5 key steps in taking charge of your own career

As Jack Welsh once said, “Take charge of your destiny or someone else will do it for you” and this pragmatic nugget of common sense has never been more relevant than in today’s world of work. Many employees all over the world are facing the same challenge of embarking on new careers in a severe downturn, if this course of action has not already been forced upon them by circumstances.

Never before has the question of career development and mobility been more a key challenge in the work place.

The status quo is no longer viable
A short time ago, organizations and employees alike preferred stability to movement and HR policies and strategy in many organizations aimed at maintaining things as they were. Today, the unprecedented economic crisis has forced everyone to rethink and to understand that maintaining the status quo is no longer a viable option for organizations and employees.

Organizations can no longer offer a job for life and given the unrelenting pace of change and business and technological transformation, employees can no longer bury their heads in the sand and believe that they have a job for life or that the knowledge that got them their job in the first place will allow them to keep it in the long term.

Adopting a new dynamic model
Today, employers and employees alike now realize that given the uncertainty of foreseeing the future, the only promise employers can make to employees is that the future is uncertain and that the best way for organizations and employees to meet this uncertainty is to adopt a more dynamic model which drives movement by empowering employees to take responsibility for their own career development.

A short while ago, organizations and employees alike shared the myth that it was the responsibility of the organization alone to manage the career of its employees, even if this meant that only a small proportion of employees availed of the limited possibilities within the organization.

Today, the crisis has changed all this and more and more organizations and employees are coming to recognize that a different model is required, one which recognizes the individual employee’s responsibility for managing his/her own career.

Is it possible to manage your own career?
Many employees of course would question whether it is possible to manage one’s own career for many different reasons. Despite the context, many different obstacles still remain in place preventing employees from taking charge of their own destiny:
– for managers, short term business objectives mean that they obviously prefer stability to losing a key team player to another department;
– for employees, fear of failure means that they might prefer to stay in the comfort zone rather than take the risk of moving into unknown territory;
– for HR, encouraging employees to move without being able to satisfy expectations leads to loss of credibility, etc.

However, despite these obstacles, the impact of the current crisis is such that the more dynamic model is now an imperative and employees now need to take responsibility for their own careers and organizations need to encourage them to do so.

3 key players applying the 3 S
This new dynamic model can therefore only work if the 3 key players in organizations, the employee, management & HR work together and apply what has been called the “3 S” :

Spark: all employees need to develop and maintain their personal spark, that flame which drives them on to grow and become better;

Support: managers need to support their employees more effectively and help them progress through meaningful and good conversations and by helping them understand what they need to do to learn and progress within the organization and how they can adapt to business an technological changes;

Systems and structure: HR needs to provide the systems and structure which will ensure that the meaningful conversations take place between managers and employees continuously and that the outputs of these discussions can be acted on meaningfully. HR also need to support employees and management more effectively in using the systems and structures so that the human capital within the organization is more effectively utilized and developed proactively.

So managers need to support and HR needs to provide the systems and the structure.

Supposing these two levers are in place, what can each of us do as employees to maintain our individual, personal spark?

5 key steps in managing your career
There are 5 key steps we all need to take to maintain our spark and take charge of managing our own career:

1) Know yourself: know your skills, your values, your preferred working environment, your objectives and life goals. You can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you want to go nor what means you need to mobilize to get there.

2) Know how others see you: get feedback from others on your weak points. Learn what you need to do to grow and progress.

3) Know your organization: understand what is changing in your organization and how your job might or will be impacted by changes in the business environment.

4) Know your options: have more than one option. Up is not the only possible move. You can move laterally, backwards, work in project teams, join cross site projects or initiatives,etc.

5) Know what you need to learn and what you need to do to get that learning. In other words, develop an action plan to help you acquire the knowledge and know-how progressively.

All of us can adopt these 5 key steps.

However, taking these 5 steps will be easier and more effective if the other 2 key actors in the equation, management and HR, understand that they have their part to play. For example, employees can only understand how their roles are changing if management and HR are transparent and clear and communicate effectively to employees on these changes.

5 key steps for managers and HR
So just as employees have 5 key steps to take charge of managing their own careers, management and HR also have 5 key steps to take:

1) Implement and use the HR processes (annual appraisal and development interview, career development, skills mapping, etc;) to give objective and effective feedback to employees on an ongoing basis, not only on performance but also on how to grow in the job and the organization;

2) Give direct feedback, help your employees understand the areas they need to develop to progress; Set objectives nd goals which help employees close the gap between where they are and where they need to be now and in the future;

3) Coach and support your employees to understand the environment they are in, how it is changing and what they need to do to keep ahead of those changes; take the time to share with them your knowledge of the organization. It’s not time wasted.

4) Give employees options: promote an empowering work environment where employees are encouraged to participate in decision making and take more responsibility. Responsibility as we all know is key to developing skills. Encourage job rotation and job stretching. Use the organization to help your people evolve. Above all, know your people; understand their expectations; challenge them to take on new tasks and responsibilities;

5) Promote a learning organization : Help employees build their personal learning action plans and help them complete these plans. Set stretch objectives which meet business goals while pushing employees out of their comfort zones. Promote a culture which accepts error because making mistakes is part of the process.

Taking charge of your destiny: a shared responsibility
Employees will only adopt responsibility for managing their own career proactively if they perceive that they are supported by their management and the outputs of their actions are fed effectively into the HR process and result in concrete and positive actions that all can see. Otherwise, employees will perceive all attempts by the organization to encourage them to drive their own careers as an abandonment by the organization of its share of responsibility.

Today, taking charge of one’s career is indeed imperative.

However, if each one of us has an individual responsibility for taking charge of our own career, this can only work if organizations recognize that they have a shared responsibility to promote a management model which encourages and rewards employees who embrace this dynamic model.

So a new win-win relationship needs to be built between employees, management and HR. Only if this win-win relationship is implemented will employees take more and more responsibility for managing their own careers.

Thanks to Beverly Kaye for her ideas on this subject. View the video in One World, One Team to hear Beverly’s thoughts on managing your own career.


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