Does job tenure matter?
Should you build tenure in a company or are periodic moves to different organizations a better career path?
Tenure helps build relationships and an intimate understanding your employer, its practices and culture.
Cross organization mobility helps in assimilating best practices across companies. Done well, it also demonstrates ability to adapt to different cultures and build working relationships rapidly.
Both sets of capabilities have value in certain roles. Organizational knowledge and relationships are handy for work which requires both while the knowledge of best practices across firms is an asset to those facilitating change and improvements.
Think of the kind of roles you want for yourself – and then pick the path of organizational mobility which will lead you there.
The tenure path
Tenure in an organization helps build an understanding of the company culture, ways of working and expectations - a specialization in itself. In addition, it helps build a network with colleagues who can be asset in roles which require collaboration and teamwork.
This intimacy with an organization and its people can facilitate success in some roles.
Proficiency in tasks which the organization does differently
Companies have their own ways of performing certain tasks, oftentimes even for the most mundane work. Working with a firm on those tasks over time then helps build proficiency in the way work is expected to be delivered and the resources available to help make it happen.
Lateral movements and career enrichment
In the course of your career, there will be times when you see attractive career opportunities in other parts of the organization, and would want to make a lateral move. This could be to learn a new trade, rotate into an emerging area of work, or to move to a more convenient location.
Your understanding of the company, its way of working, internal network, and track record will weigh in your favor when you are looking for these lateral moves as well as when leaders are looking for potential candidates to fill these positions.
Leading complex and challenging assignments
The more complex a task, the higher the chances are that it will involve multiple constituents and require a high level of collaboration and co-working.
Derivatively, the more complex tasks are likely to be entrusted to tenured employees who have built the relationships and understanding of organizational processes, norms & expectations.
This benefit of tenure transcends the corporate environment to any assignments which involve complex work. Be it fighting a fire, submitting an end of term group paper, or orchestrating a large social event, teams which have worked together over time tend to perform best. There is a shared understanding of who does what well, the trust that team members have each other’s back, and the ability to make quick decisions under pressure knowing that the team will follow through as a unit. These can make the difference between success and failure.
If your goal is to work on complex, high impact tasks, building tenure in an organization or group can be a big facilitator.
Engaging well with key external constituencies like investors, lenders, and regulators can be critical to the success of an organization.
Landing a role representing your organization with these important constituents requires both an intimate knowledge of the organization and also its trust.
Tenured employees who are vested with the organization and trusted by it will tend to be the first choice to engage with these important external constituencies.
Senior and leadership roles in any organization are entrusted with the complex tasks associated with making it competitive, current, and relevant. Engaging with important external bodies and groups is also a key part of their job.
Roles leading complex assignments and engaging with external bodies favor those who are vested with the company, know it well, and trusted by it. Tenured employees will have an edge when it comes to filling leadership roles.
Many companies tend to follow the axiom that if an internal employee is 60% ready for a leadership role, he/she would be preferred vs. recruiting someone from outside.
Roles for the mobile professional
Organizational mobility allows exposure to different organizations and their ways of working - assimilating best practices across companies. It also requires you to adapt to different cultures, processes, and teams in order to be successful.
These can be assets when aiming for at least two kinds of roles
As contributors to improving processes & systems
Organizations look to improve their own ways of working on an ongoing basis. They seek ideas from outside and for those who have worked across peer companies assimilating best practices from them. They who have can be assets in these change & improve initiatives.
Leading initiatives into new areas
When an organization is looking at a new market, process, system or technology, it will need and seek those who have prior experience or knowledge.
If you bring experience & success in peer firms of these markets, processes or technologies, you will be a sought after asset. These roles can be as team members or even leaders of these new initiatives.
New ventures and initiatives also require participants to demonstrate the ability to learn, adapt and succeed in untested situations. A track record of being successful in roles across multiple organizations demonstrates these skills and will be valuable to initiatives which require rapid adaptability, network building, and working in new environments
Building tenure with an organization creates career opportunities, as does the path of working with multiple companies.
Tenured employees, like tall trees, are embedded into the soil of the organization. They understand its nuances, ways of working, and history. Tenure also aids in building relationships with co-workers. Those who have assimilated well will be valuable in tasks which require intimate knowledge of the company, the ability to team well with co-workers, and speak for the company. Members of complex task teams, spokespersons, and leaders of the organization need to do these and hence the tenured pool is the first place where they will be sought from.
In contrast, those who have moved across organizations bring an understanding of how work is performed across firms. If they have been successful in their roles across different companies, they have also demonstrated the ability to adapt and assimilate into different cultures and ways of working. These are valuable to any company when looking to benchmark and improve processes and when embarking on new initiatives.
When thinking of tenure, first think of the kind of work and roles which you want to do. If you want to be the company spokesperson, leader, or member of complex task forces, commit yourself to the firm. On the other hand, if your preferred choice is to be the expert in a trade, or lead initiatives which are new and untested, then measured movement across organizations can help build that expertise.