When you were a kid, did you ever complete a paint-by-number set? Whether it was recreating a picture of your favorite animal, or bringing to life a colorful race car, it was fun to see the image come to fruition.
But it was also limiting. What if you wanted the cat’s ears to be purple, not gray? And what if, while painting that race car, you decided what you really wanted was to paint a spaceship?
Although paint-by-number sets offer the advantage of structure, consistency, and immediacy, they are inherently limiting. And in that way, they are like the complex and colorful career development systems that many organizations create. In an attempt to systematize and create a structure for time-starved leaders, there is an inevitable reduction in creativity.
As a result, many managers and employees are “painting by numbers” when it comes to career development. They do what’s expected of them. They complete the forms. They meet deadlines. And they continue to complain about the lack of authentic career development in their organizations.
Responsive organizations, dedicated to the engagement and well-being of employees, are struggling to address these issues and meet the needs and expectations of today’s workforce. But the inconvenient truth is that today’s environment is very different from the environment that established these expectations decades ago
A CHANGING DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT
- Baby boomers are living longer and occupying key roles longer than expected, stemming the historical tide of upward opportunities.
- Flatter, leaner structures translate to fewer leadership roles—the roles that individual contributors have typically looked to for growth and development.
- More fluid structures mean that former career paths are less stable and predictable. The chess game many career strategists successfully won in the past now frequently ends with moves toward roles that are no longer necessary. Or there’s suddenly a new and unexpected space on the chessboard—a new role for which they aren’t prepared.
Despite these fundamental shifts in the workplace, some organizations are trying to make career development—as it’s been understood in the past—somehow work. But many engage in unproductive and organizationally unnatural acts like:
This “creative” approach to meeting employee expectations for growth involves gaming the org chart. A sizable service organization in Asia recently promoted several individuals by changing the title of “senior manager” to “assistant director.” Same customers. Same work. Same pay.
SILLY SUPERVISORY SCHEMES
Given the very few supervisory roles for the many individuals with an appetite for them, a technology firm in India has begun promoting tenured staff to supervisors. Most of them have one direct report (or an open headcount), creating a 1:1 individual contributor to supervisor ratio.
Other organizations are getting on the “promotions aren’t the only way to grow” bandwagon. They recognize that additional projects, stretch assignments and similar development opportunities in the role are the ideal alternative to promotions and moves that aren’t available anyway. The problem is that too frequently this takes the form of dumping great volumes of work on already overburdened employees. As a result, savvy employees — the ones you want to engage, grow and retain — have developed a well-honed “nose” for extra work masquerading as “development opportunities.”
While well-intentioned, these efforts are not going to move the needle when it comes to career development. And here’s why. Most organizations responded years ago to wildly new workplace conditions with significant structural and organizational changes. The new employer/employee contract (or some may argue the lack of a contract altogether) has changed every dimension of human resource management from recruiting through compensation—except career development.
Somehow, employees and leaders alike have held onto the expectation—and hope—that career development could continue unscathed. But it’s simply not possible. As challenging as it was to establish the new workplace reality that included the loss of the lifetime employment guarantee, it’s time to establish a new reality around career development.
Does that mean that organizations must abandon career development? Absolutely not! But they must redefine what it means and how it really works today. And that requires a dose of creative career development planning. It’s not enough to provide paint-by-number templates; organizations must also give their leaders the latitude to formulate personalized plans unique to their teams’ needs. It’s time to allow access to the entire color palette for career development.
ABOUT JULIE WINKLE GIULIONI
Julie Winkle Giulioni helps organizations enhance learning, engagement, retention, and the bottom line. Named one of Inc. Magazines top 100 leadership speakers, Julie is the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want, a respected speaker on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to many business publications. Julie will be presenting her insights for IMS members in 2020. Learn more about Julie at: https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com/