Have you ever noticed that the first four letters of the phrase “career development” spell “care”? Coincidence? I think not. Because, more than words on a page, care is at the very core of authentic and effective development.
Unfortunately, care seems to be a casualty of today’s systematized, organized, schedule-driven world. When it comes to career development, managers follow the instructions that are handed down. Boxes are checked and forms are submitted. When compliance is high, the process is deemed a success. Yet everyone is surprised when employees continue to report low job satisfaction, waning engagement and a feeling of being underutilized.
What’s missing? What could move the needle on these important measures? CARE.
But care involves more than mere concern and or even active attention to others. Genuine development today is characterized by an evolving set of expectations and requirements. Leaders who care find ways to make sure that their efforts and support reflect this new reality, ensuring that the development they offer is:
Customized. One size no longer fits all when it comes to development.
In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In career development, it’s personalize, personalize, personalize. One size no longer fits all. It never really did — we just all went along with it figuring that “close enough” was “good enough.” But if we can get burgers “our way” and jeans that fit the contours of our bodies, then if follows that something as important as career development must be tailored to the unique preferences of the individual.
Published career paths and mass development are giving way to a focus on talent pools of one, where needs and plans are truly customized by person. What’s the right type of challenge and at what level? What are the conditions — the when, where, how and with whom — that make development most effective and enjoyable simultaneously? These are the questions to consider — not for a job title or pay grade — but for each individual in the organization as you customize career development.
Action- and experience-based. The workplace is too fast-paced and dynamic for those leisurely five-year plans of days gone by. Employees expect progress and momentum toward their futures — starting today.
As a result, long-term development plans that were heavy on formal training are being replaced by more informal, in-the-moment learning. Employees are recruiting specific experiences they need to build skills, complement talents, and mitigate weaknesses or risks.
Consider replacing passive activities such as job shadowing and classroom learning with active experiences such as job rotations and action learning projects. The momentum employees feel will generate greater satisfaction and engagement. At the same time, the organization will enjoy the benefits of having real work completed in real time.
Relational. Completing forms by a due date too frequently overshadows the needs and interests of the individual. Genuine development is personal and happens through the human acts of conversation.
Through conversation, leaders can help employees recognize their strengths and weaknesses. Through conversation, leaders can help employees make sense of their experiences, interests, values and preferences. Through conversation, leaders can help employees set growth goals and determine how to reach them. Through conversation, leaders can help employees unpack their learning and discover more about themselves.
Conversation is the vehicle through which development happens. As a result, building relationships that include ongoing communication should be the highest priority for leaders committed to the growth of others.
Embedded. The work still has to get done. Right? Given lean organizations and ambitious business strategies, there’s not a lot of time for “extras.” Development must find a home in the context of meeting ongoing goals and objectives.
The good news is that every day offers tremendous challenges and opportunities to grow. But leaders must be able to read to signals, mine those key moments and guide employees toward the small steps that can quickly lead to great advances. For example, strategically and thoughtfully assigning tasks based upon the needs of the individual can build and expand capacity. Or, when employees experience success, that’s a great opportunity for a quick conversation about the skills they deployed and how else those skills can be used toward their goals.
You don’t need to wait for that special time of the year to talk about development. Effective leaders do it a little every month, week, day — embedding it right in the workflow and treating it like the organic part of work that it really is.
Genuine and effective career development today must be customized, action- or experience-based, relational and embedded. Leaders who CARE demonstrate their commitment to helping others grow — and, in the process, help also to grow the business and themselves.
What about you? Do you care enough to share your thoughts? What are your observations about what’s required for career development success today?
This article first appeared in SmartBlog on Leadership.