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Career success 2.0: An evolving definition

4 min read


Many workers are beginning to recognize the need to redefine career success in new ways. With fewer promises of progression by way of promotion and with today’s fluid, highly responsive organizational structures, we can no longer evaluate career success against the broadly accepted criteria from the past: movement ever forward toward that higher position.

So, if our former definition of success was based in outward advancement that may be less available today, how can employees find career satisfaction? It all comes down to crafting contemporary definitions that reflect and support current business realities. Three key elements are emerging as alternatives to the old “onward and upward” model: growth, gratitude, and generosity.


For too long, growth and promotions went hand in hand. Development meant moving into new roles that would offer different opportunities. Today’s environment demands that we uncouple these factors. Growth is possible and available right where any employee finds him or herself.

Rather than waiting for an upward (or even lateral) move to enable growth, employees who are redefining career success are seeking opportunities to build skills, expand capacities, generate broader networks and cultivate experience within their role. They are exploring their interests and areas for improvement and are getting creative about finding ways to develop without ever making a move. The really clever ones are connecting the dots between the areas they want to develop in and real work that needs to get done — creating an unbeatable value proposition for busy managers.

For example: Tomas is part of the sales function in an organization known for being mean, lean and flat. It’s clear that upward mobility is not likely, as the only natural promotion would be to a role occupied by the owner’s 30-something son. But that’s not stymieing Tomas’ sense of success in his career. He’s redefined success as gathering as many skills, tools and experiences as possible — either to deploy in this organization or another.

So, realizing that he likes working with his co-workers and that he would benefit from improving his public speaking skills, Tomas volunteered to handle sales training for the next quarter. Needless to say, Tomas’ boss was delighted because he wasn’t sure how he was going to get that training done, and Tomas gets to realize his new definition of career success. Win-win!


In addition to growth, increasingly employees are trading their old definitions of success that were based in promotions and movement for definitions that are more qualitative and oriented on quality of life. People want to work for organizations with an appetizing mission, something they can sink their teeth into and feel good about supporting. They want to work with people they like and respect. They want to do work that brings them enjoyment and satisfaction, work that puts them in the flow state, allowing them to activate their strengths and talents and contribute to high-quality outcomes. Feeling a sense of gratitude for these qualities at work (and feeling appreciated in return) is quickly emerging as a powerful alternative to the old definition of what career success looks like.


As the workforce ages and the ranks of baby boomer employees grow, it’s not surprising that many people no longer set their sights on “that next promotion” but rather are beginning to consider the legacy they will leave. As a result, the definition of career success has shifted for some to being able to make a genuine and lasting contribution. These employees want to work under conditions that spark a spirit of generosity and enable them to give back in a way that satisfies some intrinsic needs. Conversely, they are looking for generosity from their employers in return — whether it’s flextime, work-at-home options, or creative scheduling to better meet their needs. This reciprocal generosity defines for many what career success is today.

The business landscape is changing and, if we’re to remain satisfied with our lives at work, so must our definitions of career success. Growth, gratitude and generosity can offer updated alternatives that breed energy, happiness, and fulfillment at work — redefining success in 2015 and beyond.

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog at

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