Four Career Trajectories: Linear, Expert, Spiral, Transitory

Kenneth Brousseau

Kenneth Brousseau

Successful careers can follow forms other than “up or out,” according to Decision Dynamics’ Kenneth Brousseau, Michael Driver of USC, with Lund University’s Kristina Eneroth, and Rikard Larsson.

Their “pluralistic career concept framework” classified careers as:

Four Career Concepts

Four Career Concepts

LinearTraditional upward movement, with variable job role tenure, and motivated by power and achievement.

Behavioral competencies include leadership, competitiveness, cost-efficiency, logistics management, profit orientation.

This career concept is most seen in tall hierarchies with a narrow span of control.

Michael Driver

Michael Driver

Expert – Little movement and long role tenure due to deepening expertise in a narrow discipline.

Motives include mastery, expertise, and security.
Meaningful rewards are continued training, benefits, recognition.

Competencies are quality, commitment, reliability, technical competence, stability orientation.
This career concept is well-matched to flat functional organizations.

Career Motives, Competencies

Career Motives, Competencies

SpiralLateral movement to broaden functional exposure, with seven to ten year tenure in roles.

Motivated by personal growth, creativity, and suited to matrix organizations with cross-functional teams, this pattern is seen in loose, temporary team structures.

Rewards include cross-functional lateral assignments and training.
Key competencies include creativity, teamwork, skill diversity, lateral coordination, people development.

Transitory – Lateral moves with three to five year tenures are motivated by desire for variety, independence.
Most often found in temporary team structures, behavioral skills include speed, networking, adaptability, fast learning, project focus.
Meaningful rewards are job rotation, temporary assignments, immediate cash bonuses.

This team’s research was distilled into assessment tools focused on career “fit” with an organization’s structure and objectives.

Timothy Butler

Timothy Butler

A similar emphasis on cultural fit is found in CareerLeader Inventory, based on Timothy Butler and James Waldroop’s research at Harvard Business School.

James Waldroop

James Waldroop

-*Which of the four career trajectories seems most like yours?

-*Which career assessment tools have you found most useful to determine your skills, interests, and best-fit organizational context?


©Kathryn Welds


3 thoughts on “Four Career Trajectories: Linear, Expert, Spiral, Transitory

  1. Pingback: Career Advancement as Contest – Tournament and How to Win | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

  2. Pingback: “Derailing” Personality Measures Predict Leadership Mishaps | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

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