In an earlier article, I stated that if your career was driven by a talent management program then “you must recognize your organization is playing hardball.” Here I expand on that statement, clarifying the organization’s perspective as an employer, and considering your own as an individual employee.
What is organizational hardball? It occurs when an organization is firmly focused on its own future, and sees its employees’ careers in that light. Its talent management system, driven by what business schools call strategic human resource management, is entirely focused on meeting the organization’s strategic goals. For this purpose, it has identified a talent pool (or stars, or high-potential workers) that it is nurturing for long-term development. For the same purpose, the organization sees its remaining employees as part of the flexible workforce, and has little strategic interest in their further development.
Are you in or out? This is a fundamental question. If you are in the organizational talent pool, you are important to your organization, even if only for its own purposes. If you are out, you are seen, for now, as a productive worker. You may even get training to help you keep pace with changes to your job. However, you are left firmly in charge of your own career future. Being in or out are fundamentally different career situations. If you don’t know where you stand (and some organizations are secretive) do your own searching on the web, talk to your boss and your colleagues, and keep on until you get a clear answer.
What if you are in the talent pool? You may be rotating through a selection of jobs that can prepare you for the executive suite. Or, you may be a personal assistant to a senior manager helping you to learn the ropes. You are still on track for a top job. Moreover, Harvard Business Review recently reported that those who made CEO were on average younger if they’d stayed with the same organization. Next, ask do you really aspire to a top position? If so, then a) keep going, b) keep checking that’s still okay, and c) make sure the skills you’re developing will be attractive to other employers. Also, read on, since you may be in the pool now but out of it later!
What if you are out of the pool? You may not know it. Why should your organization disturb the relative calm by signaling who’s expendable? Check out the relative velocity of your own career and compare it with others. Do your homework by conducting a keyword search on your organization’s talent program. If you’re not in the pool, ask yourself if that’s what you prefer. If it’s not what you prefer, know that lots of people get off to a bad start in their careers. However, there’s research from Germany saying you can leave, spend ten years moving between other employers, and catch up most of the ground you may have lost.
There’s always a tournament. There will always be a tournament – a competition for a dwindling number of positions as you climb an organizational hierarchy. Check out how far and how fast you need to move up to reach the top. The odds against becoming CEO are high, but you may still be a contender. If you’re not, perhaps you’re in a separate tournament for occupational achievement—say in finance, information technology or science? If so, you may have a good chance to change jobs and earn a more prestigious position elsewhere. If you’re not in any tournament, again ask if that’s what you prefer.
Reputation always matters. Whatever your readiness to join any career tournament, introductions and recommendations for your next job will come from people who know you. These can be from either past or present work experiences. Also, stay involved in professional conversations, for example with occupational peers or fellow-alums. Remember, a) your reputation will expand even if you stay put, as other members of your organization move out; and b) you can enhance your reputation by engaging in “bridge building” toward people with interests complementary to your own.
Getting clear on all of the above can be a prelude to future career conversations. These can provide an exchange of views between you (on your career situation) and your boss (on the organizational situation). Contract workers note: your opportunity here is to emphasize your willingness to perform part-time or irregular work. It’s been shown that people laying out their own career concerns can elevate the overall quality of career conversations organization-wide. You, and career owners around you, can all do yourselves and your organization a favor. Wouldn’t that be a great deal better than being told what’s best for you—and on someone else’s terms?