How to stop a staircase mindset holding you back

Written by Helen Tupper Thursday 16 January 2020
The shape of work is changing, and your old mindset won’t cut it. Here’s how to find the best opportunities for you

Work used to be predictable. It was linear; you could expect your employer to do a lot of the groundwork in creating a path for you to advance in the organisation. The language of careers was about climbing ladders and staircases. The processes we followed were based around promotions and career plans.

These metaphors and structures no longer represent the world of work we operate in. In fact, their rigidity can hold us back. We’re changing roles and organisations more frequently. Technology is rapidly affecting how, when, where and what we work on and more and more people are reassessing the role of work in their lives.

As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says, we’re becoming a generation of spiritual workaholics. In order to be successful in our new world of work, we need to think about our career and our career development much more fluidly and take actions that help us succeed in what we call a squiggly context.

1. Reset your career compass

In an environment where organisations are getting flatter and people are searching for new meaning, old emblems of success such as promotions and pay rises aren’t making us feel great about ourselves or our careers.

We need to hit reset and reassess what motivates and drives us. Instead of making decisions based on shiny objects, we need to let our values inform our choices. Values are what makes you, you. Knowing what is most important to you about who you work with, what you work on and where you work, can help you to craft your roles so that you feel more fulfilled and authentic. Our values become a stable source of truth we can rely on to guide us in a squiggly career.

2. Instead of making career plans, explore career possibilities

Career plans are a thing of the past. We cannot accurately predict the jobs we’ll be doing or the skills they will require in five-to-ten-years. Creating plans which limit your career to our current understanding will reduce your opportunities and impact your development. Instead of fixed career plans, we need to explore career possibilities.

We should all be investing in how our values and strengths best align with different roles inside and outside of our function, industry or business. That’s not to say we should all be applying for multiple jobs all of the time, but we should be having ‘curious career conversations’ to understand how we might be suited to different opportunities and what skills we might need to proactively invest in to be well placed to transition in the future.

Instead of just considering the obvious role, think about where you could pivot to, what you would be doing if you knew you couldn’t fail and what feels like an ambitious move that you’re not ready for (yet).

3. Cultivate ‘career karma’

Strong career networks used to be about who you knew and how many people of influence you were connected to. Your network was a source of status; there were social and hierarchical barriers that prevented other people from accessing or easily replicating it. Now, social media and technology have broken down those barriers. We can connect, follow and converse with anyone.

Size is no longer a sign of status. Effective networks for our careers today need to be active and meaningful. Rather than focusing on who you know and what you can get, instead focus on what you can give, something that Adam Grant is a big proponent of in his book Give and Take.

Think about how your passion, skills and expertise could be useful to others and find ways to share it. It could be through lunch and learns, mentoring, blogging or volunteering. Find a way that feels authentic and energising and just get started! Helping people in this way helps to build new and genuine relationships. You cultivate reciprocity, which may help you in the future.

Careers today are full of opportunity to personalise our work in a way that helps us to be our best. But it does require a different approach and a different mindset. Instead of staircases, think squiggles – instead of plans, think possibilities. This will help you discover opportunities and design a career that works for you.

In the mood to start career planning? CMI’s ManagementDirect is full of resources to help you evaluate your skills, focus your professional goals, and even speak to a professional mentor for advice. Ready to get started? Sign into ManagementDirect now.

Helen Tupper

Helen Tupper

Helen Tupper is CEO of Amazing If, author of The Squiggly Career and host of the weekly Squiggly Careers podcast.