Anyone who has been a mom, auntie, nanny, or babysitter has probably played Chutes and Ladders, the old Hasbro game that’s now available online and as an app.  In the event you haven’t, here’s is all you need to know from the product’s marketing:

“Climb up and slide down in the exciting game of ups and downs, Chutes and Ladders! You and the character on your pawn can see the square marked 100, but it’s not so easy to get there. If you land on a good deed, you can shimmy up a ladder, but land on the wrong spot and you’ll shoot down a chute! Spin the spinner to see how many spots you’ll move. Will your new spot send you down or move you up, up, up? Slip, slide and see if you can win at Chutes and Ladders!

The game challenges you to scramble to the top of the gameboard without slip-sliding down! Land on good deeds to climb ladders! Watch out for the slide! The first player to reach the 100 square wins!”

Sounds a little bit like a career, right?  Though for most of us, a career is not a sport, rather it’s a means for fulfillment and income.  And many of us are looking for ways to be more successful at work.

So, look at the underlined phrases in Hasbro’s marketing-speak: I found 3 points embedded there to help optimize a career.

  1. Relationships matter. (What can you do to land on a good deed?)
  2. Situational awareness. (How to avoid a wrong spot/landmine?)
  3. (How to set things up so spinner always provides a high number?)

Relationships Matter. One company, Relations Research, says it best: “Everything important in business depends on relationships. We help you be more vigilant, see lurking risks, and discover new opportunities in your important business relations, so that you can enjoy more resiliency and success with your suppliers, workforce, customers, and strategic partners.”  Yes, they’re selling a service, but their ethnographers and behavior anthropologists understand the power of relationships for businesses, as well as for the individual.

If you’re a small business owner or solopreneur, you know business relationships bring repeat business, help your branding, promote your business (through word of mouth), and improve customer satisfaction.

If you’re an employee, you know that relationships at work also foster friendship, which yields trust, fun and joy, providing a sense of personal fulfillment and improved teamwork.

If you’re an executive, you know that by treating your workforce with respect and applauding their successes (no matter how small), you will increase their productivity, their commitment to their jobs, and their contributions to business goals.

Tip to land on a career “good deed”: Focus on building relationships. You’ll make you happier, and positive connections will lead to achieving new rungs on the work ladder—whatever that means to you personally.

Situational Awareness. If you search the term, situational awareness, you will find many results related to personal safety. It’s that and more.  In short, situational awareness is all about knowing what is going on around us. That means having a mental map to help us understand where we are, what surrounds us, and what challenges may lie ahead. This ability allows us to see clearly what is happening to develop an effective coping plan.

One of my friends talks about having “dented the furniture” at a prior job, meaning she wasn’t aware—at the time—of how her driver/driver mentality might impact her colleagues, her career, and her brand.  She is now. And, had she been in a different culture and profession, what was perceived as “denting the furniture” might have been considered a routine way to do business.

Most of us probably have heard our mothers say—or said to our kids— “mind your manners.” That phrase was a cue to behave differently than we did at home. It may have been church, grandma’s house, a restaurant, whatever, but everyone recognized the environment required different rules.

One caveat:  Many of the roles I have held have been change agent roles, meaning it was expected that I would challenge the status quo. Serving as a change agent comes with its own set of expectations, though not necessarily abiding by the norms of the work culture into which one is placed. 

Tip to avoid a career landmine: Be cognizant of your work environment and culture and know when “different rules” are required.

Competence.  Ultimately, performance is what matters.  Performance requires competence, the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.  Many studies have examined what distinguishes high performers.  The results consistently show a few simple principles, all of which presume you’re working in a field that aligns with your natural talents and interests.

  • Competence comes from putting in the work, the practice, or as Nike famously says, “Just Do It!” The habits of some GOATS (greatest of all time) show they out-practiced others—Michael Jordan is said to have practiced his shots long after his teammates left the court, and Joan Benoit, winner of the first Olympic women’s marathon, made it a habit to run ¼ mile extra every day. Grit.
  • Competence comes from a learning orientation. Jennifer Doudna, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, spent years learning in the labs of others and collaborating across disciplines. One of the most valuable insights I gained in graduate school was from a professor who told me reading on any topic 20 minutes per day would help build expertise in any discipline. Top performers read, attend seminars and classes, and actively participate in learning programs.
  • Competence comes from looking for opportunities to learn and grow—from stretching. Asking for extra work, trying new things, learning from failure. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman Supreme Court Justice, excelled as a law clerk when no firm would even interview her in spite of graduating near the top of her law school class.

Tip to gain competence and be a top performer: Be sure your work aligns with your talents, then put in the work, develop a learning orientation, and take on challenges.

And that, my friends, is “Chutes and Ladders” for your career!



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