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How to Ensure our Employees Choose to Continue Their Career Development Internally?

We live in a world where companies invest enormous resources and time to find and retain the right talent. The inability to attract and keep the required skillset is often a significant hindrance to achieving the organizational business goals. At the same time, many employees feel that they lack enough career advancement opportunities and this is often a reason for leaving the company.

So there is obviously a gap that needs breaching urgently. And it needs to be addressed at all three levels – organizational, management and employee.

What can organizations do to provide internal career advancement opportunities?

Companies often treat retaining their employees and finding the right talent as two separate goals. While in fact, to ensure long-term success in their talent efforts, they should look at them as part of the same equation.

High-performing employees want career development and want to keep learning. Unless we provide them such opportunities within the company, they will start looking somewhere else.

At the same time, they may possess or be willing to acquire the skills needed for other roles. And they have the additional benefit of knowing our organization and having built loyalty towards it.

Here are some steps organizations can take to unite those two objectives in one common strategy.

Offer all open roles internally

This first step is quite basic, and in this day and age, all companies are probably doing it to some extent. But I would still like to underline here – we should be offering ALL roles internally. Even if we think that a certain position is unlikely to be filled internally, we should still open it to our existing employees.

The truth is that most organizations do not know enough about their internal talent pool. They know enough to ascertain that the person is qualified for their current job. But after the initial hiring process, we forget about their past experience.

And we no longer live at a time when people stick with the same profession throughout their careers. So there might be a surprising wealth of skills and experience hiding between our office walls.

Advertise the opportunities for career development

Often the perception of a lack of career advancement opportunities is just this – a perception. Employees think that there are no options for them simply because they have no information about what is out there. In many cases, the external job opportunities are more visible than the internal ones.

So we need to advertise our open roles within in much the same way we do outside our organization. The right candidate may well already be sitting in one of our offices, but we need to reach them and entice their interest. And simply listing the job on an internal job board is very rarely enough.

Build career development programs and competency frameworks

The steps above are beneficial when someone wants to move into a similar role or go back to something they’ve done before. But what happens if they want to move to another department or take on a job for which they are not yet qualified.

To facilitate such moves, organizations need to build tools and programs that can clearly show employees the gap between their current capabilities and the requirements for their desired job. And as a next step, provide them with the tools to build those new skills.

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This is where many companies drop the ball and just go back to trying to find talent externally. And indeed, creating the infrastructure to reskill your employees continuously requires time, effort and considerable resources. However, it is much more sustainable than relying on the external job market, especially with the rapid need for reskilling that automation and digitization bring to the workplace.

How can managers support their employee’s career growth?

Due to the relationship they have with the employee and their influence over them, managers can do a lot to either complement or hamper the organization’s effort for internal mobility.

Therefore, it is essential for managers to establish the best way to approach our team members’ strive for career advancement.

Build succession plans

The best possible scenario is to be able to provide opportunities for career development within our own team. However, such may not always be immediately available. So we need to make long-term plans and provide insight on the individual development road map to our employees.

A great way to do this is to build a succession plan. During this process, we identify the critical roles within our team and the skills, knowledge, and competencies required. Then we establish the people who will be most suited for those roles in the future are.

We then need to assess the skill gap for each of them and build development plans to support them in building the new skills. For most employees, having a clear career goal that they can work towards is sufficient to keep them motivated and engaged.

Succession planning is also an indispensable way to maintain operational continuity within your team. Having someone who is ready to take over won’t leave you hanging if a key employee leaves suddenly.

Of course, succession planning is most efficient if done on an organizational level as there is a much bigger talent pool for potential successors. However, most companies have the resources to do it only for a very limited number of senior roles. So you might as well do it for your own team.

Set our priorities straight

Even through succession planning, we may still not be able to offer career development opportunities within our own team. And this is, in my experience, one of the most emotionally challenging situations for a manager.

When a valued employee shares that they are looking for career advancement in another team, our first instinct is to try to retain them at all costs. After all, we have invested time, effort and emotional resources in them, and we know the value they bring to the team. However, trying to retain our top talent within the team is great, but the retention rarely lasts long if their heart lies elsewhere.

And then we need to remember what is the purpose of our job as a manager. Yes, we have been tasked with leading a specific team and ensuring its success. But above that, we were hired to help the organization achieve its business goals. And this may well be done more efficiently if our employee moves in another department.

Also let’s not forget that as people managers it is part of our responsibilities to provide development for our employees. And we should do that, even if it is in another team.

Believe me, I know how hard this may be. Many of the teams I manage are starter teams. They provide ample opportunity for initial learning but lack many options for further growth. So they often find their next career steps within other groups in the company.

Rather than seeing it as a wasted effort and a loss, I have decided to reframe it. Now I look at it as helping those employees set the foundation of their careers and building a strong talent pool for the rest of the organization.

And the reframing helps. Mostly.

Don’t use career advancement opportunities only as a save attempt

I have seen this many times – an employee announces their resignation and the company immediately offers them another role to keep them. But let me tell you, even though it is so popular, this is not an effective approach for retaining talent.

When I was leaving my last job, I was offered six different roles as a counteroffer. And a couple of them sounded rather exciting. But at this point, I had already made my decision, accepted another job (after being interviewed by 17 people), and my foot was already out the door.

Even if I had decided to stay, I had already mentally left once, so the idea to go again would come much easier the next time. And then there is the whole trust issue – if they had so many exciting opportunities for me and cared about my development, why did they not offer them earlier?

So the moral of the story is – do not wait for your employees to make up their minds about leaving before discussing their career advancement. It is already too late.

How should employees participate in the process?

Now let’s look at the topic from the employee standpoint. And let me present to you another common occurrence – an employee who does the bare minimum at their job but regularly asks for career advancement and growth. Such employees often leave in the end and find the opportunities they seek elsewhere.

Even if the organization and their manager has created an ocean of internal career opportunities, the fact is that the employee owns their career. Unless they take the necessary steps to get to the place they want to be, they might as well be in a desert.

So if you want to get a promotion, show the extra effort, go the extra mile, take the additional responsibility. If you want to switch career paths, start building the skills you will need for the new role. No one else can do it for you.

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