Juggling career transition and development

by 11 Jun 2010

While career transition has been a focus for companies through the global financial crisis, business leaders need to look more seriously at career development options for talented performers. HR Leader looks at some of the latest issues and examines what HR professionals can do to assist

In the wake of the global financial crisis, companies have found that employees are feeling disengaged, unmotivated and disenfranchised due to restructures, change of management, wage freezes, employee benefits cutbacks and a lack of or often zero training and development opportunities over the past two years.

This should ring warning bells for employers, as numerous surveys have pointed to a significant rise in employee turnover in the coming months. Top reasons given by candidates for seeking new jobs are limited career opportunities (41 per cent), feeling undervalued (24 per cent) and losing faith in the current organisation (18 per cent).

A major concern for HR leaders in business today is the retention of staff who committed themselves in the recent difficult times, who are now seeking improved conditions and career opportunities in the short term as a reward for their diligence, according to Bruce Anderson, managing director of Lee Hecht Harrison.

“This expectation by employees is against a lack of consistent top line and bottom line growth from which business leaders would make the investment needed,” he notes.

“My discussions with HR professionals is consistently focused upon the retention and the importance that career opportunities plays within an organisation. In the majority of our customers who utilise exit surveys, staff continue to state they left because of the lack of career opportunities and their relationship with their manager/supervisor.”

What to do

In order for companies to retain staff, increase productivity and ultimately profit margin as the job market recovers, David Reynolds, executive general manager of Chandler Macleod Group Consulting, says it is essential that companies acknowledge and recognise the impact that the GFC has had on career progression, and more importantly, to implement a solid career development strategy for all employees.

“In implementing this strategy we are seeing companies recognise and understand that self-assessment with the use of robust assessment tools to help identify an employees key skills, strengths and motivators is the initial first crucial step towards successful career transition whether it be within or out of a company,” he says.

Ironically, Reynolds notes that this self-assessment often forms part of an outplacement program when a departing employee has left a company, but would have been considerably more useful had it been completed years ago. “The assessment results provides the basis for further discussions to assist employees to gain a better understanding of themselves and where in the company they are likely to be most successful and gain most satisfaction,” he says.

“This enables HR professionals in consultation with employees as well as external coaches to be able to develop clear career paths, explore more effectively internal redeployment opportunities and, where necessary, offer adequate and quality outplacement support to help them transition into another career outside of the company.”

Issues for HR professionals

A significant proportion of managers are ill-equipped or lack of confidence to initiate career conversations with their staff, for fear of not having the answer or alternatively creating career conversations leading to staff leaving the business, according to Anderson.

“HR professionals typically in tune with the intentions of staff are investigating means by which they can develop the skills and confidence of managers to hold successful career conversations with their staff,” he asserts.

However, there is a risk in holding these career conversations, but an even bigger risk in taking no action and hoping their concerns regarding staff retention will not eventuate.

“In talking with a wide range of business leaders, there is a strong case that a trickle of talent leaving any business will quickly expand into a stream,” he says.

He echoes Reynold’s comments, and says the solution is to invest in skilling managers and supervisors to hold structured career conversations as a matter of course with their employees.

“If focused upon high potential employees, this discussion should include more senior managers to demonstrate the organisations interest and commitment to the employee,” he says.

Left to their own devices, few managers have the experience and confidence to hold career conversations, according to Anderson. “The fear for even the most experienced managers is ‘I don’t have an answer.’ Many employees would be well satisfied in the first instance to begin an ongoing career conversation which demonstrates their career is part of their manager’s and organisation’s concerns and considerations.”

The difficulty for many HR leaders, according to Anderson, is that their concerns about a looming staff turnover problem are not reflected in their current statistics, and how to convince their business colleagues to be proactive and invest in retention activities such as career development.

Anderson believes that HR leaders who convince their colleagues and business leaders to invest in career management for their staff will be best placed to avoid the potential trickle of valued staff members leaving their business from becoming a stream of lost talent.

Top career development conversation tips

Career development conversations need to be well planned and structured for both the employee and the manager, and this is the critical role of enabler played by the HR professional, according to Bruce Anderson, managing director of Lee Hecht Harrison.

He says a structured approach will enable the employee to consider and share with their manager:

Their strengths

Their capabilities

How their work is changing

Their aspirations

Their initial plan

Furthermore, he says planning and preparation by their manager will enable this information to form an interlinking discussion on the employees':



Future of their organisation and position

Align their aspirations with organisational requirements

Plan to accelerate their learning and create meaningful challenges at work

How HR can help with career development

Assessment, profiling, followed by solid leadership and management training, combined with coaching and mentoring.

Create opportunities for secondments and job rotation (possibly with strategic partner companies, such as employee exchanges), involvement in projects that will provide stretch opportunities.

Create mentoring opportunities both internally and externally. By combining employee development with career planning, employers can give the opportunity to identify potential career paths and prepare for future roles

Source: Chandler Macleod