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John Costello


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Blog: Career development part one – Why employers are investing in it


What does career development mean to you and to your company? Why is it important? How to do it?

This is the first of two posts on the subject of career development practices in companies.
First, I want to discuss the reasons why companies are interested in career development. In the next post I will move on to how they are going about it.
Deloitte Ireland
I recently attended Legal Island‘s HR Symposium, at which Orla Graham and Dr. Mary Collins of Deloitte Ireland presented on managing talent in Deloitte. The Deloitte talent management strategy is "To be the number one firm for career and personal development, where talented people can do their best work, progress quickly and fulfill their potential, whatever their background".
The reason why career development is important was clearly expressed. There is a war for talent and the top two factors cited to succeed are ‘Career development’ and ‘Training and development’.
Once in the company, developing capabilities is part of the talent management strategy (including deployment and collaboration) that delivers organisational capability, employee commitment, alignment with business goals and, ultimately, performance. Career Development in Professional Services
Other examples from the professional services industry are given in a series of articles (Best Practices in Career Development & Best Practices in Career Development: Point B)  from They examine seven leading firms and some of the reasons given for investing in career development are:
  • “It’s what attracts people to come here and stay” – Russ Hagey, partner and worldwide chief talent officer Bain & Company.
  • “Our philosophy is to support people in their career decisions. We hire staff for life. We are not a body shop.” – Aimee George Leary, director of learning and development Booze Allen Hamilton.
  • “This is why our conversations with employees are about long-term career goals — not what needs to happen next week or next month.”  – Bill Pelster, managing principal of talent development for Deloitte LLP. He adds that this flexibility has assisted retention efforts.
  • “Sales and marketing can be broken down into twenty discrete things,” says Jeff Griese, principal and Chief Human Resources Officer, ZS Associates. “An expert to us is someone who has mastered each of these by doing them many, many times. We’re building depth of mastery.”
The common thread is attracting recruits, retention and performance, echoing the message from Deloitte Ireland.
Study of career development in progressive Canadian organisations
A benchmarking study of the human resources practices of fourteen Canadian of organisations, considered to be on the leading edge of career development, identified some common reasons why these organisations invest in career development:
  1. Competitiveness: Leveraging their workforces’ talents and skills is the chief means of staying competitive in the face of global competition and rapid technology change. The authors state that the "quality, innovativeness and commitment of its human resources are what make the difference in terms of a competitive edge".
  2. Alignment with the business: Alignment between the individuals career development needs and the organisations  needs is critical. The career development process can make this alignment happen.
  3. Staff development: “In today’s ‘lean and mean’ business climate, development is a necessary survival strategy: it helps companies position themselves so they can adjust to rapid changes in their environment. …Development processes enable companies to meet such challenges quickly and effectively. … Organizational career development [is] a strategic process in which maximizing individuals’ career potential is a way of enhancing the success of the organization as a whole.” – (Organizational Career Development: Benchmarks for Building a World-Class Workforce)
  4. Attraction of recruits: A quote from one of the participants in the study illustrates the point. "One of the key differentiators for an organization to become an employer of choice now and in the future…is the amount of avant-garde strategic development you do so that people will be learning the newest things that need to be learned in whatever field.…This is the value that people are looking for in terms of … corporate development or institutional development in any organization.…Offering career resiliency and offering opportunity to learn the best will be the attraction for people coming into the job market. That’s what they are looking for. They’re looking for companies that will give them career resiliency."
The common points are once again attraction of recruits, and performance. In this study the authors do not cite retention or engagement, however they do identify employee commitment as an important factor.
Career Development a Driver of Attraction, Retention and Engagement
Towers Watson presented the top eight drivers of attraction, the top eight drivers of retention and the top eight drivers of engagement from their Ireland database, at Legal Island’s HR Symposium in February. I assume the results are similar in the UK.
Important attraction drivers were  ‘career advancement’, second, and ‘learning and development’, fourth. Pay was number one. Career development’ was the second most important retention driver, behind only pay. For engagement, ‘career development’ was number four.
Interestingly the top drivers of engagement were ‘leadership’, ’empowerment’ and ‘image’, all things that are difficult to change.
So why invest in career development?
If you’ve keep with me this far, you will have seen some common themes emerging as to why the best organisations are serious about career development. It boils down to:
  • Attraction
Career development and career resilience need to be on offer to compete in the war for talent.
  •  Retention
You need to have a long term view of your employees careers and allow career development happen if you want to retain the best people.
  • Engagement
Commitment  comes from within, it’s not something that can be imposed on someone. Aligning personal career development needs with the needs of the business is key to an engaged employee.
  • Individual Performance
Engagement and capability building depend on career development. These are drivers of individual performance.
  • Organisational Performance
At the organisational level, the alignment of business goals and individual goals lead to operational effectiveness today. The career development process facilitates this alignment. Career development is essential, in the face of global competition and rapid technology change, to maintaining competitiveness for tomorrow.
Does your organisation take career development seriously? Why? Why not? I’d love to hear your experiences.

John Costello, chief technology officer at online career development tool provider, careergro.

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John Costello

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