From managerial career to portfolio career : making sense of the transition
This study is rooted in the question about the changing nature of career. The notion of career tends to be conflated with rising up through an organisational or occupational hierarchy. It is widely assumed that the traditional form cannot be sustained in today's downsized, delayered and flexible organisations and attention switches to alternative forms and ways of understanding career. One prediction is that more people will look to developing a mixed pattern of employment, self employment and other activities which do not depend on full time contractual employment with any one employer. This is the notion of the portfolio career popularised by Charles Handy (1989, 1994).Kanter(1989)suggests that such individual moves add up to a macro transition in career forms. However, while there is much debate about changing career, there is a dearth of qualitative studies which seek to explore the issue from the view-point of situated individuals. In particular, there is little empirical evidence available about individuals who make their career outside of exclusive organisational employment. Drawing inductively on in depth interviews with 25 ex-NHS managers now operating various portfolio arrangements, the study set out to explore how individuals are making sense of this transition. This research contributes a qualitative, interpretative study of individual transitions from a managerial position, which may well have embodied the principles of the traditional career, to portfolio work. While focusing on individual interpretation, the study recognises that career is about both its objective features and individual's subjective interpretation of them. Barley's (1989) model of the role of career in the structuring process which draws on Giddens' structuration theory is used as the theoretical base for the study. Hence the particular contribution of the study is in providing a contextualised account of sense making about a personal career transition thought to mirror wider change in career within an explicit recognition of the link between individual action and social structures. The study contributes empirical data about organisational exit which was prompted in this case by a dynamic interaction of push and pull factors. It explores understanding of the concept, parameters and experience of portfolio working focusing, in particular on issues of training and development, social networks and revised views of career outside of employment. The theoretical contribution primarily focuses around a model of the transition which places it within the structuring process. The transition is theorised as less of a disjunctive move than as a shading from one context to another, as individuals bring forward to portfolio work many of the material and discursive practices of their managerial carccr. Several interpretative schemes are identified as relevant to the sense making process, not least the notion that individuals can maintain more personal integrity outside organisational employment. There is less evidence of a desire for instrumental relationships with organisations than the career literature might suggest and more evidence of constraints on development and growth outside of employment. The effects of the actions and perceptions of other people in individual's interpretations of their new career is highlighted. A major theme of the study is continuity within the change as individuals seek to maintain a congruence between the objective features of their new career and how they make sense of the notion of career.