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Career management - individual & organizational role

"Focus on career, not merely the job" is the mantra for successful employers and employees. There was time when employment with a reputed firm actually meant life long employment. People ascended the hierarchy with age. The terms like career planning and career development in fact meant timely promotions. Career progression, largely was a function of experience in a job. The idea of employees changing companies to carve out a career was almost unheard of. Employees reciprocated the life long employment offer of companies with total commitment for the company. An opening with a good company was considered a life time achievement; thereafter it was simply a matter of
time, performance and politically positioning oneself to be at the right place at right time to go up the ladder. There was hardly anything for individuals to think beyond the job they were doing as career very nearly meant the job.
Career versus job
How does one differentiate career from job? A career is a sequence of jobs or positions occupied by an individual during a course of time. Career is the specialization in a profession which continues to progress in spite of changes in jobs. For example, even when an individual as maintenance engineer has changed his jobs with various process industries and maintenance service providers, he is still pursuing a career in maintenance management. In fact the career plans that an individual nurtures determine the kind of jobs he takes up.

Distinguishing jobs from careers and distinct focus on career planning and development holds the key to employee retention. Recruiting good people is a challenge, retaining them is a greater challenge in a marketplace where competition is not limited to technology, products and market share but has penetrated into the domain of human capital as well.
And for an individual, career planning takes the center stage in view of the turbulent markets where down-sizing, off-shoring and out sourcing are the buzz words in any business.
Transitory jobs - a corporate reality
Today with intense competition every where, coupled with economic changes sweeping the world, companies are aggressively pursuing the strategies for acquisition, divestment, down-sizing, outsourcing, and synergy through alliances. Strategies such as outsourcing, downsizing, off-shore operations and divestment take out the aspect of permanency from the jobs. Pursuing strategies that result in loss of jobs for some is always a distressing experience - both for those who get the axe and for the people who are still with the company. It is in context of this corporate reality of transitory jobs, that career planning and development assume more significance.

In order to equip people deal with this reality, the corporate focus must shift from life long employment to life long employability. Companies must support the individuals in planning their careers by providing personalized information on the direction the business is headed towards, setting the career expectation of people in the right perspective and responding to career initiatives of individuals. In other words companies must help people by guiding them to pursue a specific career, which has positive outcomes for the company too in terms of higher levels of employee commitment and ease in pursuing a given strategy and resulting restructuring.
Career planning largely an individual's responsibility
If on one hand competition and cost economics are spreading insecurity in jobs and on the other hand competition and evolution of new industries which were nonexistent a couple of decades ago are opening a plethora of opportunities for the individuals to choose from. New opportunities and accompanying threats make the job markets extremely unpredictable. In such an uncertain environment, it is ultimately the responsibility of the individual to decide and make choices to pursue a desired career. Personal ambition coupled with emerging business trends are increasingly shaping the career choice of the people. An organization can at best support an individualís career aspirations if it falls in line with its business goals. With this view of careers in todayís environment, an individual needs to change the way jobs have traditionally been looked at. A job is not merely a means of earning money, it must be viewed by the individuals as an opportunity for learning, so that when you are doing a job to fulfill you responsibility for the company, you are also strengthening your skills required to develop your career.

Career management thus is primarily an indivudal responsibility. Career planning and pursuing the desired career is a life long process for an individual, where he continuously learns about his purpose, personality, skills and interests. The process of career management by an individual involves rigour and focus at each step.


An individual must continuously review learning from his assignments and try to develop alternate perspectives of the job, which helps in enriching ones' experience. Also a periodic relook at the job and the company that one serves along with the opportunities available outside will definitely help an individual in giving boost to his career advancement. Finally, one must take some time at some important milestones to assess his progress against the long term goals and make subtle and yet much needed course correction. Also such a review gives an opportunity for the individual to refine / gain clarity on long term goals, which in turn will effect his further course of action.

During the whole process, folowing points will be of immense help for an individual:
  • Taking a long term view of where one wants to be
  • Accept short term trade offs for long term benefits (low pay offer or some lateral move, which are vital for career development and contact building)
  • Judicious decision between specialized jobs and isolated jobs
  • Building the right connections - both inside and outside the firm
  • Assess oneself honestly (through interviews for higher positions, performance in seminars or workshops etc.)
  • Keep abreast of changes and capture first mover advantage
  • Plan your exit (timing, convenience and dignity)
Though, the onus of managing one's career lies with the individual, thrust of HR must be on designing great careers from the jobs that they offer to attract and retain the best of the talent available to such an extent that people find themselves in the "right job" and view these jobs as stepping stones to great careers.
Challenge for HR - matching career aspirations with business needs
Employee loyalty to the company is higher when the job fulfills intrinsic needs and personal goals of the employees. By assissting an individual in planning his career and providing opportunities for career development, an organization can ensure higher loyalty and productivity from employees.

Challenge for HR professional in an organization is to match and support career expectation of high performers with organizational requirements.

Few of the ways in which this can be done is shown below:
  • Mentoring is one way by which organizations create context for directing careers of youngsters
  • Enriching the jobs - Encourage people to continuously redesign the work procedures
  • Job rotations in line with individual capability and company requirements
  • Providing organization wide, team based and individual learning opportunities
  • Taking stock of future leadership requirements and designing the career path of capable and performing individuals
  • Design developmental programmes that improve the employability of the people and engage them with challenging assignments
Though an organization and an individual have distinct roles to play in the process of career management, what is interesting is that HR can add value at each step of the individual efforts in career progression. Also individuals must use the HR interventions in an organization as an opportunity for giving shape to their career plans. Role of an individual and that of an organization with respect to some of the aspects of individual carreer planning and major HR interventions is brought out below:
Individual and organizational role in career management
Key AspectIndividual roleHR Role
Goal seting (by an indiviual)Developing and gaining clarity on long term goal / purposeManaging the expectations realistically:

clarifying possibilities of knowledge based and hierarchical based goals

providing information on business direction and possibilities
Action planning(by an individual)Planning w.r.t. type and duration of jobs to be taken up, companies or industry to be targeted, and other developmental needs Support individual plan through movement along the career path:
Job rotations, advancements, problem solving assignments etc.
Mentoring & coaching (by the org.)Learn from the experience and insights of mentors / coaches

establish life long relationships
Align individuals to the company values

provide informal guidance about building career within the organization
Assessment (by individual & org)Learn about present profile and gaps that need to be fulfilled in the long runassess values synchronization, performance, potential and likely career path
Development (by the individual & org.)Attaining additional educational qualification, obtaining external certfications as authentication of skills possessedHonest performance appraisals, identifying individual developmental needs and fulfilling the same, providing opportunity to implement learning for organizational benefit
Challenging work (by the org.)focus on de-bottlenecking processes, thus keeping the element of "challenge in the work" aliveopportunity to participate in various task forces to solve real time business problems

exposure to new business improvement tools
Career management - value proposition for an organization
Career management provides a great opportunity for an organization to arrive at congruence of aspiration and interests of high performing individuals with current and future business needs. By providing proper direction and development, career progression of these individuals can be planned within the organization, where not only the individual achieves a sense of personal fulfillment but also future requirements of critical positions in the organization are taken care of.

In a nutshell, career planning for an organization starts with managing and directing the career expectation of the employees realistically. Considering individual goals, performance and potential, HR must chart out the career path of the employees in such a way that these efforts of career planning and development culminate into sucession planning at highest levels in the organization. This will not only ensure smooth transfer of charge at the top without major cultural upheavals but also in enriching organizational talent pool and strengthening leadership bench.
© Alagse