Tuesday, 16 December 2014

More Career Planning

We had another career planning talk. This time it was from someone who had a very interesting and long career instead of someone with a Human Resources background. I appreciate the perspective of actual wisdom, but the whole thing still just bothers me.

The message of this talk was very much that you have to take control of your own career. That's fine advice in a way - it's real advice for the real world. But on the other hand, the fact that people can say that and not identify the problem with it is dumbfounding.

Here is a simple question: Is putting a priority on advancing your career correlated with competence in your career? I wouldn't be terribly surprised if the answer is yes - for example a person whose career is important them might find mentoring and education opportunities that not only look good on a resume but also build actual competence. But those are things you check completely apart from the goal of career advancement. People who are determined to win a race are likely to be faster because they probably train, but you judge the winner by who crosses the finish line first.

We have a system that selects for a criterion that may be unrelated to the ability to do the job. Everyone agrees with this, but they don't think it's a problem.

If you ask people why it isn't a problem, they'll have an answer for you. Many of them will be convinced that this actually is an important factor in success. You want motivated and ambitious staff who are looking to impress. I just don't believe this true. I'm pretty sure that much better than that is a person who sees their current position as a thing worthy of doing unto itself. Others will say that there is no alternative - that obviously people who try to advance their careers are going to have more success advancing their careers and it must be so.

In a limited way this is true. Every system can be gamed, and a person who is ultra-talented at career advancement is going to do better at career advancement than people who are ultra-talented at actual careers. But we should be striving to not make that the easiest road. Ideally, the best way to get a job would be to be good at the job, and conning people into giving you the job would be only for people who are particularly talented at conning. Shouldn't we see an employer offering courses on how to succeed at their own interviews as a symptom of a sickness?

And no one seems to think there is any cost to this system at all. That no one who doesn't care about career development manages to make it into senior management just doesn't seem like a problem. After all, they think, anyone could put in the effort to learn how to walk the walk. Like they say, "take charge of your career" not "be the sort of person who is really very interested in taking charge of their career." Who would be interested in the opinion of someone who was fundamentally driven by a desire to solve problems and get things right instead of by a desire to appear important?

For me, though, the problem is that we are hearing someone talk about career development at all. Is that really what people are interested in doing with a branch meeting? Oh wait, yes it is.

On some issues I'm a genius to the edge of being prophetic, on others I'm just the odd one out. I don't care at all about career development and sitting through talks about it makes me a little sick as I contemplate what a broken system we have. But this is really what people want to hear about. Our culture is a culture of ambition. I'm not better than that, I just don't fit in.

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