The world of work is constantly shifting, and every employee today has to adapt or risk stagnation. Change is seldom predictable, and the concept of the career ladder is a myth. Increasingly, workers find themselves traversing unexpected paths in pursuit of success.
Navigating the maze of career development is often a challenge that’s up to each individual to tackle. Yet organizations, and society as a whole, stand to benefit from better outcomes and the maximization of people’s growth potential.
You can certainly improve by taking ownership of your career progress. But you also stand to benefit from being in a company with a systemic approach towards career development.
The complications of career progress
Why has it become such a complex challenge to make headway in your career?
Research into modern career scenarios indicates that the nature of the task is multi-faceted. When managing your career, the components you need to consider fall into four broad categories: education, capability, network, and experience.
Education comprises not only institutional attainment but supplementary training and self-learning efforts. Your capabilities must include what’s necessary to perform a job and strategic and tactical skills, such as task prioritization and delegation. These components further interact with and are influenced by the growth of your network and relevant experience.
Development over time adds yet another layer of complexity. Someone who has five years of work experience will possess exponentially more knowledge and skill and leverage extensive contacts, compared to a fresh graduate who’s just starting.
Moreover, few young employees are fully aware of all these aspects that need to be addressed to maximize growth opportunities. Thus, you frequently encounter young workers who have college degrees and yet struggle to penetrate upwards in the hierarchy of most companies.
The need for outside support
The individual undoubtedly has to take ownership of their career development. However, we can’t expect them to shoulder the burden by themselves. Doing so ignores the deep-lying causes of career struggles.
Consider a person who has a disorder like anorexia. They may not be aware of their condition or fully understand how it influences their actions. They may feel compelled to binge to balance out drastic weight loss. It doesn’t work that way. You need a proper treatment plan to get out of the cycle and achieve sustainable health.
Likewise, individuals who have to tackle the career challenge by themselves may not be aware of the nature and extent of their deficiencies, as far as opportunities are concerned. Even if they realize that a gap exists, they are prone to human tendencies to stick within a comfort zone and only improve aspects that appeal to them.
Developing a system
Employers have a vested interest in their people’s development outcomes. The problem is that obsolete hierarchical models often get in the way. As a result, companies end up paying lip service to the idea of offering career progress.
If only advanced positions get to handle increased responsibility and complex tasks, and few people get to hold such jobs, how are lower-ranked members going to grow?
Flattening organizational hierarchy is one way to create greater opportunities through the distribution of tasks and cross-departmental collaboration. Doing so does eliminate advanced positions and the sense of validation for growth via promotion. But you can restore that by organizing work into projects with temporary leadership positions, for example.
Support for an employee’s development may come from elsewhere, such as friends or family members, but you can’t rely on such chances. Employers must design a system of support into their framework, and employees need to maximize their chances by finding an organization with such qualities to align with their ambitions.