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How to improve career development within your organisation

Steven Ross advises businesses on how to improve career development within an organisation – and don’t be fooled, it isn’t just about ‘climbing the career ladder’ anymore

Business confidence is gaining momentum in the UK, with the news agenda finally full of positivity about future growth prospects. You only have to look at recent stories – such as Asda hiring 12,000 new members of staff, or poaching on the increase again with the likes of Bob Diamond nabbing an executive from Barclays to run Atlas Mara – to see that confidence is back in the recruitment market again. 
For businesses, this means that employees are also feeling more confident about their ability to secure a new role, and may be looking around for greater opportunities. If their career development has been on the backburner during the recession, they might now be buoyed by the increased optimism in the jobs market, and consequently will be demanding more from their own careers and personal development. Now, more than ever, businesses must focus their attentions back on their employees in order to retain their best people. 

This can be done by: 

Informal catch ups 

Amongst the younger generation in particular, employees don’t necessarily want career conversations to happen once or twice a year when a review meetings pop up in their diary. Instead, they are keen to have on-the-go feedback, with updates about how they are improving and what they can do better. This informal and ad hoc method of sharing feedback on an almost daily basis will come naturally to some organisations, but may feel new and challenging for others. However, regular informal feedback means that employees can keep on improving – rather than waiting another six months to be told what they should be doing next. Grabbing a sandwich on a lunch break, or catching up when travelling to a client meeting, are such scenarios when managers can provide informal feedback. This will give greater confidence to the individual about what they are doing well, and also let them know where there are areas to improve on at an early enough stage for them to take action and turn things around quickly.

Use technology 

For time poor organisations, technology can really help employees to manage their own career. Technology is so engrained in our lives – whether at work on the computer, or home on the tablet – it is second nature to many to ‘go digital’ when carrying out simple tasks such as our weekly food shop or internet banking. There’s no reason why the same cannot apply to career development. Having software which can guide individuals through career considerations – such as new skills they could benefit from learning or advertising other roles within the company – means that employees can take control of their own careers and personal development. The element of ‘self-teaching’ is empowering for the individual and also enables managers to free up their time. 

Don’t make assumptions

All too often we hear about ‘climbing the career ladder’, but actually what we are seeing is a lot more side stepping within organisations, with individuals seeking fulfilment over traditional progression routes. This is as valid as wanting to ascend the corporate ladder if it’s driven by the individual wanting to be the best they can be. Many great business leaders of today have worked in different teams and divisions within one company – it gives them a greater understanding of how the business operates in its entirety and as a result, their knowledge and understanding is second to none. Not all individuals have the same drive to ‘get to the top’, so it’s important to remember side-stepping as an option. 

The most important thing to remember when supporting the career development of your teams is to listen. Many organisations wouldn’t have had time to think about career development during the recession, when they were focused on surviving. However, now they are focused on thriving, it’s time they sit up and listen to what their employees want from their careers. Recent Penna research found that more than 50 per cent of employees leave organisations due to perceived lack of development and yet only 18 per cent of managers surveyed are having frequent career conversations with their teams. This is a real risk for employers in the current climate, but if organisations re-engage their workforce now, they will retain all the hard earned knowledge and have a productive workforce to drive them through the upturn. 


  • Lynn Wade

    Sometimes it's hard for managers to have a career conversation that the employee requests if the manager is focussed or judged on retention. 

    The stress caused by the perceived threat of someone 'walking' can result in a strained conversation, that does trigger a team member to look elsewhere.

    As markets become more confident this year, career opportunity will become a 'critical conversation' . and guidance and training can produce a positive outcome for both company and employee.

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