I need to do to grow?" This is the hard part since growth means discomfort. And discomfort encourages avoidance. Who hasn't avoided making difficult or challenging career moves? However, to me, this is a signal for an opportunity that can be missed.
In fact, if I'm feeling too comfortable, I know I'm not growing. There has to be a tool or formal process for doing a career check. I recommend doing a self SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is something companies should be doing regularly to ensure differentiation, and competitiveness. However, the same principles apply to career growth for an IT professional. It is something I talked about at the last career day conference where I was the keynote.

So what is a self-SWOT analysis?
You assess your own personal Strengths, Weakness-this is the SW part of (SW)OT. I recommend you do this assessment on three: People, Process, and Technology. How are your people skills: communication, speaking, collaboration, team-building, leadership, writing…to name a few? How are your business process abilities-do you understand the processes used in your industry and in your organization? What is the extent of your business knowledge: business planning, strategic planning, finance, business agility factors, governance, regulatory compliance, etc.? How about your grasp of relevant technologies and future ones? If you determine any shortfalls or gaps, then you need to strengthen them by taking on courses, projects, opportunities where these kinds of skills will be sharpened.

Then you also analyze external Opportunities and Threats-this is the OT portion of SW(OT). When I say external, I mean coming from the environment around you. External opportunities are events, trends, changes occurring that allow you to grow your career. For example, the trend towards online collaboration, SOA, and blogging is an opportunity. The new Microsoft technologies in Windows Server, Vista, Virtualization, Office 2007, Windows Live, are opportunities. The shift towards having a deeper understanding of business processes, overall business and industry knowledge is an opportunity. Large upcoming retirements in senior IT ranks are opportunities. Often opportunities can appear as threats to you since they involve change. However embracing change provides you with a career leadership opportunity.

Threats are disruptive forces that can stall your career. Threats can be technological, economic, political, environmental, … there are no limits. Outsourcing in the technical specialist areas can be a threat that requires you to rethink where you should be focusing your career. Economic downturns in certain industry sectors is another threat. You should be looking to move into other verticals. 

The key is to match your personal strengths against new external opportunities. If there are new opportunities that you can't take advantage of since you don't have the required skills, then the skills you lack are weaknesses. I recommend working on overcoming these weaknesses so they become strengths.  You also should work on reducing or countering external threats. The prior shift to outsourcing of more commoditized jobs was a threat. To reduce this, you would acquire skills in areas that are difficult to outsource such as those that are mission critical to the organization. Typically, this would require taking a more business focus outlook. I should note that the trend towards outsourcing is reversing (in some areas) and moving these functions inside the organization, especially if they are critical to business agility.

A SWOT Example
Let me work through an example of a self-SWOT analysis. Mary as an IT pro is great at acquiring new skills since she has to stay current with constantly evolving IT trends. This is a strength. The movement towards a more business focus in IT roles is an external opportunity. Mary takes courses in business and works towards her CIPS I.S.P. to take advantage of this new opportunity. Mary is reluctant to interface with business workers and has difficulty in making presentations. This is a weakness so she starts taking courses in communications, and joins a speaking club where she can improve her skills. In her job when there's a request to make a presentation before business managers, she volunteers. Mary is applying her newly conquered weakness to these opportunities so she can gain recognition outside of her specialist domain. She also gets recognition before management that she want to move into more senior roles. 40% of IT specialist jobs are being eliminated. This is an eternal threat so Mary looks to broadening her skill set outside of the specialist area and starts studying business process management. Mary conducts this self-assessment every month and makes the necessary changes to move her closer to her goals.

I want to hear from you … comment here or send me an e-mail as sibaraki@cips.ca

Thank you,
Stephen Ibaraki

Comments
  • Hi, Stephen:

    Thanks for combining the strategic planning model with personal development. I would just add one more element for individuals:

    For individuals, there is one more ingredient that is often lacking for corporations - passion or interest. Often times, your passion or interest is directly tied to your strengths, but not always. The easiest path to success is when you comebine your passion/interest, strengths with opportunities. This has been said enough so I will just stop here. :)

    Additionally, it helps to have a mentor/coach to work with you on your SWOT analysis. This person can often provide some fresh and objective insight, and can also help you to be accountable with your action plans. To be honest, I don't have such a person, and would need to find one.

    Thanks a lot Stephen for your postings. I like reading this forum everyday during meal time.

    Cheers

    Jing  

  • When doing a SWOT analysis, take a Word or Excel document, title it Strengths and then list your internal strengths in one column; in another column, put a weighting of each item's relative importance.  Then sort on this weighting column so your strongest attributes are listed first. This forces you to recognize the value of your various strengths. Take another document and title it Weaknesses. List your weaknesses in one column; in an adjacent column, put a weighting of each item’s relative importance. Then sort on this weighting column so your strongest weaknesses are listed first. This forces you to recognize and rank your weaknesses. Follow the same process for the external Opportunities and Threats: create a sheet for each; write your list in one column; record your weightings in another; sort so the highest weighted items are listed first. This again forces you to recognize and rank the external Opportunities and Threats.

    Now create a GRID. Listing the Strengths and Weaknesses at the top and Opportunities and Threats along the left side. At the intersection of Strengths and Opportunities, you list what strengths can be used to take advantage of specific opportunities. At the intersection of Strengths and Threats, you list what strengths can be used to reduce specific threats. You repeat this process for Weaknesses. At the intersection of Weaknesses and Opportunities, you list what weaknesses you must be overcome to take advantage of  specific opportunities. At the intersection of Weaknesses and Threats, you list what weaknesses you must overcome to reduce specific threats.

    By formalizing the process, you create a vehicle for incremental improvements and continual change that will generate many career successes.

    Cheers,
    Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, ISP

  • Hi Jing,

    Thank you for your many insightful comments. They add considerable value to this discussion.

    Your comment about passion/interest is supported by S. Somasegar, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice-President Developer Division. Soma provides this career tip: “Follow your passion and all the right things will follow.”

    A good source for a mentor/coach is the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS). This non-profit national society exists to provide a community for IT professionals. Moreover, this role is often supported by Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals or MVPs. The interview series with Nestor Portillo, running this week, provides some insights. Finally, this forum, provides a way to collaborate and obtain feedback.

    If you or others want direct feedback or added third-party insight, I would be happy to provide this support. I provide my e-mail address and phone number, in this forum, for this reason. Feel free to contact me at any time.

    Cheers,
    Stephen Ibaraki

  • Monthly personal SWOT analysis.

    IT Stuff

    This is cool. We’ve spoken about how to break in to the IT Field before on the show, and we’ve even touched lightly on how to keep yourself a viable asset in light of outsourcing. Stephen Ibaraki over at the Canadian IT Manager Blog provides a nice little road map on keeping ourselves from becoming stagnant, complacent, and in a career stall — a Monthly SWOT Analysis for Career Growth.

    Good stuff!

    -KHD

  • Hi Jing,

    Your comment about a mentor is very important. I have had the great good fortune to have some very good mentors over my career. Sometimes it comes about because you meet someone, you feel a good connection and you seek their help. Other times they see something in you and decide to offer to mentor you. Don't even discount the idea that your boss can be one of your best mentors. Equally it can be someone in the workplace or not.

    One of the most satisfying experiences is if you get the opportunity to mentor someone else. It is somewhat like the experience of teaching; you tend to learn just as much as the pupil or mentee. Many of us think that we are not qualified to mentor, thinking that somehow we must have superior knowledge and/or experience. The truth is we all have something to teach each other. All that is needed is a willing partner!

    Spotting talent in someone, whether it be in the workplace or not, and nurturing that talent is one of the most satisfying things in life. It is said that if, as a manager, you cannot train someone to one day replace you, then you didn't do a good job. Most of us would take a protectionist position, fearing that this will result in the loss of our job. How can you go somewhere else if you don't have a ready replacement? Besides the chances are that they may replace you anyway, and it is better to try and define your own destiny than have someone else do it for you. SWOT and always be on the lookout for a good mentor!

    Cheers
    Graham Jones

  • Hi, Stephen:

    Thanks for your nice comments. I would certainly like to share more thoughts here with fellow IT professionals. I am sure I will bother you very soon once I feel I have made enough contribution. :)

    The question I often hear, sometimes from other IT professionals, sometimes from deep within myself, is this: why shall we continue to grow? This question, obviously, has both rational and emotional aspects. It is easy to address the rational aspects - growth brings more self-efficacy, self-esteem, emotional strength and maturity, deeper satisfaction and better relationships, and often times more wealth and freedom etc. However, let's not forget rational argument alone often times is not enough. Just look at all the smokers out there. Do you think they do not understand the rational argument against smoking?

    For this reason, we must explore the emotional aspect of personal growth. What is the emotional appeal of personal growth? This, obviously, is a big topic and could vary from person to person. I will just share my personal metaphor here.

    My personal metaphor of personal growth is best illustrated with the film Lord of the Rings. Now you must think I am crazy to talk about a mythic story on an IT blog. But please bear with me for a moment, and let me ask you this question - what is the theme of this story? Or rather, what is special about this myth compared to all the other great myths?

    The answer, at least the way I look at it, is that this mythical story is very similar to all the great legends and myths in human history. Let's just list a few:

    The Quest for Golden Fleece
    The Quest for Golden Apple
    The Odyssey (the Quest for Home)
    The Quest for the Holy Grail
    The Quest for the Original Buddhist Scrolls (Chinese)
    The Viking Sagas (Quest for the New World)
    Star Trek (Quest for new worlds, civilizations)
    Lord of the Rings (the Quest for the Ring)

    Now the common theme of these great legends and myths is quite obvious. And personal growth, in this context, is about going on a Great Quest, a Legendary Journey, an Adventure, a Mission Impossible, through the many toils and tribulations of life, to risk everything we have, to rise up above all the impossible challenges, to eventually become that great hero that is within all of us.

    So I always think about our young hero Frodo, in Lord of the Rings, and his great Quest. I also think about the heros in all the other legends and myths. These great stories are really not about the superheros. They are metaphors about life, and what a great life ought to be. That is the emotional or rather inspirational appeal of personal growth for me.

    Thank you for all your time. I realize this is a long read and appreciate your patience. I hope I have brought you an interesting perspective.

    Cheers

    Jing

  • Jason,

    I'm glad the blog is of use to your audience...

    Cheers,
    Stephen Ibaraki

  • There's a good collection there at "In the Trenches." I'll check in periodically at the site. The comment about outsourcing is a good one since an IT Pro can become commoditized and the only way to combat it effectively is by continual incremental improvements. It’s the same with companies except the improvements are in innovation and business agility. The same principles that apply in business also apply to a career. The idea is that you think of your career like a business.

    Cheers,
    Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, ISP
    Vice-President, Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)
    Certified (ISP), CIPS Fellow (FCIPS)

  • Jing,

    It is great that you have taken the time to contribute here and give us your personal insight. I for one appreciate it and I am sure that others do also. The CIM blog and its readers can only benefit by more thoughtful contributions by as wide a collection of people as possible. We may not always totally agree with each other but that is what meaningful debate is about.

    I look forward to seeing your views on other topics as they arise here.

    Cheers
    Graham Jones

  • Graham,

    Taking every opportunity to share, collaborate or teach are all elements of mentorship and in turn the IT Pro receives incremental skill growth from the interaction. Plus the relationships formed work for a lifetime. These relationships or networks form a powerful resource ecosystem. This accentuates the Community of IT!

    Graham, you are mentoring in so many ways:
    - at Microsoft’s EnergizeIT in Vancouver on June 24th as one of the leads;
    - here in this forum by contributing your insightful comments and blogs based upon your long history of actually “doing it”;
    - by stepping up to the plate as President of VANTUG;
    - and in your “day job” of teaching and guiding.

    The common element is volunteerism and I encourage all IT Pros to take a little time out of their schedules to get involved. A little here, a little there adds up and makes a commanding statement about the inherent value locked in IT Pros.

    Cheers,
    Stephen Ibaraki

  • Jing,

    I very much enjoyed your thoughts on the emotional component of personal growth and your examples of the great “Quest.” This relates to the “PASSION” that Soma talks about.

    You also talk about inspiration. Earlier in your career, who were your key mentors, those that inspired you and why? How did they contribute to your growth?

    Jing by contributing here, you are providing a body of knowledge and experiences that provide inspiration to others. Moreover, your willingness to volunteer at EnergizeIT adds to the ecosystem that I talk about in my response to Graham.

    One added note, world renowned scientist, Dr. Gary Birch, executive director of the Neil Squire Society, is due to be at EnergizeIT in Vancouver. Neil Squire is the charity that is being sponsored at the Vancouver EnergizeIT event. Gary developed some of the key enabling technologies for the disabled. I’m hoping that he will given a few minutes to describe his research to the IT Pros at the event. I find this work is also a quest and inspirational.

    Cheers,
    Stephen Ibaraki

  • Hi all, Great comments!

    Jing, I especially like that you tied this in to passion. Whenever I interview someone as a potential developer I always probe to see if they do development as a hobby and for how many years. Without question there is a greater sense of ownership, which almost always equates to quality and productivity, from those who “love” their jobs.

    To throw my own two cents in, I would encourage you to seek external input in to your strengths and weaknesses. You may be quite surprised. As a personal example, I have been aching to pursue an MBA for a while now.  I feel that my lack of a post-grad degree is a personal deficit. However, recently I was told that on paper I come across looking “too academic”. Imagine my shock! Retrospectively I imagine I have over-compensated for my own perceived weakness, but in the eyes of others this is not a weakness at all. What I perceived as a weakness is perceived by others as a strength, possibly even an over qualification. …and hence, all the more value of a coach.

    Thanks for all the good ideas!
    Adam

  • Adam,

    You make some fine points. There is value in seeking external assessments and from a variety of perspectives.

    In terms of an MBA, an "executive" MBA provides a real-world aspect and not a purely academic credential; extended relationships with other practicing managers and executives plus the added business insights. Moreover, it can be done online from accredited schools here in Canada such as AU. I did an interview with the Director of the AU program, Dr. Lindsay Redpath that provides added information:
    http://www.stephenibaraki.com/cips/v55/lredpath.html

    I talked of this before, I had a conversation with a serial entrepreneur on the path of his next successful startup which I believe will be a Billion+ operation. Interestingly, the greatest value he received from his Harvard MBA was the relationships he formed which were of key importance throughout his long career. This feeling is seconded by another senior executive who created the largest sales channel for Intel and is now the founder of the largest new media company. He did his "executive" MBA for the relationships.

    Cheers,
    Stephen Ibaraki

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