Be More Podcast: The Seven Characteristics of a Highly Meaningful Career

For many, the idea of career development has shifted from gaining more seniority to having more meaningful work experiences. Author and career specialist Julie Winkle Giulioni talks about how managers can help workers achieve those experiences.

Audio also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

Be More is a podcast about how everyone can thrive in the new world of work, hosted by Workday’s Patrick Cournoyer. 

What does your career look like? Are you happy with your current position? Do you feel valued at your workplace? Where do you see yourself in the next five or 10 years? 

Julie Winkle Giulioni has spent her entire career focused on helping people thrive and grow. She co-authored “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” and is about to launch a new book focused on what a meaningful career looks like. Today, we discuss how career development has changed from being equated to job titles and specific positions to a more dynamic and meaningful experience focused on what employees want.

Find out more about how to develop a highly meaningful career by listening to the episode audio above or reading key takeaways and the transcript below.

Key Takeaways

From Job Titles to Career Experience

Several causes put pressure on employees that lead to them leaving an organization. First, there’s an organizational career ladder that quickly becomes a pinhead, due to a small number of open executive roles. Second, the average tenure in a current position is about four years. There’s a lot of tension in working efficiently in such a small time frame, and people don't get fulfilled by their work.

Giulioni says organizations can't equate career development with job titles or positions anymore. They need to realize these problems and focus on understanding what a career means today.

Expanding the Career Menu

People talk about their career as a place where they can make a difference; where they have a chance to grow throughout their entire life. It’s also a place where a person becomes a part of a community with meaningful relationships; where they can get a sense of deep confidence and a profound sense of what they are good at. Furthermore, people want challenges to see how far they can go.

In “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” Giulioni introduces seven dimensions of a career: contribution, competence, connection, confidence, challenge, contentment, and choice.

A New Mindset Gets New Opportunities

Changing an organization's mindset about career development comes down to educating managers and executives. It's about shifting toward greater intentionality to ensure that people will do the things they're probably already doing in the workplace, but in a way that helps them grow. Organizations need to incorporate development into the workflow efficiently and create a culture around this. 

Owning Your Career

Nobody's going to care as much about your career as you do. Winkle says we need to help employees understand that the climb up the corporate ladder, the promotion, and the position are just a shallow part of what a career is. 

Employees need to understand the broader definition and dimensions of a career and figure out what's most appealing for them at a particular time. Then, they have to reach out to their manager and talk about how they can work on building that dimension. This all comes down to an employee taking the lead and moving their development forward.

You can find Julie on LinkedIn and Twitter, and visit her website.

“Traditionally, we've thought the career is the role, the title, the position, and then career development is a promotion to that next one. But it is more significant than that. If we as leaders and organizations can expand our view on what careers are, we can dramatically expand what's possible in terms of helping people develop.”

Julie Winkle Giulioni Author


Patrick: Julie Winkle Giulioni has spent her entire career focused on helping people thrive and grow. For the past 10 years, she has worked with some of the largest organizations in the world to champion meaningful workplace growth and development. Julie co-authored a book titled “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.” She is just about to launch a new book focused on what a highly meaningful career looks like.

Today, we talk about how career development has changed from being equated to job titles and specific positions to a much more dynamic and meaningful experience focused on what employees really want. Julie is wonderful, and I am sure you are going to enjoy listening to her perspective over the next 30 minutes. Julie, thank you for joining the conversation today.

Julie: Oh, thank you, Patrick. I've been looking forward to it.

Patrick: I have, too. As we do with every episode, I really like for the audience to learn a little bit about you from your voice. If you could start us out with a couple of minutes on who you are, a little bit about your career journey, because we're gonna be talking about career journeys today. I think a good place to start is hearing a little bit about how your journey has unfolded and the passion for the work that you do, where it comes from, and just a bit more about you.

Julie: Absolutely happy to. I've been in the learning and development field from the get-go. My very first job when I was 16 years old was teaching modeling and charm to children. I frequently joke that I haven't come very far and still just teaching us all how we need to get along, but I progressed through traditional educational fields, the high school teaching experience that I parlayed into department chair and professorship at a local university before going back into industry in learning and development roles.

I had the opportunity to work in several different organizations as training managers. Then ultimately, what really I think has framed so much of the work that I do was when I went to work for Zenger Miller at the time. It's now become AchieveGlobal and now part of Korn Ferry. I cut my consulting teeth there and ultimately was the director of product development. I led the teams that built learning programs that are used throughout the world even today that focus on supervision, and management, and leadership.

About 20 years ago, I traded the illusion of security for the illusion of freedom and went out on my own and have continued to work in the learning field, working with organizations to develop programs that changed behavior and support leadership effectiveness. I had the good fortune about nine years ago to co-author “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want”. I guess we both, everybody needs and wants them all. I had the opportunity to co-author that with Beverly Kaye and delved really, really deeply into career development, which is a huge passion of mine.

When I look back on my career, there's nothing special about me. I'm not the sharpest knife in the shed. I sure work hard. When I look back and I connect the dots, so much of it came from leaders who believed in me, who saw something in me, who created the conditions for me to grow. A lot of the work that I have done has just naturally gravitated around paying that forward and helping leaders today think differently about how to engage and develop their folks in a way that can optimize the potential of everyone with whom they work.

Patrick: Thank you for that. Also, I 100% agree with you about the fact that having amazing leaders that create the opportunity, the space, get to know you as a person, what drives you, where your ambitions come from, and really help you with your path and your journey are very important leaders with not only within organizations but for people, for those individual connections within our individual career journeys.

We had a lot of conversations about mentoring in the last season and the conversations around how important the mentoring relationship is. This conversation is a bit different because this is about growth within organizations. Thank you for bringing up the book because the book is amazing, as you said, to help them grow or watch them go, which is an amazing title, by the way, very, very appropriate, career conversations employees want.

Beverly Kaye is going to be a guest on the podcast within a couple of weeks. I am super excited that we get to have both of you and, I'm sure, talk more about the book with her as well. The audience today, I'm sure, is struggling with the idea of how do we build really effective careers for our employees. We know what employees need. It's not even just what they want; they need to have individualized paths to truly see what their futures are at organizations today.

They want to know what the future is going to be like. If anything, right now the future is incredibly unknown. It has been incredibly unknown for the past, we'll say, two years. Organizations are going on a journey of their own. They're figuring out new ways of approaching the employee experience, new ways of integrating employees' wants, needs, and having employees be a part of the decision process going forward.

I'm very interested to hear your perspective on meaningful careers. You have this perspective around these seven characteristics around meaningful careers. I think a good place to start this conversation is, and I'm sure many people are listening today. Historically, we've always equated career development, career progression with job titles and positions.

I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day who is really struggling with deciding to take a role because the job title isn't what he thinks it should be, but the career path is incredible and is really struggling with it. I feel for him because I think a lot of people are in that place, but really, that's not working anymore. This concept of career development is directly associated or being solely validated by a job title or a position just doesn't seem the way for the future. What are your thoughts on that?

Julie: You've described it beautifully, Patrick. It's just not today's reality. When you look at organizational shifts for years, we've seen downsizing and rightsizing and all of those things. We've seen the delayering of the mid-levels of management. We've seen boomers having the audacity to not just live longer but to work longer and occupy the squares on the org chart.

For folks in the workplace, it looks like there's a reduced number of open spaces on the playing field, and the ladder that we've all thought about was never a ladder. That would've been an even flow up. It's a pyramid that's quickly becoming a pinhead for many organizations. There are organizational shifts that have changed the landscape in what's possible relative to careers vis-à-vis roles.

Then, there's the inner landscape and our relationship with work that's changed as well. The average tenure now is about four years in a job as opposed to the cradle-to-grave approach that so many of our parents lived through. What does a career even mean when you're somewhere for four years or when you're going to change jobs 12 times over the course of your work life? The whole gig economy, it's not just an economy, it's a mindset that we have internalized.

When you look at these two factors conspiring it, it really has created some tension, confusion, and dissatisfaction, disengagement. I think it's contributing in part to the Great Resignation. Part of the reason people are leaving is to find what is not being fulfilled in their career needs in the current organization. It's just the strangest thing, Patrick. Everywhere I go, regardless of whether it's Russia or Lithuania or Brazil or the U.S., the word “career” is almost like a trigger and it hijacks the brain. It just takes us to that ladder, despite the fact we know.

Intellectually, we know that's not what's working, but it's like this deep inner voice, this ingrained expectation that we can't deliver on. All of that I think is really coming together to give us a great opportunity, give organizations and leaders a great opportunity to hit the pause button and step back and say, "Wait, what is a career today? What do we mean by career?" It doesn't have to just be linked to that title. In fact, I've done field research over the last 10 years that has really opened up the definition for me and for others.

Patrick: Let's talk a little bit about how organizations can look at careers for the future. I loved how you just said this shift from a pyramid to a pinhead. In a lot of ways, that's a very, very, very relevant visualization of what is happening in the workplace, and this triggers ideas around careers and the word “career” comes with a lot of pressure. It's that I do agree with you on this triggering aspect of saying, "What do you want for your career?" I've been asked that many, many times in my life, What do you want for your career? I'm like, "Oh my gosh, that's a loaded question that's so hard to answer," because I don't know what I want for my career.

I know what feels right for now, I know what inspires me, but I don't know what I—I tell this to people, "If you would have asked me 10 years ago, 'Would you be living in Copenhagen, Denmark, working for a software company, leading, building out the customer experience?' I would have told that person that they were crazy." I would. I never saw that as part of my career journey, but it became part of my journey and it was amazing.

It's probably one of the most poignant parts of my career journey. I didn't know that 10 years ago; I didn't know that seven years ago. A year before I was doing it, I didn't know that that was going to be there. How do you suggest organizations think about this? That is a hard question to ask people. I bet you, that question gets asked every single day by many, many leaders, with all good intentions.

Julie: Absolutely. The best of intentions right along with, "What do you want from your career?" I love, "Where do you see yourself in three to five years?" That's the other one; it's the corporate equivalent of, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" "I want to be a doctor." "I want to be a lawyer." I wanted to be an elevator operator, but we'll save that for another conversation. The whole notion of really taking us down this very limited path around how we think about careers.

Traditionally, we've thought the career is the role, the title, the position, and then career development is the promotion to that next one. For decades, we've been measuring success against this artificial yardstick of what they call me at any given time in my working life. As you described, careers are bigger than that. It was the experience of living in Copenhagen working for a software company and all of those other points that come together.

As leaders in organizations, if we can expand our view of what careers are, we can dramatically expand what's possible in terms of helping people develop them. From the research that I've done, I'm really clear that beyond and between and besides those promotions and moves and positions, there are incredible opportunities to help people grow in ways that they are going to find more interesting than even climbing the corporate ladder. The problem is, just to totally dumb it down, if you go to a restaurant and all of a sudden the menu is a burger, that's what you're going to order.

We've only been serving the burgers so far, but if we can expand the definition of career development—and I've got some thoughts on that—if we expand the definition, then suddenly the menu is bigger. We've got more to draw upon. That's the opportunity right now, whether it's expanding the menu or giving a bigger palette so people can paint richer canvases. It's time to get away from our limited definition and expand that.

Patrick: How do we expand the menu?

Julie: I'm still glad you asked that, Patrick. Over the last 10 years or so as I've worked in this space, I've taken every opportunity when I do keynotes or training or whatever to ask people, "What does career mean to you?" We don't think about that, typically. We just default to, "I'm going to be the whatever of whatever." It's just been such a rich set of conversations.

Thousands of these conversations and folks normally start at a place that says, "Well, career's about a vehicle that helps me take care of myself and my family." That makes sense. Obviously, we work in part to be able to pay the bills and keep the lights on, but then they really quickly go pretty deep. I have heard people talk about, "What career means is a place to go where I'm making a difference day in and day out, where I have a chance to grow over the course of my whole life, where I'm part of a community and there are meaningful relationships that surround me, where I am able to really get a sense of deep confidence, profound sense of what I'm good at and the feelings that come with that."

They talk about wanting challenges, wanting to stretch themselves and see where the edge is and how far they can go, how close to the edge they can get. They talk about happiness and meaning, and contentment, and the ability to have influence. Over the last 10 years or so of having these conversations, these recurring themes found themselves bucketing themselves for my purposes into some different categories that speak to this expanded definition.

Climbing the corporate ladder is clearly one dimension of that. In my newest book, what I am introducing is the multidimensional career framework that introduces seven other ways that we can grow and seven other dimensions of our career. They include contribution, competence, connection, confidence, challenge, contentment, choice, and then there's the climb as well, which gratefully has a C because that was what was required to complete the model.

That's what the new menu is. That's what the expanded menu is. The thing that just blew me away, I knew that these were viable dimensions that people might be interested in, but how valuable? Really, when you lay those out on the menu, what are people going to really choose to take away? We did some research. We did a global validation study of 750 people and just asked them to rank these eight things. Just rank them in terms of what's most interesting, what's least interesting, what's in the middle.

The results came back in a way that couldn't have been more surprising or painted a more hopeful picture for managers and leaders. In aggregate, the number one most interesting dimension was a contribution. The number eight or least interesting dimension was the climb up the corporate ladder. If I put my thumb on the scale, I couldn't have influenced that.

Patrick: It's true. That is incredibly inspiring, right?

Julie: I know.

Patrick: Such a glimpse into what could be when it comes to meaningful careers and conversations around meaningful careers and shifting this stress mindset about climbing the "corporate ladder." I'm incredibly intrigued. We have these 8 C’s if we consider the climb, but these characteristics, these seven characteristics.

Looking at these dimensions, without giving away too much because I'm sure a lot of this is in the book, but how do you help organizations start thinking about, "Let's redirect our focus areas, and let's start thinking about these very meaningful characteristics from the voice of validated by employees, validated by people in the workplace that are thinking and experiencing career growth"? How do you approach organizations and help organizations with changing their mindset?

Julie: Well, it really comes down to education more than anything. We've fallen into a habit because we had a hammer that was the promotion, how we wanted to define careers and career development, and we need to educate folks and help them understand the broader framework and offer some tools for being able to execute on them. The truth is when you think about any of those dimensions, contribution, for instance, just because it was so high on the scale, we already, each of us, can probably think of countless times when we stepped up, when we were of service, when we made a difference and oh, by the way, I learned something; I got something out of it. I'm better at doing X, Y, Z as a result.

It's just how it works. We grow when we do that kind of thing. The key is how can we be intentional about it? It's not just accidental. It's a happy byproduct. How can we, if someone really is interested in contribution, how can a manager and the employee sit down on the front end of that conversation and say, "Okay, if you're going to step up, if you're going to do this, you want to make a difference, then what do you want to grow in process? What do you want to develop? How do you want to be different on the other side? Let's be intentional about it."

As you're giving, you're also getting in terms of your own development. It's a little bit of a mindset shift toward greater intentionality to ensure that folks are going to do the things they're probably already doing in the workplace. Folks are stepping up to challenges all the time. When you think about the stretch assignment is thrown out day in and day out, but are we doing it in a way that helps people grow?

If we can be intentional about that, then these kinds of activities that folks are engaged in that are happening in the workflow so it's not like extra and above and on top of and on the weekend and then their off hours that they have none of, we can incorporate development right into the workflow efficiently and create a real culture of development around us.

Patrick: You talked a little bit about managers and leaders within organizations and how important they are in this process, right? There are programs, obviously, and organizational-level strategies around growth and career development. However, a lot of that sits on the shoulders of front-line leaders and managers, because they're the ones who hopefully have the most meaningful and connected relationships with their teams. Managers and leaders are the ones that are, again, hopefully, understanding what is inspiring the members of their team, trying to help them with finding what their next step in their journey may be. How do you feel managers are equipped today to really effectively drive career conversations with their teams?

Julie: Well, if you look at the level of satisfaction employees experience around career development, I would say their level of equipment is not great, unfortunately. Honestly, it's not their fault. In many cases, leaders don't get a lot of really good help with this. They get tools. Organizations' HR departments have been brilliant in trying to make this as easy as possible for managers. They created the forms and the systems and the processes. Those are all important. Yet, that's not how people grow.

They grow day in and day out through these ongoing conversations that we haven't really helped managers do very effectively. I think the other thing is that managers have been conditioned to think that career development needs to look a certain way, like that one- or two-hour conversation once a year where, like you were saying, you're plotting out your career in that heavy way for the next 12 months.

Again, I didn't get a whole lot of development out of those once-a-year conversations. It was those one-offs, the checking in, the helping me unpack what I learned, somebody being there to pick me up when the experiment failed and I needed to think about what I learn out of that. What we need to do is help managers understand that career development doesn't have to be that big, heavy process. Of course, we want to comply with organizational systems and whatnot. You need that for workforce management, succession planning, and that kind of thing, but the development can be a much lighter touch exerted over time to create a development relationship over time rather than development events episodically at times.

Patrick: We've been talking a lot, Julie, today about how organizations need to—I'm not going to say can. I honestly think organizations need to reassess the way they look at building careers. Maybe that isn't even the word to use anymore. Maybe it's their journeys for their employees, but making careers more meaningful and building programs that are truly effective around the needs of employees when it comes to what a meaningful career and a career journey look like.

We've also talked about how leaders are critically important in this process of struggling right now. Many leaders or many managers are struggling to figure out the best way to support their teams in individual career paths, conversations. I do have to say many leaders that I've talked to and many organizations that I've talked to as well have made a conscious shift to moving away from event-based career conversations and really focusing on those very meaningful one-on-one conversations and having continuous conversations around what inspires you, what are you doing well, what do you want to try, those stretch opportunities, as you said, Julie, earlier.

I do think that is a very bright sign that we are shifting the conversation at least to the right type of cadence as opposed to event-based conversations around growth and development. One thing we haven't talked too much about is the employee side. We know that employees want this; we know that these dimensions have changed and that we can look at new dimensions for the future. How do you suggest or how do you see employees being engaged in this process and really being a part of the success of the new future of looking at highly meaningful careers?

Julie: Yes, and the employee is key. We know employees have to own their careers. Nobody's going to care as much about your career as you do, or your mom maybe, but the two of you in concert. Employees have got to own their careers. For them to do that effectively given today's landscape, we've got to equip them with this broader definition. We need to help them understand that the climb up the corporate ladder, the promotion, the position, that's just a small part of what we mean when we start talking about career.

Here are all of the other parts, and let's work together to figure which of those are most interesting now, knowing that that's going to be different, possibly tomorrow or next week, just like it's different today than it was a week ago, perhaps. The first thing really has to do with helping employees become familiar with the idea of a career, including competence and connection and contentment and whatnot, and giving them an opportunity to reflect in a new way on what their goals would be around those dimensions.

Once they become clear—and that, of course, can be supported by managers through dialogue—once employees start to get clear about that, the beauty of these alternate dimensions is that they're available, unlike a promotion that's organizationally controlled and sanctioned and meted out. There are ways the manager and employee can co-create experiences that are completely within their control to enhance the level of competence or contribution or choice, whatever it might be.

Understanding the broader definition, figuring out what's most interesting at this particular time, and then employees taking the lead and even reaching out to the manager and say, "Hey, I've got some ideas about how I want to build my sense of contentment. Do you have a couple of minutes? Can we sit down and talk about it?" is a great way for an employee to take the lead and move their development forward.

Patrick: Just one thought on that. We've done quite a bit of research about understanding key drivers of engagement, and we're able to look at data from a generational perspective in the workplace. We recently put out this report, which was around employee expectations. One of the things that was incredibly compelling to me is that for millennials and Gen Z in the workplace, growth is one of the main topics that is being discussed and looking into that a bit more.

I'm not a fan of making sweeping comments about populations within the workforce, but from this perspective, I think it's relevant because it's quite interesting for organizations to understand how the different generations in the workplace are not only experiencing drivers of engagement like growth but the expectations that come with them. With millennials and Gen Z, which are going to make up a significant portion of our workforce in just a few short years, the connectedness between individual growth plans and opportunity and very clear individual growth—

Not even careers; I'm going to take the career word out of it, but just growth specific to them and that they can see that they have an individual path is one of the most important things to these generations. How organizations think today about building a structure and environment and the opportunity to be able to provide that for these two generations, which are going to make up upwards of 70%, maybe even more, of the workplace in just a few short years, is so important. If we start thinking about this now and we start making the right decisions and choices now so in two years we're ready, I really believe that people are going to make career decisions based on growth potential, not based on how much my paycheck is going to be.

Julie: I think, Patrick, they already are.

Patrick: Yes, that's a good point.

Julie: I think some of what's going on right now is exactly that. You are right. I did some research. It's been a couple of years ago, but I believe it would still stand across the generations. Employees believe that helping them grow is one of a manager's key responsibilities. I almost wonder, is the opportunity for us to enable managers right now? Irrespective of organizational systems, because of developments and relationships between the manager and the individual, is this the time we double down and help managers really dive into the skills that they need to be able to coach and support and enable and grow their people so that they're ready for Gen Z, for the millennials? Then, the happy byproduct is everybody else gets it, too.

Patrick: Exactly. Julie, thank you so much. This amazing conversation is so articulate about your perspectives and the audience. How can they find you, the name of your organization, the firm that you have started and had for almost 10 years, DesignArounds? Tell us about how the audience can find out more about you.

Julie: I can be reached through my website, which is, and there's lots of information there.

Patrick: Perfect. We'll make sure that we link that in the blog post for this as well. Julie, any insight into your next book? You mentioned your next book. Do you know when it's going to be coming out? I'm sure people will be interested.

Julie: Thank you for asking. Yes, it’s “Promotions Are So Yesterday.”

Patrick: Perfect, I love that. That's amazing.

Julie: It kind of says it all, and yet it doesn't say it all, because the subtitle is, “Redefine Career Development. Help Employees Thrive,” and it comes out March 8th from ATD Press.

Patrick: Perfect. Just a couple of months away and we look forward to that. Your previous book, as you said, co-authored with Beverly Kaye, “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” is a great read as well. Those in the audience, please take a look at that. Julie, thank you for spending the time with me today. I've enjoyed the conversation, and we will be sure to keep in touch because I'm curious to see how this all unfolds, and people like you with passion and that is out there helping organizations with a new perspective for the future inspire me; they inspire our audience. We will keep in touch, and thank you for the work that you're doing.

Julie: Thank you, Patrick.

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