These Are the Most Critical Components to Career Development

Today’s complex talent environment means business leaders need to consider their career development programs, which have become a critical tool in attraction and retention.
Career development components

Workers want the chance to progress in their careers. According to a Right Management “Career Management” study from this year, that opportunity is the top reason why 39 percent of employees are engaged. Along with that increased engagement, career development programs lead to retaining more people who are productive and grow their skills, thus benefitting the organization, said Phyllis Millikan, senior vice president for career management at Right Management, a ManpowerGroup company focusing on talent and career management.

“Whether or not to invest in this type of a program and to support career development should really be a no-brainer for most organizations if you want to compete,” Millikan said.

If an organization lacks a career development program, it could drive away valuable talent. “You’re not going to retain 100 percent of your employees with the use of career development, but you’re going to retain a much larger population, and you’re going to decrease the risk of losing those employees that do want to stay and would stay if they saw meaningful development,” Millikan said.

Here are the critical components to a successful career development program:

To get started, align the talent strategy and business strategy, as well as the tools available, Millikan said. Everything needed for development should align and be integrated in a single platform to make the process easier for everyone involved.

Also, conversations between leaders and employees will be critical to development, so leaders should receive training ahead of these discussions, Millikan said. And by giving employees learning ability assessments, leaders gain insights into how their workers learn. This can help guide development.

Development design should revolve around the individual, so it’s valuable to spend time asking people what they want from the program, said Greg Pryor, vice president of leadership and organizational effectiveness at enterprise cloud applications company Workday Inc. He noted that many components of their software came from employee and client input.

Who should own career development?

At the end of the day, it’s the individual who will care most about their career, Pryor said. Their leaders should also partner with them to help the worker achieve their goals, and human resources acts as a curator that provides the tools and technology to enable all parties involved.

“It’s everybody,” said Angela Jacobs, director of talent acquisition and development at University of Chicago. “It takes a village.” However, the individual needs to be ready to take on their development. If they don’t own it, they’re less likely to progress.

What are the tools needed?

Tools for career development can be as simple as having a framework for frequent conversations between manager and employee. “The world of work changes so quickly that the annual performance review just is archaic and out of step,” Jacobs said. Ongoing discussions are a critical component to development. Therefore, the alumni relations and development division at the University of Chicago has mandated that managers have 30-minute conversations with their workers every 30 days.

Jacobs’ team tracks its goals and development throughout the month and then discuss progress and changes during their monthly meetings. While this can be done in an online, shared document, more robust software can also facilitate. As a result, her team will soon use Workday, which will allow the tracking of goals, as well as viewing open positions across the university to enable movement.

“I do think that technology really helps,” Workday’s Pryor said. He described his software’s career opportunities graph, which places the individual at the center of a graphic that also shows how other workers have moved relative to their current role, as well as showing connections between workers. This enables communication between colleagues to discuss experiences in developing their careers, he said. Doing all of this would be difficult and slow if operated by a person not using software.

What else should be in a development program?

After an employee finds a role they desire or a skill they want to learn, they need training. This should relate to the development program. “Rather than the learning content being disconnected from the career architecture, we really marry those together, appreciating that people are probably pursuing learning opportunities in the context of career interests and aspirations that they have,” Pryor said.

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Pryor said these aspirations don’t always fit into the traditional structure of promotions. Especially among millennials, there’s a demand to constantly receive feedback that includes a sense of where they are in their careers.

“Their need to have that information and to know where they stand is not consistent with our heritage promotion structure,” Pryor said. He sees the future of work consisting of fewer roles and a greater focus on teams and broad capabilities for lateral career moves. “I think we still have an opportunity to figure out what that new, post-promotion paradigm looks like,” Pryor said.

Finally, career development and training is a continuous journey, said Heidi Soltis-Berner, evolving workforce talent leader at Deloitte and managing director at Deloitte University. Sometimes, there’s a fallacy that learning is only for senior-level people, but it really should be for everyone at the organization and be tailored to each of them. New skills are currency, Soltis-Berner said, and that development takes continuous practice and coaching no matter where people are in their careers.

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email