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Redefine Results by Redefining Career Development

Given repeated rounds of downsizing, reorganizing, right sizing, and all of the other ‘zings’ that have befallen organizations, it’s easy to scan the landscape and come to the conclusion that career development options have shrunk… that they are few and far between for most employees.  After all:

  • ID-10097088Delayering has left already lean organizations with fewer stops along the food chain.
  • Organizations continue to pursue outsourcing in the eternal quest for cost reduction.
  • Baby boomers are not only having the audacity to live longer… but they’re also working longer and occupying chairs that in the past would have be vacated for others.
  • Mergers and acquisitions continue to surface and systematically remove ‘redundancies’ (i.e. – people who were previously able to contribute their talents to the enterprise).

It would be easy to declare career development DOA, an artifact of those charming days gone by, and a reality that we’ll all just have to get used to in business today. But, employees are not getting used to it. In fact, study after study reveals that lack of growth opportunities and career progression top the list of reasons employees (likely the ones an organization really wants to keep) quit.

Painting a New Picture

The problem, however, is not with the business landscape… it’s with how we’re interpreting it and how we choose to define ‘career development.’  Clearly, gone are the days of the reliable career ladder, the system by which employees could expect that every 18 or so months they’d be invited to take yet another step upward toward their ultimate next big job. Today’s business environment demands that we replace our old definitions and pictures of career development.

Progressive organizations are burying the ladder and introducing models that are more reflective of today’s reality.  Examples include: climbing walls, lattices, jungle gyms (and full playgrounds for that matter), spider webs, and a big ol’ plate of spaghetti. What do they have in common? They’re more fluid and organic. They emphasize lateral and horizontal exploration versus a myopic focus upward. And they all acknowledge the reality that interesting work, terrific contribution, and growth can happen right where one is without the need to ‘move’ anywhere.

Savvy managers and leaders are figuring out how to turn existing roles into development opportunities.  And this resonates with employees.  A recent survey conducted by BlessingWhite found that 87% of employees polled agreed that “I don’t think there is anything wrong with staying in the same job if I can try new things or develop my skills.”

Developing in place offers countless benefits… to the organization and the individual.  Engagement. Skill acquisition. Greater effectiveness. Expanded contribution. Bench strength.

And there are countless ways for employees to grow without changing offices, business cards, or roles. Consider any of the following:

And that doesn’t even scratch the surface. The options for developing in place are limited only by the commitment and creativity of the managers and employees involved.

But it’s not just about working one-on-one with employees.  Development is scalable when leaders take deliberate steps to cultivate a culture that allows everyone to enjoy the kind of growth that encourages engagement, retention, and contribution by:

  • Engaging in regular, short, frequent conversations about goals, interests, accomplishments, and needs.
  • Sharing big picture information about the organization, its challenges, direction, and needs.
  • Encouraging internal collaboration, social networks, learning circles, and peer networking.
  • Mining experiences for teaching value with simple questions like, ‘what did you learn from that?’

But the first – and most important – task is to redefine career development. As soon as we let go of the ladder, we’ll find ourselves squarely in today’s reality, a reality that offers unlimited opportunity for everyone to grow… right where they are currently planted.

What about you?  What’s your current definition of career development?

Image courtesy of basketman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post originally appeared at LeadChangeGroup.com.

6 comments on “Redefine Results by Redefining Career Development

  1. Peter Moore on

    Great job in summarizing the current issues in just four bulleted points! Followed (of course) by your expert development and analysis. Also, liked the “labels” graphic – shades of much of your book’s clever graphics. Keep analy-zing!

  2. Jacqueline Ledgister-Bethell on


    You are correct – the key task for leaders now is to clearly articulate the revised definition of career development…the organic lattice, jungle gym, spider web, instead of a ladder. It does take savvy leaders to see and mobilize current roles as development opportunities. Your recommendations are immediately actionable. Thank you for another purposeful article.

    • Julie Giulioni on

      Thank YOU, Jacqueline, for your note. I’d be curious about what you might add to the recommendations. What have you seen savvy leaders do to make the most of in-role development? And, how do you see compensation fitting into this complex puzzle? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  3. Jacqueline Ledgister-Bethell on

    It is my pleasure, Julie. Your work inspires me.

    The most effective in-role development technique that I have seen and personally implemented is the “special project”. A team member showed aptitude, interest in a particular direction and I saw that the individual had the CAPACITY (very important) to do more; take on extra. I suggested the “project”, outlined why I thought she was suited, highlighted the benefits – part of which included public recognition which I knew was important to the individual. We then discussed an approach – key components to be included. I stayed close for guidance and we checked in regularly for feedback or problem-solving and I kept the team member energized over hurdles, (very important) but the team member was free to make independent decisions within the budget. The project was a huge success; the organization benefitted and the person enjoyed the public accolades and elevated respect among peers. In other cases, we described the assignment in staff meetings, highlighted the development benefits, then asked for volunteers.

    – In the form of a performance bonus at the end of the year after the annual evaluation. No one could contest the extra payout, as the team member leading the special project was evidently standing out.

    We chose not to attach a salary increase to the special project; it was viewed as on the job training and leadership development, mutually beneficial to the individual and the org.

    In all cases, whether they volunteered or were tapped to take on the project, the increased confidence and leadership skills, led to promotions and awards.

    • Julie Winkle Giulioni on

      Brilliant Jacqueline! It sounds like you’ve mastered the special project. So frequently, these types of development opportunities are really just extra work that needs to get done. And employees see through that immediately. But the way you positioned it, set it up, and supported the person through the process created a valuable growth opportunity.

      I also really like your language around not attaching a salary increase. Increasingly, I think leaders must become more comfortable with the message that development and growth are of value…. especially when the organizaiton and leader are actively invested in the person’s success (as you were in the example you shared.) It means thinking about and positioning development as a benefit on par with money… which you’ve so eloquently done.

      Thanks so much for joining this conversation and sharing your insights!


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