For years, the item ‘Lack of career opportunities’ consistently landed up being the lowest scoring item on engagement surveys conducted by companies, prompting them to scramble with action plans to ensure that something was done to address the issue. Then the Millennials came along and suddenly the career concept took a life of it’s own. A new workforce, seeking purpose and meaning in their work, empowerment, the ability to work at their own pace, made their first appearance some time back and the corporate pundits declared them as egotistical, lazy and entitlement oriented. To some extent it was easy to suppress their attitude and needs, but then, as time went by, their numbers increased and they became nearly 50% of the workforce and their voice, suddenly mattered.
Globally, organizations, responded in different ways. Some added career levels to provide rapid promotion opportunities, others put career frameworks in place (career lattices that outline behavioral/ functional competencies and career experiences), while the remaining focused on more effectively communicating the career tools they already had. But the ‘war for talent’ was not just amongst global organizations, the workforce boundaries had expanded and there were flotillas adrift- of startups and free-lancers.
Most of us are familiar with Uber and Airbnb and their contractual ‘at-will’ crowd-sourced labor models. I’ve been using Etsy for awhile and recently used Fiverr. The universe of invisible talent that suddenly appeared, offering up their technical skills from remote corners of the world was intriguing, prompting me to explore the career models possible in that world. It seems that the whole concept of career management has changed, as a part of the population has morphed into this contingent (invisible) workforce. Freedom, flexibility and fearlessness characterize this generation. Bold risk taking is the new normal and no one seems afraid to swing on a trapeze to guide the trajectory of their careers.
However, as the individual swings on their career trapeze, the key question becomes- ‘who will manage to sway the person their way and keep them from leaping onto the next trapeze headed their way?’. What will make this bold new workforce stay and remain excited? It does go back to designing career frameworks, but now with a bit more sharpness and edge.
- A Genuine Culture: The employee today, is smart enough to see where career efforts by a company are genuine and is making career choices accordingly. The culture has to breathe and feel like there is genuine belief in the career development of employees and is not just an attempt to improve satisfaction scores. It needs to be the employee brand of the company. This starts from the top of the organization where executives themselves often do not get any feedback and therefore in turn, do not cascade it to their teams in which case, it could be a lost cause. Looking some of the companies leading in the sphere of culture, Twitter, Zappos, Airbnb, Adobe, it is evident that career elements are deeply embedded within their core values and managers held accountable to these.
- A Balanced Career Web: An individual is typically seeking some basic information on careers- “what jobs are open in my company? what does a day in that job look like? what skills and experiences are required to get there? where do I stand? and how can I get there?”. However, complex career frameworks that are too detailed with too many technical competencies and role profiles collapse under their own weight, yet if there is too little information it does not really provide any guidance. Articulating these requirements yet, getting this balance right is one of the most critical success factors in career framework design. A simpler design, executed well is more likely to be successful in the long run. It’s no longer a career ladder or even a lattice, it’s almost like a career web of opportunities that individuals need to be allowed to float in, with some fluidity, a bit of risk and perhaps shorter shelf lives.
- An Appetite for Risk: Just as in a trapeze performance where both people are taking a risk, the willingness to take risk is upon the employee and the employer. If talent hoarding is a deep rooted issue that remains unchallenged, then the needle will move slowly. ‘Stretch’ assignments build experiences for individuals and teach them vulnerability and courage that are essential leadership traits. Cross-functional movements, create business disruptions but build well rounded general managers. This has prompted an increase in the design of early career rotation programs. Progressive global companies are altering their hiring profiles to ensure there is an element of the ‘global nomad’ in the people they hire to make it easier to navigate their careers through physical moves to different countries. Finally, exploring risk with flexible work arrangements in roles where it may not have been possible before, is a high risk, high reward scenario that companies are exploring more.
- Nimble Technology: Most forms of social digital interaction today are simple, easy to use, make data easily accessible and cater to short attention spans. Competing within that crowded mind space and attention span is tricky, yet essential. Providing all the career information in the form of a career app on a mobile device is the key to navigating that crowded space rather than three-ring binders with the same information. Most of the big HRIS players did not begin with talent management as their core offering and are in a bit of a ‘catch up’ mode on career mapping tools. Yet, niche players who started off with stand-alone tools face resistance when companies question the real cost associated in being a ‘bolt on’. As long as technology remains a Goliath and loses nimbleness within a company, it has the potential to impede the success of career programs.
Career models will continue to evolve in the future, even more so than before. Zappos experimented with Holacracy with limited success and the conservative minded amongst us nodded knowingly, that it felt like a step too far. The point though is not about Holacracy being a success or not, it’s the restlessness in the air accompanied by fearlessness of individuals today, where a shakeout is inevitable and those companies that have a solid culture of career development but move with agility and edge, will have the power to attract and retain the best talent!