Career webs reach higher than career ladders

Remember the old board game, "Chutes and Ladders"? If you got lucky with the shake of the dice, you would climb up a ladder toward the winning goal. On a poor shake, you might hit a chute and slide back down from where you came.

The career equivalent to that old board game might have been called "Demotions and Promotions." The moves would have been predictable. First, you got a job in a stable company with good benefits. Next, you worked really hard until you were promoted to a supervisory position. Then, if you stayed around long enough (and kept your nose clean enough), you might climb to middle management or above. But, if you didn’t manage people, your boss didn’t move, or you were a job-hopper, you might get stuck in place or even slide down the demotion chute.

Although the rules of the old advancement game still work to some extent, the modern version has some new twists.

Lateral moves are not a "plateau."
A former co-worker of mine figured this out years ago. She started in the budget department and developed a reputation for actively helping departments cut costs. From there she moved to the head of administration, then headed up an operating unit, then became the president’s executive assistant, and then landed a vice president’s job.

It seemed as if she was in a new job every two years, so she was getting a lot of variety without leaving the company. She became so knowledgeable in all areas of the company she could work virtually anywhere. Any time I asked her about her job du jour, she would respond enthusiastically, "I’m always looking for something new and different. I don’t care where it is or at what level." Now, she is a respected, high level executive.

Planned demotions are smart.
A former employee of mine used this technique to his advantage years ago, before it became a more accepted practice. He had been a supervisor in an insurance department for years and could see he wasn’t going to be moving up, since the next level of middle managers seemed pretty entrenched. He took advantage of the tuition refund program and got a Master’s Degree in Adult Learning. He took a demotion to work for me in the communications and training area of operations. With that new experience under his belt, he went to the Human Resources department, where he worked in various specialty areas. He is now back in his old operating department as a Regional Director; the job that seemed impossible to reach a few years ago.

Career Webs make more sense than Career Ladders.
Career ladders have an ultimate goal that you get closer to as you make each step. Career webs are built on a much different philosophy. At the heart of your web are your mission and core competencies. The paths you take are always connected in some way to that core. You may go up or down or sideways but you are committed to the "heart" of your career. For instance, my core mission is to help people and organizations succeed. I have several core competencies such as teaching, counseling and facilitating. The heart of my web has led me to jobs as a teacher, trainer, facilitator, internal and external consultant, speaker and columnist. In each case I was/am at a different level inside and outside the company but I can build my career outward from the heart.

The web philosophy is liberating because you can explore many different types of jobs and still be dedicated to what you do best. If I had stuck to the traditional career ladder mentality, I might still be waiting for that promotion. For instance, when I was a teacher, the top of the career ladder would have been superintendent of schools. When I was in corporate America, it might have been a promotion to Vice President of Human Resources. With the web model, you have the freedom to spin your own future.

Technical skill, not hierarchy is the new anchor for your career.
Becoming a manager is a ladder for some and a chute for others. If you don’t like managing people, a manager’s job can feel less like a promotion and more like a slippery slide. The good news is that technical performers rule in this high tech environment. Many technical professionals don’t want to become supervisors. They don’t want the headaches, the responsibility and frankly, they don’t want to manage independent-minded people like themselves.

Some technical skills are so portable and in demand that their owners can work anywhere and claim almost any price. They eschew the meetings, the political necessities and the conforming that goes along with a rise to the top of a company.

"Chutes and Ladders" is a lot more fun when you get to design the board and rewrite the rules.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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