Our premise here at Trevor-Roberts is very simple. People are more productive, engaged and committed when they understand what drives and motivates them, have a clear sense of career direction, and know how their organisation contributes to a sense of meaning and purpose in their working life.
We use careers as a way to connect an individual with their organisation.
Back in 1909 Frank Parsons, who is widely regarded as the father of the career field, wrote his seminal paper entitled “Choosing a Vocation”. His argument can be summarised in three points:
- First, he says, know what you are good at;
- Second, know what the market needs; and
- Third, make a logical connection between the first two points.
Most people haven’t moved past this view of the world.
But careers today are far more complex than this one approach. What is needed is a framework to make sense of our working life. A structure within which to make decisions and respond to opportunities as they arise. At Trevor-Roberts, we refer to this our 5 Pillars of an Extraordinary Career.
How we designed our career development programs: Trevor-Roberts Framework #1: 5 Pillars of an Extraordinary Career
“I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up?” We hear this from people of all ages - 25 to 75 years old. The question, however, is wrong. There is no such thing as a career plan. Almost no one ends up exactly where they think they will in their career. Instead the most successful careerists walk multiple paths simultaneously and make clear decisions about the opportunities that present themselves.
Career management is more about a preferred career direction and less about a defined plan. The question to ask is “what are the future possibilities for me?” Framing career this way lends itself to an exploration of possibilities and a sense of optimism about the future. Our approach focuses on the subjective career, that is, the values, meaning and success that a person defines themselves.
When we work with leaders and high potentials as part of development programs, we alter the question slightly. We explore with each person their sense of how they think about themselves – their identity. Put directly, we explore who you are when you do what you do. Career success is about how leaders answer this question and includes their connections with others and reflexivity about themselves. We change over time and so too does the meaning of work. But often the changes are subtle and we don’t understand why the same work no longer motivates us. We feel plateaued or stuck in a rut.
A lack of information is one of the three main barriers to effective career decision making according to the world’s leading authority in this area, Professor Itamar Gati from Israel. Understanding how careers can be crafted is an important part of the Design process. Broadly there are three types of career structures:
- Organisational Career: the traditional career structure where a person works for one organisation. Despite many authors calling for the demise of this form of career, it remains the dominant structure.
- Boundaryless Career: where a person utilises a specialist expertise to work across geographic and organisational boundaries. Global business consultants, scientists and actors are examples here.
- Portfolio Career: where a person holds two to five contract or casual positions simultaneously in different organisations.
Not every structure suits every person as it depends on the meaning that uncertainty holds for them. Research on career uncertainty found that people have different meanings of uncertainty, ranging from negative to positive, which has a profound impact on career management activities such as decision making, transition, and preferred career structure.
“the enemy of a great opportunity is a good opportunity”
A career was traditionally through of as a series of learning stages which typically involved four steps: exploration, trial, establishment, mastery. This approach, however, no longer works as the increased pace of change means that learning times have been shortened and the need for new knowledge increases.
A successful career now involves a series of mini-stages of learning. Through a succession of these mini-stages we move in and out of various organisations, functions, product areas and other work environments.
This may mean that our career seems to consist of erratic episodes. There is no one clear way for a career to unfold and people typically feel that their career isn’t ‘normal’. In my doctoral research, more than three quarters of the professionals I interviewed started with “well, my career is a bit unusual”.
Thinking about your career as a series of cycles or episodes lasting, say, 2 to 4 years, opens up a whole new way of thinking about what you need to learn. Each episode might have an exploratory phase or a trial/testing phase followed by a period of becoming established or mastering the work. Then life happens. Technology changes, new opportunities emerge, family circumstances change which may prompt a transition to a new episode.
While these constant changes may seem exciting to some, they are filled with uncertainty. We see that people moving through these sequences of mini-cycles requiring greater adaptability and the ability to cope with the uncertainty of unexpected change. Individuals need to look for this support, while organisations need to proactively provide support.
“Engage your allies and be a good ally”. This eloquent statement comes from the Canadian Blueprint for Career Development and encapsulates that a career is all about the relationships you have and develop over time. Research on leadership shows, overwhelmingly, that the relationship you have with your manager is the greatest predictor of performance and turnover. Yet so few people are consciously aware of the importance of relationships.
Relationships at work are so important that it is one of only three ways that individuals actively craft their job to create more meaning and success for themselves. Two leading researchers, Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton found that people craft their roles by changing either the relational boundaries, job tasks or cognitive tasks. The relational boundaries, in other words, who we interact with on a regular basis, is important, as work fulfils deep psychosocial functions of feeling connected with and belonging to a group.
A study of cleaners in a hospital shows the impact of relationships. One group saw their work as just cleaning and focussed on the job tasks often feeling that the skill level for the work was low. The other group altered their relational boundaries to ensure frequent interaction with patients, visitors and others in their unit. This group of cleaners felt their work was skilled as they engaged in extra tasks that made others’ jobs, such as nurses, go more smoothly. Which leads to the fourth pillar of Position and the importance of how people perceive you, how you position yourself in the market, and how you transition between roles.
If you haven’t typed your name into Google for a while then give it a try. This is part of your brand and will influence how others perceive you. More importantly though, what is your subjective brand? That is, what people think about you and how they describe you when you are not in the room. You can’t control this but you can influence it. And regardless of whether you want a brand or not, you have one!
The objective components of your brand include your LinkedIn profile, your resume, and job applications. The biggest trend we see is how competitive it is for roles and how necessary it is to stand out from the crowd. No longer does one resume suffice. Those getting interviews take hours to carefully craft their resume to the role as well as their cover letter which reflects their research and deep interest in the role.
Also new forms of displaying your expertise are emerging. We created ResugraphicTM as a way to stand out from the crowd. Resugraphic creates a one page infographic resume to share your career story.
Having a Resugraphic or similar profile is important for internal transitions, particularly in large organisations where you still need to sell yourself to secure new roles. A large part of our career coaching work involves helping people position and sell themselves internally. Too often we see great people leave organisations because someone outside their organisation saw their potential and took a chance on them.
Uncertainty is certain. The ability to adapt to new and challenging situations is critical to future success as is the energy and resilience to keep going. In fact, adaptability is described as a ‘meta-competency’ by Douglas Hall, one of the leading career theorists. If you can master this meta-competency then it will give you the capacity to master many more specific skills.
Adaptability is the predisposition and readiness to consciously and continuously: (a) scan the environment for changes; (b) strive for a more complete understanding about yourself; (c) maintain congruence between your sense of identity and your behaviours; and (d) be willing to adapt to new situations.
Hand in hand with adaptability is resilience. This is a term which is overused but little understood. Resilience is energy. It is ensuring you have sufficient energy to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life.
Our approach to resilience deals with establishing routines that provide energy in the different spheres of life, namely, physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual.
In the uncertain environment in which we work, building a fulfilling career is challenging. However, our experience shows us that a willingness to grow and learn combined with a framework to focus attention where it matters is essential to building a great career.
Our career has changed from a noun to a verb. A modern career is an unfolding sequence of work related activities that provide a sense of meaning and success to our lives. It is a journey not a destination.
Those individuals around us that appear to have the most ‘success’ are not there by chance. Their journey, while not always planned, is the culmination of a series of conscious, deliberate actions that have led them toward their preferred career direction.
The best organisations partner with their employees to make this happen.
To learn more about career development practices for your organisation, click below!