Redefine Results by Redefining Career Development

by  Julie Winkle-Giulioni  |  Career Development

Given repeated rounds of downsizing, reorganizing, right sizing, and all of the other ‘zings’ that have befallen organizations, it’s easy to scan the landscape and come to the conclusion that career development options have shrunk… that they are few and far between for most employees.  After all:

  • career developmentDelayering has left already lean organizations with fewer stops along the food chain.
  • Organizations continue to pursue outsourcing in the eternal quest for cost reduction.
  • Baby boomers are not only having the audacity to live longer… but they’re also working longer and occupying chairs that in the past would have been vacated for others.
  • Mergers and acquisitions continue to surface and systematically remove ‘redundancies’ (i.e. – people who were previously able to contribute their talents to the enterprise).

It would be easy to declare career development DOA, an artifact of those charming days gone by, and a reality that we’ll all just have to get used to in business today. But, employees are not getting used to it. In fact, study after study reveals that lack of growth opportunities and career progression top the list of reasons employees (likely the ones an organization really wants to keep) quit.

Painting a New Picture

The problem, however, is not with the business landscape… it’s with how we’re interpreting it and how we choose to define ‘career development.’  Clearly, gone are the days of the reliable career ladder, the system by which employees could expect that every 18 or so months they’d be invited to take yet another step upward toward their ultimate next big job. Today’s business environment demands that we replace our old definitions and pictures of career development.

Progressive organizations are burying the ladder and introducing models that are more reflective of today’s reality.  Examples include: climbing walls, lattices, jungle gyms (and full playgrounds for that matter), spider webs, and a big ol’ plate of spaghetti. What do they have in common? They’re more fluid and organic. They emphasize lateral and horizontal exploration versus a myopic focus upward. And they all acknowledge the reality that interesting work, terrific contribution, and growth can happen right where one is without the need to ‘move’ anywhere.

Savvy managers and leaders are figuring out how to turn existing roles into development opportunities. And this resonates with employees. A recent survey conducted by BlessingWhite found that 87% of employees polled agreed that “I don’t think there is anything wrong with staying in the same job if I can try new things or develop my skills.”

Same Seat, New View

Developing in place offers countless benefits… to the organization and the individual.  Engagement. Skill acquisition. Greater effectiveness. Expanded contribution. Bench strength.

And there are countless ways for employees to grow without changing offices, business cards, or roles. Consider any of the following:


And that doesn’t even scratch the surface. The options for developing in place are limited only by the commitment and creativity of the managers and employees involved.

But it’s not just about working one-on-one with employees. Development is scalable when leaders take deliberate steps to cultivate a culture that allows everyone to enjoy the kind of growth that encourages engagement, retention, and contribution by:

  • Engaging in regular, short, frequent conversations about goals, interests, accomplishments, and needs.
  • Sharing big picture information about the organization, its challenges, direction, and needs.
  • Encouraging internal collaboration, social networks, learning circles, and peer networking.
  • Mining experiences for teaching value with simple questions like, ‘what did you learn from that?’

But the first – and most important – task is to redefine career development. As soon as we let go of the ladder, we’ll find ourselves squarely in today’s reality, a reality that offers unlimited opportunity for everyone to grow… right where they are currently planted.

What about you?  What’s your current definition of career development?

Image: www.freedigitalphotos.net

About The Author

Articles By julie-winkle-giulioni
Full Bio Coming Soon  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Scott Patchin  |  01 Apr 2014  |  Reply

Great post! One of the things I liked is your encouragement to do shorter, more focused conversations along the way with their people. It seems the one-on-one is becoming a lost art. Do you have any resources you would recommend to leaders looking to adopt this model and start having some of these conversations?

Julie WinkleGiulioni (@Julie_WG)  |  01 Apr 2014  |  Reply

Thanks, Scott. I am a real fan of the shorter, more frequent, iterative conversations. It’s more organic, can happen concurrent with other tasks, and it’s the way people actually develop and grow. I don’t mean to get all self-promote-y… but I co-authored a book on this very topic, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want. You can download the first two chapters from my website. Best of luck to you! Julie

Dustin Staiger  |  01 Apr 2014  |  Reply

Good observations and advice. The replacing of the corporate ladder with a climbing wall (or your choice of analogy) leaves many individuals paralyzed on career decisions. You could try to move UP, make a LATERAL move or even move DOWN in order to develop yourself and progress your career now. Unlike a climbing wall, career paths don’t always have “hand and foot holds” to indicate the best path. Your suggestions (sharing goals, painting the big picture, encouraging collaboration) are a good way that organizations can provide some of those indicators.

It will be interesting to see how these changes affect competency modeling as well as training & development methods. The workplace has become more agile and iterative, so our tools and processes have to evolve as well.

Julie WinkleGiulioni (@Julie_WG)  |  01 Apr 2014  |  Reply

Excellent point, Dustin…. every part of the organization has to line up behind this. I imagine from your comments that you might work in the OD space. What are you observing or experimenting with to help support a nimbler, more agile workforce?

Dustin Staiger  |  02 Apr 2014  | 

Thanks Julie. Although my work isn’t exclusive to OD, it is often related or very applicable. Here are some observations we have noted.
1. Certifications have become more critical in professional development (shorter time-span than professional degrees, but typically have a standard assessment). Organizations like ASTD and PMI offer an abundance of certifications. This abundance highlights the need to know which certs bring the greatest impact, and also highlights the difficulty of finding the time and financial resources to be a well-rounded practitioner.
2. We are seeing more and more organizations finding a need for customized competency models (versus generic industry-wide versions) that reflect company-specific foundational competencies as well as role-specific competencies that may be more modular in nature to allow needed flexibility.
3. As outsourcing becomes more and more common, there is a greater need to understand how the organization engages with contractors and consultants. How do you address project initiation, team structure, information sharing, evaluating results, etc.? Do your line managers have the necessary skills and information to handle this?

There seem to be some major changes occurring in how we manage our work and careers. Some changes are swings of the pendulum that will likely come back again. Others seem to be more revolutionary changes that will have a more lasting impact on the business landscape. The need for a more iterative, agile workforce (including career development) seems to be landing in the latter category.

Julie WinkleGiulioni (@Julie_WG)  |  02 Apr 2014  | 

Wow… really insightful and well-said, Dustin. You are spot on around each and every point! Thank you for sharing your observations…. and I look forward to more.

Matt Schmidt  |  01 Apr 2014  |  Reply

The average length in a job today is three years. 40 years ago it was about ten years. Make the most of the employees you have for two reasons:
1. Retention. If employees are not engaged they will leave.
2. Knowledge. Make the most of employees and their skills to benefit your organization. Career change is a constant. Use employee talents while you still have them with you.

Julie WinkleGiulioni (@Julie_WG)  |  02 Apr 2014  |  Reply

You make a compelling argument… and it’s intuitive. Yet, leaders consistently overlook the obvious. Why do you think that’s so?

Jim Graber  |  09 Apr 2014  |  Reply

I agree with Julie that Career Ladder Development is pretty much dead, and has been for 10 years or more. Also, that employees are clamoring for career development, and that on the job learning (OJT) is probably one of the best ways to grow because most people learn best from experience.

Based on our experience, here are some other important elements of career development today:

1. Supervisors (and employees) struggle with being creative and identifying OJT approaches to develop. We recommend identifying the competencies that employees most commonly want to develop; sometimes these are the company core competencies. Then, identify competency subject matter experts (some of the people in the company who are best at a competency), and use a structured interview to find out how they learned the competency and what activities in the organization would be good opportunities for others to learn the competency.
2. Generic career development programs have some value, but simply learning to identify one’s strengths and values can lead to disappointment when an individual tries to make a match with company opportunities. Instead, corporate career development programs should be built around the needs and opportunities within the organization, so that individuals can easily see how they match up.
3. It’s great to mandate development plans for everyone as well as regular coaching and career discussions, but when the workload gets heavy (pretty much all the time these days), managers resist. I really think that technology needs to be part of the solution such that motivated individuals can drive the process themselves. Having a supportive supervisor is critical or development activities won’t occur, but having overly busy supervisors manage a process that in the end can place their star performers in new jobs is probably not the answer.

Join The Conversation