Benjamin Franklin wrote, 'Do you value life? Then waste not time, for that is the stuff of which life is made.' The value of anything that you obtain or accomplish can be determined by how much of your time, or your life, that you spent to acquire it. The amount of yourself that you use up in achieving the goals that are important to you is a critical factor to consider, even before you begin. Only by discovering your innate strengths and developing and exploiting them to their highest degree can you utilise yourself to get the greatest amount of satisfaction and enjoyment from everything you do.
Deciding what you want to do, what you can do well, and what can give you the highest rewards for your efforts is the starting point in getting the best out of yourself. When we do strategic planning for corporations, we begin with the premise that the whole purpose of the exercise is to reorganise and reallocate people and resources to increase the rate of return on equity, or capital invested in the business. Invariably, this is done by emphasising some areas and de-emphasising others, by allocating more resources to areas with higher potential return and by taking resources away from those areas that represent lower potential returns. By developing or promoting newer and better products and services and by discontinuing those products and services that are less profitable, the company and all the people in it can channel their resources to maximise their returns. In doing personal strategic planning, the first thing you want to think about is increasing your personal 'return on energy,' rather than return on equity. You need to realise that the most essential and valuable thing that you have to bring to your life and to your work is your ability to think, to act and to get results. Your earning ability-which is a function of your education, knowledge, experience and talents-is your human capital, or your equity. And the way you use it will largely determine the quality and quantity of your rewards, both material and psychological, both tangible and intangible. For example, a young man in one of my seminars came up to me and told me that he was working as a plumber for a large plumbing-contracting firm. He made good wages, but he was very envious of the salespeople in his company who made more money, drove nicer cars, wore nicer clothes and had much better life-styles. He had completed all his training and had his journeyman's certificate, and he was at the top of his wage scale. The only way he could earn more money was by working longer hours. He realised, however, that that was not the answer.
Instead, he wanted to get into sales, where his income could be higher and would not be fixed on an hourly basis. I remember advising him that if he wanted to get into sales, it was up to him to learn how to sell and then to do everything possible to get his management to give him a chance at selling plumbing services. His future was up to him, but he first had to learn how to do the new and higher-paying job. A little more than a year later, he attended another seminar that I was giving in that same city, and he told me his story. He had told his management that he wanted to get into sales. The managers had discouraged him, telling him that plumbers had very little aptitude for the hard, interpersonal work involved in selling a complex service. He then asked them what he would have to do to prove to them that he could sell well. To make a long story short, they helped him to learn how to sell their company's services by having him study manuals and take extra courses on his own time. He bought books and listened to tapes and began spending time talking to the salespeople in the organisation. Now a year had passed. He had been a full-fledged salesman for about five months.
He was already earning more than twice as much as the most he had ever earned as a plumber. But most of all, he was happier. He was more excited and more enthusiastic about himself and his work than he had ever been. He loved the field of selling, and he considered his career change to be one of the best decisions he had ever made. This story is typical of countless stories that have been related to me over the years. In each case, the individual had discovered and developed his or her strengths and, subsequently, improved the quality of his or her life. And you can do the same. In fact, this may be one of the most important things you ever do. This first part of personal strategic planning is called 'values clarification.'
You ask yourself, 'What values and virtues do I most admire and wish to practice in my life?' If you wanted to discover your strengths in the work world, first you would define your values as they apply to employment. The values that companies settle upon would be similar to the values that you organise your work life around. Often, both companies and individuals will choose values such as integrity, quality, respect for others, service, profitability, innovation, entrepreneurship, market leadership, and so on. For example, General Electric, as one of its values, is determined to be either first or second in quality and market share with any product that it offers. If it cannot achieve a first- or second-place position, it will make every effort to grow into it, or it will leave the market entirely.
In a similar vein, you could use those values to define your position with regard to your work. You could decide to plan your work life around the values of quality, excellence, service, profitability, and innovation. There are dozens of values that you can pick from, but whichever you choose, and the order of priority you place on your choices, will determine your approach to your work. Your next step is to create your personal mission statement. This is a clear, written description of the person you intend to be in your work life. I have often found that this is even more important than setting specific financial or business or sales goals. Once you have decided how much you want to earn, you need to write out a mission statement that describes the kind of person you intend to become in order to earn that amount of money.
For example, you might say, 'I'm an outstanding salesperson, well-organised, hardworking, thoroughly prepared, positive, enthusiastic, and intensely focused on serving my customers better than anyone else can.' With this as your mission statement, you have a series of organising principles that you can use to guide your career choices, your personal- and professional-development activities, and your work schedule for each day. This mission statement also tells you the kind of person that you're going to be in your interactions with the people whose satisfaction will determine your career success. A clear mission statement also is a definition of the areas in which you intend to become stronger in order to achieve your goals. Remember: Your goal is to identify your strengths so that you can deploy yourself in such a way as to increase your personal return on energy. One of the best mental techniques that you can use to accomplish this is to see yourself as a 'bundle of resources' that can be applied in a variety of directions to achieve a variety of objectives. As a bundle of resources, the amount of time and energy that you have is limited; therefore, your time and energy must be put to their highest and best use. Stand back and imagine that you're looking at yourself objectively, as if through the eyes of another person, and you're thinking about how you could apply yourself to bring about the best results. See yourself as your own employer or boss. What could you do to maximise the output of which you're capable, and where could you do it? Once you have defined your values and written out your mission statement, the next step is to do what is called a 'situational analysis.' Sometimes we call it a 'performance audit.' This is the process of analysing yourself thoroughly before you begin setting specific goals and planning certain activities. You begin your performance audit by asking yourself some key questions. One of those questions should be, 'What are my marketable skills?' Think about it. What can you do for which someone else will pay you? What can you do particularly well? What can you do better than others? What have you done particularly well in the past? A wage or a salary is merely an amount of money that is paid to purchase a certain quality and quantity of labour or output. The results that you're able to get by applying your strengths and your energies largely determine your rewards in life. If you wish to increase the quality and quantity of your rewards, you have to increase your ability to achieve more and better results. It's very simple.
Earl Nightingale said that the amount you're paid will be determined by three things: (1) the work you do, (2) how well you do that work, and (3) the difficulty of replacing you. The laws of supply and demand also affect the labour market, of which you are a part. Employers or customers will always seek the very most for the very least. That means that you'll always be paid the very least that is necessary to prevent you from moving to another organisation. Abraham Lincoln said that the only security a person can have is the ability to do a job uncommonly well. The height of your income will be determined largely by how well you do your job and the difficulty of replacing you. In areas where workers can be replaced easily, the workers are paid only the minimum amount necessary to keep them. In increasing your return on energy, one of your objectives is to become so good in your chosen field that the cost of replacing you is extremely high. This is the way to assure that you will always be paid well because no one can get the kind of results that you can get for the amount that you charge, or the amount that you're paid (which are the same).
In reality, you're the president of your own personal-services corporation. You're completely in charge of production, quality control, training and development, marketing, finance, and promotion. Thinking of yourself passively, as being employed and, therefore, subject to the dictates of someone else, can be fatal to your long-term success.
On the other hand, seeing yourself as self-employed forces you to see that you also are self-responsible and self-determining, that everything that happens to you happens because of your conduct and your Behavior.