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Levels of Aspiration

April 25, 2012

Do you have a “level of aspiration” when it comes to your work and career? When you mash Tamara Dembo’s and Kurt Lewin’s “level of aspiration” theory with David McClelland’s work on achievement motivation an interesting concept starts to take shape.  Some of us will reach a level within our work or career and will not desire to go any higher.  According to McClelland some of us are just not born with a high desire to achieve.  But of course some of us are.  Makes sense, right?

So if this makes sense why do companies tie themselves in knots trying to figure out why employees may not want to reach the corner office, become a partner, or at the very least take that next promotion?  Now of course this is the opposite of the Peter Principle (which is being promoted to a level of incompetence).  If you have a boss who suffers from the Peter Principle – remember he or she allowed themselves to be promoted to that level (and they may not be aware of their incompetence, which is always the kicker).

But I digress. The level a person wants to reach in terms of title, responsibility, expected connectivity and stress is different for each person and in society we tend to frown upon those who don’t aspire for more.  But is the reality that there is a lack of desire to become a corporate executive alive and well?

One new study from Intelligent Office (IO) found in a survey of 1,075 people no one, not even one person, aspired to become a corporate executive.  More than half, 65%, want to work as an entrepreneur or independent.  The “Work IQ” survey found a shift in work styles as well with an emphasis on more flexible work hours, have more mobility in life, and access to technology (like laptop or iPad) that affords the desired mobility.

The survey results bring up three thoughts for me…
1. Were the results a fluke due to our economic environment?  I mean there are approximately  157,000 students in MBA schools across the country (rough estimate from AACSB accredited schools).  Aren’t most MBAs in school because the masters degree could lead to the next promotion and possibly to a position as a corporate executive?
2. IO didn’t provide a breakdown of the demographics in the release so I’m not sure if their survey respondents reflect more of our working society versus their customer base (Intelligent Office is the leading virtual, professionally staffed office space for mobile executives and small businesses in North America).  If the respondents mirror their customer base then the results make sense.  If the respondents mirror more of the workforce as a whole then the results are a cause for concern.
3. Considering the results mirror our current workforce then it does mean a new trend is being highlighted.  Could a shortage of corporate executives be on the horizon, exacerbated by the Baby Boomer retirements?

What would a shortage of potential corporate executives mean for your company?

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