Over the past two decades organizations have encouraged their employees to be career self-reliant. They’ve been telling employees to “take charge” of their own careers and not rely on the organization to provide guidance.
While this worked to some extent, the changing expectations of employees in the workplace requires greater collaboration. While I do believe that employees must take charge, the organization needs to help facilitate the process by providing clarity and opportunity.
In this new world, based on the work and research I have done in career management, I believe there are six key things that organizations can do to help facilitate career success:
1. Clearly communicate the strategy, direction of the organization
In order to ensure an employee’s career goals are aligned with the company’s goals, the company needs to be open about its strategy and future directions.
If the company plans on pursuing new opportunities which would make some skill sets obsolete, employees should know this up front and decide for themselves if it is time to move on or if they want to be on the forefront of developing new skills to help explore new opportunities. Employees can’t be in charge of their career and make good career decisions if they don’t understand where the organization is going.
2. Helping to learn about new opportunities within the organization
Many employees find it easier to leave their current organization to get new experiences and build their portfolio of skills than to take a new role in a different function within the current organization. In fact, it is common for managers to horde good talent for their own personal needs than to look at what is best for the individual and the organization.
Senior management can help change this behavior by encouraging and facilitating internal transfers. Some organizations even help employees’ broker relationships with people in other functions/divisions to help them explore new opportunities within the organization.
If employees value growth and learning, then we must find new ways for them to learn the business within the organization. Moving to different functions can help build a breadth of knowledge of the organization that will help individuals build leadership skills. Managers need to get better at looking beyond their own group for growth opportunities for their direct reports.
3. Proactively manage opportunities for high-potential employees
Most people learn through experience, so getting access to development opportunities is key for retaining top talent and keeping them engaged. However, more often than not access to new opportunities is either dependent on being in the right place at the right time, or being connected and hearing about the opportunity before others.
When we leave it up to managers to find development opportunities for their employees our results are often hit or miss.
When considering your most valuable employees it is important to be more purposeful in their development and to plan for key experiences that will help to develop the skills they need to become good managers or leaders. Some companies have taken the approach of creating a talent council where the most high-potential employees are discussed and their development needs indentified. Then this council works to identify upcoming openings or special assignments that will help to build the skills or experiences needed for personal growth.
4. Help employees customize their own career
Employees have different cycles in their lives and the employers who are most able to attract them are those that will allow employees to ramp up or ramp down during their career depending on different events going on in their personal lives.
This allows the individual to integrate themselves with their work as opposed to choose work or family. For some organizations this may mean redesigning some roles to allow for individuals to be successful as they define success.
If organizations were better at customizing careers for individuals we would not see the type of mass exodus of women leaders that has historically been true. These women are not leaving the workplace because they don’t want to work; they are leaving because it is impossible to manage their workloads from their personal and work lives. Although women may have been the proverbial “canary in a coal mine” we are now seeing these new expectations being held by all employees – men and women alike.
5. Clearly articulate expectations at different levels
Employees often get frustrated when they don’t know how to get ahead and they don’t understand how to develop themselves for the future. By being clear about performance expectations for the future, and at different levels of the organization, employees will be able to more accurately self-assess if they have what it takes to move ahead in the organization.
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Many organizations have employees rate themselves and managers rate their employees as part of a performance management or career management conversation. Sometimes employees may have an inaccurate perception of their ability to advance in the organization, and having clear expectations will help managers with that very difficult conversation.
6. Managers are the key source for developmental experiences
Most organizations are stuck in the model of offering a laundry list of training courses for employees and believing that this suffices for the organization’s responsibility in career management. But if you open up any article or text book on adult learning, it will say that 70 percent of our learning should come from on-the-job developmental experiences, 20 percent should come from learning from others, and only 10 percent from taking courses/reading books.
Managers have not fully realized the critical role they play in understanding the career goals of their employees and crafting development opportunities that help them to achieve their goals.
To get work accomplished, we tend to ask people to do things they already know how to do. This is particularly true today when we have to do more with less and expediency is very helpful. But if our managers are not proactively thinking about special assignments or roles for team members with potential for advancement, then how will employees be able to continuously learn and grow?
Given the changing expectations of employees to fully leverage their talents, continuously develop, and blend work and life more effectively we must reexamine how we manage careers today. We have provided here six ways to help organizations manage the new career expectations; now it is up to you to develop new programs and policies that will provide smooth sailing into the future.