Career Success Shouldn’t Be A Pyramid Scheme

I am always struck by how many people think that career success is all about promotion – getting to the next level and an increase in salary. The expectation is to follow the hero’s journey Hollywood style; by getting the next promotion all of our problems will be sorted and we will live happily ever after.

It may have worked in the traditional and hierarchical organisational structures of the past but times have moved on. In saying that, organisations continue to spend a lot of time and money profiling high potential talent and grooming them to be the leaders of the future. Succession planning appears to be focused on the talented favourites. They are promoted or sent on management development programmes as a reward for high performance in their current role despite the fact that performance in a current role is no indicator of success in a management position.

Great succession planning, in an ideal world, would have a subs bench-primed with ready now and ready soon leaders to fill any gaps that may appear if someone moved or left at short notice. Reality, as we know, is often very different.

So is this talent development approach for upward only moves setting employees up for an extended period on the subs bench without experiencing the real thing? Is it created a frustrated level of hi potential talent ready to be poached by a recruiter? Has the organisation thought about what these people actually want? Do they as individuals know what they want?

The first question to be addressed is: What do people really want? HBR Research shows us that most people don’t want to be managers and only one third of employees aspire to management positions at any level. That’s right only 34% really want to manage people and only 7% want to work at Executive level.

Up is not the only way

Career progression should not equal promotion. If it’s not what everyone wants, then why do so many see the next level as the Holy Grail. The challenge, we see in our coaching practice, is that there are just not enough promotion opportunities in flatter organisation structures today. There are fewer levels to climb thus creating this ‘mud layer’ of people stuck at a mid-management level and even greater numbers below having no realistic opportunity of gaining promotion.

It is time to change the language of career success away from the traditional and hierarchical industrialised pyramid structure of “up being the only way” because the pyramid is filled with unintended and unsustainable consequences.

Start with the end in Mind

Before selecting a candidate for a management or leadership position or indeed a management development programme, we advise organisations to put their talented individual contributors through a 1-1 Career Stocktake programme to help them identify their personal career strengths and make a fully informed decision on what they want for their future career rather than accepting what someone else says would be good for them. We know from research that 70% of interviewees reported chance events had significantly impacted their career choices. Individuals simply do not put enough research our self-assessment time into plotting future career moves. Too many simply respond to a ‘tap on the shoulder’ suggesting a great move for you would be…… In this future world of work we all need to create our future career direction.

Right person for the right career move

Individuals need help to do this and our Career Stocktake career coaching programme helps them bridge the gap from where they are now to their best future career move. Typically delivered over three intensive career coaching sessions with access to our suite of career assessments, the programme helps individuals realise what they want and for the organisation to know they have the right person as a candidate for a management role.

It’s also time for organisations to communicate more that all successful career paths do not have to end at the top of the pyramid scheme on the senior leadership team. In our next blog we will look at our Career Pathways Model – where organisations and managers can help staff to follow realistic career paths.

It is wise for individuals to follow their intrinsic motivational drivers in selecting future career moves and not be swayed by extrinsic career offers that may be someone else’s view of career success. Create, and continue to refine, your career path in alignment with market demand. Real life is not like the movies and up is not the only way!

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