There is no doubt that more and more material is published every day which reassures us that if our careers are not quite following the linear route we expected, this is OK. In many cases not just OK, but that such a ‘squiggly’ career is actually full of advantages (see The Squiggly Career by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis). Industries are changing far quicker than in the past, so the norms that applied to those starting out 30 years ago just aren’t applicable today. Those who stay at one company for the duration of their career are no longer held in high esteem and are more often than not viewed with incredulity. So, with this rate of change in industry, technology, and the age of instant gratification, doesn’t it make sense that we change the way we view success in our careers too?
Personally, the penny first dropped that my ‘varied’ career path wasn’t quite such a hindrance to me when I discovered the book How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don't Know What They Want to by Emilie Wapnick back in 2017. At the time, I was struggling with a quick transition to a sales environment from a relatively slow-paced job, and not being extrinsically motivated by the commission, was failing miserably. Wapnick’s book, among other things, encourages you to list what you like; enjoy and feel motivated by, and to either have several careers at different times of your life, or several careers at once, working part time on each. I proceeded to list out my passions (Mandarin, wine, painting, travelling, diving, meditation, and learning) and tried to forge a new career for myself - with some wacky results (anyone need a Chinese speaking underwater artist?) - and swiftly ended up back in reality, pursuing a more mainstream career in recruitment. But I had learned that if I wanted to change direction, or wanted to concentrate more on a ‘side hustle’, this was somewhat acceptable.
Since then, moving from agency recruitment to in house recruitment, and finding my feet at Fnality, a company working hard to uphold agile ways of working, I have had exposure to more opportunities than I could have dreamed of. One day I will be hashing out the L+D budget for the year and the next I will be involved in defining the process for future Fnality entities across the globe. However, I have heard many of my colleagues express anxiety over how the variety of different projects they are working on and roles within those can be expressed in a comprehensible way to the outside world - will they just look like a ‘jack of all trades,’ or worse, will people judge them as lazy from the lack of promotions shown on their LinkedIn profiles?
At Fnality, we pride ourselves on recruiting individuals with varied backgrounds, people who may have changed careers, or studied one topic but pursued a role in a completely unrelated industry. The benefit for the company is of course that our multi-disciplined employees can pick up a smorgasbord of tasks and collaborate with anyone on their team, sharing their knowledge as they go. This in turn mitigates risks if a ‘key dependency’ were to leave the company, and of course keeps our curious brains engaged thanks to new and exciting things every couple of weeks. Being structured according to the Agile ways of working means that every ‘sprint’ (2 weeks in Fnality’s case), each cross disciplined team has new and varied stories to work on in cooperation with their teammates. We also have a very flat structure, which translates to individuals with less work experience often having exposure to projects that would usually be reserved for ‘the old guard’ in other organisations. To reflect this flat structure, we place little emphasis on job titles. All of this means that it is hard to pin down exactly what someone’s role is within Fnality, and even experts are not always working within their traditional discipline.
So how do we know we are improving? How can we become experts?
Our ‘progression’ is shown through our rise up the Fnality Competency Framework - a levelling system which your peers score you against every quarter as part of the review process. We are taught to look at the ‘bigger picture’ and are assessed on several competencies - some will inevitably be stronger than others, and while we do not discourage employees to specialise, we encourage them to keep in mind the supporting competencies so that nothing is applied in a vacuum, so to speak. This progression through the competency framework is not reflected in change of status internally or externally. As a consequence, this can be disconcerting for those looking to visually represent their success through promotions, and subsequent changes in title (and corresponding increases in remuneration) from Team Member, to Team Leader, to Manager for example, as we have been taught to do.
However, as we are shown time and time again that money and status alone does not motivate workers, we must apply that same logic to the ‘carrot and stick’ approach of job title changes. Yes, we like to feel that we have achieved something within our careers, but the motivation to succeed will come from being able to self-manage, a drive for perfection and having meaningful goals, as reiterated in Dan Pink’s book Drive.Therefore, at Fnality we focus on keeping team members engaged through outcomes focused tasks and also offer flexibility in how to complete them. We encourage everyone to experiment, to see which methods deliver the most efficient path to reaching the company’s short and long term goals, soaking up all the new learning experiences you can on the way. When the time comes to move on to another organisation, it will be your adaptability, your dedication and other transferable skills that will make you more employable than your peers, not how many job title updates you have published online.
In short, the career ladder is now not really a ladder at all. It is more of a free-flowing line that may go up, down, back and forth - but is always growing. This applies not only to Fnality, but across the board, with start-ups and larger traditional institutions alike recognising this transition. You may have to get creative to show your progression on your CV, but any recruiter worth their salt will know that the more adaptable you are, the quicker you can progress, and ultimately help a company progress too. You can dabble in many things and specialise in a few; you may be a ’jack of all trades’, but still be a master of some, and the culmination of all of this is a career full of twists, turns and creativity.