Career COMPASS: Navigating Key Aspects of Employer-Employee Relationships

By Clawson, James G.; Haskins, Mark E. | People & Strategy, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Career COMPASS: Navigating Key Aspects of Employer-Employee Relationships


Clawson, James G., Haskins, Mark E., People & Strategy


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The Conference Board (2005) has reported that only 14 percent of U.S. workers are "very satisfied" with their jobs. It is, therefore, not surprising to learn that, "C-suite executives at companies of all sizes identified 'engaging and retaining talented employees' as [one of] their most pressing concerns" (Pomeroy, 2007, p. 22).

We believe organizations and the individuals that work in them can benefit from a career-management framework that syncs and guides their mutual efforts to establish productive and positive associations. Indeed, the more positive the career relationship, the more likely an employee's talents will be fully, creatively and consistently provided to an employer. Career development and talent management are linked; they should be integrated as they are two sides of the same coin.

We offer a robust, practical, action-guiding framework to help job candidates, incumbents, managers and HR specialists promote mutually beneficial career development. The COMPASS acronym introduced here provides an easily remembered framework within which critical career issues can surface and employers can address them. While an acronym is not scientific, it is useful. COMPASS helps organize and recall a set of key issues we have identified during more than 45 combined years of career-related work. Moreover, each piece of the COMPASS culminates in a set of practical career management questions to guide employers and employees. The career COMPASS framework consists of the following:

C Career types

O Organized for fit

M Motivation and energy

P Political savvy

A Assessment and feedback

S Systematic development

S Success

Career Types: Legitimate Different Strokes for Different Folks

Employers' understanding of an employee's preferred career type is the first step. Here, an employer's goal should be to match, as much as possible, an employee's career-type preference with an organizational role and track. Discussing and accommodating an employee's preference is an important way to demonstrate the employee's value.

Employees tend to follow one of four career types: Linear, Steady State Expert, Spiral or Transitory (Brousseau et. al., 1996). These labels, although perhaps new to some, are descriptive of the potential paths employees take over time and are illustrated in Exhibit 1.

The Linear type, often called the management track where success means moving up an organizational hierarchy, is the dominant one. Steady State Expert types, often called the technical track, do not seek a series of promotions but rather perform tasks or projects where they hone their expertise over years, such as in the professions and skilled trades. Spiral types, akin to Herman's (2001) "Adaptables," want experiential variety. Employees with this career type are less interested in a specific job and more interested in a breadth of stimulating experiences. Finally, what motivates Transitories is not work, which is only a means to an end they value more. They work as long as needed to get the job done, so they can move on to something that they would rather be doing.

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Each career type adds value to an organization. For example, Linears bring ambition and determination. Steady State Experts bring expertise and craftsmanship. Spirals bring new ways of looking at things. Transitories help organizations manage and absorb workforce fluctuations as they often comprise an organization's cadre of contract workers or part-time workers.

Placing a person with a certain preferred career type in a role with a contrary path and related set of expectations can be detrimental to achieving a full-fledged, mutually positive employee/employer relationship. We have all seen, for example, Steady State Experts frustrated and stressed by promotion into Linear management tracks. …

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