Making career management a reality: A guide for HR

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To achieve a fully engaged workforce, employees must feel valued and that they have a future within their organisation. Employees need to know they have the opportunity to progress in their careers and to develop their knowledge, skills and experience. HR has a major part to play in creating the right environment for career management, not least because high employee satisfaction is linked to better performance, productivity, retention and business results.

Communications and transparency are key factors for career progression in an organisation. The right culture must underpin effective communication of the opportunities that are available to employees and break down organisational siloes so that people can find out about all the opportunities available to them. Both employees and leaders need to operate in an environment where they can have open and constructive conversations about career progression. 

Employees should feel free to express interest in new roles without upsetting their manager, so creating an environment that fosters career progression needs to start from the top. Executive level support of internal mobility needs to be visible and accepting of the best progression route for individual employees. For example in our organisation we had a case where an employee was not feeling satisfied in her job, but was struggling to identify the reasons for that. An evaluation workshop to identify her strengths provided her with a light bulb moment and, armed with a better insight into her career aspirations, she was able to have an open conversation with management. She is now in a much more suitable role and is providing value to the organisation.

Cross-functional and inclusive view of the business

HR managers need a clear cross-functional view of what is going on in the business and the profile and needs of each employee if they are to foster a culture of support for career progression, which may not follow a clear upwards curve. HR can contribute to demystifying multi-directional career progression – helping employees and leaders understand that a ‘sideways’ move can be valuable, broadening skillsets and experience.

Employees in a multi-generational workforce may have different expectations of career progression, depending on their age and background. It is not always possible to generalise as to the expectations and aspirations of a person according to their generation, however, so best practice is to aim to achieve an understanding of each person’s individual skills and aims. That is as likely to be related to what is going on in that individual’s personal life at any one time as it is to be influenced by their age.

 Best practices in supporting a culture of career management include:

  • Managing expectations – if your company is established and stable, there may be fewer opportunities for speedy advancement than there would be in a fast growing new business. Employees need to know that, but that information needs to be delivered in such a way that it does not dampen enthusiasm for working for the business and offers some opportunity for growth and development. If the company is growing fast, employees may have unrealistic expectations about the pace of their career development and may need support in recognising some of their development needs. In some cases employee aspirations may be met only if they leave the organisation and look elsewhere for a job.
  • Start at the top – leaders need to be provided with a clear view of the opportunities across the organisation and be prepared to be open about them. Sometimes senior leaders need to be reminded of the challenges faced by those in the earlier stages of their career. Consider asking them to share their career stories and that will remind them of the process of career progression.
  • Demonstrate the value of career progression initiatives – to get operationally focused managers onside. If positions are filled more quickly and people are getting up to speed in roles efficiently that all translates into time and money saved.
  • Make an explicit commitment to support internal mobility – support that through training and development, self-reflection tools and coaching. Management should be prepared to enable job shadowing and encouraged to develop internal people who can offer 80% of what is needed for a role rather than take on external candidates who have prepared a CV to match a job spec 100% – but who will need training and development too. Capitalise on training and development within the organisation to promote internally where possible, saving time and money in recruiting and developing a new person. Depending on the organisation it may be possible to offer jobs internally for a short period of time before recruiting more widely if a suitable internal person does not come forward.
  • Celebrate success – share news about internal job changes so that employees see that the business supports career progression.

The need to create a culture fostering career progression and greater employee engagement sits against a backdrop of a skills shortage that is expected to heighten as businesses build confidence and hire more people. According to Bersin by Deloitte’s annual report, Predictions for 2015, 'Many traditional challenges remain. 83% of companies are seriously worried about their leadership pipelines and only 8% have strong programmes to build leadership skills in their millennial population. Retention and engagement remain the number two issue around the world, creating a whole new focus on employee wellness and happiness as an HR strategy.' HR has a vital role to play in nurturing career management and getting buy-in to its contribution to organisational success.

Dominique Jones is VP, HR at Halogen Software

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