Consider Using Business Plan Language When Negotiating Buy-In for Your Career Plan


  • You want to develop your career toward roles that motivate you and that underpin your ability to keep growing.
  • Your company wants to develop you to do the work that helps the business succeed.
  • Those two “wants” don’t always align. You may want to develop a capability or get experience in something to help you grow while the company wants you to continue performing in your current role.
  • It’s up to the employee to present their career plan in a way that results in manager support.
  • The plan might get more support from reluctant managers if it is presented in a business plan format as if you were asking for “funding” by showing a win-win proposition.
  • There are remarkable similarities in planning for business success and in planning for your personal career success.
  • Consider the parallels between the 10 sections in typical business plans and the elements of your personal career plan as you ask for management support.
  • Career plans don’t usually get implemented in isolation. You need your manager’s support. Using a “business plan” format the employee can drive the conversation, taking the load off of the manager and therefore may get better cooperation and support.

Career Plan as Business Plan

It is the employee’s responsibility to create a career plan for themselves that will drive the direction of their development.

It’s the manager’s responsibility to get the work of the company done through the people in the organization.

Unless your ambition is to do the same work for roughly the same pay for the rest of your career, the goals of your manager and your own career goals are not likely to support each other.

You probably think of development as the planned process of learning new things in order to grow into positions you value more. But how does learning new things and moving into new roles help your manager get work out the door? If you leave, the manager has a position to fill and a new person to train. Hiring and training takes time without a guarantee of future results.

Your company, and more directly your manager, would rather direct your development toward getting better at the things you already do well in your current job. At least that effort will have a direct tie to getting more work out the door and it will keep you in the role. But that means the company is setting your career plan. If you are in the first third of your career you may not have any concern that your company is driving your career direction. Almost everything you learn when you are brand new in a career can help you get ahead. If you are a mid- or late career person you know exactly how risky it can be to let the company dictate your development. You have seen, or felt, how being “pigeon-holed” in a role can limit future opportunities -it comes into especially sharp focus when unplanned events like layoffs happen and you want, or are forced to look for, a different type of job because of market conditions.

Is it possible to get your manager to support your growth in the direction you want it to go? A manager can support an employee’s execution of their own career plan where it makes business sense.

Hopefully your manager is not the myopic, people are just cogs in the machine type of manager, as they are hard nuts to crack. But even with more engaging managers, you need to communicate your plan in a convincing manner they can support.

One way to do this is to mimic how founders pitch their business ideas to investors. They walk through a structured business plan to garner the all-important “yes” from the people they are pitching.

Presenting your career plan as a business plan might give even the most task-oriented managers a useful perspective they can endorse.

The Employee’s Pitch

Typical business plans have 10 sections of information in them. When the founders are pitching the plan to investors they are trying to convince them the plan has enough of a chance of being successful that the investor will get a competitive return. The parallel here is that you should be able to present a detailed enough career plan to your manager in order for them to see a return and then “fund” it.

To start with, all business plans begin with a high level vision of the future called the Executive Summary. In your career plan you could give a brief summary of how you currently add value, your current strengths, and your forecast for your future.

The next section in a business plan is the Company Overview; in this section provide a review of your grand plan and progress to date if you have been improving yourself and getting experiences that are the required milestones to your career goal.

An Industry Analysis is the third section of a business plan which can be paralleled in your career plan by discussing the networking and research you have done. This will support your assertion that your future skills and positions you aspire to, and for which you are preparing yourself, are going to be needed in the marketplace and your company if possible. Show that the market for your future self exists, and even better, is growing.

Customer Needs section follows. This is the section that explains why your company should “invest” in your plan. You make the case that your company will have a future need for a person who has had specific experiences in order to satisfy the future demands of clients. You are forecasting this need because competitors are doing it or because the clients are all asking for it. In other words, you are preparing yourself to fill a role your company will very likely need in the future. And while you are preparing you are also, as a proven commodity, providing value to the company in those preparatory roles along the way. A win for them and a win for you.

As an aside, in your career plan this section would identify the best companies for the “future you” by industry, size, mission and culture. Always look to build and maintain relationships with people in these companies in order to keep tabs on their needs. It’s the best way to find out about jobs you might want before they are posted.

Competitive Analysis is next in a business plan. Some businesses use a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of how they compare against direct and indirect competitors. You can do somewhat the same in your career plan by articulating your biggest strengths and forecasting opportunities. Weaknesses and threats could become the developmental focus -or next steps -as you execute your career plan. Analyze the competencies of your competition in aggregate. Do many others vying for your future job have particular experiences that you don’t have yet? Similarly, do you currently have an advantage that you shouldn’t give up by taking a role that doesn’t play to that strength? Continue doing tasks you think will be big parts of your future jobs. Skills are perishable. Just because you programmed some amazing code 10 years ago, then became a manager and haven’t coded since, doesn’t mean you’ll be a viable candidate for a coding job now that you want to go back to it. Why give it up if you think you might want to have a hand in it later?

Sections Six and Seven of a business plan are the Marketing Plan and the Operations Plan. The corollary in your career plan could be your marketing plan and your execution plan.

Both are significant components of a career development plan. Marketing includes your LinkedIn presence, recruiting agencies you have helped, and the network you have developed. Ideally you would like your manager to do some of your marketing within the organization; “showcasing you.” You need to say where you want to go in the next two or three jobs, so your manager can showcase you for those opportunities. That leads to your operations plan. The map of what job two and job three from now are and how to be considered a viable candidate for them.

Your operations plan includes goals and target dates. Articles and whole chapters of self-help books have been dedicated to advice on how to manage your own career development and progression, whereas the focus of this article is on how to communicate your plan to your manager and get them to be an ally. It is worth noting that some companies now offer career coaching as an employee benefit as it is one of the best engagement levers a company can pull.

Management Team is one of the last sections of a business plan and an important part of executing your career plan. These are your mentors. The folks you have asked to answer questions about skills needed for next roles, company cultures that fit you, how to handle the inevitable politics, and how to handle biases that might block you in the workplace. As you progress thorough your career you will need different advisors because you will grapple with different, higher level problems. Over time, you will let some early advisors leave your “personal board of directors” and you will ask new people to join based on your changing needs.

The ninth section is the Financial Plan. For the individual, this section contains the research done on your current value in the market. Specifically, how much others in similar situations are being paid. For certain revenue generating roles it could also contain data on how much value, especially revenue, you have been able to generate in past roles. Everyone wants to be compensated fairly and so you need to know what is in your current market and the current economy, which flex based on demand.

The last section, section ten, called Supporting Documents, is an appendix to most true business plans. Yours might include certifications, awards, patents, and publications that support your claim that you are better than average at what you do! It can include your resume or bio and, importantly, your LinkedIn profile.

Some business plans end with an Exit Strategy. In your case it is a marker or a prompt you put in place to remind you when you have enough experience in one role to start looking around for the next one. This is to prevent becoming too comfortable in a role in a way that slows your march though your career plan or pigeon-holes you.

Following a business plan model is an interesting exercise and one way to build out your own career plan. It also could help your company “buy in” to your personal career plan by communicating it in their language… benefits to the organization and how they can “profit” by supporting you. At minimum you will never respond to someone asking you a career question with “Good question. I have to think about that.” You will have all the data and all the answers thought through and organized so that you are primed to take advantages of opportunities when they arise.

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