Does Career Development Make a Difference?

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Does Career Development Make a Difference?

Does making career development a priority make sense?

For years HR departments have included an ‘official’ career development conversation somewhere among three or four conversations managers are asked to have at specific times during the year. Lengthy debates have ensued over whether the topic of career development should be included with other topics in one of the standard – usually quarterly, one-on-one discussions between the manager and the direct report or addressed in a standalone meeting focused solely on the employee’s career aspirations. Another approach has been to touch lightly on career development now and then, or maybe just leave it to the employee to bring up the subject when and if they’re ready. After all, individuals are supposed to own their careers.

Rather than viewing career development as an addition to other conversations or as one more thing to add to an already overflowing list of To Do’s, why not switch the lens and view it as a fundamental part of the employee experience?

There are four core assumptions that enable this lens switch:

One – Everyone has a career. Professionals are not the only people who have careers and certainly not the only group that wants and needs career development. A career pattern might be made up of years spent in one role doing one type of manual labor or could be viewed as a patchwork of varied experiences or roles of increasing responsibility. When an individual wants to stay put – loving what they do – their career development focuses on continuing to find ways to make that role as exciting and energizing as they need it to be to remain productive and continue contributing. When another individual wants variety or aspires to a greater scope of work or authority, career development means using the present experiences and time preparing for what could be — and should be — next.

Two – Career development is a powerful motivator. Surveys continue to point to career development as an essential element of effective engagement strategies. When employees can envision a future inside the organization, they are much more willing to stay and, in fact, they report higher levels of commitment to the success of the company or mission. If that line of sight to the future is missing, they will disengage and leave.

Three – Career growth is mandatory. This statement sometimes generates resistance. The cries of “But what if I don’t want to grow!” or “I’m happy right where I am.” My response is, “That’s your choice – AND – that role, whatever it is, will change around you. So your growth – your career development – will be, for the time being, ensuring that you grow right along with the role.” The world of work is changing too rapidly for anyone – in any job or role – to stand still and hope things will remain the same. From the service employee who last month was writing orders and this month is entering information into a tablet to the engineer exploring applications for artificial intelligence – jobs are changing. Growth is mandatory.

Four – Career development doesn’t have to be difficult. Yes, it requires some time. Yes, it requires some thought – on the part of the individual and the manager. And yes, it requires commitment on the part of the organization to provide tools, resources and opportunities. AND it can be integrated into what is already happening every day, every week, every month. When employees understand what it means to be the career owner; when managers know when and how to step in to help; and when organizations supply the surrounding support structure, career development happens. Conversations transform into ongoing dialogue rather than check-the-box meetings and rushed discussions.

In an HRO Today article I co-authored with Beverly Kaye recently entitled “Plenty of Room to Grow,” we highlighted continuous growth – the career development of individual employees – as the magical intersection of needs – the point where the needs of the individual, the manager and the organization meet.

  • Employees need and want to work in ways that are meaningful for them – career development moves them toward that objective.
  • Managers need and want teams of people who are performing at their best – career development moves a team toward that result.
  • And organizations need and want a workforce that is ready, willing and able to meet the challenges of today as well as what tomorrow will bring – career development equips employees to deliver on that outcome.

So the answer to the questions posed in the title is ‘yes’ – career development does make a difference!

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