Cultivate Your Workforce

Career advancement is often a key reason why employees join an organization, and lack of career advancement is the most-often cited reason they would leave. However, a new study shows that many organizations think their career-management programs are missing the mark.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013
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It's difficult to believe that any employer in today's marketplace would ignore the importance of having a solid career-advancement program in place.

But in a recent Towers Watson survey of 160 North American companies, when asked whether they thought their workers were able to achieve career advancement given the structure and tools currently in place, 44 percent said "no."

Such results are disturbing, says Laura Sejen, global leader of rewards at Towers Watson in New York.

"More than a third of them said they didn't think their employees know how to influence their own career trajectories. Employers must place a much higher priority on their career-management initiatives," she said. survey identified several reasons why organizations are lacking in their career management efforts despite knowing how important it is to attract and retain top talent. These reasons include poorly defined career paths, an ineffective use of technology, managers who are ill-equipped to mentor and lead employees up the ladder, and poorly-monitored programs.

"Most organizations we work with are struggling to get their career-development tools right," says Tonushree Mondal, Mercer's North American practice leader for leadership and organization performance, based in Philadelphia.

Mondal says that, in a recent survey of 424 North American companies, 64 percent of respondents were found to not have the right career infrastructure in place.

"From the employee's perspective, they want to know, how do I move from level to level, or how do I move laterally?" she says. "What opportunities exist? What skills are required?  Where do I stand and what do I need to do differently? When they don't find suitable answers, they make the jump to other companies."

From an organizational perspective, she adds, organizations need to identify the right skills required for their future business strategy and ensure they have the right bench strength by attracting, developing and retaining the best talent.

The first step, Mondal says, is the creation of a foundational career framework is the first step, which should include simple, visual career maps that illustrate options for career movements.

"Describe what accountabilities are needed at each level and function and how they can do it better through technical and behavioral competencies," she says, "as well as providing the key experiences and learning tools that will help them develop these skills."

At the end of the day, she says, the focus should be on the employee to "own their own career," with their manager in a supportive role.

"Providing them with the right tools is the first point of support for the organizations," she says. That will enable the managers to have frequent and meaningful career conversations with workers about the tools.

Tracie Moser, principal of Moser Performance Group in Vancouver, is no stranger to implementing career-management programs. In fact, she believes that a company should focus on growing itself and its people, but she also acknowledges that millennials have a different viewpoint on how this should take place.

"Millennials are looking for career growth and advancement, and they want their companies to help them with career development," Moser says, noting that the latest generation of workers is interested in more-frequent career moves. "They're willing to move to different countries and want feedback on a constant basis."

She points to one of her clients, Boeing Canada, as an example. "Their career-development tools were lacking," she recalls, noting that the reason many companies can't talk with their employees about career opportunities is because they don't have the resources.

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Career management hits every HR system in a company, Moser notes. "It influences your promotions and internal hiring and performance-management process. Companies need to be clear about what skills they're trying to develop."

Anne Donovan, managing director in PwC's human capital group, says that, because millenials have a different expectation than their elders on how to succeed in business, companies that don't understand this new dynamic find themselves at a loss.

"It used to be that the way to succeed in business was very clear," she says. "You get the degree, get the job, work the hours, and after years of toiling, you could make it. Now we have a whole generation of workers who don't want to structure it that way. This could be a reason companies aren't feeling like they're making the grade, because the expectation is different."

In conjunction with the University of Southern California and the London Business School, PwC conducted a two-year global generational study of PwC employees and partners. Donovan says the findings reveal a hard-working generation that's more tech-savvy, globally focused, informal, and willing to share information. "They do not feel more entitled or less committed than their non-Millennial counterparts, they just have a different perspective on how they want to live while they're moving up the chain," she says. "I think companies have to acknowledge the paradigm shift in the employee base and then design programs that capitalize on those needs. Millenials don't want to give up 20 years until they get the carrot. They want it to all work at the same time."

Flexibility is an important aspect, she says, adding that this new generation is quite used to working in teams.

"You know you have to work crazy hours," she says, "but how do you sit down on the front end and make it work? Teams support each other by working together to help co-workers also find time for themselves. For instance, Suzie knows she's going to have to work until 11pm, but if she could go work out at the gym for an hour and then come back and work until midnight, she doesn't feel like she's given up all of the things that were important to her."

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