Learning undone: Enabling the “career constellation”

Posted by Terry Patterson, Ina Gantcheva, and Erin Clark on May 23, 2018.

Our paradigm of what a career looks like is rapidly evolving in this, the “age of accelerations”1 The learning organization has an opportunity to take the lead in enabling organizations to evolve in kind. Learning—both as a functional department and as an embedded element of organizational culture—should configure to enable the challenging, meaningful growth experiences and career mobility people seek while also building, sustaining and evolving the capabilities needed to deliver for the business.

It’s hard to find a hotter topic among business and HR leaders than the “future of work.” The uncertainty surrounding the full impact of cognitive technologies, RPA, AI, and machine learning has many speculating about the impact on workers, given the opportunity for replacement. However, as organizations begin to adopt these capabilities, many are finding the need for human talent isn’t going away. It is evolving apace as the capacity for new growth and opportunity is fully realized.

In the age of accelerations, this means our talent is operating in a more dynamic, less static reality. Work is increasingly being defined by projects and teams, rather than jobs and formal reporting structures. Yes, the rate of change necessary to create new growth opportunities for our businesses will require the adoption of cognitive technology. But it will also require an accelerated growth trajectory and reimagined constructs for jobs and careers for our people (From Careers to Experiences).

For many years, the most common career paradigm has been understood as a stair-step progression upward from one job to the next, “climbing” the ladder. More recently, we evolved our thinking to consider the career lattice (The Corporate Lattice), rather than the career ladder—considering more options, choices, and flexibility for people to move from one “ladder” to another. However, there are two elements of these paradigms that we believe must evolve to keep pace with the rate of change we are all experiencing:

  1. They are grounded in an increasingly obsolete concept of jobs/roles/competencies.
  2. They represent a static construct that belies the more organic nature of our current and future work environments.

If we follow these notions through, in the context of the exponential rate of change we are experiencing, our ladders and lattices will require near continuous reconstruction and remodeling, making them difficult and cumbersome to understand, let alone navigate.

We have found a new paradigm, with a new visual construct: the career constellation. The career constellation represents a new paradigm that considers the lifelong compilation of experiences, capabilities, and skills instead of the old straight-line progression of job or role. The career constellation is not constructed solely by the organization as a static construct, but in concert with our people as an organic manifestation of one’s growth, contributions, and range of future opportunity.

Charting the career constellation
The constellation metaphor for a career is a timely update that takes a career outside the “four walls” of an organization to encompass a broader and more complex journey.

A career has indeed become more like series of bright points, loosely connected to form a complete picture. Careers are an aggregation of experiences, jobs, organizations, accomplishments, skills, and capabilities, perhaps in different industries, with different employers and different kinds of job situations (i.e., “career mobility”)—full-time, part-time, volunteer, contract, gig…a wide variety. And that old paper resume is more likely to be a digital, even virtual, representation of “can do” capabilities rather than “have done” jobs.

To us the most notable thing about this new concept is that the organization is not the focal point. Instead, the person is at the center. Building this constellation is of such paramount importance to people that if you help them do it, you win.

In fact, this concept blows away the old notion of “retention.” Many in HR and learning view their primary role to “attract, develop, and retain” the right talent at the right time. In the career constellation context, the first two parts of this adage still hold. Retention? Not so much. To “retain” someone sounds like something that is done against their will. We need to look at this through a different lens. It’s counterintuitive, but to keep someone, you can’t try to keep them. In fact, you have to make it so good for them in terms of capability development that you actually suit them up to be a star for someone else. This is where it gets interesting.

When an organization provides high-end, compelling work challenges and satisfying growth experiences for people, those individuals’ ever-increasing level of capability makes them a prized recruit for someone else. Yet they’re so fired up about being continuously challenged and pleased by the opportunities to solve problems, have fun, develop themselves, and make meaningful contributions that they don’t want to leave. They stay longer. And when they do leave, they still love you.

As the needs of our businesses and organizations evolve alongside the expectations and needs of our people to redefine careers, there is no function or discipline better positioned to lead the way in configuring to support and enable these shifts than Learning and Development (L&D). In fact, this constellation concept is already driving change, and we’ve talked a lot about the resulting upheaval in L&D (here and here, for example) and the really sweeping changes taking place (automation, digital, becoming invisible, content curation). We believe the change in what it means to have a career is a big part of this rapidly evolving picture.

Embracing career constellations: three things organizations can do
So how does L&D fit into this new paradigm of career as constellation? Learning is absolutely central to building capabilities in the constellation model. L&D must enable the organization to provide the compelling, engaging, always-on experiences that draw people in, motivate them, and satisfy them. People increasingly expect consumer-grade experiences that mesh seamlessly into the work they do, the technology they use, and their human interactions. What’s new is that the goals and objectives of an organization’s talent have evolved. In addition, employees want to build the unique, ever-evolving constellation of experiences and capabilities that is their career resume, and not just their paper one.

The perspective and needs of the business are also critical. Attracting and developing key talent is table stakes. To successfully execute on this constellation strategy, what’s needed is a higher-order organizational capability, driven by L&D, to execute strategy through people. In addition to the right talent, this strategy requires constantly refreshing and incrementally building talent’s capabilities to innovate and work in new markets, technologies, and service areas.

To get started:

  1. Define the new concept of career for your organization. L&D can lead the effort, in coordination with broader HR, to identify who your employees are and the components that make up the career constellations at your organization. Develop career personas that represent employees and how they want to develop their careers.
  2. Align learning, talent management, and career development. Clearly define L&D’s strategy and how learning supports talent management and career development. Define metrics to demonstrate learning’s impact on talent, careers, and business objectives.
  3. Create consumer-grade experiences that support fluid careers. Start curating and creating learning content and experiences that quickly build capabilities and provide the knowledge and flexibility required for employees to create their own unique careers.

This truly is a new and ongoing exploration: No one has all the answers for responding to this sea of change. It likely means “boldly going” where the learning function hasn’t gone before. But as the future of work unfolds, we’re all faced with forging new paths in our careers. As L&D professionals, it’s our job to help our organizations and the people in them adapt, thrive, and continue to expand their constellations.

Terry Patterson is a senior manager in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, helping clients achieve their business goals with talent practices that are designed and executed to support more engaged, more capable people within a positive, high-performance culture.

Ina Gantcheva is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice and focuses on organizational and talent transformation for multinational organizations. She has extensive experience across Europe, Asia, and the Americas and has led large-scale projects focused on global and local market talent strategies, talent branding, acquisition, retention, and development.

Erin Clark is a managing director with Deloitte Consulting LLP in the Human Capital practice. Erin is passionate about learning and the opportunity to transform businesses and organizations through people. Her primary areas of focus with clients are in learning strategy, capability development and leadership.


1 Radically Open: Tom Friedman On the Future of Work,” The Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2017. http://deloitte.wsj.com/cmo/2017/12/07/radically-open-tom-friedman-on-the-future-of-work/

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