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A Dynamic Career Vs. Climbing Up The Ladder

08/06/2016 8:34 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Aspirations, the race to the top and upward career progression mark the tone of the workforce in an emerging country such as ours. In many ways, it is this aspiration that has resulted in the growth and progress that we have seen as a country and economy. Our domestic workers aspire for better lives for their children, rural denizens come into the urban jungle seeking brighter prospects, and the annual scramble to enter the top colleges is unlikely to cease anytime soon.

Rather than a linear vertical slope, an overall career graph could look like a trek with ups, downs and stretches on level ground.

The aspiration continues after entering the ranks of the corporate sector. Is it time to question the unstated belief that career progression needs to be a vertical journey, taking us to better and higher roles and titles than we had before? This belief is causing huge stress on both the individual and the organization -- the former due to a sense of self-worth being linked to role and title, and the latter because of the pressure to provide growth for everyone lest they get demotivated and leave. Let's face it, there is only so much growth that is possible. In the last two decades when companies and industries grew at double-digit rates we did see young professionals grow to leadership roles in a short period of time. However, the likelihood of that happening in large numbers is low today, and pegging expectations based on predecessors from another era can only lead to disappointment.

We could have more control on how we pace ourselves rather than hopping on to a pre-programmed treadmill...

What if we looked at dynamic career paths instead? Say each year or -- every few years, if a year is too short a period of time -- we decide on the level of responsibility we want to take up (based on a host of factors such as personal priorities, the desire to learn something new and so on), opt for a role based on that and the compensation that went with it? Rather than a linear vertical slope, an overall career graph could look like a trek with ups, downs and stretches on level ground. We could have more control on how we pace ourselves rather than hopping on to a pre-programmed treadmill that we may not even be necessarily inclined to take. And this logic could apply to moves one makes within an organization as well as outside.

[L]et self-worth emanate from factors beyond the workplace and allow us to lead fulfilling and enriched lives.

From an individual's perspective, affordability could be a criterion for making such a decision. Here, my view would be that if the Indian manager of today cannot afford the luxury of a dynamic career, no one can. Compensation increases over the last decade actually place Indian managers very high on real income, adjusted for purchasing power parity. From an organization's perspective, human-power planning and predicting talent availability at different levels could pose a challenge. This could be addressed by putting in place guidelines on advance notice required before an individual opts out of a role. A small proportion of roles or individuals may have to work with a different set of norms depending on how business-critical the continuity of the incumbent is, but this is likely to be the exception rather than the norm. All in all, this could be a more liberating approach to managing a career. Rather than wait till retirement to do all those things we wanted, and allow ego and social perception to dictate where we stand in the organizational pecking order, let self-worth emanate from factors beyond the workplace and allow us to lead fulfilling and enriched lives.

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