Career Management for Your Team: It’s the Berries!

How well do you know your team? Better yet, how well do you know each team member’s approach to managing their career? Your team members probably know that they should be in control of their careers, and that it is up to them to determine and pursue the experiences and skills they need to do the work they want to do. So if career management is entirely up to your team members, what becomes your role as team lead or manager? How do you support them as they pursue building an interesting and challenging career?

I recently took a group of kids to pick strawberries – at the end of the season when the fruit crop was waning and pickings were slim – and was amazed at their ability to fill three quarts with fresh, juicy berries. Each kid approached their berry-picking task differently, much like each one of your team members or each one of us goes about building a career.

The Hopper: Kid #1 hopped from row to row, always on the lookout for the next bright red strawberry poking out of the foliage. This kid did not stay in one place for more than the few seconds it took to find the best berries before moving on to the next bright red object in his field of vision. Each time he looked up from picking, he had this look in his eye as if to ask “Where is the best berry right now, and how quickly can I get there?” Within 10 minutes he had covered 50% of the patch and returned with a full bucket. Moreover, he was OK with the fact that he missed a lot of smaller berries hiding under leaves along the way.

Do you have a Hopper on your team? You know a Hopper by the way he moves from project to project, or role to role, in his pursuit of experiences and skills. He wants to move quickly through the career berry patch, and won’t stay in one place for long. The Hopper tends to get bored quickly; you can keep him focused (while you have him on your team) by helping him identify how the skills he is building are important to the business’s success and align with his career interests.

The Methodology Maven: The Maven approached berry picking with a firm plan in mind. She took time up front to assess each row. How much fruit did it have? Are the berries easy to see, or would she need to spend time looking under leaves for the best fruit? Once she found the row she liked best – the one she thought promised the best fruit – she tackled it with gusto and stripped it bare of every ripe berry she could find. Her diligence and discipline paid off, as she filled her bucket with a perfect quart of fruit by the end of the row.

The Maven on your team likes to create a career plan up front and stick to it (work the plan). At times, it might appear that she has no plan, but in reality she probably is thinking, planning and plotting before sharing any details with you, her manager. The Maven benefits from tools like career models and job descriptions because they provide data she can use to manage her career moves. She doesn’t want to miss out on an experience, even if it means spending more time in a role while she gets every bit of experience out of it before moving to the next opportunity. The Maven benefits from your coaching on how different roles can fit into her plan and on education about the different opportunities available to her. It takes a lot of patience to support a Maven with her career management plan.

Backwards Man: Backwards Man started in the least likely spot, at the far end of the berry patch, because that area had been picked the least. A lot of strawberry pickers stopped before getting to the area where Backwards Man wanted to start. Backwards Man was very confident – almost arrogant – that by starting at the end of the patch he would find the biggest and best fruit … and he did! While others diligently searched under leaves or hopped from one row to the next, Backwards Man plopped down in the place nobody else wanted to go and quickly fill his tin.

Backwards Man’s unconventional approach to career management makes him a challenging team member to coach and guide. He might be wildly successful, or incredibly disappointed, depending on what he gains from the experiences he pursues. The best way to support someone willing to take a “luck of the draw” approach to a career is to remind him of the baseline roles and experiences that ground a successful career in your field or organization. If Backwards Man needs to serve a stint in Sales or Marketing, remind him of how those roles round out his expertise. It is OK to spend some time in the front of the berry patch, too.

Career management is incredibly personal; every one of your team members will have a different approach depending on their interests, personal needs and timeframe. As the team lead or manager, your support for them should vary as much as they do. At the end of the day, you want them to enjoy the fruits of their labor, whether that is a quart of strawberries or a fulfilling, dynamic career.

Image Credit: flickr/meepfly

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. She manages her career the same way she eats Michigan strawberries: one sweet bite at a time. She can be reached on Twitter at @HeatherGNelson1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at #Current.