Tuck/Aquent/WLF Survey Results–Recognizing Fundamental Change in Work, Career Paths and Talent Management

While evidence continues to mount that the realities of work and career paths have fundamentally and permanently changed, formal career and talent management strategies have not kept pace. This lag between recognizing that a shift has occurred and adapting organizationally and individually was obvious from the results of the two surveys I recently conducted in partnership with Tuck Business School’s Executive Education at Dartmouth and Aquent, Inc. a marketing resource company. Closing the gap requires organizations, leaders, and individuals to answer critical questions that aren’t currently being discussed. I will share some of these questions in a minute. But, first, the results of our survey.

The survey results, along with best practices for individuals and organizations, will be discussed in a series of Tuck sponsored Back in Business panel discussions entitled “Toppling the Career Ladder: Pathways for Today’s Talent” through the end of May in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Boston. (Click here to learn more about dates and locations) Tuck’s Back in Business Program are featured in an article by Lisa Belkin in today’s New York Times.

Here are some highlights of the our survey findings (Click here for executive summary of findings):

• Indeed, career paths today are more complex, broader, and more flexible for both men and women of all ages and in all stages than individuals and organizations recognize. As a result, the workforce is much more flexible and heterogeneous in terms of unique work+life fit arrangements than many realize.

• Interestingly, organizational, managerial, and individual employee behaviors and mindsets are not aligned with this new reality, or with each other. For example, to certain degree, hiring managers are ahead of everyone else in terms of recognizing the change and realizing they need to expand their traditional recruiting base. They also are supporting all types of flexibility, even if they are not part of the company’s formal strategy. This is why there is more flexibility going on under the radar screen in companies, between managers and employees, than is formally recorded by the organization

• Formal flexibility and hiring strategies of organizations haven’t been revamped and adapted to align with new work and career path realities. For example, a majority of both men and women say they would consider taking a career break, yet most corporate programs aimed at reintegrating career-breakers are geared toward women, mothers in particular.

• Even the beliefs of individual employees are stuck in linear, one-size-fits-all, all-or-nothing career paradigms that don’t align with what hiring managers think is important.

Why did Tuck, Aquent and WLF partner on this survey? As three organizations addressing careers, flexibility, and work+life fit from three different angles, we saw that this wasn’t just a “moms” issue. It was an issue for everyone, and the solutions for each person were different. Did companies and individuals recognize this fundamental shift had taken place? Were they responding and, if so, how?

In other words, we were all seeing the forest—the fundamental change in work, career, and talent management—while it seemed everyone else was focusing on the trees—moms, men, Gen-X and Gen-Y, eldercare givers, retirees, etc. That’s not to say that how individual demographics are responding to these shifts isn’t important. But if we don’t also focus on the broader changes, we miss the opportunity to ask and answer some important questions:


If work and individual career paths are becoming more complex, broad, and flexible, how must we adapt our formal organizational processes and strategies: talent resource strategy, leadership development strategy, evaluation and compensation systems, leadership development and training systems, and the way we task and manage workflow? How must we collectively change the way we talk about the workplace and about the way we manage our unique work and personal transitions, both big and small, throughout our careers?


If work and career paths have fundamentally changed, how do I lead? What is my role? What skills do I need? How do I manage work flow by leveraging all talent in a flexible workforce including current employees who want flex, contract workers and those who have taken a career break? How do I hire? What are the skills I am looking for? How do I evaluate and reward performance? How must I redefine what a “valuable” employee looks like? How do I manage my own career and work+life fit?


If my career path is not going to be linear, one-size-fits-all, how do I strategically manage all of the work+life fit transitions I will experience? What are the countless flexible options available to me? How do I access them in a way that meets my needs as well as the needs of the business? How must I redefine “success” at each stage? If I do decide to take a career break, how do I prepare myself to transition back in successfully?

Hopefully more organizations and individuals will join this broader conversation and begin answering these tough questions. Recognizing a fundamental shift has taken place, how must we all adapt? The opportunities as well as the possibilities are endless. What are you seeing? (Comment Spam Filter Reminder: Don’t be thrown off if you receive a message that your comment is spam. I can still see it and approve it, so comment away!)