Sounds obvious doesn’t it but the reality is often so different.

I’ll start by saying that I’m not a performance review fan, they’re often too one-sided, targeted at business goals rather than people, and despite best intentions, the recipient and managers perception is often misaligned. I’m aware that a performance review should never be a surprise, that regular coaching, feedback, and objective measurement should make things clear, but that’s more HR waffle and not always reality. Both parties must engage in a similar manner for that to be achieved. Anyway, back to the subject at hand.

Whilst undertaking performance reviews, I’ve observed over the years that some expect the line manager to own or drive an individual’s personal development and career progression for them. The team-member expects, nay demands that they are in effect spoon-fed knowledge, direction, courses, and guarantee their promotion. I once was caught in that misunderstanding. It slowed the early days of my career.

The reality is that my personal goals, dreams, and ambitions were mine and nobody else’s. My employers’ goal, understandably, was to get the most possible from me in the role to which I was assigned. If I wanted to achieve something outside of the basic parameters, that was fine, they were not their concern unless they believed that I was a flight risk or might lose focus. After all, they paid me a salary, and they wanted a return. That’s the nature of employment under any commercial/ capitalist model. Labour in for cash out. Anything else is supplemental and primarily targeted at improving their shareholder return. That’s not a bitter, distorted view, it’s the nature of the relationship. They want a service and I want a return. If the relationship is inequitable, one side or the other will move on.

I came to realise that this was an acceptable relationship. Providing I too found a way to benefit from it. My employer maximised the output of my labour, I in return learnt that I needed to maximise the return on the cash they gave me. If I used that cash effectively on self-development, education, training, call it what you will, then the return per hour would, in time, also grow. My career needed an investment of time, resources, and focus. Only I could do that.

It was in my personal interest to take ownership of my career and personal development as in the medium term, it benefitted me more than my employer. In the short-term, they too gained from my growth in knowledge and skills, but the role either had to grow or, I would outgrow it. The end result was the inevitability of movement to continue my growth. And theirs.

Careers change, what is in-demand today is yesterdays skillset. If I sit still and only look at what I know now, tomorrow its value will decrease. When was the last time you saw a job for a switchboard operator, or for the more nostalgic reader, a wheeltapper (that was a real job, look it up)?

If I look back no more than ten years, I can see that the effective hard and soft skillset for my work has changed dramatically. From a business and technology perspective, the environment is much different from what it is today. The technology aspect alone has created a workplace where the in-demand skills are unrecognisable. Remember Windows 7, Waterfall, Ajax, Adobe Flex, Sage, the list goes on. Today it’s DevOps, Agile, Cloud, Kubernetes, you get the idea.

Outside of the technology arena automation and globalisation have also changed the landscape. A lot of back-office/ operations work is now undertaken in off-shore delivery centres, automation has taken its toll on the security of previously secure roles whilst the standardisation of software packages in the office, design, and administrative functions has made cross-organisation job-hopping so much easier. The days of having to hire internally to maintain core skills have changed dramatically and with it, the length of tenure.

When was the last time you saw somebody leaver an organisation to retire after 25 years with a gold watch as a departing gift? Anyone? Reviewing a Sept 2020 Report from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the median tenure was 4.1 years. I have TShirts older than the average job.

The reality is that the workplace has become more fluid, we need to adapt and grow constantly in order to simply standstill. The idea that you enter a company and remain there for the rest of your working life is for many, a strange concept. The idea that you have one career and that you will remain within it applies to fewer occupations and as such we are not just facing a world where our working life will be based around multiple employers, it will, in all likelihood, also be reflected in multiple occupations or career options.

When we objectively examine the modern workplace, the ever-changing pace of workplace evolution, our need to self-manage our careers is more critical than ever. We should not, we must not sit back and expect others to manage our careers for us. They’re our careers, our goals, ambitions, dreams, our responsibility.

It’s your career, own it. Nobody else will do it for you.