More than just ‘climbing the ladder’

Not everyone can be given promotions, so what are some other options?

Career development is the number one thing employees want from employers, according to Beverly Kaye. It’s the most effective way to get workers engaged, motivated, productive and just genuinely excited about coming to work each day.

But development is about so much more than traditional advancement paths, according to Kaye, founder of Career Systems International and a bestselling author.

"Although there’s a myth that says everybody wants to move up, nowadays that’s not true. But people do want to know they have growth options within the organization," said Kaye, speaking at a Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) event in October.

Her most recent book, Help them Grow or Watch them Go, was released in 2012 and is based on Kaye’s work over the last 40 years, examining how organizations value and invest in their talent.

Challenging, growing employees so they don’t leave

"What I see in organizations, as far as engagement and retention, is people are saying, ‘Challenge me. Keep me at my cutting edge. Grow me,’" she said.

And if people don’t feel they are growing and being challenged, they will go.

"And by go I mean they will actually leave, go to the competition, go to a startup, try something on their own. Or worse, they will leave but stay," she said.

If employees do "leave but stay," it means they’ll continue to show up for work but their hearts aren’t in the job and the efforts they put forth will be minimal, said Kaye.

That’s why career development has to be a priority, no matter what time constraints a manager might be dealing with, she said.

"What I’m going to suggest to you is that the conversation happens like this: In one-minute, two-minute, 10-minute bits, all the way through the day, every day. And if you just watch for the clues, you’ll see opportunities to have quick conversations — it doesn’t have to be once a year."

And having those conversations effectively is based on curiosity — which is a critical part of career development.

"How come people are curious about the data but not about the person?" said Kaye.

"If you’re not curious, how do you know how to negotiate? If you’re not curious, how do you problem-solve? Curiosity is so basic and some of us, we have it for our subject matter but not for people."

But genuine interest and curiosity on the employer’s part is not the only thing employees want. They also want to know where the organization is going and where they might have opportunities to grow.

Stay interviews

That’s why stay interviews are an important tool for retaining employees who might have an eye on the exit sign.

"You’ve got to do stay interviews. You’ve got to ask the question, ‘What can I do to keep you?’ all the time," said Kaye.

"Your main assets are your people… and they could be depreciating assets or appreciating assets, depending on how you treat them."

But while frequent and candid conversations are important, career development is not just a manager’s job, she said. It’s up to employees to own their career development — and managers need to show them how.

Going beyond promotions

So how should managers or employers support career development and growth? There are many ways to do so, aside from simply handing out promotions, said Kaye.

"We could never give the (career) ladder to everybody who deserved it," she said. "We have to have another metaphor."

Development is not about "climbing the ladder" or traditional ideas of career advancement — it’s about growth, curiosity, constant learning and teamwork. It’s not about simply having a better job title or a bigger office, said Kaye — there’s more than one way to be a leader.

"The real contributors in 21st-century organizations are going to be horizontal leaders… power comes less from controlling people who report to you and more from aligning stakeholders around you," she said.

Effective career development requires more of a focus on career patterns — not career paths, she said. And it’s no longer OK to consider development as an "extra" or a luxury.

"While it used to be a nicety, it is now a necessity," she said. "You want more productivity, you want more innovation, you’ve got to help people in your organization find the sweet spot."

Finding the sweet spot

So how can an employee find that career "sweet spot" when the guiding metaphor of a career ladder is gone?

One way is by creating a new metaphor for career development, said Kaye, who replaces the ladder with the idea of a climbing wall, with all kinds of different paths, footholds and patterns.

"You rarely go straight up," she said. "You have to look for ‘What’s the best route for me?’"

Invest in people, not severance packages

By Trish Maguire

When Beverly Kaye speaks, leadership teams skeptical about the power of career development need to listen. Kaye is an internationally recognized authority on retention and engagement who has broken a lot of ground on the workplace learning front.

While listening to Kaye recently, I couldn’t help but reflect on how many Canadian organizations have continued to restructure since 2008 and the overall cost of the required severance packages.

Take, for example, BlackBerry’s announcement about releasing former CEO Thorsten Heins. This cost the Waterloo, Ont.-based company $22 million. Even more interesting is the fact that had the company been bought under his leadership, he would have cleared a $55.6-million deal.

What do we think the total restructuring bill is if we include all the employee severance packages?

Now, imagine if rather than spending money on severance, leaders chose to invest most of that money in their people. What are the chances such dismal decisions may at best be minimized?

What would happen to top-line revenue and bottom-line profitability if corporate Canada truly committed to investing in people’s growth?

What difference would it make to business results if more leaders and managers put time, energy, effort, resources and dollars towards involving and engaging people in learning and growing in their current roles? Is it not in everyone’s best interest to invest in developing new skills, knowledge and refining people’s abilities?

If the answer is yes, then why do we repeatedly see surveys validating that people want more development? What is stopping leaders from making it happen? In Kaye’s opinion, if leaders do not develop people, the consequences are very clear: "Help them grow or watch them go."

CBC’s Chris Brown had a commentary recently concerning big corporate survivability, where he cautions their lifespan is actually shrinking. This suggests that, over the next few years, big corporations may achieve less efficiency with lower productivity, which will result in inadequate growth and, subsequently, less profitability.

If leaders do not raise people’s expectations and strive for excellence, it’s not realistic to expect them to be innovative and proficient. Without continual learning and growth, people’s talents regress. How can organizations grow if talent is allowed to atrophy?

A leader’s mission is to take people from their current capability and help them maximize their full potential and build their self-esteem. When people believe in themselves and are inspired to think and act at the highest level, it’s unbelievable what they can achieve.

A quote from John Quincy Adams humanizes the importance of leadership and developing people: "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions in Nobleton, Ont., focused on high-potential leadership development coaching. She has held senior leadership roles in HR and OD in education, manufacturing and entrepreneurial firms. She can be reached at [email protected].

Tending your talent garden

By Karen Gorsline

Beverly Kaye is a well-known career guru and the bottom line of her presentation was simple: If you want to grow the business, you need to grow the talent. While this concept may sound simple — and obvious — many organizations have not thought through the basic implications and impact on management practices this entails. What does growing talent really mean?

Haphazardly throwing a bunch of seeds on the ground and walking away will not result in a thriving garden. Using the same unfocused approach with people in organizations will have equally poor results.

Here are seven tips for growing your talent garden.Make sure the soil (culture) fits your needs. Different businesses have different needs in terms of culture. A fast-paced, aggressive environment may be fine for investment businesses, but not for a children’s hospital. The culture, mission, vision and values should be aligned with the desired business needs and results. Tend the soil to make sure it is ready for growth.

Recruit for garden fit. Attract and hire employees who can align themselves with the organization’s specific culture. What is the right mix of perennials who will be long-term contributors and annuals who add value for a specific season?

Understand that different varieties (roles) are different. Recruit for the key skills needed for critical roles. Roles in an organization are not one-size-fits-all. Even within a specific culture, roles will vary significantly in terms of the attitudes and skills required. A carrot is not a tomato even though both may thrive in the same garden.

Tend the garden. I’m always skeptical when a supervisor says he was totally surprised when a valued employee quits. Really? Where was he? How often did they talk? Did he know what the employee was feeling? Were there unmet aspirations, personal stresses or frustrations? One of the most overlooked and undervalued management responsibilities is simply keeping in touch with employees.

Understand what is needed to support both short- and long-term growth. This requires managers to understand what is needed at the role level and the individual level. Do they know employees’ talents (both obvious and untapped), what gets them excited, how to provide access to support and appropriate accommodation when personal challenges intrude on the workplace, when to provide demanding and challenging work, and when to back off for a while? Don’t just dump a load of manure and hope for the best. Provide the right nutrients and specific, tailored care to promote growth.

Weed. Protect employees from disgruntled or disengaged employees, consuming but meaningless processes and tasks, and managers who don’t pay attention.

Harvest with care. Don’t deplete the resource. An extreme focus on short-term results may undermine the long-term health and deplete growth potential. Enrichment and investment go hand-in-hand with harvest for long-term growth. Employees represent the potential for renewal and regeneration.

While the garden analogy may be overdrawn and simplistic, organizations would be better-served if managers and supervisors had the same passion for their tasks as gardeners. Go out and get your hands dirty.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, a consulting practice focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. Toronto-based, she has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at [email protected].

Career planning no longer a 'nice to have'
By Barbara Kofman

At most of the Strategic Capability Network presentations, the focus tends to be more on the information conveyed than on the individual saying it.

But when Beverly Kaye gets up to speak, it is hard to separate the message from the person. For decades, she has hammered home the message to organizations that career management is important.

In her seminal 1980s book, Up is NOT the Only Way, she identified the symbiotic relationship between an individual’s career development and an organization’s strategic plan.

Now, Kaye is taking this further by asserting that weaving career planning into a company’s very fabric is a matter of survival if it wants to stay competitive and get the most out of its people by doing more with less.

This contention is bolstered by others. The primary reason employees stay at an organization is because of the work, and the major reason they leave is for enhanced career opportunities, according to a 2011 survey by Blessing White, a long-time player in the career planning field.

Career development and training are the top two factors contributing to employee engagement, a finding that is consistent with their previous research in this arena, according to the 2011 Global Engagement Report from Blessing White in Princeton, N.J.

This year, numerous speakers have discussed the value to their organizations of integrating career discussions into every aspect of the employee lifecycle, from hiring to retiring. As we heard at SCNetwork’s July session on the connection between "employee care" and the "customer experience," the metrics are in — employee engagement drives customer satisfaction which, in turn, results in higher financial earnings.

It’s a puzzle then as to why many organizations treat career management as a "frill" — great to have when things are going well and less so when they aren’t.

Career planning gurus, from Edward Schein to Kaye, have encouraged companies to integrate effective career practices into employee support systems for decades. But when the economy goes sour and companies look for places to cut costs, career planning programs are inevitably one of the first casualties.

One of the most egregious moves by organizations in the past was handing over all of the responsibility for career planning to employees under the guise of "employability." While the approach advocated by Kaye does not shift the onus back to employers, it does emphasize they have a critical role to play in recognizing and supporting career programs and, in doing so, they will be rewarded in measurable ways.

Kaye’s new book deserves wide praise for simplifying the formula for implementing career-based programs. One can only hope that the fact it is written in a practical, straightforward manner encourages organizations to finally come to their senses and to give it a try. Framing and aligning employee career options within the context of business plans makes sense — it creates a win-win for employees and the bottom line.

Barbara Kofman is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on organizational effectiveness and founding principal of CareerTrails, a strategic career coaching and HR solutions organization committed to providing clients with the personalized processes and information they need, to achieve the individual and organizational outcomes they are seeking. She has held senior roles in resourcing, strategy and outplacement, and taught at the university and college level. Barbara can be reached at (416) 708-2880 or [email protected].

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