'Quiet ambition' could spell trouble for succession plans

The past few years have been riddled with sources of anxiety nationwide: a pandemic, political and social unrest, inflation, job insecurity, a potential recession. As a result, some people's goals have changed to center their own well-being — as opposed to their corporate job's bottom line. 

In an April interview with Fortune, Austin Kleon, an artist and author, termed this departure from the grind and return to the self "quiet ambition." It is the idea that workplace achievements should not be chased just for the sake of them, and the acknowledgement that a company's bottom line might not align with one's personal definition of success. 

Jessica Kim — founder of the caregiving platform Ianacare, mother of three and caregiver to her aging father — began engaging in quiet ambition by setting boundaries around her work, she told the publication. 

"My ambition now is I want to live a meaningful life, versus I want to achieve the highest level of success in X, Y, Z things," Ms. Kim said. "I want to rest. I want to take care of myself. I want to drop everything and show up for my friend." 

The quiet ambition trend is not a rejection of productivity during the workday like "quiet quitting" or "lazy girl jobs"; rather, it promotes personal goals above professional ones. As a result of balance-seeking, companies might see their leadership pipelines dry up: especially as more organizations slim down their C-suites and eliminate the COO role, making succession planning murkier. 

Visier, a people analytics and workplace planning platform, recently surveyed 1,000 full-time U.S. employees who identify as individual contributors to gauge their interest in climbing the corporate ladder. Only 38% said they are interested in becoming people managers at their current organization. 

Respondents said the prospect of increased stress and pressure or longer hours deters them from a higher position. Instead, when asked about their personal ambitions, 67% mentioned spending time with family and friends, 64% mentioned being physically/mentally healthy and 58% mentioned traveling. 

Nine percent said they consider becoming a people manager an ambition of theirs; only 4% said the same about becoming a C-suite executive. 

Dozens of people reached out to Fortune to vouch for the holistic value of quiet ambition, according to the report. 

"The pandemic allowed us to be seen as humans," said Christina Goyanes, co-founder of a brand editorial agency. "Before the pandemic, it was clear that we were just a headcount. Now that's changed. I'm not just a headcount, I'm a human, I'm a whole person."

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