Redefining Careers Through The Portfolio

In a complex world, where we all have to deal with more uncertainty than ever, it’s human nature to seek control. Historically, some degree of control came from a traditional and predictable career framework with exact measurements to what will get you to the next level. In this VUCA environment, following this traditional framework would only bring a false sense of control. To really be in control of our careers, we need to adapt to new circumstances, new technology, new tasks, and continuous learning. Being adaptable to change and keeping those learning muscles in shape, we will have a choice in curating our way forward in life.

In fact, lifelong learning is the key to future proofing your career in this new reality. This demands that we change our old mindset and habits in how we view and plan for career growth. Careers as they used to be viewed – climbing the ladder, linear growth and steady promotions within one field or industry – are becoming increasingly obsolete. In addition, today, many employees are looking for something else: they value freedom and flexibility, variation and more purpose-driven rather than profit-driven atmospheres. This means so much more to the burgeoning generation of employees than titles or climbing the hierarchy.

The Portfolio

The question is: how should we as individuals think and plan our work differently? 

Back in the 90’s, Charles Handy, an organisational behaviourist and author, predicted the need for building a “portfolio career” to meet the future of rapid change in the workplace. He promoted the idea of building “portable skill sets” (or transferable skill sets as we would call them) that can be used across the portfolio of different roles and jobs. He mainly talked about what was later called the gig-economy and we are mostly used to hearing about portfolios when we talk about freelancers and/or artists. 

However, the portfolio view of career growth is relevant for anyone, no matter if you’re a gig-worker or an employee in a corporation. April Rinne develops this thought further in her book Flux, where she describes how we are in a world of flux, and need to develop a new mindset where we see constant change and unpredictability as a feature rather than as a bug. And one of the ways to thrive in flux is to “treat your career as a portfolio to curate rather than a path to pursue.”

A portfolio will showcase all the different roles, jobs, or projects a person has been involved in and the skills and abilities they have gained through those. But it doesn’t stop at that. A portfolio will also include skills gained outside of jobs, transferable skills – learning made outside of a professional scenario. Therefore, a portfolio can be modelled and a person has the opportunity to think about and plan the transferable skill sets they want to build.

How Can Companies Support Portfolio Careers?

Employers have a great responsibility in enabling and empowering individuals’ professional success by providing a culture of learning and tools. And in today’s reality we need something more flexible and agile than the traditional career ladder and framework. That’s why, at Spotify, we’ve invested in an internal talent marketplace. We call it Echo. It’s one tool to support our band members in this shift.

Echo provides structure and opportunity for band members to share their knowledge and find learning opportunities that lie beyond their role description. It’s a platform supporting them in building their own portfolio by providing mentoring opportunities, access to all new jobs and short term projects across the company. Like an artist would build their portfolio of art, our band members can build their own portfolio of skills and experiences.

Besides offering development opportunities to our band members, the marketplace also offers value to the company. Teams and leaders get access to more internal talent to fill skill gaps and can get important work done whilst upskilling or reskilling existing team members. By enabling this platform for sharing knowledge, we are leveraging the collective brainpower of Spotify to solve business challenges and cross-pollinating perspectives to drive innovation. 

Growth Is Our Mantra

In our Band Manifesto, we are explicit about our view of careers and growth. Climbing the ladder is not our melody – but we will provide plenty of growth opportunities and support in developing. Echo is only one of many tools, but an important one to build that avenue for cross-pollination and learning across departments and units and building of band members’ portfolios.

When offering all these opportunities for development, one might think that by providing this support in employees’ development it would make them move on to greener pastures once they have the skills needed. We believe this is probably the best retention tool we have! By creating their own portfolio of experiences showcasing what skills and abilities they have gathered throughout their career, the opportunities for internal mobility amongst our band members are endless.

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Global Head of GreenHouse - Learning & Development at Spotify