Career management a 3-way partnership

Career paths have become more complex, undefined and have evolved beyond paternalistic employer-employee relationship

The unwritten employment contract no longer assumes security for employees nor the loyalty to employers. Yet, people are the foundation of every business. An employee needs to be the primary driver of his own career and an employer needs to provide the infrastructure for success — it’s become an integrated partnership.

As organizations aspire to become employers of choice, they must commit to re-establishing the employment relationship, which has been left in limbo for too long. Employees need to feel they are partnering with an organization and, to do so effectively, they need to know what it means to be successful within that organization.

If employers want to attract, engage and retain the best talent globally, they need to be transparent about what is offered to employees, support their career growth and empower their entrepreneurial spirit within the walls of corporate Canada.

Changing environment

The business landscape has changed drastically — organizations are leaner, operate more globally and face constant pressure to survive and thrive in a highly complex and fluid environment. In this context, there is a growing need for career management.

That’s because career paths have become more undefined, more complex to navigate and there are far fewer opportunities for advancement.

Post-recession, organizations need strategies for engaging a demoralized workforce. As the economy recovers, employers will also be challenged to retain outstanding talent. And aging population demographics indicate a future trend towards organizations campaigning competitively to acquire talented workers. Engaging generations X and Y will continue to challenge organizations.

In 1956, William H. Whyte Jr., an editor at Fortune, wrote The Organization Man, which placed the corporation at the centre of our belief system — if we were loyal to an organization, the organization would be loyal to us. The company was the centre of our very existence. It was assumed if we worked hard, we would be promoted, receive the gold watch and retire comfortably.

It has taken us more than 50 years, two generations in the workforce and two major financial crises before we collectively decided the employee-employer relationship needs to drastically change to ensure an engaged, productive workforce.

The mission to create a new and relevant employee-employer contract is in the hands of HR professionals, executives and, of course, employees.

“Establishing career goals helps each of us to focus our efforts, ensuring that we are working on the right things to move ourselves forward,” says Michelle Clarke, director of talent management at Cadillac Fairview, a Toronto-based firm that specializes in commercial real estate. “As an employer, providing career management tools for employees aligns their goals with our organizational needs and has the added benefits of higher employee morale and increased retention rates.”

5 crucial points

Organizations hope to achieve a number of goals with career management initiatives, according to senior HR and organizational development professionals surveyed by Knightsbridge, who agreed there are five points crucial to the success of career management:

• Fostering a sense of ownership for career management among employees by providing self-assessment tools to create career insight, and creating a common language around career management to help employees effectively navigate their careers.

• Shifting the employee mindset from a focus on vertical progression to a more fluid vision of career success by embedding it into the culture and rewarding managers for initiating career development plans.

• Equipping managers with tools to support employees’ career development by providing training in career coaching conversation — managers must be held accountable and rewarded for supporting internal mobility and development.

• Supporting meaningful career growth in a flattening organization chart through stretch assignments, mentoring and opportunities for career development.

• Senior leaders supporting and championing the career management initiative.

Many organizations have developed sophisticated talent management, succession planning and leadership development systems that are geared towards senior leaders. Yet they struggle to define, implement, integrate and measure career management at the enterprise-wide level. Top-of-mind concerns, according to the Knightsbridge research, include the integration and alignment of career management with other people programs, cultural issues relating to shifting mindsets and behaviours to align with the new realities of career management and addressing the needs of employees not in the talent pool.

There are also the challenges of gaining senior management commitment, building a strategy that is fluid and responsive yet founded on a common language and sustaining career management efforts in a business environment that is in constant flux.

Corporations are looking to career management as a key driver of employee attraction, engagement and retention.

“Keeping your high-performing and potential employees engaged is synonymous with competitive advantage. A career management system that is robust enough to support personalized development yet generic enough to provide the organization with the talent information it needs to successfully compete is key,” says Sherry Barna, associate vice-president of organizational effectiveness at Canadian Tire.

Unlike the past paternalistic employee-employer relationship, the 21st century contract must be a three-way partnership between the organization, managers and employees. If one of these elements is missing, the support and investment needed for career ownership will not be sustained in the long term. In this triangle, the employee needs to be in the driver’s seat to maintain accountability.

The pendulum has swung from career management entirely managed by an organization to a model where each party plays a critical role.

Sandra Boyd is a principal at the human capital solutions firm Knightsbridge in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 640-4303 or [email protected]. Kim Spurgeon is a principal and team lead at Knightsbridge in Markham, Ont. She can be reached at (647) 777-3004 or [email protected]. And Evelina Rog is a consultant at Knightsbridge in Toronto who can be reached at (416) 928-4622 or [email protected]. For more information, visit


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