As the year 2014 approaches, tradition directs us to start thinking about New Year's resolutions. Similar to Christmas carols and folk songs, the practice of making New Year's resolutions has a long history, starting with ancient Babylonians, who made promises to their gods at the start of each year.
Typically, people focus on goals to improve their physical well-being such as engaging in a stop-smoking plan, starting a regular exercise routine and/or losing weight. Some people realize their credit card spending has gotten away on them, so they focus on getting their finances in order, while others set goals toward upgrading their education. No matter what, most goals are related to personal self-improvement.
Yet, from a career perspective, one of the goals people often make, especially if they are experiencing challenges at work, is to seek a promotion to a more senior position. This goal is made with several things in mind, such as seeking an increase in wages, more prominence and/or influence in the workplace, the desire to take on more responsibility, the desire to manage people and/or the desire and need for more control of one's role in the workplace.
However, while having a career goal for a New Year's resolution is all well and good, I often challenge people to think through their idea more clearly because moving "up," especially to the highest levels in an organization, is not always the best answer to their career dilemma. In fact, focusing on getting promoted can be the wrong decision altogether, especially for those individuals who have more technical skills rather than people skills. The situation also begs the question: Will a promotion really make you happy and fulfilled?
My answer to that question is absolutely not! Before you even think about a promotion, you need to really understand yourself and build strong personal self-awareness, especially with respect to what truly motivates you.
I've shared this advice in previous columns, but once again I want to help you think through your personal motivators and what these mean for a successful career. Understanding these factors, or "career anchors," will help determine exactly what is important in your work environment. Prioritizing these motivators is critical to helping determine if being in a senior management and/or top leadership position is really meant for you. Review the following career anchor descriptors and determine if they have any significance for your career goals.
Organization security/geographic identity -- Individuals who are motivated by security and identity prefer life in a large organization where they feel safe and part of the identity of the organization. On the other hand, people who strongly identify with their current geographic location will rarely consider moving to another city or area. However, individuals seeking promotion must be realistic and know that the higher they move up the career ladder, the more likely they will face the need for physical moves and will also have to travel, spending time away from home and family.
Independence and autonomy -- Most professionals are motivated by this career anchor, but it can also be satisfied without a promotion. Frankly, the more senior roles in an organization aren't as independent as one might think. Senior leaders report to an executive and/or a board and are under considerable scrutiny and stress and must demonstrate accountability for the success of the whole organization, not just one job.
Managerial expertise -- Those individuals with this particular career anchor want to manage people and develop teams; however, be careful with which level in the organization you wish to focus on. The more senior positions are very complex, fast-paced, deal with a great number of people inside and outside the organization and require significant political sensitivity and people skills. Where does this career anchor fit with your career goals?
Technical expertise -- Individuals motivated by this career anchor gain satisfaction from being known as the expert, yet you don't need to move up in an organization to be an expert. Get involved in more projects, take a leadership role with new teams and work as a team member with other departments. Focus on finding new technical challenges to show off your expertise.
Entrepreneurial creativity -- This career anchor doesn't mean you need to be a business owner or the boss, it simply means you need to work in a fast-paced organization where you can be creative, where you can challenge the system and where your suggestions for improvements are welcome. People with this career anchor often encounter difficulty at work, especially if the organization resists change.
Social service/just cause -- If you enjoy helping and/or need to experience the satisfaction of fighting for a cause, then you probably have the social service/just cause career anchor. In my experience, it also means strong interaction with people on the front line rather than sitting behind a desk working on program budgets and administration. Keep in mind, the higher you move up the career ladder, the more you'll be dealing with administrative tasks.
Pure challenge -- Many employees become bored in their jobs rather quickly. When this happens, the pure challenge career anchor comes into play. These individuals need to work on a variety of different projects and typically work on more than one at a time. They live on adrenalin, and when the projects are done, they have to quickly find another one or they'll feel lost. But promotion isn't the answer -- finding another challenge is what works best.
Life/work balance -- Employees with this career anchor are more in tune with a structured work schedule with well-defined times. They will be prepared to work overtime on occasion, but won't make a habit of it. These individuals know how to balance their home and work lives effectively. Seeking a promotion will often undermine this career anchor, so be careful what you wish for.
Understanding career anchors is all about understanding your values and what's important to you from a work perspective. Keep in mind there will be tradeoffs when looking at accepting promotion after promotion, most often increased stress, your personal time and time with your family. What do you want and what are you prepared to give up?
So when a promotion opportunity comes your way and/or when you decide to seek a promotion, keep the following questions in mind:
1. What are the benefits and what are the downsides of your promotion opportunity?
2. What are the challenges in the job and are you really ready for these challenges?
3. What are the risks in the new job? What does this mean to you?
4. How does your promotion fit into your long-term goals and what opportunities does it present for you?
5. Will the promotion take you so far away from the technical skills you love that it would be difficult to move back into a former role?
6. What is the long-term career path for this promotion? Where will it take you? Do you really want to go there?
7. How stable are the people relationships in the organization? What impact or risk would be created if your boss/mentor left the organization?
8. What is the career potential in your industry sector overall? Will a promotion open up other opportunities for you?
9. To what extent will a promotion upset your work/life balance? Are you able to live with this? Can it be managed?
10. What is your fallback position if you find the promotion is not to your liking?
So, when you are making your 2014 New Year's resolutions, think carefully as to whether or not a promotion will truly meet your personal motivational needs.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP. M.Ed. is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.