Working Transitions

Why the view from the top may not always be worth the climb

The executive chairman of global communications agency Saatchi & Saatchi has now resigned after making controversial remarks about women in the workforce that were deemed to have been damaging to the organisations reputation. Although his actual comments were more nuanced than has been reported, it’s true that Kevin Roberts last week told Business Insider that women lack “vertical ambition.”

Whether his comments were clumsy or he was trying to make a point which has been misrepresented, the issue is one of importance and the debate has been raging ever since in various parts of the media.

At the heart of this debate is the notion that career success is defined as how far up the corporate ladder you have risen. The subject has long been viewed through the prism of status and symbolism defining success.

We know however, having supported over 600,000 people through the challenges and opportunities of workplace transition for almost 25 years, that the true definition of career success is highly personal and unique to each individual. Achieving career ambitions cannot simply be measured in “vertical” terms but increasingly requires much more multi layered and complex measures of success. Especially in our age of multi generational workforces, remote working and non linear career paths.

Career success can be defined in many ways. Here are just a few:

1. Strong bond with people in your team and a good relationship with your boss: You enjoy the company of the people you work with. The person who you work for inspires, supports and motivates you.

2. Continuous learning: You are in a position where you are constantly learning new skills and experiencing new things. You feel challenged in a positive way and there is still headroom for you to develop skills and experience further.

3. Promotion: You are climbing the organisational or professional hierarchy. You are given status and greater responsibility.

4. Salary: You are able to contribute well to your family budget and have a good standard of living consistent with your financial and personal goals. Especially true if relative to peers.

5. Reputation in the business: You are respected and valued within the organisation. Your colleagues and boss seek you out for as they acknowledge your expertise and contribution.

6. Reputation outside the business: You are well known within your industry as an expert. Your opinion is regularly sought; your work is widely admired and respected.

7. Your job doesn’t define you: You do your job well, but you are more than that. People at work like and respect you for yourself. You have other interests, passions and friendships outside of your work. You have a great work/life balance.

8. You are able to showcase your talents: Your job involves you doing something that you are naturally talented in. You can really shine at work

9. Passion: You are motivated and enthusiastic about the work you do and the company you work for. Your job is something that is an extension of your hobbies, personal or political beliefs.

10. The organisational values match your own personal values. You feel truly aligned with organisational goals, ethics and standards.

Whilst Roberts framed his comments in terms of women’s approach to career development, in our experience this is not just a “female issue”. Many men are also realising that there are lots of ways to feel successful and fulfilled at work that do not involve promotion.

Despite the massive changes in how we work, the types of roles and working patterns now available, the pressure to define success as achieving ever more senior positions is still high. Yet actually, opting not to go for the top job can itself be a great career move if you are happy and fulfilled in the role you choose.

It’s better for the organisation too as happy and contented people tend to be very productive. It’s a highly personal choice and it applies across the sexes and generations. Career success may still be defined as “vertical”, but it’s wise to remember that what goes up can also come down – just look at the recent fortunes of some of our most senior politicians. Career success is a journey, not a destination and it can be deemed truly successful if you are in the driving seat.


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Working Transitions
04 August 2016
Supporting effective and successful organisational change


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