Careers, Chutes, and Ladders

The children’s game Chutes and Ladders has a lot to say about careers in the modern world. Every time you work with an organization it is either a ladder going up or a chute going down. Often the same organization and the same job can be both for the same person. When you start a job it can be a ladder to a new opportunity and great things. Three years later the same job can become a chute down to complacency and dysfunction. 

At Corner Alliance, we spend a lot of time thinking about careers and our people. People are what we sell and how they develop and grow is our fundamental business (develop and grow are also two of our commitments to our employees). 

When people depart from an organization, it can feel like a loss or a rejection, so the relationship and communication tend to end there. It’s more like a bad break-up than a school graduation. We think of our organization as a family, rather than as a team. 

Over the years, I’ve come to reject this mindset. I take a school graduation viewpoint. When someone joins Corner Alliance, they are looking to grow, learn, and have new experiences. We work to provide those; and, in return, we provide amazing service for clients. At some point, the next growth opportunity might be in another field, or even with a competitor. 

A few people will stay with us for the long term. Their career goals and our company goals are aligned. That’s magic--but it doesn’t happen every day. For those that choose to pursue a different career or an additional education, we strive to ensure that Corner Alliance provided the fundamental skills they will use throughout their career. That’s success to us. 

The book that helped me cement my thinking about these concepts is The Alliance, by Reid Hoffman (former Linkedin CEO), Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh. It lays out a new framework where employees and employers operate in a transparent and mutually beneficial way, in keeping with the modern world. 

Specifically, the authors call for viewing employment as tours of duty, similar to the military. You might start in a position with a 2-3 year runway. At the 2-3 year mark, you have explicit conversations about your next step. Would you and the organization benefit from another tour of duty for you? If so, what is that tour and how long should it last? 

The crucial learning is that each tour is defined, has a timeline, and an assessment point. We hire you to start this division. It’ll probably take us 5 years to get it up and running. After it’s done, continuing to run that same division may or may not be the best decision. Maybe you should start something new, or take over a bigger division. Or, maybe you want to do something entirely different. The point is that there is no right answer, just an acknowledgement that we grow and change, and that our careers have to, as well.

That’s not to say that someone should leave an organization automatically at some arbitrary point, or that no one can spend decades in one company. There are people and places where that works--but we can’t assume it. 

It isn’t easy to operate in this way. At Corner Alliance, we’ve taken some haunting steps forward and are working towards a more defined career model in keeping with these principles. We’ll let you know how it turns out.

Interested in learning more about our company culture? Check out our culture page and follow CEO Alan Pentz on Twitter or follow him on LinkedIn

CEO and founder.

Alan has worked with government leaders in the R&D and innovation communities across DHS, Commerce, NIH, state and local government, and the non-profit sector among others. He has worked in the consulting industry for over ten years with Corner Alliance, SRA, Touchstone Consulting, and Witt O'Brien's. Before consulting, Alan served as a speechwriter and press secretary for former U.S. Senator Max Baucus and as a legislative assistant for former U.S. Representative Paul Kanjorski. He holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin.


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