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When Building Career Paths, Think Milton Bradley, Not Rand McNally - Part 2

By Evan Sinar, Ph.D.

Evan Sinar, Ph.D.In the first part of this two-part blog, we drew on our Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015 to profile organizations outperforming their peers in the career path clarity they give their leaders. Our research into what top companies do differently led us to see Milton Bradley’s time-tested approach to designing board games as a vastly better model for creating and sustaining leader career paths than a Rand McNally-like model focused on precise directional guidance.

In this second part, we wanted to get further behind the numbers to hear from the most frustrated set of the 13,000+ leaders included in the research—what do they need to regain confidence in their organization’s career pathing efforts? Leaders disappointed with their career guidance were very vocal about what must change—generating plenty of useful, constructive feedback for organizations.

What do these disgruntled leaders want their organizations to hear about career pathing do’s and don’ts? Four words captured the spirit of their suggestions:

  • Expectations – Give the basics about what’s realistic for me to consider and prepare for—should I only be thinking of moves straight up a ladder, or do many people move sideways? Are moves regularly spaced or are there times when I’m likely to plateau for a while before moving again? Do I have skill gaps that I absolutely must close before I can pursue a particular path?
  • Aspirations – Ask me, don’t assume, where I want to be several steps from now. My manager should know and help me work towards these goals, of course, but should also support me finding other mentors within the company too; I’ll tell them things I wouldn’t tell my manager.
  • Transparency – I won’t commit long-term unless I know where we’re headed and how I fit in. Tell me what you can or risk me assuming that there’s a mismatch between my personal goals and the company’s overall strategy…and quitting before you can prove me wrong.
  • Exposure – Connect me to senior leaders for their advice and perspective on how I can grow within the company to help it succeed—which may mean moving ahead on my current path or moving to another track where my skills will add value, and I may make faster long-term progress.
When Building Career Paths, Think Milton Bradley, Not Rand McNally - Part 1

On the surface, many of these sentiments lead back to a “roadmap” model where leaders expect organizations to be definitive about what’s next and when. But that viewpoint isn’t giving leaders nearly enough credit. Leaders—particularly those getting open information about the organization’s status and their own strengths and weaknesses—fully recognize risk, uncertainty, and even randomness play key roles in what paths open up, and how long they stay open.

Which brings us back to the board game analogy—leaders moving down a path won’t always know exactly where that path leads, or how long it will take to get there. For HR or their managers to promise them otherwise would be unrealistic and demotivating. But what HR and managers can offer is attentiveness, connectivity to the business, and most importantly, openness: about formal and informal rules, about chance versus skill, about next steps in a career sometimes being sideways or even backward, and about balancing a single, long-term goal with awareness that there are many ways to get from here to there.

Ultimately, the dice go in the leader’s hand—but before they roll, it’s the job of HR and managers to set up a board that they’ll find explanatory, reinforcing, and engaging—no matter what numbers come up.

Evan Sinar, Ph.D., is the chief scientist and director of DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER).

Posted: 13 Feb, 2015,
Talk to an Expert: When Building Career Paths, Think Milton Bradley, Not Rand McNally - Part 2
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