Technology Insights: Yes, Career Planning Software is Hard to Do

Aug 19, 2014

We all have a good idea what applicant tracking, performance management and learning management software does. However, at least to me, it is not as clear what career planning software does.

I spoke to Anne Fulton at Fuel50 about this and one of her first comments was that career development was one of the top three drivers of employee engagement.

That pretty much nails half the reason for my interest in the software; the other half of my interest is driven by the knowledge that career planning is incredibly hard to do. The accounting supervisor may look up at the accounting manager job but if that manager isn’t going anywhere then career development may seem to be an idle dream.

Two kinds of information

So how does Fuel50 tackle this? I frame it as having two main elements: information about the person and information about jobs.

Information about the person is a series of self-assessments about values, interests and so on. If the assessments are grounded in solid psychology, and are implemented to create a good user experience (UX) then it sets the stage for the person to think clearly and open mindedly about their career.

These insights about an individual are not just important for them, they are important for the boss; they provide a basis for good discussions on how to develop, engage and retain someone.

The second element, information about jobs, depends on what information the organization has or can easily generate about the jobs. This suddenly puts the spotlight on customization; it’s not just about branding the software with your company’s logo, this whole system only works if the assessments are customized so that they can matched against the competencies you already have around your jobs.

What’s interesting?

  • I really like Fuel50’s assessment on career issues such as where do you want to move the needle on work-life balance, on mobility, on accelerating or decelerating a career. On these things even a marginal change may be important to the employee and their boss may have made completely wrong assumptions. This assessment creates the basis for a smarter conversation.
  • Not surprisingly, the sweet spot for Fuel50 is companies with big white-collar populations, however I suspect there is enormous opportunities for organizations to apply this tool/thinking to the hourly workforce.

What’s really important?

  • While many employees will eagerly do the self-assessment, the organization needs to populate the information about jobs so that a person can match themselves to jobs. Fuel50 has some social tools so this doesn’t all land in HR’s lap, but it still needs to be done.
  • The philosophy captured in Joanne Cleaver’s phrase “over is the new up” is the only way career development can work for everyone in a pyramid. We can all keep learning and taking on new challenges but we can’t all become the CEO or even a VP. This is not as harsh as it sounds, most people remain very engaged if they keep learning even if they are not moving up an increasingly narrow pyramid.
  • The software won’t do it for you on its own; it needs commitment from the organization and the real action takes place not on screen but in the conversations that the software sets up.
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