Career mobility is defined as the movement of employees across levels, positions and even industries. In the past, it was a yardstick by which people measured their progress and success. And it was also a tool for incenting employees and calibrating the value of their contributions to the organization.
Today, however, rather than being a helpful feature within the talent management landscape, issues related to career mobility frequently immobilize organizations and undermine optimal engagement and results. Nearly three out of four Americans report being less than satisfied with the career development they receive.
Much of the disappointment boils down to a common complaint: “I’m stuck – ready for something new – but without a promotion or other move available to me.”
It’s hard to argue with this complaint because employees are frequently right. Given downsizing, delaying of middle management, automation and other evolving workplace factors, many organizations report that promotional opportunities are slim or non-existent.
Businesses that used to engage in job rotations find that they’re running leaner than ever before and can’t always accommodate such programs today. And specialization in some fields can make lateral moves challenging if not impossible.
Given these seemingly inhospitable factors, it could be easy to declare career development dead. But nothing could be further from the truth. The very complexity and challenges that might put the brakes on career mobility underscore the need for development and point to new career-enhancing possibilities for anyone willing to update his or her career development mindset.
Opportunity mobility is the new career mobility
While changing roles and moving among levels and positions might be structurally limited, moving among projects, task forces, stretch assignments and the like is inherently unlimited. Or, more precisely, it’s limited only by the imagination and commitment of employees and leaders.
In today’s environment, career success can no longer be defined by movement but perhaps by mastery. Progress doesn’t need to come in the form of a new title but perhaps evolving talent. Advancement isn’t about landing in a box on an organizational chart but rather landing a new experience that expands capacity.
Opportunity mobility boils down to identifying activities designed to address an employee’s interests, passions, gaps and/or aspirations. It’s based upon ongoing dialogue and an ever-unfolding understanding of what matters most to the individual and the organization.
And, it takes the form of inviting into the envelope of an employee’s existing role agreed-up challenges and activities that provide the desired stretch, engagement and growth. In this way, everyone can develop and expand their portfolios of skills and accomplishments – whether a move is available or not.
While curating opportunities and experience can enrich one’s current position, those activities also improve one’s skills, networks, and abilities so that should future career moves present themselves, employees are more prepared and more likely to succeed in different roles. In this way, developmental opportunities are truly mobile and portable, serving people today and into the future.
So, it’s time to change our thinking – and our language – by putting a focus squarely upon what we can develop and mobilize: people and the nearly unlimited opportunities available to help them grow.
Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.