Why do we work – When individuals care about careers

In my last post on when organizations care about careers, I talked about various things an organization can do in order to utilize their employees effectively and in the process, help employees realize their career goals.

However, not all companies care about careers, and when they don’t, individuals suffer. It is essential for everyone to be focused on their own career goals and manage the career proactively, with or without explicit support from the organization. In a previous post last year (managing career proactively), I described a process to do this. In this post, I want to highlight a few of the areas that individuals should target.

  1. Create and manage personal performance management system – External indicators of high performance include bonus, raise, promotion, rewards, etc., all of which depend on availability of budget. Therefore, absence of such indicators (for example, no raise company-wide because economy is in bad shape) can’t be taken to be a low performance indicator. Reverse is also true: a solid raise (just because company did well and economy is going strong) doesn’t always indicate a particularly high performance. However, many individuals are unable to keep this distinction clear in their head and end up getting a false notion of career growth (or lack of it). It is important for individuals to create their own measures of their performance and use it over a period of time. Learning goals (and their attainment) are usually the best indicators of career growth, but other measures can be used too, as long as the variables are in your control.
  2. Create and manage personal career goals – There is too much focus on creating and managing organization goals and too little on personal goals within companies. Since most people tend to measure their own career growth from the performance reviews they get, this means that they use organization goal attainment as a proxy to their own career progress (‘I delivered the project for the company on time with quality, so my career has now progressed’). While this works for junior employees and new hires, this doesn’t work when individuals become expert in their domains since it becomes much easier to attain these goals, and they bring very little learning to the individual. Very soon, such employees stop learning (while staying valuable to companies) and their careers become stagnant. To avoid this fate, individuals should create and manage personal career goals and track progress against them.
  3. Focus on targeted learning – Individuals learn as they work. However, not all learning helps in career growth; just because you learned about how vendors bid for networking equipments to be purchased in your company when you helped the CIO in crunch time, doesn’t mean your career is now better off with this experience. Only those learnings that are targeted towards planned learning objectives are helpful in career growth. Early in the career, individuals have enough challenges in their regular work and hence enough learning of all kinds (targeted and untargeted), but as expertise goes up, learning opportunities go down, and random learnings (‘handling the politics of the office’ or ‘selecting a location for the office’) become less useful. Individuals need to keep a close eye on their learning goals and performance measurement metrics, and invest their time in those activities that generate targeted learning. Only this can ensure career growth.

Even when organizations care about careers of their employees, it helps when individuals focus on above areas and actively manage their career. These become must-do when organizations don’t do their part.

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