!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Careerism, or Taking the Low Road

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Careerism, or Taking the Low Road

I began thinking about the issue of careerism when it came up repeatedly in a biography of John Boyd (1927 – 1997) that a colleague sent me. Boyd was an Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist.

Defined at wordnet.princeton.edu as the practice of advancing your career at the expense of your personal integrity, careerism is inimical to teamwork and professionalism, both essential for competitive value creation in most modern business organizations.

In 1988 USAF Major Michael L. Mosier published an illuminating discussion of Air Force careerism that is readily applied to civilian contexts. Mosier points out that "treating" careerism is complex for several reasons:
  • Diagnosing careerism requires insight into a person's motives, which can be difficult to achieve. Meanwhile, making false assumptions about why a person is acting in a particular way undermines trust.

  • The structure of incentives in an organization may be promoting careerism.

  • Ambition and a competitive spirit, which taken too far can shade into careerism, provide energy for high performance.
Mosier emphasizes that careerism and self-interest are not identical. The key consideration is whether a person, in pursuing his or her own interests, is doing so in a way that contributes to achieving organizational goals and upholding ethical standards. In other words, the question is whether the person is treading the high road or the low road.

Mosier suggests three steps to "get a grip on careerism":
  • Make sure everyone knows what careerism is and isn't. I'd add that everyone similarly needs a concrete understanding of what professionalism is and isn't.

  • Ensure strong, ethical leadership at all levels in the organization.

  • Eliminate any personnel policies that foster careerism.
Speaking in positive terms, it is crucial to create incentives and norms that reward professionalism and excellence.