Why Career Development Plans Should Be a Company Priority, Not Just an Employee Priority

CoachHub · 1 September 2022 · 5 min read

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Though not precisely the advice the Cheshire Cat gave Alice, the sentiment is the same—and it’s as true of one’s career as it is of the mythical path to Wonderland. Without a goal in mind and a thoughtful career development plan in place, there’s no telling where one will end up. Forks in the road abound. So do blind alleys, crooked paths, bumpy roads and all manner of roadside attractions. A career development plan is essential whether one is just starting out on their journey or well established and interested in what’s next.

It’s just as important for companies to champion employee career development plans. Opportunities to learn skills, gain experience and move up the ladder stand out among the reasons workers choose a company or seek employment elsewhere, according to the LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index. And seek they do. Roughly a quarter of all Millennials and Gen Z workers plan to leave their employer within the next six months. Being thoughtful and deliberate about helping employees establish or polish career development plans and make progress toward their goals demonstrates commitment in a way that matters deeply to them.

What is a career development plan?

Career development plans pinpoint the steps that advance employees toward their career development goals. They answer questions such as:

  • What do you want to achieve, and when?
  • What do you need to learn or experience to achieve your goal?
  • After you achieve one goal, what’s next?
  • As you work toward a goal, what steps should you be taking to achieve the next one on your list?

Career development plans can take the long view or be hyperfocused in times of transition as people change disciplines, switch industries, re-enter the workforce or seek different ways of working (remote, flexible, etc.) Either way, to be effective they must be authentic—a true reflection of one’s aspirations, not a generic career path—detailed, specific and achievable, with milestones built in to stay on track. “Start with the end in mind” is always good advice. Vague statements and pie-in-the-sky targets are those roads to anywhere (or nowhere at all).

career development

How organizations benefit from career development programs

People will, of course, have their own career goals in mind that may or may not be achievable, or even desirable, for a particular company. However, organizations that develop a culture of career development can help employees shape their plans in ways that not only help them achieve their personal aspirations, but the company’s too. A strategic career development program can:

  • Advance internal mobility
  • Support critical career transitions
  • Broaden experience and skillsets
  • Smooth business transformation
  • Strengthen soft skills (active learning, leadership, resilience)
  • Facilitate knowledge transfer
  • Increase engagement

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6 best practices to consider when creating employee career development plans

Well-structured career development programs make it easier for employees and organizations to achieve their aspirations. Without some degree of strategic alignment with corporate goals and harmony between individual plans, misunderstandings can arise. Here are a few best practices to consider when putting employee career development plans in motion:

  1. Align to the company’s business goals – Guardrails need to be set in place to ensure employees’ goals and milestones support what the organization is trying to achieve. This is true regardless of the employee’s role. An engineer and a marketing coordinator may have entirely different jobs to do, but the reason they’re doing them is the same. Organizational goals differ tremendously, but may revolve around increasing sales and/or profits, launching new products or services, expanding the customer base, moving into new geographies, etc.
  2. Clarify and agree to goals and milestones – No matter how aspirational, a clearly stated endgame is an essential first step in crafting a meaningful career plan. An employee may be aiming for the C-suite or simply wanting to keep their skills current in a discipline they enjoy. As we touched on earlier, start with the end in mind. Once that is clearly articulated, SMART goals come into play – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.
  3. Define accountability – Determine how progress will be gauged, by whom and how. While some people will be extremely self-motivated and deadline-oriented, it’s still important that they check in with others from time to time because circumstances change. The employee may rethink their career goals. The business may shift and throw off development timelines or opportunities for growth and advancement.
  4. Make it easy on everybody involved – If career plans require that courses be taken, skills assessed, etc., then invest in technology that makes it as easy as possible on employees, managers and tangential players such as the HR and executive team to understand what’s going on now and what’s happening next. Simple doesn’t mean simplistic. It means that the processes and tools put in place around career and organizational development will actually get used. And don’t go overboard on the number of things that are measured. A thoughtful, purposeful approach is more useful than an unmanageable laundry list of traits, skills and competencies.
  5. Keep your word – From an employee’s point of view, a career development plan is an implied promise. Companies should treat it as such. If a plan is put in place to advance toward an agreed-upon goal and the employee meets all the milestones along the way, guess what? They’ll expect to have secured their endgame, be it a corner office or a new professional designation. There may be course corrections along the way—some employee-instigated, others business-related—but if the right accountability structure is in place and there is good communication between employees, supervisors and the powers that be, then they can be incorporated seamlessly.
  6. Consider establishing coaching for career development – Establishing a coaching discipline for career development can help employees suss out what they really want to achieve and enable their mentors to be successful in guiding them toward their goals. Coaching for managers can also be invaluable as they deal with today’s non-linear career paths, where early and mid-career workers expect to move fluidly between industries, companies and roles.

Bottom Line

Career development plans are a company’s strategic plan in action. Without a solid career development program in place—one that aligns employee aspirations with corporate goals—anything can happen. Invest accordingly.

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