Career Building – ABZ Career Planning


When planning their career, many people have a Plan A, a Plan B, consider a Plan C, and Potentially a Plan D. ABZ Career planning changes this outlook and promotes trial and error. It also allows you to pursue the upsides of any plan and reduce the risks involved with inevitable change.

There is no end to career planning, no matter what age you are or what stage you are at in your career. You should always be planning and adapting to the new environments.


Plan A is what you are doing right now. It is your current role in your organization, your position within your own company, etc. Whatever you are doing today with your competitive advantage is your Plan A. I would assume you are constantly tweaking and making slight adjustments to this plan as you make maneuvers in your organization or adjusting your role on a team.

As an example, my current role within my organization is an Instructional Designer who creates eLearning that teaches financial institutions how to use our software.

Plan B is where you pivot to IF you need to make a change in your goal or how you plan to get there. Typically, Plan B is in the same general “world” as Plan A. It would not make sense for my Plan B to be a medical assistant because there is too much knowledge to gain for that to be an easy pivot. However, a reasonable Plan B for me would be to work for another organization that developed eLearning or another software company as a trainer or technical writer.

Why would you pivot to your Plan B? There are two solid reasons:

  • Plan A isn’t working
  • You discover a new opportunity that’s better than what you are doing now.

Plan B is typically not a very elaborate plan. It probably isn’t even a great idea to commit to it completely – there is too much change in the work environment. But, you should know what your alternatives are and what you will do if you need to pivot.

Once you make your pivot, Plan B becomes your new Plan A. So, now you stick with it and redesign a new Plan B.

Plan Z is the fallback position. It is your life raft. What does failure mean? Are you on the street and living in a box? That is a bit extreme and unacceptable. So, what is your level of acceptable? This is why you need a reliable and stable Plan Z. When all your plans go to hell and life throws you a curve ball, that’s when you lean on Plan Z to get back on your feet. It also allows you to live comfortably with the uncertainty and risk associated with Plan A and Plan B.


I have been in and out of my current organization several times – once by my choice and once by theirs.
I share this to show how Plan A, Plan B, and Plan Z can drive your career plan and how change can affect it very quickly.

My Plan A when I started was to be a Technical Writer in their Marketing Department creating an online help system. I knew that my Plan B related to training software in some form or another. I also knew that I had a background in audio visual and was interested in eLearning (which was a fairly new tool in 2005). The company reassigned me to the Client Events team and gave me the task of developing “web-based” broadcasts for our customers. This went over really well with our clients and it clicked with my skill set. The company had provided me with a new Plan A. These broadcasts became the default training program for our clients and we eventually created a Training team – with me at the head of the eLearning portion of that team. Then, fate intervened late in the summer of 2007.

I was looking at the possibility of starting an internet business online and ran into an old acquaintance from college – he was one of the producers of the Blair Witch Project and was now running a company that taught entrepreneurs how to build an Ebay-style business. This was an odd turn of events for him, so I contacted him to see if he remembered me. He did and we had lunch. I was interested to hear how he went from The Blair Witch to Ebay. It turned out that he was just as keen to hear what I was doing and within a matter of days offered me a large raise and a management position with his company. I made the decision to take the position. New Plan A in effect.

For the first time in my career, I actually kept in touch with people from my previous job – because I have moved a lot, this became difficult. This time, I did not move for the job. My plan B was to go back to working with the Education group at my previous position. Then three things happened that caused me to shift… First, they filled my previous position. Second, they hired my wife into the same portion of the company and I could not work in that portion of the company if I wanted to. Third, the economy tanked and caused my Plan A to unravel and disappear. New Plan B…

I worked very hard to bring back the original Plan A and get back into the organization. My contacts and good will paid off! I got back in but in a totally unexpected way – working on special projects for the Client Care support group. This built on my Technical Writing skills more that what I had done in the past. This worked as a viable Plan A, but everyone around me (including me) knew this was not my final Plan A…but it worked for a bit. In October of 2009, Plan A changed yet again – another company bought my organization and we had massive layoffs – a large amount of people lost their job (including me). My Plan A and Plan B were destroyed. Time to regroup…Bring on Plan Z!

Plan Z was to learn about the simulation or pharmacuetical industry, become certified as an Instructional Designer, and find a job in Orlando, North Carolina, or some other area that served the defense industry. I worked this plan pretty strongly from November of 2009 to March of 2010 (a total of about 4.5 months). I received an offer to take a contract job in North Carolina to work as an eLearning developer for a pharmacuetical company and was ready to go. A week from leaving when I received a contact from my current (and previous) organization. Within a week, they hired me back and my previous Plan A was back in affect. At this point, know that my current organization is the SAME organization that laid me off in Oct. 2009.

Within the course of a week, Plan Z became Plan A and I was developing eLearning for my current organization yet again…and very happy to be doing so. While in Plan Z mode, I did complete my certification for Instructional Systems Design. Now I am working Plan A, with a better grasp of what Plan B will be. I am still building my Plan Z, but it is probably not much different then what it was before.


The best you can do is say: “I am skilled at [assets]. I want to do [some career choice]. I believe the current market needs [some skill set].”

If your plan is a good one, it makes these variables explicit and you can track them over time. This, over the course of your career, will lead you to certain actions. Like a business, your strategy drives your day to day actions. You have aspirations and goals. These goals are what cause you to make the plans you make and allow you to plot your course.


Since we are in the Learning and Development industry, I would expect this needs very little discussion. The logic goes that if you spend more time in school, you will earn more money in the long run and live a more meaningful life. I believe this too be true. If you ever have to bet on something or someone, bet on yourself and invest in your own growth – personal and professional.

Compare lessons learned, not salary. Read books that open your mind and explore different topics. Don’t focus on hard assets…focus on soft assets. Whenever possible, include opportunities in your plan for learning about yourself and the world around you. You will make more money over time…and the journey will be fulfilling.

As you develop your plan, ask yourself: “Which plan offers the most learning potential?”.

This is also why we are spending time in this blog focusing on the CPLP certification. If your Plan A or Plan B involves being in the Training and Development industry, you should consider it as part of your long term plan.


How can you test theories and see if they will work for you or not? You can’t learn what works for you without giving it a shot. If I wanted to see if I would like working as a training developer for the defense industry, I could take a 6-9 month contract working in that field. Inside my company, I have the same options, if I chose to go after them. If I was curious how HR and Internal Training worked, I could try and work with that team for a short period.

The bottom line here is that if you want to learn about something, you need to do something about it, rather than just plan. Actions will help you define who you are and where you want your career to go.


When you are planning, you can expect there will be missteps and errors in judgment. This is especially true when you are experimenting with your career direction. Plan A’s can change to Plan B’s. Never bet the farm! Try things, little by little. The best way to build a Plan B is by using trial periods – contract positions or spare time opportunities. Generate real lessons, but keep your day job, if you can.


In both, you are planning and adapting. You need to be thinking two steps ahead. Meaningful careers are not always built on taking the first high-paying or high-status position you come across. They may offer immediate gratification, but they may not get you any closer to a meaningful career. A good goal takes many “moves” to achieve. I have personally seen “immediate gratification” be the root of several personal and professional disasters.
At the same time, don’t think too far ahead either. The future changes too often – you change, competition changes, the world changes. This is why I don’t recommend a Plan C, D, E, etc.

The best suggestion I have heard is to think about two steps into the future.

Here is another personal example. My next goal is to create a shift in how my organization teaches our customers – flip the model, so to speak. I want us to focus on providing information in as many ways as we can to my clients, rather than putting as many people on airplanes as we can. This method is quickly becoming outdated. How do I learn how to do this? My two steps include meeting people that are doing this or are trying to accomplish this goal themselves and practice using social media to disseminate information to professionals by taking on the role of Social Media Director for the local ASTD chapter.

Another key element to developing your action plan is to become something bigger than your job title. If all you are is your job title, you are potentially in for an identity crisis if you have to pivot to Plan B or Plan Z. Think about how you title yourself in your online profiles. Title yourself based on your personal brand or around your assets. Start a blog or become active in a local organization that allows you to build your personal and professional reputation. This will allow you to have a public profile and reputation you can carry with you to any organization and it is not dependant on your current position.


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One Response to “Career Building – ABZ Career Planning”

  1. Career Building – A New Skill Set – The Start-up of You « ASTD – Central Florida Chapter Blog Says:

    […] An ABZ plan. Plan A is based on your competitive advantage. Plan B is what you pivot to if Plan A has a problem. Plan Z is your absolute fallback position, should you need to take a step back and regroup. […]

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