The career ladder is a long-standing concept. It defines careers as a series of upward steps – each taking us a bit closer to our dream job. With each hard won step comes an expectation of increased reward and status as we work our way to the top.

However is the world of work really like that any more? Chiumento first challenged the validity of the career ladder in an article for the Guardian. Our premise was that organisations are increasingly flatter – and leaner. There are fewer tiers of management – meaning less promotion opportunities. And with people working longer – over 1 million over 65s are now in employment – turnover in the remaining management jobs is likely to be much slower as retirement (a traditional lubricant of the employment market) is increasingly put off.

In September 2009 we published a Green Paper entitled “Releasing performance: the new agenda for HR”. Response to the report was phenomenal – with media coverage on and off line around the world. As a result we were invited to make many presentations on the findings in the UK and Europe. It was during these presentations that a series of key questions from HR professionals began to emerge.

These included:-

  • “How do employees become Corporate Prisoners?”
  • “How can we better understand what motivates people to deliver greater performance?”
  • “What does career management look like in today’s flatter and leaner organisational structures?”
  • “How can we better predict how people will respond to change?”
  • “How do we decide how best to invest limited budgets to improve employee engagement?”

In subsequent discussions it became clear that one factor was driving the answers to all the questions: motivation. Motivation is the force that energises people to perform. Without motivation even the most capable employees can fail to deliver their true potential. Motivation also drives career decisions.

If an organisation fails to meet our needs the reaction may be to leave – or withhold our discretionary effort. If job predictability and job security are your prime career drivers then change will inevitably pose a greater threat.

In the summer of 2010 we decided to undertake another piece of original research to help HR professionals gain a broader understanding of what UK workers want from their employers. Our “Riding the Career Carousel” Green Paper summarises the key findings of that research.

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