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 Diagnosis: Career Path(ology)

An epidemic is sweeping many organizations. How will you know if yours might be infected? Symptoms include:

  • Increased expectations for roles and moves that may not exist
  • Difficulty engaging disillusioned employees
  • Painful exchanges about promotions that aren’t happening
  • Sore feelings and skepticism
  • Decreased trust
  • Swelling in the number of employees who feel stuck or misrouted

The disease is career path(ology) and here’s how it begins. An organization, in an effort to address the needs of individuals to grow and develop, create elegant career paths that outline how one can go from one point on the organization chart to another. These pathways often include information about the competencies, experiences and training required to progress through the organization.

However, one problem is that these career paths are internalized as promises – promises that too many organizations find themselves unable to fulfill. And the other is a fundamental misunderstanding about what employees want and need. Too frequently structures are implemented where interactions are required. Pathways are constructed and uploaded as a way of addressing career development.

But, career paths are not synonymous with career development. That would be like saying that a flat map is the same as a road trip adventure. Maps might start us down a good road, but the weather, changing interests, traffic and more require real-time adjustments. And in the end, satisfaction is generally less about the right and left turns and more about the experience with others.

The same is true of career pathing. In today’s dynamic, ever-changing world, static roadmaps are likely to take us down dead-ends, through construction zones, and on to backed-up highways. Career ‘next steps’ that are possible and available today can find themselves out-of-date very quickly as organizational needs shift.

The cure for career path(ology) is a more organic, fluid and human approach to career development. My latest article at The Economist further describes the challenges and the ways forward. I hope you enjoy!


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