Career Development

For large numbers of people working in the UK, movement between organizations is now the main route to career progression. Few UK organizations are able to offer 'jobs for life' guarantees to their employees any more. Added to this, flatter management structures tend to mean that the traditional career route of linear promotion is no longer an option for many individuals. Career development is therefore currently a hot issue, not just for organizations which want to ensure the longer term commitment of key performers, but also for individuals who want to see the fulfillment of their career aspirations. Here are just a few ideas for those who want to create meaningful career development programmes, offering real opportunities to individuals and organizations alike.

Communicating about career goals

To provide opportunities for career development which are meaningful to an individual, an organization first has to understand that individual's career priorities. Career priorities are the values or issues which are most important to the individual within the context of their career. A good place to start identifying career priorities is with an 'alphabet' of key words expressing ideas related to work, or work and life balance. For example:

A assets
B balance
bills (payment of)
C competence

.. and so on.

Individuals set out to prioritize the words listed and the concepts they suggest, and to identify their top ten values. These will vary greatly from one individual to the next. For example, different individuals might give greater or less weighting to:

  • 'balance' - the need to achieve a balance between their work and other life interests
  • 'bills' - the need to cover their living costs comfortably
  • 'boardroom' - the need to rise to the top of the professional ladder.

The top ten values chosen form the basis from which career goals are subsequently developed. Encouraging individuals to carry out such career goal identification exercises prior to their performance appraisal can prepare them to share this information with their manager. Managers are then better able to:

  • discuss career goals in line with current performance and the requirements of the organizations
  • identify opportunities within the current job, or changes to the job, to help the individual move towards their career goals
  • set objectives which will provide the direction and opportunities needed by the individual, in order to achieve their career goals.

Developing transferable skills

With constant change in their operating environment, there is a great deal of pressure on organizations to become more flexible and responsive in accommodating changing needs. A direct result of this can be that individuals' jobs have a limited life span becoming irrelevant or obsolete as changes happen.

Increasingly, therefore, individuals need to be willing and able to move within their organizations, changing their function and/or responsibilities in line with the changing needs of their employer. In this context, it can be important for individuals to focus on the development not only of function-specific skills, but also of transferable skills which can be used in other areas. Competence-based development is an approach which is often used to identify and plan for development of core, and therefore transferable, skills. For competences to have any real career development value, however, they must be relevant to and directly linked to the overall medium- to long-term needs of the organizations.

Flexible job definition

A key problem with job descriptions is that they can become too rigid. As individuals develop and are able to meet all their responsibilities to a consistently high standard, they need to be provided with new challenges and opportunities. The implication for organizations is that they need to treat job descriptions as evolving documents, which change and develop as the individual develops. The main purpose of the individual's job may not change, but the range and type of tasks for which they have a specified responsibility will expand to provide a more challenging role:

As part of their career development, individuals need to be encouraged to see that the description of what their job entails will change, in order to meet the evolving needs of the business, as well as their own career development needs. Any well managed business will go through an annual planning cycle setting objectives and performance targets for each new year. It can be a valuable exercise to review job descriptions annually as part of this planning process. By encouraging individuals and their managers to integrate this activity into the performance appraisal process, training professionals can help to ensure that individuals' jobs are kept in line with the needs of the organizations, as well as their own career development needs.

Initiatives which support career development

There are a number of ways in which organizations can encourage and stimulate effective career development. Employer-led initiatives which can be introduced and managed by training professionals in this respect include the following:

Initiative Relevance to career development
Mentoring programmes Links key individuals with senior executives who act as personal career counsellors and advocates for the individual, advising and supporting them in their career development plans.
Training in problem solving and decision making Raises ability of individuals to tackle their own problems and make their own decisions, i.e., to become empowered, exercising greater responsibility for and control over their personal performance and career development.
Networking and links with professional organizations Encourages individuals to build key relationships and share learning/experiences with others in their specific organizations or profession, 'getting known' for their expertise in certain key areas.
Development-focused approaches to performance appraisal Encourages use of appraisal process not solely as an opportunity to praise or reprimand performance, but as an opportunity also to 'check out' individual career aspirations and plan development strategies which will help to meet these.
Secondment/project work Broadens the work experience and skills base of the individual, by seconding them over a fixed term period to project teams where they learn to work with people from a range of functions on tasks outside their normal area of work responsibility.

For more information

If career development is an area in which you would like more advice,
please get in touch with us to find out how we can help.

© DBA 1999