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Motivation by Career Development

By: James M. Wilmott
Posted: October 14, 2008, from the June 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Promotions usually are perceived as the winning of a competition for one of the limited positions in corporate hierarchy. If employees are not the winners, then by default they are the losers. After all, there are only so many positions available at each level, and they become fewer and fewer the higher one progresses. The traditional organization has a pyramidal structure with the professional, i.e. functional, positions at the base and managerial positions at the top. There always are far more people at the lower levels competing for an ever-diminishing number of positions along with the real or imagined perks that come with being higher up the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately, this organizational structure fosters corporate politics aimed at promoting oneself at the expense of others. In effect, individual employees are involved in a conscious or unconscious campaign to focus and advertise not only their positive attributes, but also to highlight the factual or fictional flaws of any rivals. As a consequence, cooperation among members of a department is minimal and sharing of information is the exception. The situation fosters a climate of secrecy out of fear that the information shared will be used by a rival to promote himself in the eyes of the supervisor.

Many managers of human resources departments confuse what one does with how one does it and inadvertently support this feeling of competition. Simply completing an assignment is not enough to determine whether a person should get additional responsibilities that go along with a promotion. Those in charge of promotability must also take into account how one completes the assignment. This factor often is a better measure of the individual’s ability to handle additional responsibility in a manner consistent with the ethical standards of the organization.

Once a manager has decided who should fill the higher position, that decision inevitably creates a feeling of lost self-esteem and hopelessness in the non-promoted employees. This situation often catalyzes the non-promoted employees to look for work elsewhere so they can feel appreciated, taking with them the training and experience that they received while on the job.

In the spirit of career development, human resources will sponsor training courses to select levels in the organization. Since everyone at that level is receiving essentially the same training, and since each person is completing assignments, it is little wonder why there is a lack of understanding by peers why a particular individual is singled-out for advancement. Obviously, there are other reasons for the selection, but these are not explained to the rank and file. As a result, the current process provides grist for the rumor mill where any explanation is fair game. Typically, these are very unflattering and, in some cases, almost libelous. As a responsible manager, you must ask what can be done in the process that will leave both the employees and management feeling like winners?

Job Performance vs. Career Management