Is Your Career Path Right For You?

Fred was a natural at sales.

His performance was so outstanding he was promoted to VP Regional Sales.

Sales and the sales team suffered.

Fred’s team admired him for his sales abilities but silently wished he had even the most basic management skills.  His predecessor Jack liked to analyze data, set an agenda and create alignment for common goals. The team got better results under Jack.

Fred just liked to sell.

This kind of transition to a changed role but with a less favorable outcome happens frequently.  Imagine a spirited entrepreneur whose venture grows big enough that her role evolves to managing the day-to-day routine.

Or, consider a passionate subject expert who is promoted to having responsibility for a diversified portfolio of projects.

It is the classic tale of moving a high performer out of their core competency and into one for which they are not well suited and in which they do not excel.

It’s usually clear to a neutral observer why the new job didn’t work out.  They were good in a sales role but did not have the desire, temperament and behavior style for the manager’s role.

How can managers making staffing decisions and individuals making career decisions avoid this common pitfall?


I recently had the great pleasure of being at an all-day seminar with Ed Schein, the legendary organizational development expert.

Schein developed a model to gain insight into someone’s self-concept as defined by what they’re good at, what they value, and what motivates them.  This self-concept is their “career anchor,” and insight about one’s career anchor can keep them on a path that’s right for them.

From decades of working with clients and supplemented by extensive research, Schein has come up with eight career anchors.  To determine someone’s anchor, you can conduct a short interview focused on asking why they made the career choices they did.  Discover the considerations that tipped the scale in past decisions.

Knowing someone’s career anchor can help a manager make better staffing decisions.  Plus, as professionals change jobs more frequently and have to be more self reliant in managing their career, this kind of personal insight will help maintain focus for the right kind of roles.

In determining which career anchor is the best fit, sometimes the most telling factor is not what someone wants but what they are not willing to give up.  That element is included in each of the descriptions below.

1.  Technical/Functional Competence – Focus and identity is on a specialty and specific skills with a primary desire to build their expertise.  Not give up: the opportunity to develop those skills to an ever-higher level.  Avoid:  general managerial role.

2.  General Managerial – Want leadership, management and to move to different areas of work.  Not give up:  the opportunity to rise to a level high enough for cross-functional leadership and responsibility for results.   Avoid: narrow focus of specialization.

3.  Autonomy/Independence  – Want the freedom of freelance consultants, professors or field sales people. Not give up:  opportunity to define their own work in their own way.  Avoid: advancement if it means losing autonomy.

4.  Security/Stability – Want security and a predictable future, a feeling of safety.  Not give up: employment security or tenure.  Avoid:  risk and highly changeable environments.

5.  Entrepreneurial Creativity – Want to show world they can create something that is result of their own effort. Not give up: opportunity to create that organization, product, or service that’s theirs and built on their abilities.  Avoid:  constraints on ability to define self through creating.

6.  Service/Dedication to a Cause – Want work that is aligned with personal values.  Not give up: opportunity to achieve something of value such as helping people, improving the environment. Avoid: commerce for the sake of commerce.

7.  Pure Challenge – Want the process of succeeding over others or personal best, especially over significant obstacles.  Not give up: opportunity to win out over seemingly impossible circumstances.  Avoid: easy tasks or routines and hence boredom.

8.  Lifestyle – Want work that will endorse and support work/life balance.  Priorities linked to life as a whole.  Not give up:  opportunity to balance and integrate needs of family, work and self.   Avoid: circumstances of restricted flexibility and an inability to respond and restore balance.

Characteristically humble, Schein is open to a ninth anchor if someone identifies one and makes a case for it.

If someone seems to not have a clear choice, he contends that person may not have been faced with the clarifying process of choosing one over the other. Through choosing, the person learns what they won’t give up and what their primary anchor is.

Also, if someone says they really don’t fit just one, Schein offers that the point is not to insist on overlaying theory on reality, but that we gain some insight into ourselves.

The discovery process is straight forward.

We just have to get curious and ask Why.

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From the Water Cooler 

CEO:  What if we train them and they leave? 
CFO:  What if we don’t train them and they stay?