Helping employees up the ladder

How much of a role should HR play when it comes to employee career management?

When it comes to employee career management, sometimes it seems there are more questions than answers. 

For instance: Are we all now solely responsible for our own career management? What is the new role of HR professionals and managers in employee career development? What are the expectations of employees?

Most HR and career professionals would agree the world of work has permanently changed as it relates to employee career management. Almost completely gone are the days when an employer would develop and implement a short- and long-term career development plan for employees. 

In fact, in the last 10 to 15 years in particular, there have been shifts related to who owns an employee’s career management and whose responsibility it is for learning and development of employees.  

More than one-half (57 per cent) of employers indicated employees and managers should have joint ownership of the career management process and 48 per cent of employees said they have to take care of their own careers, according to a 2014 report from Towers Watson. So at least there is agreement among about one-half of employers and employees.

One reason for the shift in responsibility is financial while another is perhaps generational. As many employers are forced to continue to do more with less, more firms are cutting back on training and development and focusing less on providing opportunities to employees for career management and progression. 

Employers increasingly expect candidates to come to them “job ready” with all the skills needed to perform the job requirements. At the same time, younger employees — so-called millennials — are seeking more growth opportunities and quicker advancement. 

Perhaps it is the increased pace of life, but many younger professionals tend to expect a rapid career progression, routine feedback and that their employer is actively planning their career progression.

If they don’t believe this is so, they often move on and seek something more interesting and challenging with a different employer or they opt out and plan to work for themselves. 

Departing employees can be a great detriment to employers as they impact productivity and company growth. Often it is the high-potential employees who express their dissatisfaction with the lack of growth opportunities by leaving. 

Managing expectations, communications
Career management is also about managing employee expectations. We are living in a time of uncertainty regarding expectations in the workplace and how to discuss career management and career advancement with employees. 

“Two-thirds of managers are failing to support their employees’ career development” and “employers need to start having brave career conversations,” according to Nicola Deas, career management practice lead of Right Management, in 2015 research by her firm. 

Those employers that encourage a culture where HR professionals and managers engage in career conversations and provide the tools for them to do so will likely have higher employee productivity, engagement and retention. Of course, these conversations need to address both employee assets and deficits and the conversations need to be conducted frequently — not just at annual review time.  

Career conversations
Many annual review systems are fundamentally flawed.  To begin with, they are normally held only once a year and are often coupled with merit increases, raises and promotions. 

Holding critical career development conversations only once a year is not nearly enough to promote effective career development. Most employees want to receive feedback more frequently so they can respond and adjust. Experts such as Carlos Bos of Bos & Co. in Mississauga, Ont., and Tracy Cocivera, business psychologist and principal at LHH Knightsbridge in Toronto, agree that managers need to be transparent and candid about what can and cannot be done and set a realistic plan with clear timelines and measures of success. 

Perhaps more importantly, annual reviews fall short in providing career development progression opportunities because they often focus on an employee’s deficits. Most people excel when they are doing something they do well and they enjoy doing.  Many performance management tools highlight employees’ “areas of improvement” and target training and developmental plans that stem from areas of weakness.  

Often, employees say they were unaware of any under-performance issues until the annual review. Feedback is a gift so managers need to communicate employees’ failures, along with their successes, remembering that most people will be far more successful at work if they are allowed to focus on their strengths. 

Development plans should encourage the training and experience needed to hone employee strengths, not develop areas of weakness. 

Jill Kirson-Tejumola is the owner of the Kirson Group and a CareerJoy-certified career coach in Mississauga, Ont. For more information, visit 

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