Do you have a life plan?


Do you have a life plan? Ethical BoardroomBy Fredy Hausammann Managing Partner, Amrop Switzerland and Vice Chair, Amrop EMEA




Just as a well-run organisation has a guiding mission, so do managers with good personal governance. This ‘life plan’ is an ongoing project, far-reaching and carefully orchestrated. It serves as a common thread, a ‘leitmotiv’ to guide, motivate and inspire executives through uncertainty and change, success and opportunity. As a personal, core mission, its translation into action needs regular monitoring.

In this article, we explore the first of seven principles of personal governance: life plan and goals.[1] While we address the individual manager, the concepts and tools can also support the development of our peers, private entourage, direct reports and teams. A life plan takes all areas of our lives into account in a meaningful and holistic way, including our social environment and the plans of our closest entourage (without allowing their expectations to automatically become our own).

Do you have a life plan? Ethical BoardroomHere, we can talk about the ‘life-entrepreneur’ and the ‘employee-entrepreneur’. Recent years have seen a rise in the ‘subjectivisation of work’  – where employees bring more subjective input into work in terms of opinions, motivations and demands, and in turn, work demands more ‘subjective’ input from employees, for example, self-determination, self-organisation, creativity, emotions and motivations (Kleemann et al, adapted).

This means that it’s becoming increasingly important for employees to take responsibility for themselves, to be self-regulated. It should not, however, be a green light for companies to delegate all responsibility for work-life balance to their employees. For example, in Leadership is an Art, Max de Pree proposes that learning organisations should consciously remove the border between work and private lives. It is the organisation’s job to support the holistic development of every employee. This implies a mutual undertaking between company and employee. Expressing success in professional or private lives as a simple ‘either-or’ question (or command) harms that undertaking.

The rolling life plan — a holistic matter

Who has one? Who needs one? Who plans for whom? Do we go on planning throughout our lives, or make a single, life-long plan? We all have plans, which we follow more or less systematically, persistently, enthusiastically and successfully. Our plans may be related to short-term professional or private goals, or to long-term dreams. Unfortunately, as we know, dreams may be compromised by the uncertainties that typically undermine long-term projects. A life plan increases their chances of survival.

Personal governance deals mainly with mid- and long-term plans, their professional and private components. In the professional setting, we talk about a curriculum vitae, or career plan. While planning a professional track is part of the life plan, it shouldn’t be the only component, and certainly not the dominant one. The life plans of  ‘significant others’ are also integrated; as co-planners, supporting factors, important references we want to consider, and so on. However, the expectations of third parties don’t always need to become directives.

Life planning is often triggered by a ‘fateful moment’ (Giddens, 1991), a radical change, a shift that feels loaded with destiny and forces us to pause for thought. In managerial life, we also talk about a warning shot across the bow; health problems strike out of the blue and we literally stop in our tracks. At such moments, we need to take stock and assess alternatives for action going forward, taking a good look at ourselves. We mobilise our energies and new paths for development emerge. We may then follow these (often in a fairly intense way).

An ‘imaginary fateful moment’ can be used as a ‘stress test’ to kick-start life planning and regularly check its pulse. It’s easy to think of one. How would losing our job affect our need to re-orientate? This question is an exciting basis for a life plan because a) it’s part of our risk management and b) we know that most people, even if financially independent but professionally active up to their fateful moment, won’t pursue exactly the same activity afterwards (Karitzki in Brink, Tiberius, 2005).

Our personal mission — a strategic project

Like a corporate mission or vision, the life mission is strategic. And just as a corporate mission needs regular checks and adjustments, the life project should be ‘project managed’ with the same sense of purpose and professionalism.

Do you have a life plan? Ethical Boardroom

Sennett (1999) urges that our task in the world is to create something. Shaping our own ‘biography’ is the most important creation of all. Still, we need to build in a healthy dose of carpe diem – an appetite for the here and now. Here, the ‘psycho-ecological man’ deserves a mention (Geissler, 2003). A modern professional, she/he wants to address different levels of needs that convey meaning: material needs and content needs. Above all, she/he seeks ‘happiness energy’ (positive energy leading to a state of happiness) and uses it to help his or her personal development unfold. We could conclude that people are intrinsically motivated to pursue happiness.

Geissler also talks about another core motive – physical and psychological ‘fullness’ (in the sense of ‘satisfied’ or ‘satiated’) and to be fully protected from loss (such as that of a close one, or a job), and injury (being in some way psychologically wounded). Fullness means attributing more importance to positive experiences that give us ‘happiness energy’, than to negative ones that unleash ‘frustration and injury’ energy.

Achieving ‘fullness’ can depend on how well we use our talents. Discovering and cultivating our talents are key to life planning. Here, the support of a third party is very important. Other people are good at recognising our talents and can give us vital information about what makes us different. We just have to pick up the information. A range of tools and frameworks can support us here.

“A life plan takes all areas of our lives into account in a meaningful and holistic way, including our social environment and the plans of our closest entourage”

Life planning must be geared as closely as possible towards our personal aspirations and talent/s and help us aim for a high quotient of ‘flow experiences’ in our professional and extra-professional lives.[2]‘Flow’ is a state of total, concentrated dedication to an activity that momentarily stimulates us so positively that we forget just about everything else. During a task favourable to a state of flow, such moments can happen regularly. Acting within the scope of our talents, experiencing flow, means being intrinsically motivated, engaged to act, and raising our capacity for learning and development. These factors enable managers and other employees to drive a company forward. They raise the engagement and motivation levels of employees, deepening their emotional identification with the organisation.

Writing our own biography — from norms to choices

Classic CVs, educational tracks, career and relationship models are being replaced by a host of professional and extra-professional choices at different life stages – including lifestyle choices. Being able to make a choice means having to. Difficult decisions must be faced. The security (or sense of) once on offer as part of societal traditions and rules must be replaced by self-confidence (an internally-driven sense of security).

Even if the stability and predictability of traditional psychological contracts between employee and employer may give a sense of security, they also lead to static relationships, a linearity that can inhibit dynamism and development. Today’s continuous change demands more dynamic, adaptive processes. These cloudy, uncomputable conditions have birthed a new type of psychological contract, one moulded by self-responsibility and a heightened demand upon us as individuals. Palazzo (2004) signals that the plunging reliability of traditional assumptions can lead to identity crises. And, as Giddens (1991) put it ‘the signposts established by tradition now are blank’. Any ‘sense of direction’ is fed less by traditional paradigms and more by reflective processes.

The subjectivisation of work — it’s up to us

We are witnessing a paradigm shift in our lives, business and society. We are moving from a world of constraints, control and narrow frameworks to one of space, self-determination and self-responsibility. Subjectivisation is also about self-realisation, participation, the desire to make a meaningful contribution.

Kastner (2004) talks about a voluntary, endless form of working. With it comes a certain degree of neglect of recreation, regeneration, the private-social environment, and the erosion of traditional employee profiles. Employees are no longer sought after as such, instead, the quest is for business partners, collaborative entrepreneurs, people who take initiatives, align with client demands, develop together with the company, taking all relevant stakeholders into account.

Even if the subjectivisation of work is a ‘venture full of conditions and contradictions’, (Kratzer, Boes, Döhl, Marr, Sauer in Beck/Lau [Hrsg.] 2004), it also seems natural and meaningful for employees to involve themselves in a company in a way that uses all their resources – this is similar to the engagement we typically find in business owners and partners. Yet the question of relationships based on fair exchange still begs an answer, because subjectivisation generally implies more time investment in work. And not everyone will find their investment is attractively remunerated. Managing our time investment is particularly important, considering dissolving borders and subjectivisation of work, and this is explored in the third principle of our series.

Here are the three most important fields of observation regarding subjectivisation and dissolving borders:

  • Time investment
  • Managing the interface between professional and extra-professional interests
  • Classic transactional contracts

These, especially one and two, will be further explored in future articles.

Dissolving borders between work and private time and the subjectivisation of work all make personal governance and life planning more important than ever. Personal governance is a way of managing and containing dissolving work borders and can help us make the very best of the subjectivisation of work. How can we go about this?

YOU, Inc. — a liberating status

One sign of the subjectivisation of work is the emergence of ‘YOU, Inc.’. We achieve that status when our dependency upon a particular employer drops, because our skills are in demand in the market. Whether we’re fully employed or working as an independent is irrelevant. The power imbalance between employer and employee is transformed into a partnership in which both players enjoy more flexibility and room to manoeuvre. Reaching YOU, Inc. status can be one goal of life planning, creating career options and a degree of professional independence. It can be also be a coping strategy – a heightened awareness of our professional independence can relieve the pressure of difficult professional situations.

“Professional independence can be interpreted in different ways, but it’s mostly about our material security and rights”

Professional independence can be interpreted in different ways, but it’s mostly about our material security and rights.

Material wealth — a happy marriage?

The greater our financial resources, the more room for manoeuvre we have to independently shape our life plan. Although money is, of course, only one aspect of wealth, being aware of our relationship with our material needs and aspirations is a very important part of life planning, and that relationship can broaden or narrow our scope of lifestyle choices. Questions include: What part of my material wealth is worth holding on to? What do I aspire to? How much do I need to earn? The material expectations of our personal entourage also play a major role. It’s important to ask ourselves whether our own needs are in harmony with theirs, or whether a divergence in expectations has become a source of external pressure.

Some research suggests that very materially oriented people tend towards bad moods and depression. They have fewer friends or stable relationships, lower levels of curiosity, creativity, and interest in life, and get bored more quickly. (Csíkszcentmihályi, 2003). Material striving (addiction, even) could inhibit true satisfaction and happiness.

Rolling life planning gives us a chance to think regularly about our relationship with the material world. It can help us spot possibilities to raise our satisfaction
via sources other than material ones. In this way, we can raise our ‘life satisfaction competence’ and ‘happiness ability’ (Dietman, 2003, de Mello, 2002).

Sense and happiness — fuelling the life plan

Not only are sense and happiness closely related, they also have a central place in life planning. As Nietzsche put it: “He who knows the why of life, can bear almost any how.” Still, we should take happiness with a pinch of salt and question Nietzsche’s assumption that “the unconscious goal in the evolution of every conscious being is its ‘highest happiness’”. Ulf Dettmann (2005) has raised an important link between active life planning and happiness. He refers to a study in happiness psychology that found 19 factors in people who describe themselves as happy and content. Happy people:

  • See themselves as masters of their own lives
  • Have a clever combination of short and long-term goals
  • Love what they do
  • Do not think in terms of problems, but in solutions
  • Do not solve their problems on their own
  • Invest a lot of time and energy in their social relationships
  • Know how to make the best of their abilities
  • Put nothing off until later
  • Plan ahead
  • Are grateful for pleasant aspects of their lives
  • Are not complacent
  • Are working people
  • Can wait a long time for rewards
  • Know when to stop
  • Are active people
  • Are sporty people
  • Live in the present
  • Are in a position to let go and relax
  • Have been lucky (but not just lucky)

Dettmann concludes that on the basis of positive life circumstances, “working towards and reaching the goals we ourselves set, are a rich basis for happiness and contentment”.

Luck, plain luck and good luck

Let’s now look at a potentially exciting link between the last happy people factor, Dettmann’s conclusion that working towards our goals and reaching them are a rich basis for happiness and contentment, and another aspect of happiness, Good Luck (Rovira, Trias de Bes, ESADE, 2004). The authors distinguish between luck, plain luck (luck outside our influence), and Good Luck, (within our influence), setting out 10 rules:

1. Luck doesn’t last long, because it doesn’t depend on you. Good Luck is created by each of us: that’s why it lasts forever

2. Many are those who want Good Luck, but few are those willing to pursue it

3. If you have no Good Luck now, it might be because you’re under the usual conditions. To have Good Luck, you must create new conditions

4. Finding new conditions for Good Luck does not mean looking for our own benefit only. Creating conditions, helping others, makes Good Luck more likely to appear

5. If you postpone the creation of new conditions, Good Luck never arrives. Creating new conditions is sometimes hard work, but… do it today!

6. Sometimes, even under the seemingly right conditions, Good Luck doesn’t arrive. Look for the seemingly unnecessary but indispensable conditions in the small details

7. To those who only believe in chance, creating conditions seems absurd. Those who create the conditions are not worried about chance

8. Nobody can sell Good Luck. Good Luck cannot be sold. Do not trust those who sell luck

9. After creating all the conditions, be patient, don’t quit. For Good Luck to arrive, have faith

10. Creating Good Luck means preparing conditions for opportunity. But opportunity has nothing to do with luck or chance; it is always there

The 19 happy people factors and the 10 Rules of Good Luck have a lot in common with the principles of personal governance. Personal and corporate governance are not just a matter of luck. They are a matter of Good Luck.

Implications for organisations

If individual managers need to take a set of considerations into account, so, too, do organisational talent architects. As follows:

  • Aspirations and talent
  • Dissolving borders between the work time world and the private time world
  • The subjectivisation of work
  • YOU, Inc.
  • Material aspirations, satisfaction, meaning and luck

The mission of an organisation needs to align as much as possible with the personal governance and life planning needs of its managers. Only then can it create a robust, long-term connection between people and organisation and build a critical mass of cohesion. Only when the organisation knows the true talents of its employees can these be mobilised by the organisation and by its individuals. Moreover, dissolving borders between professional and extra-professional interests contain hidden opportunities and risks. Influence needs to be carefully applied and borders dissolved throughout the organisation.

The more strongly an organisation can establish an emotional bond between itself,
its strategic goals, its managers and beyond, to all its employees, the more its work will carry sense and meaning. Thanks to this shift, a multi-facetted form of motivation can be installed that is focussed on more than purely material incentives.


About the Author:

Fredy joined Amrop in 1998. In addition to his local role as Managing Partner Switzerland, he is a member of Amrop’s global Executive Board and Vice Chair for the EMEA Region. Fredy has held management positions in Corporate and Investment Banking as well as Trading & Sales Credit Risk Management with UBS in Zurich, London and New York.Fredy is specialized in Financial Services and Board Searches. He was leading the Financial Services Practice of Amrop between 2003 and 2009. He is the author of “Personal Governance” and handles management coaching and corporate governance advisory assignments. Fredy holds a degree in Economics and Business Administration and a Masters degree in Management Coaching.


1This article series is based on Personal Governance als unverzichtbarer Teil der Corporate Governance und Unternehmensführung – Fredy Hausammann, (Haupt Berne, 2007). Translation and editing: Steffi Gande, Editorial Board Member, Amrop.

2Mihály Csíkszcentmihályi


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