At a recent Chartered Institute of Insurers learning and development forum the audience was asked “How many of you are where you are because you have planned your career?”

A startling 98 per cent believed their career success was due to luck and chance rather than planning. However, when a number of people recounted their personal stories about their career journeys, there was clear evidence that career progression or movement into new fields of expertise was in fact no accident.

Importantly, one of those who spoke was first able to identify and take advantage of an opportunity; next, he had someone around to talk to about that opportunity; and thirdly, there was an interaction with a key person in an organisation who recognised the individual’s potential and was willing to take on an element of risk to support him in securing a new role.

The Oxford Dictionary defines empowerment thus: “giving (someone) the authority or power to do something; make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights”.

We have a seen that individuals are increasingly encouraged to take ownership of their own careers and this is coupled with changes to the balance of the psychological contract. However, a recent presentation on succession planning for the Corporate Research suggested that the pendulum has swung too far, and that the best approach to career development is one of joint ownership with the organisation.

Right now, as we sit at the tail end of a recession and where employee turnover is fairly low, you might wonder whether organisations really need to be worried about career empowerment. In reality, it must be wise for organisations to start thinking now about preparing for the recovery and looking at ways to increase engagement without necessarily increasing costs to match. A recent survey by the CIPD suggested that only 36% of employees were fully engaged during 2013 and that nearly one in four is currently looking for a new job.

The problem with a focus on self-management and the support of informal networks, rather than employer advice, is that it can lead to unrealistic expectations and hence disengagement. In addition, we know that the expectations are different between generations. We know, for example, that a strong millennial trait is to welcome and expect detail, regular feedback and praise for a job well done; they particularly welcome coaching and mentoring, including reverse mentoring.

PwC surveyed over 4000 individuals for its report Millennials at Work. This highlighted that career progression is top priority for millennials, who expect to rise rapidly through the organisation; they prioritise (up to a point, of course) career progress ahead of competitive salaries. At the same time this group, aged 31 and under, feel that the downturn has had a significant impact on their loyalty, with only 18% expecting to stay with their current employer for the long term and 38% actively looking for a different role.

A CIPD Insight paper on Managing Careers for Organisational Capability reports that only 3% of employees use a formal career management process provided by their employer, yet 42% of companies claim they are offering career management support as part of a wider talent process. Something seems to be amiss here!

Many organisations provide training and support to managers and employees on quality career conversations; but clients tell us that line managers tend to sidestep the career conversation, perhaps for fear of raising expectations or creating conflict through having to dispel over-inflated ideas on progression. Some of the burden of having these conversations must therefore rest with the employee.

Other support that the organisation can provide includes:

Most of us probably need some help with this area of our work lives from time to time. These are our tips for proactive career planning:

Top Ten Hints and Tips

  1. Make time to think about your career; don’t leave it to chance
  2. Start by building your self-awareness; what energises you, what motivates you, your strengths, preferences and potential derailers?
  3. Try to formulate a campaign plan
  4. Identify influential people
  5. Seek support: mentor, coach, sponsor, peers
  6. Set up a career conversation: get feedback – listen actively
  7. Actively promote yourself and your brand
  8. Be agile
  9. Find role models
  10. Have the courage to make some decisions, take on roles outside your comfort zone and seek out learning opportunities
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