What To Do When You Don't Have A 5-Year Plan

What To Do When You Don't Have A 5-Year Plan

There’s a very simple answer to this question: Get one! However, if you are looking for a 5-Year Plan that supports your accomplishment of the plan, here are the key things to consider. Related:3 Steps To Create Your Own Career Development Plan

Time Frames Are Changing

Traditionally, the time frame for planning would consider a 5-Year Plan as 'short-term' planning, with 'long-term' planning described as 6-10 years. But the rate of change, particularly the rapid change of technology has changed the way you need to plan–and to build in a much higher ability to be flexible in recognizing and adapting to those changes. Despite these overall changes in your planning framework, you still need to create a planning cycle for five years, four years, three years, two years, one year, six months…

First A Vision

Before you start developing a 5-Year Plan, what is the 'vision' for your future, for your career, for your life. Your vision is a specific, detailed picture of your ideal future. It is based on a thoughtful effort to define that future. Career expert Richard Nelson Bolles talks about discovering your 'mission' in life. He defines three levels for a personal, family, and career 'mission.' The concern here is your career–using the talents you have been given, the talents you’ve developed, in a way that makes you feel strong and offers value to your organization, your community, your world. Futurist Joel Barker provides reliable advice on developing a powerful vision: Developed by leaders. This is your vision, your responsibility. It is not given to you by others. Shared with team. Who’s your team? Family? Friends? Colleagues? 'Shared' does not mean giving them control of your vision. It does mean enlisting their input and support. Comprehensive and detailed. It is not as simple as 'I want to start my own business,' or 'I want to be an engineer.' Positive and inspiring. Simply stated, your vision should appeal to your head (logical), your heart (passion), and your feet (action). For many years, I facilitated a workshop that focused on understanding the dynamics of peak performance, in part looking at those famous individuals known to most and individuals participants knew personally–but always those who excelled as passionate performers in their fields. A major exercise in the program was the creation of a personal, career vision. I do not recall a single session where one participant did not express their 'goal' of opening their own business. This always offered a perfect opportunity to challenge the visions of almost everyone in the workshop:
  • What kind of a business are you planning on starting? Surprisingly, only a small percentage of people had an answer to this.
  • What’s the name of your business? Even if a participant had a specific business idea, rarely did they have a name for it.
  • What have you done, specifically, in the last six months to get you closer to your goal?
  • What have you done, specifically, in the last week?
These simple questions frequently exposed the lack of a vision, the lack of a plan. At best maybe it’s a dream–but that’s not a vision and it’s definitely not a plan!

Your 5-Year Plan

Once you have a vision, translate that into some specific goals. The goals should be Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Your goals for five years will be less precise than the goals you set for next year or the year after. You are going to be adjusting your plan on a regular basis. There is a very good technique that can help you develop a strong 5-Year Plan. It’s known best as 'backward planning.' It involves identifying what you need to do–as the last thing before the successful achievement of your vision or goal. Then asking the same question over and over again, moving backward until you reach the actions you need to be taking now. Let’s look at a specific example: 5-Year Goal: A professional electrical engineering position in a Fortune 500 company. Key Actions: Research companies, prepare resume, secure campus interviews 4-Year Goal: Successfully acquire and complete engineering internship. 2-3 Year Goal: Complete Master’s Degree with >3.75 GPA 1-Year Goal: Graduate with >3.75 GPA – with engineering major, business minor, and leadership positions in multiple campus organizations. This example is deliberately short. An excellent 5-Year Plan would contain more steps and more detail on each of these benchmarks, even individual targets for specific semesters, courses, etc.


Think, for a minute, about those situations where you’re familiar with the value of detailed planning: a recipe, a game plan for football, or the detailed planning that goes into a movie or Broadway show. Use that awareness to understand how important it is for you to seriously plan for your career. And returning to the key starting point of vision, Joel Barker provides the essential inspiration:

Vision without action is just a dream.

Action without vision merely passes the time.

Vision with action can change the world.

Your vision, with a 5-Year Action Plan, can change your world.

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About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at www.farcliffs.com and www.212-careers.com.   Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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