Guest AuthorSreekanth K Arimanithaya

Like in life, a career has different stages: How do we ‘grow’​ along the journey?

By | Sreekanth K Arimanithaya | Global Talent and Enablement Services Leader, EY Global Delivery Services

About two decades ago, I read the book Novations by Gene W. Dalton and Paul H Thompson, and it left a lasting impression on me. The thoughts proposed are still widely used. In a nutshell, it says like in life – your career has different stages. 

Well, the pandemic has made us all revisit, retrospect, and reconsider our careers. As offices re-open, many of us are truly mapping out our purpose, careers, and lives. On one of these self-realization reveries, the book Novation popped back on my mind as I contemplated what I was to do next. The book describes career stages, and here is what I learned in each:

Stage 1: Contributing dependently- Learn

At this stage, the focus is on learning. A trend I have seen over the years is that the skills emerge before the jobs. So, keep the curiosity burning. Most of our careers start with academic credentials, but we soon outgrow them, so we seek to learn on the job. Apply your learning and convert them into experiences and new scenarios. 

Also, be bold; not all your learning has to be in your domain. It is great to have a cross-functional view, to have both technical and leadership skills. View this entire stage as an investment. The earlier you begin, the better your plan – higher the returns as you go along.

Have a broad view of learning itself – formal education like certifications and self-learning help. But invest in people and networks. Find mentors who can nurture your skills. 

To sum up: Learn, observe, absorb and finally, be curious. At this stage, it is all about ‘you’.

Stage 2: Contributing independently- Do

Once you learn to ‘learn’, the next step is to ‘do.’ When you apply your learning to your experiences, you build credibility.  

Pick new challenges and actively seek opportunities. Try to bring in a perspective and add value. I always advise, ‘do not sit on the sidelines, invite yourself to the party!’. But be mindful that as you raise the bar, you need to deliver. Even in this stage, the focus is on ‘you,’ but you have started to stretch yourself to build your credibility, skills, and network.

Stage3: Contributing through others- Guide/ Coach

As we mature in our careers, the focus shifts wider; as we move to more managerial and leadership roles, we look beyond ‘you’ to ‘others.’ We work with larger teams, and there is a lot more time spent on teaching and coaching. 

Here you learn through teaching, and this helps you navigate ‘people-skills-decisions’. Your contributions become more complex. This is an enabler role, where you are instrumental in creating the workplace ecosystem. 

Many of us want to be subject matter experts who opt-out of people management roles. So, we have to be mindful that this stage is not a description of organizational hierarchy. Whatever your role or responsibility be – you would be nurturing the next generation. Here we learn by teaching.

Stage 4: Contributing strategically – Shape

In this stage, you are shaping the business, reimagining your function or unit, many a time across geographies. You spend a lot more time ideating and bringing together all your learning and experiences to unlock potential – for yourself, people around you, your organization, and the larger community (if you are driven to do so). 

Cheat-sheet from my experience: 

  • This is observational and not prescriptive. If you chart your life, you see childhood, adolescence, youth, maturity. A broad circle of life can similarly be seen at work.  But this does not apply to all; we navigate the journey at different paces, we have distinct advantages and hurdles in the process. So, each journey is unique and evolving. Our challenge will be transitioning successfully from one stage to another.
  • Learning never stops. While your formal education may or may not hold the same intensity throughout your journey, learning never stops. Your learning agility can add pace to your growth. 
  • It is yours to build. Organizations can build the infrastructure, but it is for you to build. Insights from Novation are no secret – it was published in 1986, it will not help you make the career transitions. It simply makes you aware of it. 
  • Create your identity. Who are you? Beyond your skills, the role, the rank. What drives you? At work, your purpose, etc., are the most important aspects in the long run.
  • Start with purpose. At each stage, your purpose may evolve, but it is important that you have one. 
  • Finally, knowledge and skills are easy to acquire, identity and motivational drivers are unique. Be intentional about them. 

Career growth, even in this framework is not a hierarchical march to the top. It is about making a difference – to you and people around you.

Republished with permission and originally published at Sreekanth K Arimanithaya’s LinkedIn

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