First Mover Advantage in the game of Career Chess
We regularly speak at ‘careers week’ events in corporate organisations to help offer fresh insights into career management in the changing world of work. As part of these events, there is often a company lifer rolled out to tell their career story about how they joined the organisation as a shy 22 year old, expected to stay for 5 years but they are still there 30 years later. The typical career story – a vertical career path from graduate to Manager to Director. This celebrates the message that a combination of lifetime loyalty and hard work pays off in the end.
Celebrate career agility, not lifetime loyalty
But how appropriate is it to showcase this message in today’s world of work? It is considered career suicide today to spend your life at one organisation and in one functional silo. Organisations are becoming flatter offering less promotion opportunities, so new routes to career success need to be urgently explored.
An interesting HBR study revealed 66% of employees don’t want to be managers. The research continues to tell us that only 7% say they want to pursue C suite Executive Leadership level positions. So when organisations are showcasing what career success looks like, they should not promote career progression as ‘up being the only way’.
Engaging the disengaged majority
The 66% of employees who don’t want to be managers are in the majority in every organisation. And even though they form the backbone, there is often very little left in the budget for their career development. If an organisation does not profile someone as a future leader, then potential career paths are rarely identified and career development is very much up to the individual. Is it any wonder the Gallup survey on disengagement stands at 70%?
These two pieces of research tell us 66% don’t want to be Managers and 70% are disengaged. There must be some correlation. My view is that employees don’t believe their outstanding individual contributions are valued by the organisation. The only reward the organisation can offer is to promote them when someone leaves or retires. But is that what they really want? And is it the best match for their skills set.
Is it time to change the language of career success?
It is time for organisations to realise all successful career paths do not have to end on the senior leadership team. The future of work is truly open, so organisations need to be open and honest with their people. They need to help them to become realistic about their career futures rather than trying to tempt them into climbing the career ladder which might not be appropriate for their skill-set or sustainable for the organisation.
We have identified 4 clear career pathways that employees should consider:
Enrich – This is the most obvious but the least researched career path because it will show little movement on your CV. The enrichment strategy is really about seeking new ways to challenge yourself in your current role and develop new skills. The most practical way to enrich your current role is to become involved in a new project, this could be a cross functional project, or becoming skilled in a new technology that makes you more marketable. Your job title, grade level or status tells us nothing about your future ability to succeed and thrive in a changing world of work. It is your ability to be proactive, innovative and to collaborate that is considered currency for career success.
Explore – This pathway is about seeking opportunities in different divisions or departments across your organisation. It often involves taking a leap of faith into a new area that may make you feel vulnerable. Career growth only occurs when you step outside your comfort zone. It should never be about only wanting more financial reward but the longer term reward of becoming more employable. This strategy requires building relationships outside your own function that have the power to make things happen for you. The biggest barrier to exploration is personal self-confidence to begin self-marketing yourself for future internal opportunities. If you don’t explore, someone less skilled may do and this increases frustration, so take action.
Elevate – This is the traditional route of upward career growth. One word of warning; make sure you complete a series of career assessments in advance of seeking a people management role. Secondly, invest in developing your people management skills as part of seeking any promotion. It’s tough managing people you once worked alongside in the trenches. Relationships change and you have to be ready for being unpopular and making hard calls. The road to promotion is littered with shattered egos and stressful sleepless nights. The glow of promotion soon wears off, so best be prepared as it’s not just about the increased monthly pay cheque. There is a reason you are paid more to climb a level!
Exit – I know many organisations are not promoting this as a career option. But it’s increasingly happening. There are more jobs offers externally. My advice here is not to be swooned by the recruiter promising the earth moon and stars in the new shiny company down the street. Like promotion decisions, think carefully about what enriches you personally and what you want. The lack of research people put into career moves is quite startling, they just accept information as gospel truth without doing their own digging. Always fully exhaust all internal conversations before this becomes the only option left. Lastly on this, organisations just have to become more resilient to accepting a certain level of churn at this time of increased opportunities.
First Mover Advantage
In truth, there will be different times throughout your career lifeline to employ each of the 4 career strategies above. In the world of work today, organisational change is inevitable and we all need to take personal ownership of our future careers. Proactivity is the key, waiting for the Organisation to make the first move means you offer up your first mover advantage!
Up is not the only way
Career Development needs to be for everyone. In the past, talent management was the preserve of the chosen high potentials prepared for the swift lift to the Top Floor. Career development helps employees become realistic about their career futures.
We have created a 24-7 anywhere, anytime access Gateway Career Portal which offers employees their bespoke Career Framework map plus thousands of Career Development resources at the type of cost that makes business sense to companies of any size.