8 Satisfying Career Goals

When we think of career goals, we often think of promotions as the pinnacle. Such thinking is rooted in the career ladder concept, whereby the only direction worth traveling is upwards. It’s in this way that we secure more money, more status, more prestige, and so on. With the so-called “great resignation” prompting many to both reassess their lives and careers and also to put this thinking into action via a change in jobs or career, this concept of precisely what we want to get out of our careers has seldom been more important.

In Promotions Are SO Yesterday, Julie Winkle Giulioni makes a case for various other forms of career benefits that can give us as many, if not more, positives than a promotion. When she conducted a study of 750 professionals from around the world, eight factors emerged that provided alternative ways of growing beyond a traditional promotion.

  1. Contribution – There has been so much written about purpose and meaning in recent years that it is perhaps no surprise that the #1 choice of respondents was the ability to do work that allowed them to make a real difference and aligned with their purpose and values. It should really come as no surprise by now that giving employees this can be hugely important to engaging and retaining them.
  2. Competence – Similarly well documented in recent years is the strong desire among employees to receive professional training and development. This desire is exacerbated by the intense technical changes impacting the world of work today, which can create a strong sense of uncertainty about one’s career path and prospects. Providing people with the skills they need to thrive, both in their immediate role and in whatever roles the future may crop up, is a well-proven path to a happy and engaged workforce.
  3. Confidence – This is less about self-confidence, although that is clearly important, and more to do with managers having confidence in their team and trusting them to do a good job. The notion of servant leadership is well established, and there is a significant element of that here, but also trusting employees to both do a good job and also do the right thing. We’ve seen bad examples of this during the pandemic in which surveillance and mistrust have been sadly all too evident.
  4. Connection – We are in the midst of the so-called “lonely century,” and the pandemic has underlined the importance of human connectivity. This is undoubtedly the case in the workplace, where various studies have shown that having good relationships with colleagues is a good indicator of our likelihood of staying with an employer. This is perhaps something to keep in mind during any discussions around remote or hybrid working in the post-pandemic landscape.
  5. Challenge – Harvard’s Teresa Amabile highlighted the motivating power of progress a decade ago, so the finding that we’re heavily motivated by being stretched and making progress in our careers should come as no surprise. As humans, we thrive by being stretched beyond our comfort zones, so managers can engage employees by providing this in some way.
  6. Contentment – Winkle Giulioni believes that contentment at work comes via an experience of satisfaction, ease, and joy in our work.
  7. Choice – When Dan Pink examined what motivates us at work in his best-seller Drive, autonomy came out as the primary determining factor, and this has been reinforced numerous times since then, whether for salaried employees or gig workers. The ability to have control and choice over when, where, how, and what we work on has been well-proven to be highly motivating.
  8. Climb – In last place in the “what motivates us” league table is the kind of career progression traditionally associated with success.

“These findings should be welcome news for weary, wary managers everywhere,” Winkle Giulioni writes. “For years, conventional wisdom has instilled the belief that the bulk of employees are always angling for another role or to take the next step up the ladder. This kind of thinking has caused many managers to avoid career conversations altogether, assuming that they cannot offer the growth their people want.”

None of the factors outlined in her research should be news to managers who have their eye on the ball, but at a time when retention is harder than ever, these factors should perhaps be considered in order to engage better the talent you have.


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