Having career path options is like being in possession of a 71 piece magnetic toolkit with 1/4″ screwdriver, ratchet driver, pliers, all kinds of bits, drills. And, that’s not all, what’s really to-die-for would be those screw settings for different wire gauges, and those cushy  plastic handles with finger relief for better grip, spring loaded to reduce usage fatigue.

Hmmph! That would be all. And, that groovy leather casing on the box, maybe personalized with your initials.

If you find this gender-insensitive, just replace it with a 91 piece manicure-pedicure and aromatherapy kit for the ladies. With that battery-operated nail polish dryer and foot massage pad.

The point is – Everyone wants one, but after yearning and pining, and fighting hard to get it, does hardly anything with it!

Any manager dreads this question: ‘Boss, where am I headed. Can I know the various career path options I have?’

It’s the most dreaded question he has faced since the girlfriend, 10 years back, had asked him, ‘Darling, don’t you think it’s time we talked about marriage?’

The feelings it conjures are the same – fear, confusion, urge to run away, change appearance & identity and hide forever.

I want to tell the managers – ‘Be Brave and Call their Bluff’!

Myth 1 – People Want a Career Path

The Truth – ‘Career Path’ is a catch-all phrase for a lot of things people want. It could be a promotion, a different job, a different boss, a fancier designation, or a different work-shift. It is also, often, a nice-sounding phrase people assign to free-floating anxiety, general ennui, and boredom they cannot explain to themselves.

Myth 2 – No one can GIVE someone a career path

The Truth – In an industry that’s growing at 30% in India, employment and growth opportunities are, virtually, unlimited. To make a career is relatively easy today, as long as one has the basic tickets to entry, an unrelenting drive and reasonable patience. Anyone can have a career path, but no one can give it to them.

Myth 3 – Once they get visibility to various career paths, people are contented

The Truth – They are not. What published career paths do is clarify to the person that what he wanted was really something else, since the lingering, unexplained discomfort is still there. Do you remember the time you took an antacid to quell that headache, which you thought, was caused by a bloated stomach? And, when the headache persisted, you realized that you misdiagnosed the cause?

If people find the aspired role within their reach, they clamour for it, like your 2-year old does for lollypop. If they are too far from their reach, they sulk and are even more disengaged.

 Myth 4 – People can make a choice and and stay committed to it

The Truth – Very few can. They either over-estimate their capability & scalability vis a vis the aspired role, miscalculate the investment required to move towards it, and the pool of energy required to sustain their endeavours. Most just lose steam, or get swayed by short-terms enticements that veer them away from the goal.

Myth 5 – A career path, once defined, remains largely unchanged

The Truth – As a manager, if you have defined what it will take to reach a desired role, the changing environment, and organizational complexities may re-define it even before an employee is half-way through to reaching the role of choice. So, what do you? Dive under the carpet whenever you see a victim in the corridors, and, make a new set of career paths for the new, unsuspecting ones?

If you have recently made that amazing toolkit with career paths for your employees, be wary before you celebrate this Pyrrhic victory.

Engaging employees is not a science. It is an art. What it takes to unravel causes for disengagement is the fine art of befriending, talking, listening, building and continually renewing bonds, loving, weeping and praying with your employees! If you have a flair for doing all this, the chance of engaging and retaining your employees rises.

So, next time you hear the question, do not wince and cower. Face it head on!

‘What are you willing to put on the table to build yourself for this role? Enrol for an evening class, build on your decision making skills, re-locate to our branch office, maybe, start using a deodrant……?’

What could give better returns could be an ongoing dialogue towards identifying a 1-year engagement plan: with aspired roles, development plans and a hundred other small things that may be needed to engage her.

Most importantly, find out what he means when he says ‘I want a career path’.

They might say they want a career path, but that’s not what they mean!! Remember the wife telling you ‘You never get me flowers……’!