At Kwela, our work takes us into many different organizations across a range of industries, which gives us the fortunate position of seeing common themes and challenges in the world of management and leadership. Of particular interest to me lately is career development in organizations.

It is no surprise that with an increasingly competitive environment and challenging economic times, particularly as of late, organizations in both the public and private sector are seeing slower rates of voluntary turnover and increasingly flattened hierarchical structures.

Both of these factors combine to create conditions which challenge a traditional notion of career development, i.e. promotion. As we all know, career development is not characterized by simple promotion these days. To be successful, we have to be more creative about career development these days.

So in this “new world” of career development, it makes sense that organizations have new needs. It has become increasingly apparent to me how critical the role of the manager is in leading meaningful career development programs. If an organization wants to introduce meaningful career development for their staff these days, I think the number one key ingredient is having skilled and experienced leaders who are capable and interested in leading individuals through career development discussions.

While you could invest in forms, documentation, and some formal career path or ladder structure to trace the eventual path of any one employee, none of these are more impactful than a skilled manager leading a career discussion with a key employee. If you want to invest in just one thing, I would say invest in training and coaching your leaders to have effective career discussions.

Then follow up by supporting those leaders in developing trusting relationships with their staff, as this will be critical to the impact and value employees place on those career discussions. Finally, help your leaders understand they do not have to be “experts” in all fields in order to have career conversations. You may consider supplying them with a list of guiding principles which inform how career development works within your organization.

As a sample, I think these are three “must haves”:

1. Career development in today’s modern organization is about reaching a greater understanding of one’s strengths and playing to those strengths. Building from one’s strengths has three impacts: increased confidence, increased probability of success, as well as improved job satisfaction more generally. Managers and leaders don’t have to have all the answers, but they can help their employees explore and identify strengths by focusing on providing observations.

2. Career development does not just mean promotion – it means a whole lot more. Career development involves horizontal moves, progression or remaining in one’s role and benefiting from job experience enrichment or development.

3. We each own our career development. Employees need to show initiative and take action, and the employer is the partner in the process. Be prepared for how you as an employer will financially support skill development training as part of an employee’s development plan.

Joanne Spalton, Senior Consultant