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Updating the Definition of Career Development

Few will argue that career development is important, a challenge for most managers, and a high stakes game in organizations today. Where the argument begins is around what career development actually is.

Too frequently, form trumps function.  Literally.  For many managers, career development is all about the form, checkboxes, and deadlines.

Now, don’t get us wrong. Individual development plans (IDPs) are essential.  Annual talent reviews and discussions are critical. Timely completion of necessary documentation is a must. The organization counts on all of this.

But, believe it or not, no employee we’ve ever interviewed has said anything like, “For me personally, career development is all about the form.”

Best-in-class managers know that it’s so much more than the paperwork and processes. They embody an updated definition of career development:

Career Development: [kuh-reer dih-vel-uhp-muhnt]

noun… although it’s much more active, operates like a verb



1)  A range of manager/employee collaborative activities that facilitate: opportunity, fluidity, agility, evolution, relevance, insight, capability, passion, experiences, service, challenges, learning, impact, engagement, and accomplishment.

2)  Energy and attention in service of each employee’s unique work and life priorities.

3)  The outcome of ongoing dialogue with employees.

Based upon thousands of interviews over three decades, it’s become very clear that genuine and meaningful career development comes from a foundation built through the human act of conversation.  Whether it’s a formal IDP meeting or an on-the-fly connection, it’s the quality of the conversation that matters most to employees and drives growth.

What do you think?  What’s your personal definition of career development?

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