Long before the remote work era, I have always been astonished how the majority of companies spoke about strict career paths as a crucial element of their company culture. During numerous recruitment meetings conducted among companies and candidates the same question was being discussed over and over again “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Whenever I heard about this kind of situation, it made me wonder how we can possibly decide for ourselves “right now” and why does the company want to know such things in the first place, limiting creativity and a learn-by-doing approach… Actually willing to fit candidates into a pre-programmed career pattern.

While working with many remote teams from all around the world, it has suddenly become quite clear that we shouldn’t be speaking about career paths in the first place but rather focus on development.

Career vs. development

Let’s distinguish these two first. A traditional career path is a process which involves a sequence of positions that are supposed to lead someone to reach their career goals, while climbing a career ladder. We can look at this topic broadly as switching companies or even industries, but the major principle is usually vertical growth.

A development path on the other hand is supposed to provide team members with an ongoing process to enhance their knowledge and skills so that they can grow exponentially and in a more agile manner. Be it horizontally or vertically – allowing the performance and approach speak for itself.

So, let’s imagine a hypothetical situation. You start working for a company and they tell you that you have to keep the same position for at least 2 years because the internal procedure allows to be promoted to a higher level only if you successfully complete that time frame and just then you may even receive a salary increase. For that certain company it doesn’t matter if you pursue additional studies or you have tremendous qualities in other areas which could potentially add a lot of value to the business. What matters is the pattern that everyone needs to follow. You may also be thinking about becoming a team leader in the future… but that’s not possible because career paths in this certain company are designed this way, that you can only become one if there’s a vacancy in the organisational structure. Nonsense? In my opinion YES.


Development paths being the key to success within distributed teams

As we’re entering a flexible working era, it makes sense to become more agile in our approach towards careers and development. Now imagine another situation – you have a distributed (remote-first or hybrid team) where your team members know that the company fosters a performance-driven culture, focusing on the output rather than stiff patterns related to measuring work attendance and time only. In such an agile environment, you work based on the KPIs that you’ve received, maybe even OKRs and you truly deliver results! Because of the fact that your team communicates regularly, and you receive constant performance feedback from your team leader it becomes clear after some time that you’ve exceeded your goals. That’s why you’re being offered a development opportunity – may it be learning an extra skill that can enhance your working experience, receiving an additional responsibility and potentially a higher bonus or even using one of your best skills to support other team members in order to drive excellence. That’s how you feel appreciated, the company seems to value your expertise and you become a motivated and engaged team member who isn’t stuck in a monotonous working routine, being able to develop and use your skills as you go. That sounds interesting, right?


Only resilience can save us

Now, you’ve just faced two possible scenarios. The first one, being relatively easy to implement from a company’s perspective whereas the latter seems more challenging. Well, if we are talking about remote work and distributed teams where motivation and engagement becomes a crucial element of great performance, it may be wise to deep dive into some mechanisms in order to focus on people’s needs rather than follow a procedural order.

The more we allow our team members to go the extra mile, boost creativity, speak up and drive change, the further we can go as a team and a company.

The majority of organisations say that they only hire the best people on the market… But then they tell them what to do and for how long, until they finally receive a chance to participate in a yearly performance review which is a staged, unpleasant process, having absolutely nothing to do with agility. So if you’re heading for success but you still wonder about how you can make your team members more engaged and ready to go the extra mile, make sure to consider these steps:

  1. Break up with yearly performance reviews, focusing on regular feedback loops.
  2. Don’t judge anyone by the years of experience but evaluate quality and output.
  3. Ask people what they need in terms of their goals and development. Never assume.
  4. Learn as you go because “the only constant is change”.
  5. Allow team members to take the lead in their daily responsibilities. Don’t just delegate but expect initiative instead.

Fingers crossed that such an approach will help in reshaping the work culture. I always say that a “we’ve always done it this way” attitude may be the easiest one but great results never come from comfort zones. And as every company relies on its people, let’s be more human and embrace our combined potential to challenge the status quo.


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