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Career Development May Not Always Be a Ladder

The vertical, horizontal, and angled bars of a jungle gym depict how career development may not always be in the shape of a ladder.

Leaders Should Help Their People Understand That You May Have To Go Sideways To Go Up.

In order to advance, it is important to think about not just  development within your current role, but also your career. This can seem like a big task for anyone, especially those that may not have any specific career goals or direction. Reflecting about what interests you, and what might be good opportunities or paths can help with this.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Meta, famously spoke of the “career jungle gym”.  According to her, it’s the idea that you don’t have to have a set plan for your career development because you don’t know what opportunities might arise in the future. If we look at this concept from an internal organizational perspective, it’s championing the mindset that you don’t always have to move up in an organization to move ahead.

The career jungle gym highlights and encourages growing your skillset in your current position or making a lateral move to utilize your current skills in a new department and develop new skills. For those that do want to move up, the jungle gym mindset can help expand your understanding of the business by working in and with different departments.  

As a leader, it can be easy to get stuck in the career ladder focus, thinking that to develop, an individual must have a goal of a higher position/title. This bias can impact who and how leaders develop their staff members, potentially missing out on some opportunities and perspectives. 

Supporting the idea of a career jungle gym is critical to supporting the career development of all staff within your nonprofit or other organization.

Use the questions below to reflect on how well you support development of your staff at all levels. As needed, identify actions you can take to serve as a development resource for your staff.

  • Do I work with my staff to develop competencies not just critical for their position, but to the organization? 

  • Do I support lateral moves to expand an individual’s knowledge of the organization? 

  • Do I encourage or sponsor cross-departmental relationships and project teams? 

  • Do I ask my staff about their individual career goals, both short- and long-term?

If an individual does not want to move up, it doesn’t mean they can't move around. Harness the knowledge and experience of your employees by supporting lateral moves, cross-functional project teams and expansion of current skillsets.

 Be Talented  TalentED Mark 


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