Moving up isnât the only way to achieve successful career development.
By Beverly Kaye and Lindy Williams
Engagement surveys reveal, again and again, thatÂ individuals join organizations to pursue careerÂ possibilities and they leave organizations if thoseÂ opportunities donât materialize. In fact, a recent GallupÂ study reported that the majority of millennialsâprojected to be 75 percent of the workforce by 2025âsayÂ that professional growth and continued development isÂ very important in their decision to join an organization orÂ take on a new role.
Recruiters who describe an organization as having aÂ development culture need to understand what it meansÂ to follow through on that promise. Company cultureÂ must meet employee expectations and desires forÂ learning and growing. When the reality doesnât matchÂ the promise, a coveted new hire can easily disengage orÂ become a quick quit.
Itâs no secret that yesterdayâs career ladders haveÂ faded or lost rungs along the way to todayâs flatterÂ organizational structures. Goals defined only by movesÂ up the hierarchy and recognition systems centeredÂ primarily on celebrating promotions are setting the stageÂ for frustration, disappointment, disengagement, andÂ potentially loss of talent. The very definitions of growthÂ and career development need to be broadened toÂ encompass the full scope of growth options that exist inÂ the world of work today.
So, whatâs the answer?
Organizations are striving to stay ahead of theÂ competition and on the cutting-edge of servingÂ customers. Recruiters and HR professionals need toÂ see return on the time, money, and energy invested inÂ attracting talent. Managers are focused on buildingÂ and engaging a team of valued players who are ready,Â willing, and able to deliver results. Individuals areÂ developing current and future capabilities to realize theirÂ career aspirations. Continuous growth opportunities willÂ meet the needs of all entities.
Organizations that meet the challenge of providingÂ continued professional growth in spite of fewerÂ promotional opportunities will attract and retain talent.Â Managers who recognize, embrace, and encourageÂ nontraditional career paths will build reputations asÂ development-minded leaders and establish trustingÂ relationships with their teams. And employees whoseÂ growth needs are met will see a future within theÂ organization and remain engaged and committed to theÂ work.
A good place to start achieving this is recognition.
1. Recognize the issueâand the opportunity. RecognitionÂ of the issue and more importantly, the opportunity thatÂ lies within the issue, unlocks a wealth of opportunitiesÂ for individuals and potential for the organization. ManyÂ traditional career paths donât exist anymore, but in manyÂ cases, fulfilling alternatives have replaced them. CandidÂ conversations with candidates, new hires, and tenuredÂ employees about opportunities to grow professionallyÂ create solid partnerships and send the message thatÂ growth is still thereâit just may be packaged differently.
Nontraditional options can bridge functional groupsÂ and uncover potential paths by triggering interest inÂ professional passions that employees may not be awareÂ are possible. For example:
- IT professionals can have transferable skills for productÂ design and marketing roles;
- instructors see line management assignments that drawÂ on their expertise in the field of learning while affordingÂ the chance to stretch into new areas; and
- a sales leader can excel as a direct customer contactÂ manager.
The key, however, is ensuring transparency regardingÂ what continued growth looks like within theÂ organization. For many, the mental image of growthÂ is still a step up a ladder. While the reality may be veryÂ different, it is no less valuable toward the ultimate goalÂ of building a personally meaningful career for individualsÂ while simultaneously building future capability for theÂ organization.
2. Recognize the options. When multiple options forÂ learning and developing are recognized and consistentlyÂ communicated across an organization, a growth cultureÂ is formed. There are six types of experiences that, whenÂ mixed and matched within a career pattern, createÂ a kaleidoscope of development opportunities. TheyÂ include:
- Enrichment: growing in place. Not all workers wantÂ to move from one role to another, but growthÂ within current roles can and should happen. ThroughÂ enrichment and learning programs, individuals feed theirÂ passion about the work, stretch to build new capabilities,Â and grow professionally. Enrichment builds resilience andÂ fosters engagement.
- Exploratory: testing the water. So much can be learnedÂ from simply trying on a role to see if it fits. ExploratoryÂ experiences can identify future roles that are ideal asÂ well as eliminate others from consideration. They canÂ also provide a road map of the behaviors and skillsÂ needed to be considered for a future role. Whether theÂ employee steps into a temporary assignment or simplyÂ conducts a series of informational interviews, exploratoryÂ experiences can uncover details that contribute toÂ informed decisions and better choices for the future.
- Lateral: moving sideways. A sideways experience is anÂ opportunity to leverage transferable skills acquired atÂ the same or similar level while learning a new aspect ofÂ the business. In many organizations, movement amongÂ teams is more fluid and frequent than in the past andÂ offers the opportunity to grow. Lateral experiences canÂ build breadth of expertise, which senior leaders value.Â Employees who get hands-on experience in multipleÂ areas learn functional interdependencies and gain aÂ deeper understanding of how the organization works.
- Realignment: stepping back. Too often labeled as aÂ negative, stepping back can at times be the perfectÂ choice. When a talented individual voluntarily realigns byÂ stepping back and continues to contribute to the successÂ of the organization, the employee and the organizationÂ win. Realignment experiences are often valuableÂ when changing disciplines or fields. Whether changingÂ disciplines or simply adjusting the work-life balance scale,Â taking on a role of less scope or responsibility could leadÂ to greater engagement and satisfaction.
- Vertical: moving on up. Promotional experiencesÂ still exist in organizations. It is critical that individualsÂ choosing to pursue steps up clearly understand what toÂ expect and examine the downsides as well as the upsidesÂ of the new role. Promotions can be enticing and theyÂ can also be rewarding. The key is in making sure thoseÂ rewardsâvisibility, influence, compensation, and theÂ likeâare in sync with any accompanying trade-offsâlonger hours, increased pressure, greater risks, and so on.Â When the time is right and the role checks all the boxes,Â then up is the answer.
- Departure: leaving the nest. Often, there comes a timeÂ in most careers when stepping out the door is the nextÂ best option. If a particular competency or skill set canâtÂ be acquired, or the environment or culture is not theÂ right fit, then leaving might be best for the employeeÂ and the organization. The key here is to ensure thatÂ there is always an opportunity to return in the future.Â For many individuals, the chance to step outâeven forÂ a short period of timeâand gain another perspective orÂ experience is an opportunity that shouldnât be ignored.Â Some of those individuals may decide to return at someÂ point, bringing with them new skills.
3. Recognize growth and celebrate it! Ensuring thatÂ employees are encouraged to stretch and learn, areÂ coached when redirection is needed, and are celebratedÂ when milestones are mastered, builds a sought-afterÂ development culture.Â When employeesâ efforts to grow in traditionalÂ or nontraditional ways are acknowledged, a clearÂ message is sent that the leader involved, as well as theÂ organization they are a part of values and recognizesÂ that growth. Employees want challenges in their work,Â opportunities to learn new things, greater employability,Â and leaders who value their contributions and care aboutÂ their futures. These are all possible by expanding theÂ definition of career growth.
Beverly Kaye is the founder of Career Systems International (now doingÂ business as Talent Dimensions) and the author of multiple books onÂ career development and engagement. Lindy Williams is a consultantÂ with Talent Dimensions and the co-author of “Up Is Not the Only Way:Â Rethinking Career Mobility” along with Kaye and Lynn Cowart.