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Embrace Non-Linear Career Paths to Amplify Success


Visualize for a moment what a career path looks like. Does the picture in your mind reflect a neat, tidy directional arrow? Is it a set of well-planned steps? Or is it more of a winding road with twists and turns?

While professional growth has long been considered to follow a linear or step-by-step model, organizations and employees are finding that is certainly not the only approach to career building, and it may not even be the most common.

There are many factors that contribute to this shift. First is the impact of automation, which is causing significant changes inside companies. As machines and artificial intelligence are brought online, the job functions that businesses are needing are rapidly evolving, which is causing disruptions to the traditional career path.

Another consideration is burnout. Many employees have experienced significant strains on their well-being in the recent past. Rather than carry on with business as usual, a growing number of individuals are re-evaluating what they want to do in their work lives.

Additionally, as we have seen through trends like the Great Resignation, the majority of staff members are seeking deeper meaning and purpose in their jobs. This soul-searching has prompted many to think about alternative occupations and leave their companies if they do not feel supported to make a transition internally.

7 Ways to Support Non-Linear Career Paths

No matter what reasons may be driving these evolutions, it’s important that Human Resources (HR) and Learning & Development (L&D) teams take steps to support multiple trajectories to create opportunities for their workforce and healthy talent pipelines. Below are seven ways to inspire new avenues for development:

  1. Publicize the proficiencies you need
    For employees to imagine moving out of an existing occupation, it’s helpful to understand what talents are sought after in different fields. Disclose the technical and soft skills needed for the various positions within the organization on a company intranet or LMS available to staff. It’s also useful to make job clusters for roles and functions with related capabilities so that individuals can identify their transferrable talents.

  2. Promote people skills
    Some of the most readily exchangeable (and most essential) proficiencies are soft skills. In fact, studies have reported that 85% of career success comes from people skills. Delivering training solutions that empower workers to build cross-functional capacities in areas like communication, collaboration, and problem-solving will support them in almost any vocation.

  3. Offer rotational programs
    Providing personnel with first-hand knowledge of multiple areas of the business can unlock new ways of thinking about their future. Try offering short-term assignments in different roles or a day of job shadowing to expand new horizons. Even if employees decide to grow in their current field, these encounters can help them see connections between various departments and improve their business savvy.

  4. Develop a project marketplace
    While HR teams typically have a space to post open positions, it can also be useful to create a location where teams may share cross-functional projects where they may need assistance or workplace committees that require additional members. Through these placements, workers can take advantage of opportunities for ongoing learning and growth that are of interest to them.

  5. Design internal mentorship programs
    Pair up staff who have experience in various fields and roles. By having the workforce engage with colleagues at distinct stages of their careers, employees can learn about one another, hear about their coworkers’ occupational experiences, and support each other through meaningful connections that may open up doorways to alternative careers.

  6. Host departmental learning sessions
    Many of the ideas I’ve shared so far take some time to implement and could require a larger commitment on behalf of the employees. A simple way to expand horizons and help people envision themselves in different fields is to ask leaders and executives to host learning sessions about their team, the capabilities needed to be successful in the function, and the future of the department

  7. Create development funds
    In addition to internal programming, be mindful to give personnel opportunities to participate in educational programs and offerings outside of the company. Promote networking events and provide funds to staff so they may take an active role in building new, relevant capacities to boost their development and delve into functions that intrigue them.

4 Mindsets to Encourage Adaptation

Creating avenues that allow employees to investigate multiple professional trajectories is an important step in promoting non-linear approaches to growth. It’s also essential that HR and L&D teams inspire attitude shifts within their organizations to enable transformation.

  1. Nurture an asset-based perspective
    Embracing a strengths-based approach to work will make it easier for leaders and supervisors to welcome individuals who may have distinct backgrounds. While managers need to be mindful of skills gaps to close, an asset-based focus will allow supervisors to be more open to embracing cross-functional capabilities and seeing the value in diverse perspectives. Tools like Emergenetics can help everyone adopt an inclusive mentality.

  2. Cultivate a learning environment
    A learning culture can advance non-linear pathways because it inspires employers to recognize that any job requires consistent growth. By understanding that people and functions are constantly evolving, it becomes easier to invite passionate, talented individuals into a team, while committing to teaching them whatever capacities they’re missing.

  3. Celebrate internal mobility
    Find ways to champion internal transitions. Setting targets around advancement – in both linear and non-linear ways – can help leaders across the organization feel more comfortable about encouraging others to explore new career paths within the business. It’s also helpful to introduce practices to publicize internal job postings and limit barriers to applying.

  4. Prioritize company retention over team retention
    It’s understandable if managers are concerned about losing high-performing employees. However, it is much more challenging to have great team members leave the entity than it is to have them leave a department. Advancing a corporation-first approach and providing tools to ease the transition will enhance professional mobility.

A person is more likely to choose to stay at a company if they believe their career goals will be achieved. By promoting learning and inviting staff to consider all the internal professional opportunities available to them, leaders will be in a much better position to engage their people, retain top talent, and maximize their productivity.