Taking Responsibility for Your Own Career Development – How to Make the Most of It, Part 1

Executives, professionals and managers are faced with ever greater demands; greater demands from internal and external clients for delivery, greater demands from their leaders for performance and greater demands on their time from their non-work interests and commitments. And all in a climate where they are expected to take responsibility for their own career management and development.

How can the majority of us build successful careers in this environment? Smart professionals know that the key to long-term success is founded more in maintaining sharp skills than in demonstrating loyalty to the firm. People and their employers do have a shared interest in their long-term growth. But the key is skills growth, not loyalty.

Career Bests

Research into what makes for a satisfying work life indicates that the most personally satisfying times in a person's career are usually also highly productive in meeting their employer's goals. These 'Career Bests' also provide significant development opportunities. Rising to the challenge benefits employees by building increased capability and satisfaction. And increased individual capability in turn increases the firm's ability to perform.

Career Bests happen when individuals are doing something that they enjoy, that uses and develops their talents and that falls within the domain of strategic business needs. When these three overlap great things happen. The fact that Career Bests happen when individual and corporate interests overlap has important implications for personal development;

  • Only the individual knows where their interests lie. A career plan developed by someone else won't help.
  • The best career plans do not center on the next job or on suggested training courses. While new job opportunities can provide growth experiences and while training courses can augment on-the-job learning, most development happens as a result of engaging in interesting, challenging work.
  • Organizations must be clear about what they need from their staff. If leaders share information about the organizations direction and can translate that direction into individual expectations, then they give their staff the framework in which to establish how they can best support the firm in achieving its goals.
  • Self-directed career development requires more self-awareness and insight than corporate-driven career management. Individuals must take more of the initiative and accept responsibility for understanding and articulating their own needs, priority and their ability to contribute. For some people this may well be a painful process, whilst others find it immensely liberating.

What are my values ​​and priority when it comes to work?

To increase your opportunities to experience Career Bests it is vital that you understand what drives you at work. One model that explains the range of career drivers has been developed by C. Brooklyn Derr. He identified five major definitions of career success;

  1. Advancement . This is the traditional definition of career success for many Europeans. These people are looking to become directors, vice-presidents, senior partners, general managers and CEO's. What drives them is upward movement. Success means more money, more power and steady promotions.
  2. Security . These people, an under-appreciated and often unacknowledged but significant segment of the workforce in most organizations have a psychological contract with the firm. In exchange for hard work and loyalty, they expect to get life-long employment, respect, steady advancement and eventually a high-level role where their talents and used and appreciated.
  3. Freedom . These people value personal autonomy and 'space' at all costs. They don't mind being held to deadlines, budgets and standards but they do want to solve the problem in their own way.
  4. Challenge . These individuals thrive on excitement, challenge and the technical nature and content of their work. They'll work for anybody who offers exciting opportunities.
  5. Balance . These people give equal time and attention to careers, relationships and self-development. They will work around the clock in emergencies but they don't live their lives emergency style. They will usually pull back from getting overly absorbed in their work but are competent enough to do well. They become unhappy if their work isn't meaningful enough to balance their personal lives.

Effective career development allows people to live by their personal values ​​whilst at the same time making an effective contribution at work. Since different people define their goals differently it stands to reason that if they cannot match them to the organizations needs, then frustration and low performance will result.

This is yet another argument in favor of self-directed career development. No one will be more aware of their own career drivers and values ​​than the individual concerned. When they use that insight to make decisions about their future, they take personal responsibility and are likely to be far more committed to achieving the outcome, than they would be if the decision was imposed on them.

So far we've focused on personal drivers and values. In Part Two we'll consider the other key requirement to effective career development – your organization's needs.