Managers play an important role in helping employees build successful, fulfilling careers.
For too long, many organizations have taken a conventional default approach to employees’ career development that centers on the four Ps: processes, paperwork, programs and promotions.
But Julie Winkle Giulioni suggests a new paradigm is in order. And this time, it’s personal — as in managers who personally take time to explore what their direct reports need to reach higher levels of job satisfaction. “Careers are developed one conversation at a time,” says Winkle Giulioni, the co-author (with Beverly Kaye) of the best-selling book, Help
Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want.
“We want managers to start thinking about how to help people develop in the role they’re in,” says Winkle Giulioni, who is also a principal at DesignArounds (www.designarounds.com), a consulting firm that offers corporate training and coaching. “They don’t need a new desk, title or business card to grow in their jobs. From the time we’re kids, we’re wired to think about what we want to be when we grow up, and that mentality only shuts down options.
“So we need to shift the conversation and perspective,” she adds. “We need to get employers to think in terms of what employees want to do — what they want to achieve, the talents they yearn to cultivate or the kind of customers they want to work with. When you talk about the ‘doing,’ the options became much less limited. Employees don’t have to get promotions to do the things they find most satisfying.”
Research backs up this assertion. Studies show that a job that makes creative use of their skills and talents is a top priority for many employees — not higher pay or promotions. In fact, one study Winkle Giulioni conducted showed employees rank better pay and promotions at the bottom of a list of top 15 job expectations. “That’s totally counterintuitive,” she notes. “Managers aren’t aware of the power that they have. There’s so much that matters to employees that’s within managers’ sphere of influence as leaders.”
Other studies show that there’s a clear business case for an emphasis on career development. In one survey, 91 percent of respondents called it a key priority. “Yet when you look at organizations across the board, employees give career development the lowest marks in employee surveys,” she says.
Moreover, surveys show that career development is one of the top three drivers of employee engagement. That’s no small matter, because employee engagement in turn activates discretionary effort — the extra time, energy, creativity and commitment that employees either volunteer or withhold, she explains.
Additional research suggests that managers who promote career development enjoy 40 percent greater employee retention. That’s a strategic advantage in light of the looming labor shortage that experts predict is on the horizon. “The ability to hang on to good talent is critical,” she says. “Organizations that don’t promote career development put their bottom-line business results at risk. In addition, greater employee job satisfaction frequently correlates to greater customer satisfaction. So if you’re not taking care of your employees, you’re also not taking care of your customers.”
If career development is so important to attracting and retaining employees, sustaining high levels of on-the-job satisfaction and improving business results, why don’t more organizations emphasize it? Winkle Giulioni believes that in many cases, managers just don’t have enough time. In other cases, she posits that managers fear employees will parlay their new-found skills into a job at another company.
In addition, many managers feel it’s not worth the time because there are so few promotions available — a sad irony, given that one study indicated that only 25 percent of employees actually want promotions. “By believing in this corporate myth, managers assume employees have expectations that can’t be met,” she points out. “Yet that other 75 percent of employees gives them plenty of room to maneuver.” Last but not least, many managers simply don’t know how to go about developing employees’ careers.
So how can organizations morph into career-development powerhouses? Winkle Giulioni says the charge must be led by managers, not human resources departments. And as they do so, it’s critical that they look at career development from a completely different perspective. With Baby Boomers delaying retirements and many organizations becoming “flatter” as they downsize, the traditional view of climbing the corporate ladder is out of sync with reality, she notes.
“Thinking about career development as a ladder is very limiting,” she explains. “We need to help employees understand that while moving up is one option, there may be more opportunities if we think laterally.” In short, instead of using ladders as a metaphor for career development, they should envision a climbing wall instead. On a climbing wall, she explains, there are a lot of different ways to get from Point A to point B, and sometimes climbers have to go down to eventually get up and over. Fruitful careers can work in the same fashion.
“Employees don’t have to move up to grow,” Winkle Giulioni emphasizes. “If employees are intentional about what they invite into their current positions, they can stay engaged and growing for an entire career.”
In the long run, too many organizations rely on the archaic artifacts of employee development — the aforementioned four Ps — instead of practicing the art of development, which relies on what managers do day-in and day-out to expand employees’ capabilities and fulfill their aspirations. “I’m not saying human resources isn’t necessary, but real career development happens at the point of contact with employees, a little bit every day,” she asserts. “No employee ever says that their best boss moved the needle (on their development) through processes. Instead, they say that boss helped by offering new opportunities, trusting in their abilities or pulling them out when they jumped into the pool and couldn’t quite swim yet.
“It’s great if whole organizations approach career development differently,” she continues. “But if individual managers choose to engage employees in an authentic and ongoing fashion, they can really make a difference. If they can figure out what’s really important and interesting to their employees, then determine how to align those interests with overall strategic goals and needs, it provides an unbeatable, sustainable and competitive advantage for their organizations.”