Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


Tips on how to understand, recruit and keep the best people for your business


Career Progression: How, Why & Whom

What do you know? 


You know that, in order to progress in your career, you need to rack up experience and expertise in your chosen area.

You know you need to acquire a specific degree, attend some training courses, get a job to build up your experience and understanding. You need to find ways to challenge yourself, to upskill and stretch your strengths.

So why is it that so many of us, having done all of the above, find ourselves stuck in a career that isn’t making us happy or unable to move on?

I came across a career development model recently that clearly and simply nails this issue – by highlighting that in our scramble for experience and skills we often overlook two other critical elements that we must invest in order to be successful – and happy.

Having delivered a leadership development centre recently as well as providing career coaching to some unhappy (yet successful) individuals, I’ve been pondering what it takes to progress at work or move into a new area.

Then I came across the Intelligent Career Theory (Arthur, Claman and DeFillippi, 1995) which offers a simple yet decisive model for thinking about career development – and the three things we must consider when embarking on a career, moving to a new position or stepping up a level.

Knowing how

The first element is the how. How do I get from here to there? What skills, experience, qualifications, knowledge do I need to progress?

For me, that included getting a psychological degree, training in areas that I knew consultancies used, getting a job in an organisation where I knew I could gather the experience and skills I needed to go further.

But for many of us, that’s where our thinking stops. We assume that once we’ve got all that in place, we’re golden. That we’ll get where we want to get.

But without asking why we want to get there, we’re in for trouble.

Knowing why

How many of us ask ourselves why we want this career? What is it about this path in life that appeals to our passion, that taps into what motivates us, that is aligned with our values?

Sadly, I think it’s very few. Which is why I come across so many people stuck in a job that doesn’t make them happy. And often, it seems they come to the realisation that this job is not for them just at the point when they become really successful in it. They’ve reached a plateau in their satisfaction levels. It’s almost a kind of mid-life crisis.

But it stems from never having considered what our drivers are. We might fall into a career because that’s what our parents did. I almost became an engineer because that’s what my father did for a living. We’re led by our role models, or by their expectations, or simply because we didn’t come across an alternative. So we pursue this career, get all the training and experience we need to be successful. And then, a few years down the line, find ourselves somewhere that doesn’t connect with who we are deep down.

For instance, fairness might be a key value for you, then you realise you’re working for an organisation that doesn’t treat people fairly – and that’s why you’re uncomfortable in it.

By knowing ourselves better – what drives and motivates us, what energises us, and what our values are, we can make sure the path we follow is one of our making – not someone else’s.

But there’s a third element we need to address before we can be truly successful.

Knowing whom

As important as knowing how and knowing why, is knowing whom. As the old saying goes, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts.”

Many of us use networking in our roles – to build our business connections for instance. But it’s often the element that gets forgotten about when it comes to building our careers.

But people hire people. So making connections with those who can help you progress is vital. Relationships are just as important as skills. These connections will give you the real insights you can’t find by Googling.

So consider who you need to know to progress in your chosen field. Is there a society you should be a member of? Are there leaders in your organisation you could do with knowing or thought leaders you should follow on Linkedin? Is there a friend working in the industry who could tell you what it’s like and where jobs are advertised? This is not nepotism. Or jobs for the boys. This is about creating the connections you need – in a positive way – to gain insights which will enhance your skills and experience and personal drivers.

Because that’s what this model is all about. It’s about considering these three elements – knowing how, knowing why, knowing whom – as equal partners in your success. The eternal networker won’t thrive without the skills and experience underpinning their connections, while the highly motivated job hunter won’t get far without making a few friends. And the thoroughly networked, super skilled high flyer may get stuck without knowing why.

It’s about being intelligent about our career choices. About deliberate and conscious investment in these three elements in order to invest in your future. And who doesn’t want to do that?

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