Authentic career development: an investment in the future

By Brent Szalay

The relationship of employer and employee has undergone significant transformations over the past few years.

Gone are the days of relying on a top-down management model or expecting employees to simply feel “grateful for the opportunity”. Now, the businesses that enjoy the highest retention rates seem to operate as a collaborative ecosystem where owners, managers and employees rely on one another in relationships of trust, loyalty and respect.

But how do business owners garner this commitment from employees in a landscape where competing employee value propositions and a refocus of personal priorities seem to be pulling employees away?

In this article, we explore how building career development plans for your team can help not only equip them with the skills necessary to fulfil their current roles but foster a culture of loyalty and growth towards the careers they aspire to – within your business.

While it’s true that genuine investment in people and culture takes time and energy, but your people are your product – and your product needs to be as good as possible.

Designing effective career development plans

Creating effective career development plans begins with a genuine commitment to the cause.  Employees are tiring of corporate lip-service and looking for concrete commitments to their career pathways. Not just words, but actions.

So where do you begin?

  1. Hold one-on-one discussions to understand your employees’ goals:
  • Ask your team where they see themselves in 3 years – not just in a professional context, but their entire life.
  • What are they doing outside of work? With their family? Where are they at financially? More than ever, personal lives need to fit with the professional, and taking a holistic view in goal setting helps create authentic, sustainable career pathways from the outset.
  1. Set goals together:
  • Consider your business’s ambitions for each employee and how those fit with the employee’s goals. Not every employee will want to move ‘upwards’ – some may want to progress laterally or specialise in their current role.
  • This two-way dialogue helps foster that relationship and shows your employees that you see them as a long-term partner – a vital element in succession planning.
  1. Plot tangible steps to achieve specific goals:
  • Identify specific objectives and timelines for each goal and consider short and long-term targets.
  • For example, an employee may have a specific technical skill they want to address now, while working towards longer-term goals in leadership that require ongoing soft-skills training in communication, conflict resolution or team-building.
  1. Avoid one-size-fits-all models:
  • Employees will have different ways they prefer to receive training. For example, one person may respond well to in-person sessions, while another may prefer on-demand webinars they can complete in their own time.
  • Consider different offerings, from in-house cross-training, to digital libraries, on the job development or external coaching.
  1. Check in:
  • Arrange regular meetings with your employees to review how they’re tracking.
  • Different from performance reviews, these are ongoing development check-ins to see what support your team might need to reach their goals and whether any relocation of workload is needed to ensure they’re at the right capacity.
  • This not only promotes employee wellbeing but ensures teams are utilised in the most effective way.

What SMEs have to offer

While big businesses may boast large departments, sizeable HR teams and attractive EPVs, they often can’t deliver a personalised approach.

Small businesses’ competitive advantage lies in the ability to tailor opportunities to their people.

For example, at SEIVA we create “career vision boards”, where our team visualise what they see in their futures – professionally and personally – and work with their managers to plot out how we can help achieve those goals.

Smaller businesses also tend to offer a faster career pathway, with less rigidity and bureaucracy than large outfits and the ability to create roles for people where opportunities may not otherwise exist.

The key is authenticity. Rather than trying to compete with the dazzling offerings of large businesses and offering the world, do a few things – and do them well.

Fostering a culture that authentically supports development calls for time, energy and resources. But by showing employees that they’re not just a number, you create a reciprocal relationship of loyalty, commitment and ultimately – long-term success for all.


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