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Ladders or Jungle Gyms?

I was chatting with a colleague of mine recently.  He was thinking of putting his “hat in the ring” for a management role.  He asked for my opinion.  I’m always up for sharing opinions, although I know that my opinions are not always welcomed:

“What’s your opinion of my idea?” the brash young man asked his boss.  “It isn’t worth anything”, said the boss.  “I know”, conceded the young egotist, “but give it to me anyway.”

Unknown Sage

Nonetheless, we had a nice conversation about the position he was interested in.  We discussed the pros and cons of managing people.  We also discussed the potential “downside” if he didn’t pursue the position; or worse, pursued it at less than an “all in” manner.  Would there be another opportunity in the future?

I believe the way you go after a job is as important as the credentials you have (or don’t have).  He expressed concern over whether this was the right “Career Ladder” move, and if so was it the “right time”.  I don’t know much about “right timing”.  I have never been skilled at figuring out what the “right time” is when it comes to career moves.  But I know timing is important:

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance. 

Texas Bix Bender

In absence of a conclusion, we circled back to his career ladder question.  Which in turn stimulated this question:  Is the concept of a career ladder relevant in the 21st century?  I know people move up in organizations; I see people moving up in my organization frequently.  I also see people leave my organization equally if not even more frequently.  Maybe they believe that to move up they have to move on.

When you look at an org chart, the higher up you look the fewer spots there are, true?  Sometimes it appears the only way people from lower levels can move up is if the higher-ups move on.  And when openings appear, does it have to be some sequential progression up a ladder?

If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat.

Eric Schmidt

Do you recognize the name Eric Schmidt?  He was the CEO at Google from 2001-2015.  Talk about a rocket ship!  Prior to joining Google, he led the now defunct Novell Corporation.  I wonder: Did riding one company to oblivion lead to the next rung up on the career ladder at another?

Exactly how does career progression work these days?

The most common metaphor for careers is a ladder, but this concept no longer applies to most workers… the average American has eleven jobs from the ages of eighteen to forty-six… (Bureau of Labor Statistics) …  Pattie Sellers conceived a better metaphor:  Careers are a jungle gym. 

Sheryl Sandberg

Do you recognize the name Sheryl Sandberg?  She is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook.  Prior to her technology career, she was Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of the Treasury.  Pattie Sellers is the former Assistant managing Editor of Fortune.

I’m thinking this jungle gym metaphor might have some merit.  According to Wikipedia:

Ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers. That means they would have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives!

Maybe it’s time to throw out those ladders.

GAP

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