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Up Was Never for Everyone

Guest Post by Beverly Kaye, Lindy Williams and Lynn Cowart

I’m delighted to celebrate the launch of Beverly Kaye’s new book, Up is Not the Only Way, with this excerpt. Bev is a legend in the career development field and I feel fortunate to have co-authored Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go with her. In her latest book she explores the case for (and opportunities associated with) considering growth in non-vertical ways. I’m certain you’ll enjoy this preview and her take on this timely topic.


Careers used to be predictable.

There were paths and ladders.

The hierarchy worked – for some.

As downsizing, restructuring, and delayering took hold in the late 1980s, old ladders became largely inaccessible. Some rungs disappeared, and the space between others shifted from steps to leaps. At the same time, individual aspirations and company needs were evolving. Terms like work–life balance were overheard in break rooms. Organizations began to examine how breadth of experience weighed against depth of expertise during talent reviews. The world of work was changing.

Careers today happen in that world—a world that continues to change. The environment is more global, more multigenerational, more dispersed, diverse, and complex than ever before.

Hierarchies continue to flatten. Organizational structures are flexing. Even the value people place on work is changing. Employees play multiple roles—from individual contributor to peer to leader and back, sometimes in the same day or within the same assignment. Roles emerge and evolve based on tasks and needs. Carefully written descriptions no longer define the boundaries of a job. Teams form and disperse based on projects. Feedback comes from multiple sources. The ladder, if it’s still there, may be harder to see and tougher to climb.

Is This the End of the Career as We Know It?

Every industry is changing. As a result, internal workplace structures are changing as well. Up—the promotion path and perhaps even a ladder or two—may still exist, and could still be a goal—for some. However, as levels of the hierarchy have disappeared, promotional opportunities have become less available, so the route to a promotion may take new turns. Someone who wants to manage others can still get there and, with the right mix of experiences, will likely arrive better prepared to take on the role.

Flattened organizations and limited career ladders don’t spell the end of growth or careers. Opportunities are there—different and varied, but very much still there, and even more plentiful. The next change frontier, then, is people’s mind-sets, and that means changing the conversation, especially about careers.

Let’s Be Honest

Up was never for everyone. It still isn’t. Managing someone else is not on everyone’s radar. Neither is taking on increasing levels of responsibility (really!). Not everyone wants to move up. That doesn’t mean a rewarding career is out of reach.

The message has been out there for a while now that individuals own their careers. What does that really mean? We think it means that the definition of career success is up to each one of us. Every time circumstances shuffle the deck, you can deal yourself a new hand. That’s good news . . . actually that’s great news! We are the only ones who can envision and imagine what success will look like. And, to add to that great news, as the creators of our career success pictures, we are free to alter them when and how we choose to! That is what it means to own a career.


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