Surviving and thriving in today’s dynamic workplace demands one thing above all else: having your head screwed on straight about career development. The mixed messages and ever-changing expectations have left many employees genuinely befuddled. So, here’s a guide to the mindsets that will make sense out of the complex environment in which most of us work and provide guidelines for enhancing career satisfaction and results.

Old mindset #1: For decades we’ve envisioned career success as the predictable progression from one role to another, always upward (and normally on schedule every 18 months) toward that ideal job (and corner office) in the sky.

New mindset #1: Lose the ladder! It no longer exists… and it hasn’t for some time. After years of belt-tightening, outsourcing, right-sizing (and all of the other ‘zings!), organizations are leaner, layers have been dramatically slimmed down, and the opportunities to move up are less plentiful.

But, that doesn’t mean that career development is dead. In fact, quite the opposite… especially for those who are willing to expand their perspective beyond the traditional vertical focus to include a scan horizontally. Today’s career development environment looks more like a rock-climbing wall than a ladder, with opportunities up, over, around, and down in countless interesting combinations. This more fluid and lateral approach offers many more opportunities for growth than the ladder ever could.

Old mindset #2: In days gone by, the organization, HR, or the boss took the lead around career development, doling out opportunities to the worthy (lucky?) few.

New mindset #2: Today, individuals must own their own career development. Employees can no longer be the passive consumers of career development services.

Everyone needs to take the lead, set the pace, determine the goals and then actively co-create the career development activities and results they are looking for. Managers can help facilitate the process but no one else is responsible for our professional growth. Period.

Old mindset #3: Career development is synonymous with movement. New desk. New department. New business card. Want to grow? Take on a new position.

New mindset #3: Defining development as changing roles narrows the playing field unnecessarily for too many people. No move? No growth? No way!

Development in place is the most viable way everyone can take responsibility for advancing their capabilities, contributions, value, and growth. And it’s as simple as looking inward to determine what you want to learn, explore, enhance or strengthen… then looking outward for the experiences that enable that.

  • Want to cultivate your ability to teach and coach others? Offer to conduct some departmental training.
  • Interested in sharpening your financial acumen? Volunteer to manage a project budget.
  • Need to improve your writing? Sign up to post a blog on your company’s website… or a client’s.

Formal, organizationally-orchestrated and condoned career development programs and paths are simply incapable of accommodating the number of people who want to grow on the job. But that’s no reason to sit idly by and stagnate. Change your mindset. Get your head screwed on straight. And start growing today.

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