Is a ‘Five Year Plan’ Still Relevant?

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Is the five year plan still relevant? Yes and no.

An actual five-year plan may not be relevant, but using the question in an interview setting can still be beneficial – as a conversation starter, says Christy Hopkins, PHR, and owner of 4 Points Consulting, an HR consulting and recruiting firm that boasts over 30 small business clients spanning the U.S. from Vermont to Seattle. Hopkins also writes about HR-related topics for Fit Small Business, an online resource for small business owners, hiring managers and other business professionals.

In an interview setting the question helps hiring manager learn more about the candidate, points out Hopkins.  If a company is looking to hire the successor to the current manager of a team, asking a candidate their five-year plan might shed some light on their interest in managing people. Asking a new graduate what their five-year plan is a way to get them to open up and to hear their hopes and dreams and a way to learn more about them, how they speak and interact, and to get to know if they are good cultural fit, or if they are just taking a job to get experience.

“So while a question like “what is your 5 year plan” might seem irrelevant on the surface in our digital, fast-paced, career-changing world, it can still be important, especially if the recruiter or hiring manager asking it follows up with questions that dive even deeper,” says Hopkins. “It’s a question that opens doors and looks at long-term fit.”

For employers, the five-year plan is an outdated way to manage growth, says Jeanne Meister, Founding Partner, Future Workplace and Co-author of upcoming book, The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees.

The skills gap is significant and growing worse daily, says Meister, and employers should focus on managing the skills gap, not five-year plans. In a recent survey by Deloitte, 39% of large-company executives said they were either “barely able” or “unable” to find the talent their firms required for the future.  For employees, the goal is to embrace serial learning rather than developing a five-year plan.

“Like being a serial entrepreneur, serial learners are intellectually curious, emotionally understand the need for continuous learning and see developing new skills to help their organization win in the marketplace is now part of their day to day job,” says Meister.

Given the accelerated rate and pace of change, companies need to do three things:

1. Invest in company sponsored training and make tuition reimbursement part of every employee’s package of benefits and include the benefits of continuous learning in recruiting messages.  

2. Give employees easy access to MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) in skill areas needed in the company.

3. Create career mobility portals inside the organization so workers can easily be exposed to different parts of the organization, and new skills and new roles. By giving them mobility to help on projects not in their functional area, they can organically begin to learn new skills in addition to participating in formal training.

For both business leaders and individual workers, the goal is similar: “Ongoing serial learning is needed for survival in one’s job and for the organization as a whole,” says Meister.

A 5-year plan may be a conversation starter, and a good interview question, but it should not be the deciding factor in hiring an employee, or part of a company’s performance management plan. Instead, focus on providing ongoing learning opportunities and retaining top employees. That way, in five years your best employers will still be with your company, skilled in the latest industry trends and technology, and succeeding for your company – not your competitors.

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