Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career changes, career transitions 6: facing the challenge of being typecast professionally and breaking out of old molds – 1

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on February 10, 2013

This is my sixth posting to a series on careers, career development and career transitions, and on looking at work and the work experience from a wider perspective than that of the here and now job or job search (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 285-9 for Parts 1-5.) And my topic for this installment addresses a fundamental challenge that we all come to face at least occasionally over the course of a career and work life, and certainly if we seek to grow and evolve our skills and work experience and what we do professionally: typecasting.

• Managers approach their teams and team members with a goal of completing specific assigned tasks as given to them by their supervisors. How well and how quickly and efficiently their team completes this work goes into setting their own performance efficiency scores as these managers responsible face their own performance reviews and as they report to their supervisors.
• And how well the members of their teams carry out their parts of these tasks, and how quickly and efficiently they do their parts goes into determining their own work performance evaluation scores too, as team members and as individual stand-alone employees.
• So accountability and pressures to perform go in both directions here – both up and down the table of organization. And the organizing principles that I cite here can and usually do apply at all levels of the table of organization.
• Pressures to perform as quickly and effectively and expertly as possible, as driven by both business need and performance evaluation pressures creates driving incentive to channelize what individual employees and their managers work on, with at the very least the bulk of their efforts exerted towards working on and completing tasks and sub-tasks in areas for which they have validated, proven efficiency and skill, and where need to complete those tasks is seen as significant.
• So the better and more effectively we perform at work in what we are doing now, the less incentive on the part our managers to give us opportunity, and certainly significantly time and effort consuming opportunity to try out new skills. And the faster the pace and more schedule-constrained the work we do, the more disincentive there might be for our managers to allow us to set aside what they see as the immediately needed from us, to pursue new avenues and directions in what we do.
• I add that if we develop new skills and experience bases and move on to work in other and perhaps less-related areas and even within the same business organization, a manager can find themselves in effect losing a valued and even essential team member for completion of the types of tasks we had been doing; this means our branching off to take on new skills and responsibilities can be seen as a source of genuine disincentive for our current managers.

I realize and acknowledge that I write this from what might be seen as an overly tightly constrained perspective. But what we do and will be doing next, and without facing these sources of friction is in most cases constrained and certainly if we work within larger organizations. So I simply posit this system of allowance and constraints on what we do, and on how we might change what we do, and as outlined above as a given.

With that established as a starting point, I begin this posting by drawing a fundamental distinction, as to the types of work and career change we might pursue:

Same-career path change: Changing and evolving what we do with a goal of remaining current and effective in the skills we have already developed, and expanding on them to make ourselves more valuable for performing what is essentially the same type of work we have already been doing, even if at a higher level, and
New and divergent-career path change: Developing new types of skills sets that would allow us to make fundamental and even major course corrections in the overall direction of our career paths – with breaking away from what we have done to work in new directions. This can mean moving up the table of organization where we would need a wider perspective and understanding of our current work area in general and with hands-on experience in more areas of this larger arena, or it might mean transitioning into what for us is an entirely new functional area, or it might involve elements of both.
• Bottom line though, ongoing professional growth and learning and developing new skills and types of skills are essential to remaining relevant and competitive in the workplace and in the jobs market – and with time both sides of that are important to all of us. And this means actively considering and pursuing both same-career, and new and divergent-career path learning and doing opportunities. And this holds whether we primarily seek to advance along a single, relatively straightforward career path in one functional area or whether we seek to break away and even to new career types and career paths.
• Even if we seek the former of those now, with time we might very well find ourselves seeking out the later too. So starting with one does not and should not close the door to our pursuing the other of these two basic career path options.

And this brings me to the crux of this posting, and certainly where pressures are currently high to follow a limited and perhaps limiting path of same-work only career development. How do we effectively pursue a wider vision of what is possible for us as our best career path, and still remain stably employed, productive and appreciated by our managers and employers for being great team players? I am going to continue this discussion in my next series installment where I will explicitly delve into that. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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