A topic of increasing interest to trainers is personal career development. Many competent trainers finally are asking, “Hey, where do I go from here?” According to David Brinkerhoff, vice-president of Abbott-Smith Associates, a Millbrook, NY-based recruiting firm specializing in the training field, the question is more than justified.
“It’s incredible,” says Brinkerhoff, “that these sophisticated professionals, who are so concerned with the training and development of others, spend next to no time thinking about themselves and their own careers.”
A recent meeting of the Michigan Society for Instructional Technology featured a career-development panel that reached almost the same conclusion. As one panelist expressed it, “The training person tends to look at him or herself as a professional in the doctor-lawyer sense of the word. Un¬fortunately, that image can fool you into neglecting serious considerations of your own career goals and career-path planning.”
How do you start building a career development plan for yourself? A good first step is to begin with a personal-strength analysis. Asking yourself such critical questions as “What am I best at?,” “What am I worst at?,” and “What do I like to do?” set the stage. For guidance in the process, you could do worse than adopting one of the many models used in the how-to-get-a-job field.
Crystal and Belles’ What Color Is Your Parachute, The Inventurers by Hagberg and Leider, and You Can Make It Happen by Sperry and Mickelson have merit as resources for guiding you through a reasonable strength analysis (all are available from your local bookstore).
A second step is to do a realistic assessment of your career options. Dr. Beverly L. Kaye, a Sherman Oaks, CA, career development consultant and “star” of CRM/McGraw-Hill’s film “Career Development: A Plan for All Seasons,” suggests that “most individuals are unaware of the variety of career options available to them.
If individuals can be encouraged to consider multiple career directions, flexibility is enhanced and [the individual is more alert to a variety of possible career opportunities rather than counting on only one possible alternative, which may or may not come through.”
Kaye further suggests that most of us “put our eggs in one basket” vis-a-vis our personal career planning. The alternative, she maintains, is to set multiple career goals and to work toward more than one of them at a time. “To work toward only one,” she continues, “is to place a bet on the ‘long shot.’ ” Kaye suggests six career options we should be alert to and think about.
1. Vertical mobility. This is the classic. But surprisingly, few in the human resources development (HRD) field assess the reality of vertical mobility before signing on with an organization. Once the “blinders” are off, many are dismayed to find that they— and half a dozen other people on their level— are “gutting it out,” waiting for “the boss” to die, move up or retire.
And that is the realistic end of vertical options for many trainers. Many organizations have a very “flat” career route for HRD people. We are assumed to be specialists, with no interest in mobility or advancement outside our specialty.
This, of course, is a misconception we often bring on ourselves by pretending to be “above” local politics and “outside” the promotional mainstream. Even where HRD is part of a giant personnel func¬tion, the specialist image can block movement from HRD into a sister function, especially if the move you want is a step up.
2. Lateral mobility. Lateral mobility involves a change in function and/or responsibility without necessarily including a change in status or remuneration. Although a lateral move was once considered a way of dealing with “deadwood” employees, it is fast becoming a legitimate way to broaden skills and develop talent.
We know of an ex-organizational development specialist with a communications firm who decided that vertical mobility was a non-option for HRD people in her company. Since the industry and company were to her liking, she had to consider the “lateral leap.”
She made her wishes known and, in a four-year period, found three lateral moves that enhanced her image as a good manager who happened to start out as a specialist and canceled her image as “specialist only.” Net-net, the strategy paid off and today she sports a divisional vice-president title and a very handsome six-figure salary. Lateral moves prepare you for vertical moves—when they are the right lateral moves.
3. Realignment (downward) in the system. When vertical movement is out of the question and your salary and/or pay grade block lateral movement, you should seriously consider “going down” to get around the barriers.
Dr. William A. Medina, assistant secretary for administration at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), introduced a career-path charting system within HUD and found a significant number of employees opting to realign downward for an opportunity to move laterally into an area of work that seemed to have more opportunity for them. Trainers who want to demonstrate general management capability should consider this one-step-down-and-two-to-the-right strategy.
4. Exploratory research projects. Kaye suggests that setting a goal of interviewing X number of people in a different department and tapping into the literature of another specialist group can give you a feel for what it’s like to be part of that other department. For HRD people, the approach can be much more sophisticated.
Volunteering for research or development projects in an organizational area where you have no experience but an interest in exploring for lateral or vertical job opportunities is strictly legitimate.
The roster of ex-trainers who were snapped up by line departments be¬cause of service on a task force or research project is legion. We know of a New York bank that has seen so many trainers “promoted” to line management from high visibility task-force assignments that it has a waiting list for task-force duty.
But even if task-force work doesn’t have that kind of visibility and clout in your organization, it’s a good way to gain in-depth exposure to an area of the organization you might not otherwise learn about. Departments or divisions in a state of flux often have open opportunities, especially in the first- and second-level management ranks.
5. Job enrichment. Do-it-yourself job enrichment is a way to change jobs simply by changing the nature of the job you already have. Kaye considers “do-it-yourself” job enrichment a viable positive alternative to the “run – away – and – start – again – some-where – else” impulse we all feel from time to time. She believes Richard Hackman’s research into critical elements of job enrichment provides a useful structure for looking at key elements to change when contemplating job enrichment for your own job.
The Hackman model suggests you consider five key elements if you want maximum impact from your do-it-yourself job enrichment efforts.
• Add skill variety. Increase the number and variety of skills and talents you have available to carry out a job and consciously add those requirements to the scope of the job.
• Develop task completion capability. Seek the opportunity to complete an identifiable unit of work. Negotiate managing an entire project as opposed to being one of the project minions.
• Increase task significance. Expand the type and degree of impact your particular job has on the lives and work of other people in the organization and/or the organization as a whole.
• Work toward autonomy. Explore ways to increase responsibility, independence and discretion in determining work procedures.
• Wire in more feedback. Establish opportunities for feedback from the job itself (intrinsic), as well as from coworkers, supervisors and clients.
In a recent issue of The Levinson Letter (October 15, 1979), Dr. Harry Levinson relates the following story of a young Harvard Law School professor who enriched his job by invent¬ing it.
Wish you were tops in your field? Maybe you should start by defining the field. Or so says Alan Dershowitz, who became the youngest full professor at Harvard Law School after being a mediocre high school student. Dershowitz says that he and other successful people have made “the world believe that the right question is the one that you’re best able to answer. It’s being able to shape the ballpark around your abilities.” (Across the Board, June 1979)
Even in large organizations, people can “shape the ballpark”— it’s called being proactive. Of course, we all act to shape our environments, but we often use our shaping skills to establish a safe position, to negotiate terrain in relatively passive ways. But creative people, like Dershowitz, don’t play by other people’s rules.
They set up the game in their own ways, to fit their own skills, and, in the process, they revolutionize the field for others. But, of course, being proactive involves risks. You have to be able to stand apart, to be different, to act without receiving a lot of affection and support. It’s not easy, but people who can do so are often able to ignore their weaknesses, while their more timid associates labor to improve skills they were never much good at.
It is our observation that this strategy is much more common than even Levinson might suspect. Most corpo¬rate assignments at the upper levels of the hierarchy come about by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of senior people and designing jobs and assignments to fit the strengths. The same thing can happen, and does happen, at lower levels in the organization.
6. Relocation out of the system. A final career option, one that is always available, is relocation to another position outside the organization. While changing jobs and organizations is always an option, it isn’t one to be taken lightly.
Job hopping is a risk and it can be highly stressful. But, sometimes, your personal needs do outgrow the fulfillment potential of the organization.
The trick is to be sure that here’s no realistic possibility that your current position, and the organization as a whole, can meet your needs. Leaving an organization to grow or to move in a direction not viable in that organization is acceptable to most potential employers. But to leave precipitously, without a clear and ra¬tional reason, is to blunt your approach to the new organizational milieu.
The HRD role is more a continually changing pattern of opportunities and possibilities than it is a “job” with fixed parameters. In such a rapidly changing environment, flexibility is the key to keeping yourself from being boxed into a stagnant job or screened out of viable options and alternate career paths.
But such flexibility has a price. You have to do your homework. You have to know where you want to go and who you want to become and where and how you can make that happen.
The multiple career goal/multiple option process Kaye suggests offers considerable potential for positive personal outcome. Bottom line, we really can’t do our best job of helping others if we aren’t able to help ourselves first. A well-managed career benefits not only you but also sets a model for others in your organization.
Source : Ron Zemke, TRAINING Magazine, 1979