Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

A significant investment is made each year on studies, training, portals, and programs related to career development. Sadly, the return on this investment continues to disappoint organizations, leaders and employees alike. And it’s unfortunate because what’s needed doesn’t cost even a penny. What’s needed to ensure healthy, sustainable career development is creativity.

“Creativity” and “career development” rarely come up in the same sentence. In fact, many organizations have inadvertently wrung a lot of creativity out of career development through the creation of complicated systems, processes, and forms. What many organizations are discovering is, the more sophisticated the individual development planning process, the less creativity is actually allowed. It turns leaders into box-checking bureaucrats, for whom career development is yet another task on a never-ending To-Do list. It’s like completing a paint-by-number career development plan. That’s not creativity, that’s drudgery.

APPROACHES TO CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT

Although many organizations have completely revamped many aspects of the employee experience—from recruiting to compensation—innovation in career development practices have typically remained largely stagnant. There are, however, a few pacesetting companies that are implementing genuinely creative solutions that ensure relevant and sustainable development. 

In general, these companies focus on two broad approaches that cost nothing but can quickly shift mindsets about how to develop employees:

  • Thinking outside of the box—the checkbox on the standard forms, that is. There’s a balance to be struck between the structure (required for manpower/succession planning) and the ongoing, iterative, informal, in-the-moment way people actually learn, grow and develop. Lightening the administrative load of the former frees up energy and creativity for the latter.
  • Rebranding the outdated career ladder. Although the regular, predictable progression associated with the ladder metaphor went missing from many workplaces some time ago, too many employees and leaders alike still hold that image. Progressive organizations are replacing the ladder with more nimble, lateral, and reality-based models including climbing walls, jungle gyms and Tetris-style ways of thinking about how career development really works.

Here are a few examples of creative ways to embed career development into your work team’s daily life:

ASK

This is the simplest route to helping employees grow: ask their opinion. Yet, managers sometimes forget to ask, “Where do you see the need to develop?” or “What would feel like a stretch assignment to you?” As a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in prescribed “development” activities handed down from upper management and take shortcuts. 

EXTRAPOLATE

What tasks/projects does your employee already do that can be extrapolated into a new project that will energize him/her and provide value to your organization. Perhaps she took a financial project and ran with it; what can you help her do to increase the complexity in the task, so she grows in this area?

DELEGATE

You’re probably already delegating, but here’s the twist: give away a task that you love to do. Perhaps there’s a task that you long ago mastered, but you hold onto because you enjoy it. Who on your team would also enjoy it, if only they had the chance to try it? These are just three possible avenues to injecting creativity into your organization’s career development processes. Everyone from the C-suite to the front lines needs to update their thinking about, expectations of, and efforts to support career development. As these examples show, the shift does not require a significant financial investment. Rather, what’s necessary is the infusion of the priceless quality of creativity.

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/

Julie Winkle Giulioni on employee development

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:

PAPER PROMOTIONS

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.

DEVELOPMENT DECOYS

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/