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Career progression

We often check in with the Coaching team to see if there are any common themes coming up in sessions. Everything you say to a Sanctus Coach is 100% confidential, but they let us know if the same subjects crop up again and again. Recently, we’ve published content on impostorism, loneliness, and the cost of living, because these were the most pressing topics we were hearing at the time.

Perhaps it’s the time of year to be looking ahead, feeling ambitious, and setting big goals, but today we find ourselves talking about career progression.

Expanding access to job opportunities, facilitating a career move, and speeding up the onboarding process in a new role are among the most popular reasons people work with a coach. But the picture being painted of leadership recently doesn’t exactly frame it as an ideal career destination: managers appear to be leaving leadership positions following prolonged periods of uncertainty and varying success adjusting to a relatively novel managerial landscape.

Climbing the ladder

Career paths look very different business to business. What typically happens is you perform brilliantly in your role (or you happen to be directly related to the owner of the company) and you’re given a promotion. Hooray! You now have two options. It’s unlikely you’ll get to pick:

  1. Step into management – that might be looking after people, or operations, or budgets, clients, the back office… there are many different varieties of manager which escalate until you reach the level where everyone’s job title starts with a capital C
  2. Become a technical expert – niche down in your specialist area for potentially a bit less responsibility, but on the plus side: less responsibility

That isn’t all there is of course but those are ordinarily your main options. Two other options could be: leave. Or stick it out where you are.

Part of the recent challenges managers face can be traced back to high performers being promoted into positions of responsibility they weren’t adequately prepared for. And subsequently (understandably) struggling.

Management isn’t for everyone. So is it time we reconsidered what “career progression” is?

How agile are businesses when it comes to job design these days? I feel like there is a lot of that already happening: businesses are increasingly known for putting their people first and creating pathways for them to flourish. Here’s how we interpret progression at Sanctus, from our company handbook:

“Progression is the way in which you grow and develop yourself and your career at Sanctus.”

“Some companies use the term ‘career ladders’ and focus purely on developing managers. We don’t believe in career ladders. In fact, most of our leadership team have taken a zig zag path to their current position. There is nothing wrong with career ladders, they just don’t always recognise other types of contribution and progression.”

We keep an open, ongoing dialogue with our people about leadership and progression and if they don’t fancy being a manager, we don’t force it on anyone.

Talking to a Coach

As I’m often inclined to do, I’ve sought out Dr. Albert Viljoen for a spot of brain picking. A recent conversation we had on the importance of working relationships turned out to be particularly relevant.

TF: When people talk about career progression in the coaching room, are they talking about working towards an internal promotion at their current business? Or leaving their current company and joining a new one in order to progress their career?

AV: Sometimes. It can be either or. And sometimes that’s exactly the point: “my career isn’t progressing in the way I want it to and so I might need to leave”. In either situation, it often comes back to relationships at work. We think it’s about the promotion, and the role, and the income, but the difficulty usually sits in how will people see me, how guilty will I feel if I leave, how will I work in a new team or dealing with more senior stakeholders.

There is often a relational dynamic at the heart of it, at least in my experience. Most of the time, people aren’t necessarily negotiating a promotion or a new job, but new relationships at work.

If it’s not about the promotion – if we take that out of the way – what’s happening in the relationships if I get this role? Or don’t get this role? Or leave this company? Because that’s essentially what we end up needing to find ways of working with. Leaving well, or getting the job your colleague wanted, that’s what turns into the challenge, not the work. Again, I’m just telling you what I seem to see the most, but for the people who come to coaching the main issue tends to be around the stickiness of the relationships that will be impacted.

TF: It seems like a lot of this is about power. Of the changing relational dynamics that happen when you get promoted, I guess what could be seen as advantageous or beneficial would be the new power dynamic you then have with former colleagues. Or people you used to look up to and report into, you’re now joining their table at the pub after work and texting them emojis on their personal numbers. And I feel like that’s validating for people, because they feel a sense of power. You’re part of the power structure now.

AV: You’re right, but that might be a little too philosophical for us to look at for now. Because for most people, as soon as they become aware of or start thinking about their new power dynamic, it quickly becomes: Ok so what? What do I do with that information? How do I work with these people now?

So yes, promotions and career progression is about relationships, and relationships – particularly at work – are about power. But it’s really the relationships themselves hat sit right in the centre of what we’re talking about and need to be addressed.

Power is a bit of a dirty word in our current cultural and political climate. No one wants to be seen chasing it and you’re under a lot more scrutiny the more of it you have. And yet, we all want it in some way. And when no one takes power, everything typically goes to chaos, so it is genuinely important.

How does coaching support career progression?

A lot of coaching is about getting in touch with who you are, what you want, what motivates you. Coaches are trained to dig into and explore these areas. So while someone might start a session saying “I want to be a manager so I can get paid more” we recognise this is a path people occasionally drift along unconsciously, and we might actually discover over the course of a session that it’s not about the money or the power at all – it’s more important to be doing fulfilling work, perhaps something new for a change, earning the respect of your peers, having more authority to say no and reclaim some time in the evenings. And there are numerous ways to go about doing that, not necessarily through promotion.

Both aspirant and old school managers alike use Sanctus Coaching to:

  • distinguish between real and perceived barriers to progression
  • improve their self confidence and general readiness
  • work on healthier habits, better prioritisation, goal setting, and career planning
  • optimise productivity and performance
  • develop competencies and skills needed for a more advanced role

To name but five things. Relational health, performance at work, dealing with change and uncertainty, these are all things working with a Coach can help to support. Check out our Career and Performance page for further information.