Business

Stop Offering Career Ladders. Start Offering Career Portfolios.

The past two and a half years have been a giant lesson in workplace flux. In any given week, month, or quarter, a new and often disruptive change emerges to knock leaders and organizations sideways. Regardless of whether or not a recession is on the horizon or the employer-employee power balance shifts, whipsawing change is here to stay. How can companies help talent thrive — at work and in life — regardless of what the future portends?

Employees today are fed up. People are antsy for something better (and sometimes, simply new). They want to be seen, valued, and listened to. They want equity, dignity, security, balance, flexibility, and autonomy. They expect opportunities for growth, learning, meaningful contribution, and fulfillment. This may sound like a lot, but if we’re striving to help them reach their full potential and leave the world a better place, it’s actually pretty modest.

For organizations and HR, however, navigating this landscape is fraught. Companies seek to win the “war for talent,” yet almost every aspect of the battlefield has changed. Many people are no longer interested in or inspired by climbing a career ladder that someone else built. There have never been more ways to earn income or create a meaningful career than there are today. The question is no longer “What do you do?” but rather “Who do you wish to be and become?” Talent attraction, career development, and professional identity are all in flux.

Against this backdrop, there is one solution that aligns individual and organizational priorities, strategic objectives and self-actualization goals, and an uncertain present with an even more uncertain future. It’s time to shift how we think about the shape of a career — no longer a ladder, but a portfolio to curate.

From ladder to portfolio

In recent years, more people have discovered that the best career paths aren’t always straight lines. Authors Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis refer to these non-linear paths as “squiggly careers,” which are “full of uncertainty and possibility.” Squiggly careers offer lots of benefits, but squiggly can also be messy.

This is where HR leaders often get nervous. Even if HR is wholly supportive of updating talent models, how do you attract talent with — or design policies for — squiggles? At the same time, HR leaders are often concerned that introducing new career models will nudge people to reconsider too much…and leave.

A career portfolio approach solves these problems and takes career development to a new level. It’s not only a tool for individuals to rethink their professional identity and reach their full potential. It’s also an arrow in HR’s quiver. It’s a way to attract and engage talent meaningfully and excel as a company. When done well, it actually helps talent stay. (Counterintuitive solutions are often part of a world in flux.) Think of it as HR future-proofing for success.

Here’s how to get started enabling and encouraging career portfolios within your organization.

Do your homework

Imagine having an employee who excels in her marketing role but finds it increasingly unfulfilling. This employee also has a gift for identifying and mentoring talent across finance, innovation, and HR. Young employees especially adore her. Why? Because earlier in her career, she spent time in roles and companies completely unrelated to her current position — and she took good notes, even if she ultimately decided that those careers were not for her. Now imagine she evolves to become a linchpin of recruiting as well as head of business partnerships. She spends her time doing what she enjoys most: Forging relationships and unleashing human potential.

Or consider a stellar employee who deliberately crafts their career in five-year segments. They want to remain open to new opportunities, maximize their learning, and contribute in more and different ways. Their assumption is that they’ll have to switch employers or launch their own venture to realize those goals. Now imagine they stay for 20 years, because the organization saw the value in this approach and got creative about internal mobility.

Or imagine recruiting for a dynamic role in global expansion. There’s a candidate whose “international professional experience” section of his resume is relatively short, yet every year he goes overseas as a volunteer to teach children (and taught himself a foreign language to do so). He’s worried that recruiters will hire the person whose parents could afford study abroad programs and family vacations to Paris. Will your organization prove him wrong?

All of these examples share a portfolio lens: They see, value, and leverage all of the skills and experiences that an individual brings to the table, not merely what’s on their resume. But before proclaiming yourself a career portfolio advocate, let’s sharpen that lens and get clear on what portfolios are — and are not.

The career portfolio concept was introduced in the early 1990s by organizational behaviorist Charles Handy, who focused on the need to develop “portable skillsets” to succeed in a fast-changing workplace. Since then, portfolios have sometimes been associated primarily with freelance work and having multiple roles at once. That is one kind of portfolio, but far from the only one — and not the one that HR leaders should be the most enthused about.

Today, a career portfolio is the container for a person’s professional adventure. It’s far more than a resume or CV. Of course, it includes jobs, roles, and professional skills — typical resume stuff — but it also includes experiences and skills that aren’t on a resume yet often drive everything else.

For example, parenting and career gaps aren’t typically included on a resume. In reality, these things tend to be actively avoided and even stigmatized in the worlds of hiring and HR. But they’re at the heart of a career portfolio, both because they power what a person does and because they bring out a person’s full self. Parenting skills are superskills for teamwork, conflict resolution, and human connection — all of which are at the heart of thriving workplace cultures. Career gaps are often when great growth happens. Rather than hiding these things, a career portfolio celebrates them.

In my experience, many organizations are enthusiastic about these principles and possibilities. They may even have affinity groups or performance review metrics that reflect a portfolio perspective. But they lack the terminology to translate their vision into a cohesive framework and strategy. The “career portfolio” phrase seeks to bridge that language gap, also making it easier to bring new narratives alive. Indeed, a “portfolio narrative” is how to showcase these skills — and the unique, unexpected connections between them — to current and future employers. LinkedIn recently launched a Career Break profile headline, which is a nod in this direction, and there are emerging tools to help people conceptualize what’s in their portfolio.

It’s important to note that a career portfolio is not the gig economy. The gig economy offers flexible work that can be flipped on or off at the swipe of an app. While a career portfolio also allows for significant flexibility (and gigs may be part of your portfolio), it’s focused on curating a portfolio of skills and services and future-proofing a career. It’s about intentionally creating and curating a career that changes and evolves over time.

For organizations, a portfolio approach harnesses the full potential of talent. It sees people for who they are — which is exactly what talent is clamoring for. Not being “seen” is why a lot of people are leaving. Furthermore, companies that help employees develop their portfolios — rather than merely climb a ladder — identify and unlock skills that had been hidden, create new avenues for internal mobility, catalyze creativity, and expand opportunities for leadership. You’re investing in professional and personal growth alike. You don’t see talent merely as employees performing a role, but as human beings capable of so much more.

Share responsibility and design accordingly

Ultimately, every employee is responsible for and owns their own portfolio. Unlike a job, a career portfolio can never be taken away. Employers can make a huge difference in what that portfolio looks like, however, and a lot of that comes down to what organizations design and how they do it.

While employers aren’t responsible for any individual’s professional success, they are responsible for creating the organizational “scaffolding” for success: culture and conditions in which talent can thrive. If you want to attract new talent and retain it over time, then it’s important to design job descriptions, org charts, advancement and growth options, and even KPIs for people whose goal is not to climb a career ladder, but rather to curate their unique career portfolio.

For example, do you provide structure and opportunities for people to share skills and interests beyond their official job responsibilities? Are there clear, easy avenues for talent to identify and develop new skills they would like to learn, and then to follow up on those goals? Within one team, you may easily discover way more skills you thought you had access to (including some surprising ones). This kind of “cross-pollination” is not only what drives innovation, it also highlights (often hidden) diversity and strengthens team spirit.

. . .

Today, “climbing a ladder” is the career equivalent of “but this is how we’ve always done it.” In other words, it’s in dire need of a refresh. What got us here won’t get us there. We need models and narratives that are open to change, not impervious to it, and fit for a world in flux.

Shifting to a career portfolio lens offers an opportunity to update individual professional narratives. Equally powerful, it’s also a practical tool for organizations to rethink culture, expectations, and design. When an organization sees talent fully and truly understands the future of work, it levels up the entire ecosystem within which it operates.

Share this news on your Fb,Twitter and Whatsapp

File source

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button