Do companies really want us to Self-Manage our careers?

May 16, 2016


The other day I was giving a workshop on Self-Management in careers to a number of employees of a Belgian branch of a multi-national company. When I explained the career attitudes which allow individuals to manage their own careers, I was struck by a question of one of the attendees: “Do companies really want us to take charge of our careers?”

In other words, this employee was not necessarily convinced that her company is open to a true negotiation when it comes down to the careers of its employees. She is probably not alone.

My answer to her question was a conditional one: “If your company has accepted the fact that the underlying career model to our career management practices has changed, it must consequently accept that careers have become a negotiation between employee and organization. You cannot negotiate with people who don’t know what they want. Hence, Self-Management is a necessary condition on the side of the employee.

There are plenty of arguments to say that the underlying career model has changed:

  1. Work has become something meaningful over the last generations. It’s not only about earning a living but also about developing oneself as a professional and as a human being.
  2. There are no more scripts. People today experience an incredible freedom in terms of career choices. For example: only three generations ago the profession of a father would influence the profession of the son: father worked in the mines, so would the son. Father is a solicitor, so would the son… Today, as a professional, I can start out in accounting in the banking sector and move on to fast movers consuming in a sales role if I wanted to. You could argue that careers have become three dimensional.
  3. Companies have to adapt constantly. They can no longer make promises for life long employment, nor can they offer individual employees clear career plans like they used to.

Whereas traditional careers were linear and two-dimensional, with a strong focus on performance (from the point of view of the company), contemporary careers have become spiral-like: dynamic and three dimensional. The focus nowadays is on subjective career success, and therefore the individual has to deal with his or her career very consciously.

If you are an HR-professional you might want to consider these tips:

  1. Start communicating within the organization about the changing career model
  2. Develop career attitudes with individuals through workshops or coaching sessions
  3. Make managers aware that Self-Management in the career is desired
  4. Take a critical look at HR policies which might counterwork the development of Self-Management

Careers have become dynamic, three- dimensional and unpredictable. Accepting this model has consequences for both individuals and organizations. Allowing and developing Self-Management is at the heart of it.

Lesley Vanleke


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