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Don’t Have A Career Path That Plays Like Donkey Kong

In our own research with nonprofits and foundations, we’ve asked many questions about if and how a better talent development process can lead to greater organizational efficiency, a higher level of job satisfaction, and better overall results for a cause. Our findings clearly show that organizations that have the best talent development strategies are also the ones that have the best outcomes, both for employees and for meeting the organization’s mission and goals.

Across sectors, there’s no doubt that talented, satisfied people in effective organizations create stellar results. Implications of poor talent development, on the other hand, include brain drain, fatigue, lost investments, and poor results.

Unfortunately, fewer than a quarter of cause-focused workers feel that their organizations do an “excellent” job of working with staff members to develop and leverage their talents. The sad consequence is that more than three-quarters of young people in cause-focused organizations feel that career advancement opportunities are not obvious to them. During a recent workshop, one person admitted that she felt her career ladder was like playing Donkey Kong. “It’s a great platform, but I have to jump from one organization to another to another to get anywhere.”

In some cases, people who start a compassionate career even feel some level of hypocrisy. They expect that this wonderful new world should be rid of politics, palace intrigue, and posturing. This letdown can be worse for people in cause-focused careers than for those taking lower-end jobs in other sectors where conditions more likely conform to expectations. We conducted one research project that we affectionately refer to as “Jobs That Suck.” The study found that, though the actual tasks of a job are important, how people are treated is much more important. This is true across a whole range of employment options, regardless of sector. It’s also true that job satisfaction greatly depends on your immediate supervisor.

Things are especially problematic when the senior team is dysfunctional, because it trickles down to everyone else. One person told us he’s at an organization that has a 30 percent turnover rate. On top of that, there is a year-long learning curve, so at any point in time only about a third of the staff knows what they’re doing—and half of them are out the door in the next year. It’s hard to make a career at a place that’s falling apart all the time.

Keep in mind when considering any job opportunity that it’s just as much about you as it is about them; a good fit is when both parties win. It may not be part of a given internal organizational culture to talk about career advancement and fit, but it’s critical. Seek out an organization—no matter how noble its mission—that will treat you right. To get started, take your own core culture assessment here and read see excellent resource!

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