Career Management as a Corporate Culture

job vs. career

Hiring, growing and retaining employees is on everyone’s mind nowadays. Much of that has to do with fostering a culture of employee career management. Yes, there is a definite demand for people with rare and/or well-developed skill sets. Having said that, skills on their own is never the right reason to make a hiring decision, a firing decision or a promotion decision.

People with Career Potential

hire potentialPotential is the key when considering new hires. Why? Companies today are constantly being asked to address new, enhanced, expanded, changing and developing customer demands and needs. Those customers are not always the traditional external customer. Internal customers often have the same kind of expectations. In many cases when their  requirements are met, the impact on the business can be significant. Think about the value of well planned and designed data warehouses as just one example.

New Hires and Career Development

The vast majority of hiring managers want to see candidates who add immediate value to the team, exhibit the potential for future growth AND “fit” well into the corporate culture. If skills were the only requirement, using short term contractors may be the better approach to take. In most cases short term contracts should not present disruption to the business. They come in, do their work and leave.

Existing employees, as well as their newly hired counterparts, are the people who have career aspirations and expectations. When determining who to target for investment in career building, sometimes it isn’t always as obvious as one would think.

There will always be the vocal individuals who are actively searching out opportunities, however they may not be the only people to consider. It is up to every manager to initiate a conversation about career aspirations. It isn’t always the individuals who are “in your face” who are important to stimulate, motivate and develop as part of your the company retention strategy.  Don’t forget about the softer spoken and competent members of the team. It is equally as important to retain on the team.

Building Careers

How can any organization possibly ensure that every employee needs can be met with growth opportunities? Particularly now that modern companies are designed to be “flatter” than in previous generations.

For many years career growth was viewed in the traditional sense of “climbing the corporate ladder”. That kind of thinking most often leads to disappointment when “the top got narrower over the last couple of decades. The entire concept of “becoming the boss” isn’t necessarily the best direction for everyone – even if they won’t admit it.

company structureCareer Path Directions

In today’s business environment, talented individuals can still “rise” as leaders in more than simply the “vertical” manner. There is a lot to be said about one’s ability to grow “horizontally”, too.

How is growth defined? By the company? By management? By the employees themselves? What does it take to satisfy, retain and grow highly motivated employees? Contrary to popular belief, throwing more money at an employee isn’t the answer.

Note to management

  • Increasing a salary doesn’t constitute career development. Seriously reconsider those ‘counter offers’. The novelty of more $$ wears off pretty quickly. Although an employee may indicate that the reason they are giving notice is “money”, it is NEVER THE ONLY REASON. Exit interviews are a great learning experience for all involved.
  • When ever salary is brought up in an exit interview, that is good enough reason to take a look at your own local market. Are you “off market”? It is important to recognize that salary surveys are at least six months out of date by the time they are published and the results are never specific to particular market. Every market has different influences that sway salary expectations – particularly during times when disruption occurs and competitors are on the rampage.

Managing Employee Career Expectations

An employee’s definition of career growth can be quite varied based on a number of issues. This can be quite apparent within a multi-generational workforce. Issues that can influence one’s perception of career development may be age, cultural background and/or industry related experiences. Having said that, it is also a mistake to generalize on what may be leading the aspirations of an individual.

Sometimes individual aims and goals are more related to what is going on in a personal life – a very good justification for keeping communication lines open between employee and management. Ask questions. Insist on feedback. Managing the expectations of individuals is critical to maintaining employee satisfaction and employee engagement.

Note to management – It is also important to ensure an individual’s expectations are realistic for their skills, company expectations and market conditions.

promotionI recently interviewed a bright, young and personable university graduate. I was viewing him for a role related to his education even though he had limited work experience. He told me (with a straight face) that he wanted to be a VP in 3-5 years. He didn’t seem to know what kind of a VP so on further digging, he decided it would be a VP of Sales.

I inquired as to why he wanted to be a VP of Sales when he had never held a sales role before. He said his friend had quickly climbed the ladder (of a 15 person company) so he felt he should be able to do the same thing in the same length of time.

I also interviewed a young man who had the title Director in a company of 15 people. He was in a tactical capacity with two direct reports. It was apparent he had been awarded a title in lieu of salary. Unfortunately, he felt holding a title made him qualified to be a Director in a larger organization where the role was strategic as opposed to tactical. You get my point….

Honesty and Career Development

Obviously the rate of an individual’s career advancement differs due a very wide range of circumstances. When a company is stable and established, the responsibility, pace and corporate expectations of the individual will be very different than in a startup or a much smaller environment.

We have all met 30 year old CEO software developers. My recommendation is always the same – be honest with people when discussing their careers and their potential. It is unfair, irresponsible and possibly cruel otherwise. At the same time, be cognizant of the fact that in some cases an employee’s aspirations may only be met if they leave the organization and look elsewhere for a job.

Honesty and Career Support

When a company has a policy that includes employee career management, make sure that it is visible to the naked eye. Employees expect to “see and experience” policies in action. Once again, honesty is critical. Employees need to understand there is a genuine commitment to support internal mobility – wherever and whenever possible, feasible and realistic.

Once a policy is set, it has to be supported by carefully planned and executed training programs, development tools, coaching and feedback. (hint – make this a part of a manager’s performance review) Depending on the organization, some companies have successfully provided opportunities for “interim” roles – for short periods of time – before any external recruiting takes place.

Celebrate Career Success

acknowledgementCelebrating employee career success, and sharing news about internal job changes, demonstrates and proves that career development policies are truly backed up honoured. This kind of behaviour also creates and supports the kind of culture that fosters career progression AND ensures greater employee engagement throughout the organization.

Achieving a fully engaged workforce promotes job satisfaction, employees feel valued, they believe in the opportunity to progress in their career and they are inclined to write great things on social media such as Glassdoor.

Note to management – this substantially supports recruiting efforts.

Think about the advantages to the business when there is –

  • Clear evidence that the employee experience is positive
  • Career focused employee policies
  • Examples of employee appreciation and recognition

…. This when great things happen!

Note to management – although it is a huge mistake and potentially cruel to stretch people beyond their limits, it is still important to provide the challenge. Well-rounded, value-focused leaders need to view their world through a wide-angle lens and consider various employee options.

Bersin Predictions for 2015

According to Bersin by Deloitte’s annual report, Predictions for 2015, “Many traditional challenges remain in the work environment. 83% of companies are seriously worried about their leadership pipelines and only 8% have strong programs to build leadership skills in their millennial population. Retention and engagement remains to be the number two issue around the world.”


proThere will always be individuals within an organization who are recognized as having the brightest and most promising future.  Sometimes it is obvious in the form of their personal ambition and other times it appears as quiet leadership and influence.

Acknowledging and recognizing individuals is just as good for the business as it is for employee morale, engagement and career development.

Talent needs to be watched, supported, developed, groomed and encouraged. It is said that it is impossible to motivate someone. It is, however, entirely possible to provide the tools and the environment that encourages and supports self-motivation.

People are motivated by interesting work, challenge, and increasing responsibility. These intrinsic factors answer people’s deep-seated need for growth and achievement. In the real world, this is what we call leadership and team building.

So what are some of the most effective next steps that management can take to further develop their people? Stay tuned for next week’s blog.

“Take care of those who work for you and you’ll float to greatness on their achievements.
~ H. S. M. Burns, president of Shell USA from 1949 – 1961

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Expect More Than a Recruiter with Talent Search Consultant Janis Strathearn