Building a Career Focused Culture – Avoiding the Number One Mistake

Michelle MooreLee Hecht Harrison
In today’s highly competitive and digitally disrupted business environment, finding and keeping the right talent, and effectively leveraging their skills to execute a fast-moving business strategy is critical for success.

A recent study by Lee Hecht Harrison revealed that:
• only 43% of organizations have a good understanding of their employees’ unique skills and experience, and
• only 26% consistently use career planning and development to prepare employees for future roles.

For many organizations the answer to better leveraging existing talent seems simple – teach managers how to have career conversations. While there is no question that skills training can help with success, making the mistake of thinking that this is enough to build a culture that values career development will lead to disappointing results.
Throughout my career in learning and development I have seen too many organizations think that providing training is enough to shift mindset and behaviors on the job. While training is critical and can impact mindset, it should not be used as a replacement for proper change management – especially when trying to change culture. In addition to providing managers with the skills required to conduct meaningful career conversations, organizations that really want to build a culture that values career development also need to address five additional elements. When any of the elements are missing there is a specific impact.
A clear vision – The first step of any career development initiative should be developing a clear and compelling vision and ensuring that there is senior leadership sponsorship and alignment. Without this people won’t have a good idea of what is to be achieved and may not see the importance. This can lead to hesitation or resistance to take action.
Formal organizational processes and governance – After creating a vision, it is critical to define a formal process for conducting career conversations and implementing career plans, and identify the supporting governance of the process. Where process and governance are missing there will be inconsistencies in execution between teams and departments, which can lead to feelings of inequity and resentment. Having clear standards in place ensures that everyone has equal opportunity.
Measurement – Everyone knows what gets measured gets done, and trying to build a culture that values career development is no exception. Where measurement is missing change will be slow or non-existent. Be sure to measure activities, including number of career conversations and outcomes and the number of internal transfers, etc.
Rewards and recognition – This is a critical element that many organizations completely disregard. Rewards and recognition however can significantly accelerate behavioral change in the short term, and sustain desired behaviors over a longer time horizon. Rewards and recognition should be identified and leveraged for both: (1) leaders who consistently support and execute the process, and (2) individuals and teams who actively engage and take ownership for their own careers.
Performance support for managers – Once initial skills training on how to properly conduct career conversations to support the process is complete, organizations need to make sure that managers have a resource to help them with challenging situations they may face in the future. Performance support can take many forms, such as using master career coaches who have received additional training, implementing peer mentors or providing online support tools. Where ongoing performance support is missing many managers may be quick to give up the first time they hit a roadblock or a challenging situation.
While addressing all of these elements might seem like a lot of work, organizations who make the effort will be the ones to reap the rewards. They will be better positioned to keep and leverage the talent that they have, and will likely have more engaged employees.