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Escaping Career Path Tunnel Vision

June 08, 2021, by Stephanie Messier | Performance Management

I have heard so many times from business leaders that we need to promote someone or else they will leave.  It doesn’t matter the size of business, it’s very common to feel the anguish of a manager when one of your best employees is hinting at leaving the company for career advancement.  As managers, we fall into the trap that career advancement means moving up the ladder.  However, disrupting your organization structure to accommodate a managerial role to save an employee’s departure may not be the right move.  Here’s why.

The career track doesn’t always have to be from employee to supervisor to manager.  I can tell you that I’ve worked with managers who didn’t really like managing people, but felt it was their only option to move up the ladder.  The lack of enthusiasm for the job ends up costing them their job.  For a smaller workplace, managerial opportunities are limited.  This is where escaping the career advancement tunnel vision needs to happen. 

If you ask your employees what they truly want to get out of their career, you will be surprised to know, it’s not always about moving up.   Early on in our careers we ask ourselves where we are going; we like having a plan and seeing the next steps -- this will often set a path to achieving our career goals.  The danger of this type of career path thinking is that it will create tunnel vision, blinding us from alternate opportunities and possibilities.  The author of Think Again, Adam Grant, explains this as follows: “when locking our life GPS under a single target can give us the right direction to the wrong destination”.    Being a manager may not always be the right destination for many of your employees. 

Ongoing career conversations with your employees doesn’t necessarily involve discussions about their role, but what else they would like to learn and develop, what is the best way for them to develop that skill, finding purpose in their jobs, and how as a manager you can support them in these efforts.  Forget the career ladder discussion and engage them more into how they can find meaningful ways to contribute to the business while continuing to learn.  People who find purpose and meaning in their work are less likely to quit their jobs.  As a manager, that is where you should be spending your time:  ensuring you are guiding your employees to finding that purpose thereby ensuring they don’t quit; helping them find ways to learn and contribute to the best of their abilities.   It doesn’t have to be a big change, but one that helps them contribute to what’s important and matters.   

Source:  Think Again from Adam Grant

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