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The Pernicious 4Ps that Undermine Career Development Satisfaction


Career development consistently appears at the bottom of most organizations’ climate and engagement surveys. Employees routinely express their displeasure with the options, possibilities, and moves available to them… as well as the organization’s overall commitment to their growth. And managers are no happier. They lament the time they must find – generally deep into their nights and weekends – to support the development of those who report to them.

If you find yourself in either camp, it’s likely that a large source of the problem – and your unhappiness with career development – traces back to one of the pernicious 4 Ps. These Ps have inserted themselves in our work lives and psyches. They masquerade as development and play games with our minds. They shift our attention and expectations in ways that can only lead to disappointment and frustration. And we let them do it.

So, it may finally be time to shed some much-needed light on this pervasive workplace problem… and in the process, elevate the engagement and growth of employees and managers alike.

Processes, paperwork, programs, and promotions are not career development.

Over the years, we’ve let these 4Ps confuse us. We’ve developed complex processes and systems to ensure that each employee received career development attention and that the organization had the data for manpower, succession and other planning. Yet these processes have taken on a life of their own, voraciously devouring precious time and delivering disproportionate value for the investment made.

Then there’s paperwork, processes’ second-cousin.  It was originally invented to simply memorialize conversations – to overshadow people-work. Too frequently we think that once the boxes have been checked, the forms have been completed and submit has been clicked, development is done. And nothing could be farther from the truth. Documenting is not developing.

And training programs have also added to the confusion around career development. How many times have you looked at an individual development plan that looked a lot like a course catalogue. Training is important, but too frequently we over-simplify development.  An employee can attend every course available and still not be growing and developing. It takes more. It takes:

  • Attending the right courses
  • Receiving feedback
  • Engaging in appropriate development activities
  • Ongoing coaching
  • Collaboratively unpacking learning and refining development plans over time
  • Mentoring, networking, and job shadowing

The fourth P may be the hardest to address and banish. Promotions have become synonymous with career development… despite the reality that organizations are meaner, leaner and more delayered than ever before. Changing business realities and demographics have conspired to result in dramatically fewer promotional opportunities. Yet our expectations have remained unchanged: If we’re not moving up, then we report on the survey that career development is not happening.

Just naming these 4Ps is the first step toward beginning to diminish their power. Framing processes and paperwork as artifacts of development – tools that support our ability to do it with some level of consistency across the organization – helps enormously. Helping managers and employees alike think more creatively about how they can develop the skills and capacities they need will help put programs in their place. And actively exploring lateral and in-role development opportunities can demote promotions and introduce viable possibilities for vibrant development.

So, if we want to promote more career development – and more satisfaction with it – it’s time to actively wage war on these pernicious 4Ps.

What about you? Which Ps are undermining career development satisfaction in your organization?


  1. Insightful perspective on how things came to be, Julie — plus a comprehensive program to change it all.
    Hope this gets on the agenda of everyone’s next meeting: to educate the unaware, to convict the complacent, to bolster the believers.
    And my P to you, Julie, and your ilk, is “Persevere” – it’s truly needed!

    • Thanks so much, Peter. Love your alliteration… and the perfect extra P. Brilliant as always!

      • Thank you kind lady!


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