Expert, linear, spiral or transitory – which career concept do you fall into?

Saundra Stroope and Rikard Larsson explain why understanding employees’ motives will help businesses keep their people engaged in a hybrid working world

Creating an engaged culture is challenging in today’s remote and hybrid work environments. However, these working arrangements are very likely here to stay, so leaders must understand the varying perspectives on how people view career success in order to encourage employee engagement from afar. 

Culture and engagement are co-created by the leaders and people in an organisation. There are no easy choices, or one-size-fits-all solutions. Individuals have unique career motives and engagement killers. These motives are also dynamic and constantly change over time. 

Consider your own career and what motivations you have today. Then reflect on what motivated you six months ago, a year ago, or even five years ago. It’s likely some of the work activities you found highly rewarding have shifted over time. Situations in organisations and the economy have transformed over time, influencing the type of work available and work that is viewed as engaging. Before the pandemic, many people had never considered working a remote or hybrid position as an ongoing career option. 

Individuals are ultimately responsible for understanding their motives and taking ownership for their career. At the same time, a career perspective is a healthy complement to the traditional organisation. Individuals are parts of the organisation. Organisations are also part of the individual’s working life. This highlights the integrative power of careers as the meeting point between individuals and organisations over time.

People's perspectives on careers vary in two ways:

1) how long they would like to stay in the same professional field; and 

2) in which direction their career should develop – specialising in-depth, moving up the ladder, or across. 

Leaders can support careers and positively influence their culture by understanding these perspectives and how they create four distinct ways people progress in their career.

Four career concepts for linking individuals and organisations

Expert – An expert career indicates a person who will have as long as possible commitment to a profession. Success in their eyes would mean to be recognised as one of the best in their field of work. They might want to hone their knowledge, perfect their skills, have job security, awards or publications in their field. Titles might include doctor, attorney, professor, information technology specialist or researcher.

Linear – A person with a linear career will be focused on achieving rapid movement up the corporate ladder. They might define success as the level or job title they have achieved. They also want responsibility, impact, power and influence. Titles include senior vice president, vice president, director, senior manager or manager. 

Spiral – A spiral career is less traditional. Some people are interested in discovering their career through periodic lateral changes within their field every five to 10 years. Success means relatively frequent opportunities to widen their skills and gain new experiences. A spiral career might mean movement within a field or department in an organisation towards more generalist roles through a series of related specialist roles, such as human resources positions of recruiting, employee relations and compensation. 

Transitory – A transitory view is the least conventional view. People with a transitory view are the most adaptable to change. They believe the more different and frequent changes they have in their career, the better. It’s easy to spot ‘free agents’ doing various gigs, and entrepreneurs who have started many types of business working in various fields such as retail, restaurants and real estate. 

It’s harder to find transitory people in a corporate environment. They do exist and can add incredible value when you mobilise them. A person with a transitory motive can easily move from one department to another. The individual who moves from field operations to customer service, then sales, human resources, procurement, logistics and finance gains a very broad and useful perspective of the organisation. They can also network across departmental barriers and reduce silos. 

The next step to consider is how leaders can provide culture-building career development opportunities that align with each path. Stay tuned for the second article in this series.

Saundra Stroope is a global organisation development leader, certified Decision Dynamics CareerView coach and master practitioner with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Rikard Larsson is co-founder of and partner at Decision Dynamics