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Career sustainability: It’s not just black or white

Craig Spalding

Victim mentality is rearing its ugly head in South African business leadership at many levels. I hear over and over that career management is impossible in our race-obsessed country but it's easy to fall into the blame game trap. The fact of the matter remains that sustainable careers are crafted and effectively managed over the long term, and don't just happen overnight. Unfortunately, I'm not seeing proof of enough well-thought-out career plans and strategies.

This is surprising, considering the very accomplished executives I deal with. I'm not saying that it's easy to achieve in our complex and dynamic business environment, but no matter what industry or profession you're in, managing a sustainable career goes hand in hand with navigating very real economic, social and even political influences.

While most corporates invest time and resources, on a continuous basis, into keeping their organisation sustainable, the same can't be said for many of the individuals inside these organisations when it comes to their careers. Now, more than ever, HR needs to prioritise encouraging employees to develop career sustainability as individuals at all stages of their careers are required to adopt diverse career management strategies - even if they have very similar expertise and career capital.

What constitutes effective career management?

Truly effective career management comes in finding the balance between doing what you are really meant to be doing in line with your unique talents and areas of strength.

An important tactical trade-off - when discussing with employees about what they are meant to be doing - is explaining that it may not always feel like their first choice but it may be something they're able to do better than anyone else in the short term and will bring them closer to their longer-term career goals.

HR professionals need to find out what employees want to achieve in the long term and try and prevent them being tempted into more appealing short-cut alternatives. Doing this will contribute to talent retention.

Encourage your employees to put specific goals in place to ensure that their career paths become intentional and not just haphazard. By doing this, you can also better plan your succession planning as you will see which positions these employees want to reach in the future. With this in mind, you can also organise training for these employees to help them equip themselves with the skills required for these positions.

Because of the many factors at play in South Africa, careers don't often follow a straight line. So while HR constitutes a set of technical skills and capabilities that match an employees' career plan, successful career planning requires a thorough understanding of the entire environment.

A little help along the way

Another essential element to sustainable career management that's lacking in our culturally diverse market is that of coaching and mentoring. Not only should this exist inside as well as outside the workplace but it also needs to contain the rich elements of diversity as well as thinking that is prevalent across our society. Employees need coaches who can challenge, enhance and change their thinking and that of the mentors who they aspire to be like. It is impossible for this support base to exist in just one person, so my advice is to create a diverse network of valuable people who accurately reflect our society and who have others' interests at heart.

Craig Spalding Craig Spalding is a director at Tuesday Consulting, an executive search and advisory firm specialising in leadership search and talent management throughout Africa. Prior to joining Tuesday Consulting, he served as chief operating officer at The IQ Business Group. Craig holds a B Com degree in Business Economics from the University of Johannesburg.