Confronting the hidden cost of inaction on career progress

History is littered with examples of businesses that failed to assess the cost of inaction and are no longer with us. Mainframe computer company DEC failed to capitalise on the shift to personal computing. Kodak had the opportunity to enter the digital photography market but famously missed exploiting it. We have all seen and heard plenty of business examples. But what about the cost of inaction in our own career development? In my experience, leaders are adept at evaluating whether the current role is doing it for them or not. They can also envision their desired future and identify the obstacles in between where they are now and where they want to be. Yet, there’s a crucial aspect they often overlook: the significant cost of inaction.

Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis in the HBR article, What’s Holding Back Your Career Development?, suggest ‘the traditional career ladder has been replaced by “squiggly” careers — non-linear career moves where progression goes beyond promotion and allows people to develop in different directions.’ Personal career development is now a must-have rather than a nice-to-have,’ they say.

Tupper and Ellis outline four common career development challenges in their article. In my coaching with leaders, I have also seen the inertia seep in through the excuses the authors have outlined that accompany each challenge.

The “when” challenge

Sounds like: I’ll get around to career development when I have the time.

The “who” challenge

Sounds like: I don’t have anyone who is helping me develop my skills.

The “what” challenge

Sounds like: I’m not sure what I want to develop in.

The “where” challenge

Sounds like: There are no career development opportunities where I work.

Some of these challenges may seem familiar. However, the cost of inaction is not immediately obvious. Just like the company examples mentioned earlier, the longer we remain inactive in our career development, the harder it becomes to break out of the inertia. Established patterns can create barriers to change and procrastination reinforces those patterns. Stagnation, increased stress, diminished confidence, and resistance to change are just some of the consequences.

By acknowledging the cost of inaction, we can take steps to address the impact and ensure we are continuing to learn and grow.

🙋 What is the challenge you face in your career development right now? 🙋‍♀️

Best regards, Brian