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8 career anchors

This article will help you better understand your career motives, as well as those of your colleagues.

Let me start with two short stories:

#1. “I wish they didn’t make me that job offer!”. This is what my client said after the job interview with a multinational company. During the coaching session she told me that she felt inner resistance when thinking of working full-time for one client. She realised she was ready to work as consultant, and was Ok with flexible schedule, certain instability etc.

My client’s career anchor is authonomy.

2. Another interesting phrase I heard from a friend: «Working part-time is a defeat for me. It means that I am not valued high enough on the job market. That’s why working full-time from 9 to 6 is more than Ok for me,  and I want to continue this way».

In this case the career motivator is stability.

Edgar Shein, American psychologist of Swiss decent and one of the fathers of organisational psychology, thinks that each of us has a certain orientation towards work.

Career anchors are the unique combination of professional competence, priorities, motives and values. They define our career choice.

When we understand our motives, we minimise the risk of choosing “the wrong pathway”, the job that doesn’t fit with our key values and needs. This instument also helps to recruit new members of your team in a more efficient way, better understand there values and needs. It also helps to better understand how your company and employees can benefit from each other.

Here is a brief descripton of each career anchor.

# 1. Professionalism

It’s the need to be the best in a certain field, a true professional, a master of one’s craft.

A person with this orientation wants to be a pro, an expert in his field. It’s important for him to develop skills and talents. For example, this can be a PR specialist who has worked for a certain company for a number of years. He joined as freshman and his position is the same at the moment, but he is a super pro. People with such motivation won’t always be attracted to a higher managerial position, especially if it doesn’t foresee further development of their professional competencies.

This motivation was quite vivid in the very first coaching session with Serhiy. He was the best sales manager in his company and got promoted to head of sales department. This is when challenging times started. He had to oversee a team of eight people. He lacked managerial skills and was continuously afraid to fail. He also felt that the joy about the recent promotion was not his joy («Is this what I really wanted?»). «I wish I could focus on selling, but now I need to do my best to understand what my employees think about and take care of all the conflicts and misunderstandings», Serhiy said. Based on these words, one can say that Serhiy is not oriented towards managing people, projects and business processes. This is the essence of the second career anchor.

#2. Management (general managerial competence)

People with this orientation like to integrate the efforts of others, be responsible for the final result, have the opportunity to lead and have high income. They want to contribute to the success and development of their organization. It doesn’t make a difference whether they manage their own business or build a career as top managers. Their main goal is to be able to manage various aspects of company’s activities.

#3. Autonomy

This motivation is all about the need to feel free and independent. A person with such orientation has to be free from organizational rules and regulations. He needs to decide for himself when, where and how much to work. Strict schedule, formal procedures, discipline and uniform equls discomfort. It is clear that everyone needs autonomy to some extent. However, if this orientation is strong, a person is ready to give up the promotion or other opportunities to preserve his independence. Career for him, above all, is a way of manifesting freedom. It is clear that this person will only be able to work in an organization with a sufficient degree of freedom. Any excessive rules, strict subordination etc can even make him reject attractive vacancies.

#4. Stability

People with this orientation need security, stability and protection. They will be looking for a job in a reliable company with good reputation, long-term contract and a minimum probability of dismissal. They also appreciate social guarantees that the employer can offer. Even when occupying high-ranking positions, they can refuse a promotion or relocation to another city if this poses a risk and temporary inconvenience, although career prospects can be promising.

#5. Sense of service

These people feel the need to help other people and make the world a better place. A person with this orientation will not work in an organization hostile to his goals and values. He will refuse to promote or transfer to another job if this will not allow him to fulfill the main goals of life. These people are more driven by the desire to help people than by desire to develop their talents. Those are, for example, volunteers and businessmen, top managers and professionals with Western education who recently joined the government – they felt the need to change the country and implement reforms.

#6. Challenge

People with this orientation like to overcome obstacles and solve problems. Then they feel they are successful. Career is a constant challenge to their professionalism, and they accept it. They are attracted by novelty and diversity. “Too simple” means”boring”. In search for new challenges they can easily change their jobs. Their career path can be quite diverse.

My client, director of the local branch of an international company was creating the company and debugging all business processes from scratch. Two years of challenges and problems were replaced by a relatively calm period of development. And Elena got … bored. Moreover, the stability and lack of challenges in her understanding meant that she was a bad manager because “there were no problems to be solved”! To bring more adrenalin to her life, she enrolled in a PhD course and passed initial exams within the shortest time possible. At first Elena had difficulties understanding her career motives. Eventhough things were running smoothly, she still questioned her competences as a director. Then she gradually realized how important it was to better understand and embrace her motivation. She is now Ok with the fact that everything  is peaceful at work. Her PhD thesis is her main challenge for the moment and it takes all her energy.

#7. Lifestyle

People with this motivation focus on balancing family, career and self-development. They don’t want to sacrifice one thing for the sake of another. Career development attracts them only if it doesn’t interfere with their lifestyle. They value their life integrity more than particular job or organization. Few years ago a friend of my friend opened a small sheep cheese farm near Kyiv. Many Kyiv restaurants were buying high-quality products from this farm, and gradually demand exceeded supply. Friends started convincing the owner to expand the business. His answer was: “Guys, you don’t understand! I do not want to change my lifestyle – my business is not the only thing I want to spend my time on, I enjoy being with my family, doing hobbies, enjoying nature”.

#8. Entrepreneurship

People with this career orientation like to create new organizations, goods or services. They want to launch their own business, implement their idea, create something new. Working for someone is probably not for them. They prefer to have their own business. My client Irina worked at a high-ranking position in a large Ukrainian company and was utterly unhappy with her work. We were analysing her attitude towards work and her interests and it turned out that she had strong entrepreneurial motivation. Irina constantly offered new ideas and projects and tried to implement them in a highly bureaucratic environment. By the time necessary decisions were made and documents were signed, her ideas would lose relevance and novelty. Irina was upset and demotivated. She also felt that her work was not appreciated by management, and she had low self-confidence. Gradually, Irina realized that due to objective circumstances she couldn’t develop her entrepreneurial talent at work. We also concentrated on specific cases, when Irina did not see the recognition that the company gave her. This helped her to strengthen her confidence as a professional. As a result, she decided not to change jobs and implement entrepreneurial projects in her free time.

Which are your three key career anchors?

And how much does your current work correspond to your priorities, needs and values?

You may ask: “So, that’s it? And what’s next?” Better understanding of your career anchors helps you better evaluate your career prospects. This is the first step to achieve any (not just career) goal. Awareness is a very affordable and effective instrument. It can help you avoid hasty career decisions and better understand what kind of work suits you best. Knowing yourself better also helps to get rid of unreasonable expectations from work, avoid complaints and claims to the company and your boss (in my practice these situations are very frequent). It is very important to “dilute” your dissatisfaction with clear and honest understanding of your current situation. It’s the first step to your desired career change!

In my coaching practice I’ve never met a person who felt happy and fulfilled without first cleaning up the mess “on his own planet”, including professional one.

More  on this – in a poem by Nayyirah Waheed from her “Salt” collection:

instagram: nayyirah.waheed

Any decision is right if it’s about you. I do hope that this article helps you make efficient career ecisions!

(published in “Strategic Business Review” (April 2017 issue)

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