Not so many years ago, career development was somewhat passive, and was often assumed to happen automatically given solid performance. Much of the conversation around career development was narrow, and often geared towards training. Indeed, training courses were provided to help with skills enhancement, which in turn enabled promotions to occur in a fairly orderly fashion.
But the contemporary work environment, modern technology and the global nature of business has changed all that. More importantly, the expectations about careers have altered dramatically. Generational change has also meant that people are changing jobs (and indeed careers) a number of times across their working life.
Career development is now a multi-dimensional facet of the modern business, and is trumpeted for driving better retention of people and more effective recruitment of talent into the organisation. Company websites and on-campus recruitment campaigns focus heavily on the mantra of career development. An organisation that does not have a good narrative on this issue will struggle in the global war for talent.
But that narrative is not simply a process or a flowchart showing the steps in the promotional cycle of the organisation. In fact, that is only one piece of the puzzle. People in organisations look at career development through multiple lenses, and this makes it challenging for organisations to get the right point of balance and focus.
A practical framework that is both usable and flexible can be expressed as the OPEN principle, namely: Organise, Personal, Explore and Nurture.
There must be an organized set of activities around career development to provide transparency and clarity for both individuals and organizations. But the point is that it is not one size fits all. For example, training activities need to be very flexible to suit specific requirements of the individual or the job they are expected to undertake. Old models of set training programmes with a “mass market” feel are becoming far less prominent.
The personal situation, whether it be around family or preferred life style, is so important in the career development context. In recent times, this has been given much greater prominence to accommodate the legitimate choices that people take regarding their personal lives and circumstances. For instance, career choices around overseas or domestic re-location, reduced days per week or flexible work routines are all part of the personal choices that are a key part of career development. This is very much a two-way street, and organizations are increasingly seeing flexibility in this area as vital to retaining key people in the business. The old rigid model of tightly structured careers with less regard to the personal situation is rapidly becoming a relic of the past.
Today, career development is not only about exploring options, but also being able to blend different options or opportunities. One example is job rotation. Whilst rotation between roles is nothing new, what has changed is the trend for many organizations to proactively help people explore the different options that might be available, including job rotation, job splitting and job sharing, and to use this as a positive motivator.
Career development needs to be a real conversation, but also one that is ongoing and enduring. The annual or periodic performance review is not the right place for such a conversation. Rather, ongoing ways of shaping career development often work well if they are once removed for the day-to-day environment. For instance, the use of external mentors is a key approach for many organizations. Or there could be mentors from within the business, but from a different part of the organization. There are several combinations that can work, but the key is to ensure the conversation is enduring and combines the needs and expectations of both the individual and the organization.
Today, we often hear the idea that “your career is your personal responsibility”. This is a quantum shift from the more passive approach to careers in earlier times. It brings with it some complexity, but also some major opportunity for individuals and organisations to strike a win-win position for careers.