The View From nn,nnn Feet

…because he’s in an organization, it’s the management components – accomplishing predetermined objectives through others, that constitute the largest growth opportunity, and will carry him to 10,000 feet over time.

This was posted recently on GaryNorth.com:

“Have you defined more specifically what you mean by the 5,000, 10,000, and 40,000 foot metaphors in another thread?”

The purpose of the analogy is to engage a sense of perspective that is at once micro, macro, and more expansive; and to promote a symbolic viewing of contexts (or components) as part of a larger, whole, and interrelated system: the system of one’s career.

5,000 Feet

The view from 5,000 feet is a reference to seeing only the immediate part of the total terrain and environment that constitutes the present employment bargain. This is a view of the immediate vicinity and immediate problems and opportunities; time-frames are immediate. At this low level, there’s lots of detail, lots of obstacles to avoid, and lots of immediate action; and even more reaction. The primary problem is avoiding obstacles and crashing, rather than turbulence. There’s also a lot of “correction” of both actions and stakeholders. Planning and execution is tactical and operational. From this perspective, accomplishing immediate tasks and handling priority interrupts (i.e., putting out fires) becomes the significant indicator of movement and progress.

This level also equates to performing only parts – meeting only some of the requirements – of the employment bargain; a situation that is normal for new or developing stakeholders. They are “training up” in role, on either side of the employment bargain. Depending upon the specifics of the bargain, and the capability of the stakeholders on either side of the bargain, it will take some amount of time for the bargain to be fully realized. (Assuming there is progress.)

10,000 Feet

The reference to 10,000 feet equates to the whole job – the present singular employment bargain in toto, which may be fully defined by fully defining the requirements that constitute the bargain. That holistic view of the bargain proper – the 10,000 foot view, equates to holistic performance by the stakeholders on either side of the bargain; they are meeting the requirements of the bargain, nothing more. The bargain is satisfied, and fully producing.

Planning and execution is operational and strategic within the bargain. From this perspective, meeting bargain requirements becomes the significant indicators of movement and progress. The focus at this level is building something of value for later realization. The primary problem at this level is turbulence around the bargain and between the stakeholders.

Those with “whiskers” – lots of experience in role, see all that is entailed in the bargain, and typically have performance (i.e., meeting requirements) and rewards (i.e., compensation) down pat. They will be flying at or near 10,000 feet, if not above; most everyone else is flying lower, trying to gain altitude.

The 10,000 foot level is the realm of the tactical application of an Exit Strategy, used when the employment bargain will not be realized and fulfilled, and must be terminated (as currently defined). Note that “exit strategy” can apply to either side of the bargain.

40,000 Feet

The reference to 40,000 feet is the view that the string of employment bargains, when taken as a whole, constitute one’s entire career; it is the aggregate of all bargains, realized and anticipated. Much less detail is apparent of each individual engagement. From this perspective, borders and lines demarcating engagements become the significant indicators of movement, and delivered value the indicator of progress. From a value delivery perspective, each bargain outputs into the next across a line of departure. If value is not delivered from one to the next, one is stagnating in place, while the clock is running.

This naturally leads to planning for the value to be developed in the present engagement, and movement linked to realizing that value, to be delivered as input to the next engagement. Therefore, the view from 40,000 feet is focused on that which is delivered from one bargain to the next: what value did engagement B deliver to engagement C? If engagement F will not deliver value to engagement G, why do F? In contemporary jargon, each job is building marketable skills. The primary problem at this level is ensuring the flow of added value to the next bargain.

Therein is the strategic use of the Exit Strategy: one exits an engagement when the goal and objectives – and value – of that engagement is realized. But to be efficient, the goal, objectives, and value are predetermined; and the next bargain targeted based on that predetermination, rather than something incidental, such as an available role.

Career Planning

If you relate to this analogy, then you’ve probably realized that there’s a parallel in career planning. Meaning, that the career plan has to operate on multiple levels, analogous to the multiple “views from nn,nnn feet.”

That career plan is essentially an exercise in defining the system: goal, objectives, and value level-by-level, top-down, with vertical alignment and integration. Like the Lewis and Clark expedition, the details are mostly unknown at the beginning, and will be fleshed out with progress; but, like Lewis and Clark, incidents don’t change the purpose or mission; that steadfastness being the guiding light in the night.

Our Protagonist

Our protagonist in this tale is flying at about 5,000 feet, which is to be expected of a young person new in role, and new to the firm. He has the technical components of the employment bargain mostly down cold; that comes with the appropriate technical training, and guidance; and the experience of application will come with time. But, because he’s in an organization, it’s the management components – accomplishing predetermined objectives through others, that constitute the largest growth opportunity, and will carry him to 10,000 feet over time. Saying this another way, the technical aspects are only a sub-set of the total job – the employment bargain. Management competence rounds this out.

This is not taught nor learned in technical school; and in any organization, is the opportunity at the heart of building competitive advantage in oneself.

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