Career Development is Not About Promotions

Often leaders wrongly think promotions and career development are the same thing. However, career development is about much more than climbing the “corporate ladder.” Career development is about knowing as much about your employees as they do about themselves. It is about developing a person as a professional, helping them to achieve their career goals at all levels, and retaining them within the organization by providing opportunities to do work that matters to them.

Psychologists and career experts, Timothy Butler and James Waldroop, referred to career development as “job sculpting.” Job sculpting, they said, “is the art of matching people to jobs that allow their deeply embedded life interests to be expressed. It is the art of forging a customized career path in order to increase the chance of retaining talented people.” They warned it isn’t easy; it requires a manager to know more than just what skills an individual excels at, but aligning a person’s work to their interests is critical to job satisfaction and retention.

So what should managers do to properly develop their employees’ careers? Start by getting to know your employee beyond their day to day tasks.

  • Ask key questions, such as: What are your goals? What are your interests? What drives and excites you? What has been your favorite task to work on?
  • Observe: Take note of which types of activities seem to energize them, those that they seem most passionate and interested in versus which activities they seem to do just to get done or even seem to make them unhappy.
  • In order to get the most out of your observations, you need to give them opportunities to take on new types of tasks and projects. Test them in different positions with different challenges. Often younger employees, in particular, need these opportunities to learn about what really interests them.
  • Develop an individualized plan for growing their career. Plans should include future position options and the training needed to excel in those positions. Don’t just move the employee into the next available position. Think about the types of positions that would best align with their interests and then determine the skills they need to develop for those.
  • Realize that the best place for your employee might not be with you. The important part is to keep top talent in your organization, not necessarily in a particular department. If you recognize you have a strong performer, but it’s not possible to line up their goals and interests with the positions within your department, help them to find other opportunities elsewhere in the organization.

Promoting an employee should not be the goal of career development – it should be a result of it. Instead focus your career development efforts on getting to know your employees and what makes them tick. While not as simple as just determining what they are good at, true career development will allow you to retain top performers and will mutually benefit both your organization and the employee.


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