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Career Development: A 5-Year Retrospective

Five years have passed since I wrote Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want with Beverly Kaye. It’s been a transformative time for me both personally and professionally as I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world, talking with business leaders from all walks of life about their commitment to the development of their people. From China to Lithuania, from Brazil to Russia, from Muscatine to Washington DC, I’ve connected with thousands of managers who are working tirelessly to support the growth of their people—and those who want to learn to do it better. And I’ve seen the bottom-line results that follow.

In the time since Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go was published, a lot has changed in terms of the business landscape… and perhaps even more has stayed the same in the field of career development.

What’s Different?

For some time, we’ve talked about the VUCA world that we live in. But the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that have come to characterize our workplace are now present on steroids. The pressure has never been greater—and neither have the unknowns. We live an increasingly attention-challenged existence which is cultivated by today’s ever-connected, always-urgent environment.

Today we also have more millennial employees in the workforce, bringing fresh perspectives, approaches and energy to the workplace. Their natural desire to see their careers develop places pressure on organizational structures that are leaner with fewer levels of management and less in the way of traditional promotional opportunities.

And all of these shifts are prompting organizations to begin to think differently about—and even redefine—career development. They’re exploring different models and methods to promote development despite the demise of the career ladder. They’re reconceiving the old hierarchy and finding a way to bifurcate development opportunities from specific role changes. They’re challenging themselves to democratize exclusive HiPo thinking to inclusively embrace the potential of all.  And they’re grappling with the compensation implications of decoupling development from promotions.

What’s the Same?

Five years later, a lot remains the same. Career development remains one of the top three drivers of employee engagement. Employees continue to prioritize development and learning as highly desirable benefits—which remain among the top reasons employees give for staying in a role or leaving it. Dissatisfaction with career development persists at the same levels as in 2012 with only about 25% of the population being happy with the quality of the development they’re receiving. And employees continue to believe that career development should be one of a supervisor’s key priorities.

What’s also the same is the remarkable potential of leaders to tap the hearts and minds of employees through development and to drive powerful business results in the process. The link between helping people grow and helping the business grow is as clear and strong as ever.

So, thank you to everyone who’s read and supported Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go over the past five years. Together we’re making a difference—one employee and one conversation at a time.


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