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Rethinking the Career Ladder

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Most career ladders go something like this
•    Associate 1 –> Associate 2 –> Professional 1 –> Professional 2 –> Senior Pro Ladder
•    Associate 1 –> Associate 2 –> Professional 1 –> Management Ladder

It’s all really quite predictable.  Either you stay on a professional track and perhaps manage projects, but never a P&L and certainly not people.  Or you can get on that management track and move up the ranks.  These ladders do a decent job of showing internal talent and external candidates what the possibilities are, and that your organization actually does have a focus on learning and development.  However, it may not actually be the reality of how people move and advance in an organization.  While the ladder may be true for a couple of levels, the chances of someone actually getting through the entire ladder without exiting are rather slim.

I was at Taleo recently and they have some interesting models for some soon to be released career progression functionality.  At first I thought it was at odds with my own point of view around how ladders should be managed, but in retrospect, it’s probably much closer than I initially gave them credit for.  Their functionality takes the approach that the career ladder should not be based on a rigid form that assumes a person will stay in their function.  Instead, by looking at actually transitions between organizations and jobs, you can see how people actually progressed within the organization and find trends.  For example, it’s possible that in a sales organization, marketing people often exit the traditional marketing ladder for sales.  Or that senior practitioners more often find peer roles in other divisions than going for management jobs.

My point of view on this is that the career ladder should be neither based on the rigid structures we see today, nor are looking at jobs perfect either.  Rather, we should see what competencies any given job demands and match those to competencies in jobs throughout the organization.  This might make a rather complex network of possibilities rather than a simple linear job, but it’s much more realistic and allows for greater movement and organizational agility.  Taleo’s take on this was not to disagree, but to point out that most organizations don’t have the type of infrastructure to do what I’d like them to do.  However, every organization tracks job and organizational transitions, so it’s very implementable this way.

We don’t seem to look at jobs and careers in any sort of linear way anymore.  Instead, we look for opportunities that fit with our competencies and our interests, wherever they may be.

Head nod to Taleo for the discussion.

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One response to “Rethinking the Career Ladder”

  1. Ian Lee-Emery Avatar

    To the author:

    Please see the new Talent Navigator product that takes this comptence based approach to career planning.

    I’d be interested in your feedback on it.