How to help your employees achieve their career ambitions

Employers need to do more to understand their people’s career expectations, and help them realise their ambitions.

This was the clear message to emerge from the latest CIPD Employee Outlook survey, which showed a definite link between satisfaction and career development and plans to find a new job.

The survey found that although job satisfaction overall was on the up, levels of dissatisfaction with career development were significant. This posed a significant ‘flight risk’ for employers, with nearly half of those who felt they couldn’t achieve their ambitions with their current organisation actively job-hunting.

At a time when the economy is on the rise and the war for talent is hotting up, employers cannot afford to lose their best people. So what can organisations do to manage employees’ career aspirations more effectively?

Have open career conversations

How often do managers in your business have honest and constructive career conversations with their people? Do they know what their employees’ aspirations are or what talents they may be hiding? It’s not unusual, particularly following difficult economic times, to find people sitting it out in roles that are way below their potential and where their skills are not being used. Performance reviews are a great time to discuss where your people see themselves heading, how they could make best use of their talents, and how the business can support them going forward. Make sure the subject of career development is on the agenda not just at the annual appraisal, but also during informal check-ins. People are more likely to stick around if they feel they can talk openly about their ambitions, and that the business will do its best to support them in their goals.

Take a more flexible approach

One of the key recommendations to come out of the CIPD survey was for HR to think less rigidly about job roles. Often, organisations are so hidebound by complicated pay and grading structures that they can’t promote people or expose them to new, growth experiences even when they want to. HR and line managers need to collaborate in order to identify how they can best deploy the skills of their staff to meet people’s expectations and serve the needs of the business. If people can see that there is no way up – or indeed that up is the only way – they will soon become frustrated and will start to look for an employer with a more flexible approach.

Make performance reviews developmental

The annual performance review is generally a very backward-looking exercise. It’s about reviewing the past year, (hopefully) celebrating achievements, and highlighting what could have gone better. Managers often regard it as little more than a box-ticking exercise: they go through the motions, get it over as quickly as possible and file the report until next year. No wonder so many employees are dissatisfied with their career development. Organisations need to shift the focus of their performance reviews to make them much more developmental. It should be about identifying training needs (and following up to make sure they happen), looking for stretch assignments that will help the person step up a gear, organising secondments to other departments, and helping people find a mentor within the business who can support them. If employees feel the business is ‘investing’ in their future, they are more likely to accept that although promotion may not be immediately available, there are opportunities for them to develop in their current role.

Give managers tools and support

Performance management is often not given the priority it deserves because managers find processes long-winded and time consuming – it gets shoved to the back of the list, and HR has to spend inordinate amounts of time chasing people to make sure appraisals happen. It doesn’t have to be this way. Sophisticated HR software is now available to take the strain, and help organisations streamline and bring consistency to processes. Systems can be set up to prompt managers when appraisals are due, for example. All the necessary forms can be made available on line and there’s a central place where information about what’s been discussed and agreed can be stored. Technology has moved on apace and these systems are now within reach of even the smallest business. Some solutions, like Cezanne OnDemand, are extremely quick to implement and can be up-and-running in a matter of weeks, before the traditional year end/new year round of appraisals kicks in.

Take a creative approach to training and development

Lack of budget for training can be one of the key barriers to people developing their skills and moving forward. But development doesn’t have mean sending people on long and expensive training programmes. Organisations need to think more creatively about how they can help people develop the skills they need. Lunchtime learning bites, mentoring programmes, job shadowing schemes… these are all low cost initiatives that can help people build new skills. The social portals that are integral to some of the latest HR software solutions can also support a ‘learning culture’ by making it easy for people to find the information they need and allowing them to share knowledge, work collaboratively on projects, and network across departmental boundaries.

What is your business doing to support employees in their career aspirations? Let us know what kind of initiatives are working well for you.

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