Some surprises for us in the Senior Management Survey

Posted in: Bloggery

At Macfarlan Lane we continue to be intrigued about what makes careers “work”. What makes work fulfilling. How individuals develop. And how they best navigate pathways through transitions. Our research project this year examined the theme of career satisfaction.

I won’t repeat all the findings of this particular research here: they are summarized and dissected in the report itself.  But there were some results that we didn’t anticipate.

Generally speaking, the senior managers who responded were pretty happy with their careers. But when it came to what they are actually doing at the moment, a third were not particularly happy with their current job.  Not quite what we expected.

When we probed into why individuals disliked their current jobs, the overwhelmingly highest source of discomfort was a lack of challenge.  Also unexpected.  We had imagined people might report higher levels of concern around stress or around work-life balance, given the media focus on these themes over the past ten years. But no, it appears some senior executives believe their jobs lack challenge.

Is it contextual?   We are still working through difficult economic challenges in many business sectors. It may be that most of us have hunkered down and lowered our expectations. Perhaps conditions are not well placed for us to take on risks.  Is the consequence of this a lack of challenge?

Related to this theme around missing challenge, most respondents told us that they saw taking on new opportunities and working in stretching roles as critical to their own career development. They also cited the importance of being identified as high talent and being in a group of such people. They valued having access to senior people and their advice on the way up.  All these things ranked higher than the more traditional HR led process of training programs, having a coach or being sent overseas.

Food for thought. In our own work with rising high potential people we have always emphasized the business of holding your hand up for new and stretching responsibilities. Taking on special projects of strategic significance for the organization.  Learning by doing counts for much more than learning by listening. And we talk of the benefits of tracking down your own mentors and the advice of a range of people, rather than waiting for the organisation to allocate you a mentor.

We were impressed by how much people said they felt in control of their own development. The senior managers who completed our survey generally did feel good about how they had built  their own career development.  I wonder too if seniority brings a particular reward of generally being more able to be in control? In having more influence over how you will invest your time.

But survey respondents did talk of how much they just get swept along, with career outcomes being more a function of opportunity and luck.  We advocate a bit more attention to planning. We believe in thoughtfully and routinely going through processes of identifying signature strengths and exploring new and different opportunities. These processes should include defining critical elements such as the optimum context (mostly in the people you want to work with). And most importantly how you will measure your own success.

Yes we know careers cannot be laid out in predictable tram lines. But three to five year objectives can be useful, in terms of where you want to grow and what matters at different times of our lives.

The report itself is in this website.  .