TRADITIONALLY, organisations played an almost parental role in the development of their employees.

Employees joined an organisation straight from school or university, started at the bottom of the functional career ladder and fully expected to progress vertically from there.

Employment and career progression were almost seen as entitlements, and employees expected the organisation to manage their careers.

But much has changed since those safe and secure days.

New paradigms

Before looking at today’s career model and how it affects your approach to career progression, it is worth considering the changes to businesses over the last 20 years. Among them are:

* More mergers and acquisitions;

* Flatter management structures;

* Fast-changing product and service mixes to meet changing demands;

* Reduction to core functions coupled with outsourcing;

* Emphasis on service culture — internal and external;

* An end to entitled employment;

* Promotion based on ability and contribution, not length of service;

* Emphasis on versatility, not specialisation;

* Heightened awareness and expectations of employees;

* Businesses constantly re-inventing themselves to stay in business; and

* Company success judged as much by stock market sentiment as real performance.

These inescapable changes have brought with them new paradigms of doing business, increased performance pressures and shorter time horizons for business planning.

For most companies in today’s business climate, a five-year plan is unlikely to be taken seriously and a three-year plan is a luxury.

A 12- to 24-month plan is the most one can expect and even then, it will be subject to constant adjustments as market conditions and investor sentiments change.

What does this mean to the average employee hoping to advance his career?

The overwhelming truth is that the employee can no longer count on an employer to map out his long-term career path.

Change with the times

It is the employee who must take ultimate responsibility for progressing and “managing” his career.

At best, if employed by an enlightened employer, it is a shared responsibility between the company and the employee.

Instead of thinking about the old-style career ladder, you need to think about *career matrix resembling a chessboard.

You may move up a square due to promotion, or move sideways in a change of role, or even downwards then across in a change of industry or profession after a period of retraining.

Or in some cases, you may move off the corporate chessboard altogether and establish a business of your own.

As in a game of chess, moves need to be carefully considered and planned.

Without planning, you run the risk of remaining in a stalemate position.

Key elements to a career plan are:

* First, to identify where you want to be in your career and when you want to get there;

* Second, consider who you will need as mentors and supporters to achieve your goal;

* Third, think about the barriers that may hinder your progress, such as your age, experience, strengths and weaknesses, and then plan what you need to do to overcome them; and

* Last but not least, ensure that your plan truly meets your personal needs and values.

As you continue on your lifelong career path, you should constantly refer back to your values, talents and skills.

Re-evaluate them from time to time and ensure that they are current with your career goals, priorities and your situation today.

Many people wait until they are retrenched before they sit back and take an objective look at where they are and where they want to be in their careers in the coming years.

But why wait? Start now, develop a vision, set realistic goals and specific objectives to energise your career.

As the workplace and economic environment change, monitor your results regularly and adjust your plans.

The only constant is change — and just like in a chess game, you must stay one step ahead of the competition.