Organisational career management is a tricky area for HR. Many managers worry that asking about career intentions may unsettle staff or even make them leave. But, in reality, the evidence shows that when managers take an interest in and show support for career issues it makes employees more committed to the organisation and also more productive.

The challenge – but also the opportunity – for line managers and for HR professionals in an organisation is to find ways to align employees aspirations with the business objectives so that they can engage, retain and motivate employees and deliver all the business benefits that can be gained from that.

Why then, does career management not feature more prominently in many organisations HR strategy? The recent CIPD report on “Managing careers for organisational capability” (November 2011) highlight the fact that many practitioners reported that career management is seen as an “optional extra”. I think there are 5 potential conflicts between the organisation and the individual that pose real challenges to implementing career management in organisations.

Challenge 1 – organisational demands are often quite different from individual needs and career goals. The company and its managers are naturally concerned about operating effectively and efficiently, about generating profit, and about improving productivity. It’s not that these organisational concerns are unimportant to individual employees, but they are secondary to the individual’s primary concern for self-fulfilment and self-actualisation.

Challenge 2 – the organisation which wants to provide career opportunities for its employees has to recognise the needs of all employees. Unfortunately, the needs of some individuals are often in conflict with those of other individuals in the same company. For example, one person’s desire to take on new responsibilities and expand their area of operation may conflict with the existing authority and responsibilities of others.

Challenge 3 – an organisation needs skills to fulfil all the roles and responsibilities that correspond to the organisation design and structure. Yet, some roles may be seen by an employee to be restricting their ability to develop their capability and realise their potential. Similarly, some jobs are simply boring – such as doing required paperwork – but even though some tasks may be neither challenging nor interesting they still need to be carried out.

Challenge 4 – especially during times of slow business activity, there may be an over-supply of talented managers and employees. An organisation may attempt to realise the potential of all its managers as far as is possible. Individual employees, however, are only interested in realising their own potential and may not appreciate the compromise that is required to accommodate the needs of as many employees as possible.

Challenge 5 – some managers have to be assigned to locations or functions where their specific knowledge and skills are needed. For example, good managers may be required for setting up an operation in a new geography. Yet, this location may not be ideal in terms of their home and family life.

Given all these conflicts and complexities, it is understandable that managers are wary about having career conversations with employees for fear of raising expectations that can’t be delivered against. But not discussing employees career aspirations won’t make them go away and just because it’s difficult to achieve alignment between the needs of the business and individual employees is not a reason to avoid or ignore it. To achieve complete congruency is unrealistic. Yet, like all business challenges, a rational analysis of the situation often results in creative solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.   HR professionals have a critical role to play in facilitating this process.

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