Navigating Ambiguity: Career Research Report 2014

By BlessingWhite , a Division of GP Strategies

The career landscape is characterized by two perspectives:


  • From the employer’s perspective, developing people is paramount to maintaining future competitiveness, but difficult when roles and required skills are evolving quickly. The need to be nimble makes it very challenging to plan people’s development, create definitive career paths, or make long-term commitments.
  • From an individual’s perspective, relying primarily on one’s current employer to provide opportunities or a clear career path is a thing of the past. It is well understood that the best options for career growth, professional satisfaction and job security reside in building skills and experiences that make the individual highly valued. External opportunities are often more obvious and more appealing than internal ones.


Why companies should care about career


Providing career resources is not an employee perk. It is a deliberate strategy to guide individual aspirations and personal skill-building in a direction that is most beneficial to the enterprise. Many career initiatives arise from poor employee engagement scores (employees rate their company poorly on career opportunities) and a strong concern for losing key talent.


Key Recommendations


Given the ambiguous career landscape, the best strategy for employees is to focus on ongoing development: a continuous approach to building skills, acquiring experience and adjusting their course to make sure the work they do day-to-day “works for them.” They need to make the most of their skills, fulfill their values and over time build a career journey that gets them to where they want to be — and where the organization needs them to be. Such skills and experience are developed through on-the-job experience and formal or informal learning.


Employees need to do the planning without settling on a definitive plan:


  • Know Yourself: Invest time in understanding skills, personal values, desired work environment and ambitions. Before an individual starts working on his or her next career step, they need to be clear on what they are looking for.
  • Know Your Options: What do career opportunities look like? The range can be quite wide. How does an employee prepare? What connections do they need? What skills should they be developing? The key is flexibility, curiosity and being open to new and unexpected opportunities — which can be anticipated by building a network and paying attention to the direction of the organization.
  • Take action: Career progression does not happen in giant leaps. Rather, it occurs in many small steps, building experience and understanding, and progressing towards a goal. Employees should be proactively building skills and experiences that will prepare them for that future formal role. And when the organization does need to implement change, employees should rapidly identify opportunities to contribute and carve out new roles that are most aligned to the strategic direction of the organization.


Employers can help frame the discussion and guide individual decisions to ensure future talent needs are met while also ensuring organizational nimbleness:


  • Build alignment between the future talent needs of the organization and the ambitions of individuals.
  • Set the stage by (re)defining career, clarifying ownership.
  • Train managers to effectively use career as a conversation around the work, skills and future interests.
  • Provide support and resources, using a multifaceted approach.


At the end of the day individuals need to own their career, but organizations can frame and guide that conversation, providing the right support and resources to help individuals and managers.


Career development is about getting people to where they want to be and where the organization needs them to be.