Career development – the benefits of getting it right

by 31 Jan 2012

For organisations to succeed in the current economic climate HR must be able to realise the full potential of employees, keep them productive and engaged.

It sounds easy enough, however, formal career discussions between employees and their immediate managers remain a rarity for many organisations, limiting the ability to help employees steer their career in a direction that will add value to the organisation and allow it to thrive.  

Striking the right balance between the capability needs of the organisation and employee comes down to a fine-tuned career development strategy.

An effective career development process ensures that organisations have the right people with the right skills to get the job done and meet organisational objectives. It provides the means to build a talent pool able to meet current and future needs through continued development of employees in competencies the organisation needs to succeed.

It’s a vital part of an organisation’s talent management strategy as it can help retain valuable employees, re-engage the disengaged as well as assist employees in adapting to changing environments.

Employee engagement is a key driver of productivity, retention and performance.

Moreover, when employees have a viable career development plan they are more likely to:

  • Feel valued by senior leaders
  • Find and select new roles most appropriate to their skills and talents
  • Re-adjust quickly after significant organisational change and
  • Assume a role of greater interest, challenge or variety which in turn provides greater meaning to their work by linking individual effort to the larger purposes of the organisation.

So what does it take to successfully introduce a career development program?

According to Boxall and Purcell (2003), performance is a combination of ability, motivation and opportunity, known as AMO. The question is what sort of HR and business practices, structures and programs are required for AMO to be turned into action. A functioning career development system will involve employees, managers, and human resources personnel, each dependent on the other for success and each with specific responsibilities.

Step 1: Formalise your career development approach

An essential step in taking a systemic approach to careers is to create a formal career development program. Depending on the needs of the organisation, this could take a variety of forms, but certain features are universally applicable. A distinction must first be drawn between the accountabilities of the organisation and those of employees.

Step 2: Conduct a skills vs needs inventory

Organisations must undertake a rigorous analysis of present workforce skills and future talent needs. Creating an inventory of present skills and future needs is important for giving proper direction to individual development. Development cannot succeed for the individual, let alone for the organisation, unless it is strategically oriented towards achieving larger business goals. Employees who develop capabilities of little relevance to their job or organisation won’t have an active part to play in the organisation’s success.

Step 3: Initiate meaningful career discussions

Organisations must also take the lead in initiating and facilitating meaningful career discussions, providing an essential step in empowering employees to drive their own development. Our global research and anecdotal evidence suggests that career discussions between employees and immediate managers are rare. Skilling and equipping managers to have regular, meaningful, career coaching conversations with employees is a foundational step in a systemic approach to careers. Just as important is holding managers accountable for holding those career conversation.

Step 4: Make employees accountable for career discovery process

A successful learning and development program cannot rely on the organisation alone. With guidance, support and tools from their organisation, employees must be held accountable for engaging in a process of career discovery. This process should involve three phases: self-discovery, organisational discovery, and career discovery.

Step 5: Articulate return on investment (ROI)

There are several ways to measure the effectiveness of a career development program. Below are some most common ROI measurements organisations can use:

  • Decreased recruitment and on-boarding costs
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved quality of career development plans
  • Increase in internally filled roles
  • Higher engagement levels
  • Decreased absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Minimising attrition of high potentials

Ultimately, it is all about alignment between organisations and employees. A successful career development practice should help employees to articulate their value and needs clearly to their managers and organisation, whilst giving managers a framework and the coaching skill to manage career conversations effectively. Together a career development plan can be developed in line with both the organisational needs and the value of employees.

About the author

Yu Dan Shi is a senior consultant at Right Management. For further information visit:




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