Up Is Not the Only Way: Rethinking Career Mobility

Up Is Not the Only Way: Rethinking Career Mobility


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Up Was Never for Everyone!

Move up or move out. When those two options appear to be the only ones, dissatisfaction grows and engagement suffers. In decades of studying careers around the globe, Beverly Kaye, Lindy Williams, and Lynn Cowart have found that, in fact, there are more options. And rethinking career mobility can lead you to them!

The authors show how managers, coaches, and employees can partner to determine what’s best and what’s next. Keep the same job but discover new ways to learn and grow? Explore moving to a position that could be a better fit? Step back without getting derailed? This book encourages readers to take a “kaleidoscope” view—to be open to ever-shifting patterns of opportunities and possibilities—so they can create a unique, personalized path to a truly rewarding career.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781523083480
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 09/12/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 152
Sales rank: 1,141,608
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Beverly Kaye is the founder of Career Systems International (CSI) and the coauthor of several bestselling books, including five editions of Love ’Em or Lose ’Em and Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go
Lindy Williams is a designer and senior consultant at CSI
Lynn Cowart is CSI’s vice president for quality delivery

Read an Excerpt


UP was never for everyone

Careers used to be predictable. There were paths The hierarchy worked -FOR SOME.

As downsizing, restructuring, and delayering took hold in the late 1980s, old ladders became largely inaccessible. Some rungs disappeared, and the space between others shifted from steps to leaps. At the same time, individual aspirations and company needs were evolving. Terms like work-life balance were overheard in break rooms. Organizations began to examine how breadth of experience weighed against depth of expertise during talent reviews. The world of work was changing.

Careers today happen in that world — a world that continues to change. The environment is more global, more multigenerational, more dispersed, diverse, and complex than ever before. Hierarchies continue to flatten. Organizational structures are flexing. Even the value people place on work is changing.

Employees play multiple roles — from individual contributor to peer to leader and back, sometimes in the same day or within the same assignment. Roles emerge and evolve based on tasks and needs. Carefully written descriptions no longer define the boundaries of a job. Teams form and disperse based on projects. Feedback comes from multiple sources. The ladder, if it's still there, may be harder to see and tougher to climb.

Is This the End of the Career as We Know It?

Every industry is changing. As a result, internal workplace structures are changing as well. Up — the promotion path and perhaps even a ladder or two — may still exist, and could still be a goal — for some. However, as levels of the hierarchy have disappeared, promotional opportunities have become less available, so the route to a promotion may take new turns. Someone who wants to manage others can still get there and, with the right mix of experiences, will likely arrive better prepared to take on the role.

Flattened organizations and limited career ladders don't spell the end of growth or careers. Opportunities are there — different and varied, but very much still there, and even more plentiful. The next change frontier, then, is people's mind-sets, and that means changing the conversation, especially about careers.

Let's Be Honest

Up was never for everyone. It still isn't. Managing someone else is not on everyone's radar. Neither is taking on increasing levels of responsibility (really!). Not everyone wants to move up. That doesn't mean a rewarding career is out of reach.

The message has been out there for a while now that individuals own their careers. What does that really mean? We think it means that the definition of career success is up to each one of us. Every time circumstances shuffle the deck, you can deal yourself a new hand. That's good news ... actually that's great news! We are the only ones who can envision and imagine what success will look like. And, to add to that great news, as the creators of our career success pictures, we are free to alter them when and how we choose to! That is what it means to own a career.

But, if we own it and we can create it, how do we do it?

First it's about being mobile.

Career Mobility ...

... is essential for individuals at all levels. Each one of us needs to exercise agility and resilience that stable workplaces did not require. No longer is mobility just about physically moving to another building or town. It's more than getting promoted. It's sometimes just being willing to continue to learn and grow and stretch.

... is about flexibility and agility. Like the navigation systems we rely on to reroute our travels based on traffic patterns, career mobility means flexing, adapting, and anticipating what's next.

... involves a rich mix of experiences, roles, assignments, and options. Careers today require us to be open to exploring multiple opportunities and possibilities. Great careers will be the payoff for employees who watch for and recognize emerging growth opportunities and are ready with alternatives when options fade or change.

Second, it's about ownershift!

Ownershift: Who Does What?

We've all heard that employees own their careers. The organization needs to provide tools and resources, and managers need to support employees' career development. It's a partnership. Nothing new there!

What is new is talking less about the ownership and more about the ownershift — the need to fine-tune who owns what — and about what each player needs to do to demonstrate commitment to the partnership.

Individuals must define what success means to them personally. This means testing assumptions and exploring options. It means learning and applying the insights gained from exploration. It means building plans and following through on them. It requires being a little introspective and taking time to figure things out — like what skills they have or need, what interests them, and what they value most about their work. It means asking for feedback and listening, even when it's not all good news. And, most importantly, it means being willing to take responsibility for your future. Careers belong to individuals. A career evolves within a network of partners and support, but, bottom line, it's up to the owner to shape it and live it.

Managers, coaches, and mentors provide support through conversations; sharing stories; listening to individuals describe their interests, skills, and values; reacting to plans; offering feedback and connections. That support is vital to ownershift! When managers offer on-the-job learning, let's call it what it is — development. Stretch assignments are growing-in-place opportunities, not just "extra work." When someone completes a stretch assignment, taking the time to debrief it will make learning stick. What did you learn? What skill did you acquire or sharpen? How will you apply what you learned? The support role includes preparing individuals to learn, helping them focus on what they learned, and then guiding them to apply the new skill or capability. It's a big role, sure. And it might mean shifting what you presently think it involves, but that's what we mean by ownershift Each partner needs to understand the expectations and deliver on them.

Organizations have a role to play as well. The systems, processes, and tools the organization provides deliver on promises of a development culture. However, the organization's role doesn't end there. Through senior leadership, human resources, and related groups, the organization must ensure that employees have access to the tools — that employees know where to find them, what they offer, and how to use them. The organization must thread the message of development through existing communications vehicles and devise new ways to promote growth in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Some employees tell us that their companies still celebrate only promotions — people who are moving up. Ownershift requires a change in that mind-set. This book can help accomplish that shift.


Changing landscapes offer unique PATTERNS.

Turn in your telescope. Pick up your kaleidoscope. A telescope offers you one linear point of view — one straight line focused on something that may be pretty far away. A kaleidoscope gives you a fascinating array of views. Rather than having a clear, static career path, the workplace's changing landscape offers us unique patterns to view and evaluate. Like the design change even one small turn of the kaleidoscope gives you, the experiences that make up a career shift offer a wide variety of development options and a pretty amazing array of growth possibilities, including some you can reach for now — if, and only if, you learn to appreciate the emerging displays.

Did you know that the inside of the typical, basic kaleidoscope contains just three mirrors? Yes! All those intricate patterns can result from just three mirrors and a handful of beads or pieces of glass. Positioned at angles to one another, the mirrors combine to reflect one another as well as the items captured in the base of the tube. As beads shift and move with each twist of the kaleidoscope tube, the three mirrors produce unique patterns — patterns waiting for you to consider and act on them.

Mirror, Mirror

Like the three-mirrored kaleidoscope, there are three components that guide a satisfying career. Those three components are skills, interests, and values.

Skills include all the tools you have collected in your tool kit: those capabilities you developed in that very first job, what you learned as you started your career journey, as well as the abilities you are polishing right now. Some of those skills might be things you hope to never have to use again. That knowledge points you to the second mirror: interests. Your inventory of interests includes those work tasks you like to do. You may not yet be expert in the things that interest you, but the interests mirror holds items that intrigue you enough to make the work of learning or polishing them worth it. Most people really want a chance to do what they do best.

And that third mirror? It's the one that's probably closest to your heart. The third mirror holds your values — those things you hold dear, things that are important to you. When you examine the values mirror, you are looking at what keeps you committed to accomplishing a task that's tough or challenging. The values mirror contains factors like "serving others," "being creative," and "spending time with family and friends" — fundamental aspects of a role or assignment that can make or break your job satisfaction.

All three mirrors matter. Understanding what's inside each one is a start. Examine your skills list: What's in your tool kit? Review your inventory of interests: What's energizing and enticing? Explore your values: What's so important that it simply must be a part of the next role or job? When you clarify what you're good at (your skills and abilities), what you enjoy (your interests), and what's important to you (your values), you've created your personal three mirrors, your kaleidoscope.

In combination, the three mirrors can reveal which opportunities and experiences will be the most rewarding and satisfying. Even small turns of the kaleidoscope tube can change the image and reposition which emerging opportunities will best match your mirrors. When you know what your mirrors are made of, you can make better choices about what's next in your career journey.

A Kaleidoscope View: The Basics

Here are some basics to adopting a kaleidoscope view.


As the view of careers shifts from telescope-type paths (aiming for one distant point in space) to kaleidoscope-type patterns, opportunities and options multiply. Where a path offers a singular next step, a pattern offers multiple ways to proceed, depending upon individual needs and desires, in the context of the immediate environment — ways we may never have imagined. A twist or change will produce new and sometimes different choices rather than simply shutting down a path.

With each twist of the tube, whether self-initiated or the result of external forces, you will have new patterns and new opportunities to consider.

For example, if the leadership team splits an existing department into two, options multiply. You may have had a telescope view of someday directing the old department. Now you can think about directing one of the new ones, moving laterally to direct the other, carving a new role as liaison between them. ... When you appreciate the new pattern, you see choices.


During an interview for this book, a client shared the term optionality. When asked to describe the riskiest career choice she had made in her career journey, she hesitated. She then explained that she didn't feel she had made risky choices — something we found surprising, considering that her choices included joining the army at eighteen, moving around between distinctly different industries, and taking two years off to go back to school! She explained that the reason she felt choices others might view as risky were not so concerning was that she always made sure she had optionality. She always had a plan A, a plan B, and a few others in her back pocket. She built resilience into her every decision.

With optionality, if plan A becomes less attractive, plans B, C, D, and more are ready and available. Eyeing career goals through a telescopic lens, zeroing in on just that dream job with the cool title and swanky office, may lead to disappointment when the title disappears or the office gets downsized. Optionality means being ready to implement any one of multiple plans when the kaleidoscope twists to produce a new landscape.

Try this idea on for size: I don't have to leave. I could add more skills. Could it fit you? Could it fit someone who reports to you? Turn the kaleidoscope to imagine what else is possible, right where you are.


As millennials joined the workforce they made this point crystal clear: it's about more than just money. Meaning has taken on an even more important role in the equation.

Hierarchies encouraged a telescope view, and the focus was often more money. Yet how many people do you know who made it to the job in their telescope and felt empty after a while, when the money couldn't keep the job shiny and exciting?

We're not suggesting that money isn't important. What we are suggesting is that, now more than ever, it is time to balance the scales of money and meaning.

Rather than all-or-nothing trade-offs where individuals must decide to take the money and leave meaning behind or choose to eat ramen noodles for three meals a day to have a meaningful career, we believe that finding the right balance is the key to success. We have met hundreds of people who, every day, throw their energy into work that is not paying big bucks. They probably earn enough to cover the rent or mortgage and a dinner out every now and then. But these individuals would not give up their roles of helping, serving, teaching, and learning. They know they are making contributions that are important to them, every day.

Career mobility allows you to define your own measures for balancing money and meaning, rather than accepting something prescribed by external criteria. It results in a wider range of possibilities and honors the individual. Terms like fulfillment and sense of purpose can move conversations beyond just salary and wages when examining career choices. Conversations that open all three mirrors of a personal kaleidoscope — skills, interests, and values — will result in more informed and fulfilling career options.


Many organizations have moved away from purely hierarchical structures to designs that accommodate a more project-based approach to work and allow for greater cross-functional relationships. The information technology industry led the way with the introduction of the "agile" approach, where individuals move quickly between or within teams, switching assignments, exchanging roles, and interfacing with multiple colleagues to tackle an array of challenges. Talent orbits one team or assignment, then moves to another, and another, as needs change and projects end. Employees take with them an ever-expanding inventory of knowledge, experience, and connections. The insights they gain will help them make even more valuable contributions in the future. Imagine how orbiting can enhance the ability to manage others, if and when the time comes.

These agile experiments have shown us that traditional organizational structures beg for a new view: careers that play out in new, flexible structures and offer rich career experiences. Perhaps the organization charts of the future will be flexible orbiting images that depict a workplace where individuals move about, orbit around colleagues depending upon the task at hand, and then move on.

Not long ago, the Career Systems International leadership team took on the task of updating our organization chart. It seemed like a straightforward, get-it-done kind of chore — until we got started. We quickly realized that the tidy hierarchical set of boxes connected by straight and right-angled lines simply wouldn't work. CSI teams don't fit nicely into that model. We move around from project to project, some short term, some longer; we orbit into projects as needed and then move on. We are not alone in working this way.

Nimble organizations and agile individuals are already embracing this model. Orbiting models of work will result in even more career mobility patterns.


Excerpted from "Up Is Not the Only Way"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Beverly Kaye, Lindy Williams, and Lynn Cowart.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Note from the Authors, ix,
1 Up Was Never for Everyone, 1,
2 Telescope to Kaleidoscope, 11,
3 Leave the Ladder behind, 23,
4 Grow Here Enrichment, 33,
5 Try before You Buy Exploratory, 45,
6 Sideways to Highways Lateral, 55,
7 Step Back for a Reason or a Season Realignment, 69,
8 When Up Is the Way Vertical, 81,
9 Is That Grass Really Greener? Relocation, 95,
10 Go for It!, 109,
Acknowledgments, 117,
Index, 121,
About the Authors, 121,

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