Josie was a mid-career manager due for a move. A few options were on the table, but she wasn’t sure what she should push for.  What was she ready for now? And what would prepare her best for the long-term?

Josie turned to Stephen, a former boss and early mentor, for advice.

In just an hour, Stephen helped Josie see patterns in her career experience and critical gaps to fill. She recalled key lessons learned — things she could build on in her next role. She also figured out the types of experiences that would be a stretch, but definitely worth pursuing. Josie left her meeting with a new take on planning her career and making decisions about what’s next.

A tool for career insight

Stephen helped Josie gain perspective on her career path using a simple tool called Experience Explorer. The tool is a deck of cards that map types of experience to lessons learned. By sorting through the cards, people can see patterns, gaps and opportunities. They recall important moments and experiences that have fueled their careers so far.

“Mid-career managers like Josie are in a perfect place to reflect on where they’ve been and what they’ve learned,” says CCL’s Meena Wilson, originator of the Experience Explorer concept. “But they also are hungry to connect that insight  to practical next steps for their development goals or career moves.”

“I had interviewed hundreds of senior leaders about the experiences that shaped them,” Wilson adds. “I thought, what if we could create a way to help people stop, reflect and talk to each other about their most powerful workplace experiences and what they learned? That could be such a fun and useful way of learning how to be an effective leader — and a tool for guiding our careers.”

The research

Experience Explorer is based on more than 35 years of CCL “Lessons of Experience” research, from the pioneering studies of North American leaders in the 1980s to more recent studies on the experiences of leaders in China, India and Singapore.

Wilson, CCL’s Anand Chandrasekar and a global team, immersed themselves in the research to create a tool that’s globally relevant yet highly personalized.

“We had stories. And we had data. Our job was to turn those into something useful,” Chandrasekar says.

The effort resulted in 15 types of experiences (including a crisis, mistake, cultural crossing and increase in job scope) in five categories (i.e. challenging assignments). It also identified three categories of lessons learned: world of work, world of people and world of self.

Not just for mid-career leaders

Planning next steps with someone who is well into a career is just one use for Experience Explorer. Other uses include:

Gaining valuable perspective early on. The connection between types of experiences and important leadership lessons isn’t common knowledge. Getting this information early in a career can open a person’s eyes to future possibilities and a framework for pursuing opportunities in a thoughtful, strategic way. Experience Explorer may also foster an appreciation for the numerous experiences and perspectives that more senior leaders and coworkers have had.

Fueling a career transition. Changing careers may be by choice or by necessity. Either way, Experience Explorer provides a different way to understand the valuable experiences and lessons learned that will translate to new roles and contexts. It also helps clarify what may be missing. For example, a budding entrepreneur who has very little experience taking on a new initiative will want to find support to quickly build skills in that area.

Telling a story. People who have been working, managing and leading for a long time have many experiences and lessons to draw upon. Experience Explorer helps them to remember and reflect on their life and career journey. Like anyone else, they can apply new knowledge as they plan their next steps, but they can also use their story to mentor and support others.

Building the talent pool. Managers can use Experience Explorer to better understand their teams and make choices about future assignments and opportunities for development. Talent management professionals, too, can use it to assess the organization’s talent pool and provide targeted and intentional development and support for employees.

“What do I like about Experience Explorer? It gives structure and intentionality to something that we all need to think about and talk about,” says Chandrasekar. “It is grounded in actual experiences of senior leaders, so it is valid and reliable. Finally, it expands how we think about past experiences and what they have taught us … and lays out a richer array of experiences and possibilities for the future.”

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