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Simon North

Position Ignition


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Managing career development in a changing world


These days, we’re always hearing about how important ‘adhesion’ is in the workplace.

Definitions of the word ‘adhesion’ include ‘attachment, devotion or loyalty’, which is interesting for the average HR director as they expect not only their own subordinates, but everyone else in the workforce to be loyal to them, the company, the brand, its objectives and values.
But it is also worth asking the question just how loyal HR is in return to individual workers, their values and career objectives?
Each employee has in their head a picture of why their employer exists and where it is going. Whether this picture is a pretty one or not will depend a lot on HR.
An organisation’s vision needs to be understandable, achievable and something that personnel know they can commit to because they believe in it. If their employer doesn’t believe in the picture, neither will the workforce.
The question for employees becomes ‘am I working with this leader because they genuinely intrigue me and I’m inspired by their energy, innovation, vision and agenda? Or am I working with them simply because of extrinsic rewards such as money and other benefits?’
What will tomorrow look like?
A workforce that works for extrinsic benefits alone is unlikely to display high levels of motivation and engagement.
But if a staff member is motivated by intrinsic reasons such as feeling that the work they do is worthwhile and fits in with their values or knowing that their career development is in safe hands, they will be more content and productive, usually because they feel more valued by their employer.
But here’s the rub. In terms of talent, the best that organisations can ever do is to identify people that they think look like potential leaders today. The aim of talent programmes is to try to work out what this talent will also look like in future, but it’s hard because none of us know what shape tomorrow will take.
The situation will be influenced by macro factors such as a fluctuating global economy and changes in labour and consumer market trends, for example. Depending on how these variables affect your organisation, its operations, its objectives and expectations, the kind of talent that you need today may not be the same as the kind of talent that you require tomorrow.
On a less global scale, meanwhile, a high performer’s role and status within the company may likewise change over time. But, importantly, their wants, needs and expectations may also shift too.
With all of these different factors potentially coming into play, it is hard to forecast what tomorrow will look like and to predict whether or not you have been able to identify the right talent for the long term.
But these frequent, systemised attempts to predict the unpredictable create a fair bit of tension around the issue of an individual’s career development.
Managing career development
Someone who was previously identified as ‘talent’ and is aware that a whole programme of succession planning has been structured around them, may be eagerly anticipating the day when they lead a particular business area, only to find that, when it comes to it, the plan has changed.
In such a situation, high performers are unlikely to continue feeling confident that their career aspirations are being met by their employer, particularly if no one has bothered to tell them about any changes in advance. But the problem is that, as the world of business changes so does its talent requirements.
Managing career development in a world in which organisations can no longer promise anyone anything indefinitely is not so much about managing individuals’ career or succession plans per se. It is instead about managing what happens after those plans need to be ripped up – or at least drastically altered.
This means that HR directors need to think about such issues deeply as any assurances made either explicitly or implicitly may not end up being fulfilled. They also need to gear their immediate subordinates up to find ways of moving people around and through the company.
The issue is one of retention. A high performer will always have the option of working for someone else. Therefore, employers must work effectively with their talent by continuing to communicate regularly, be transparent and not pretend that things are what they aren’t.
This approach to managing career development is fundamentally important and becomes more and more so the better the individual is at their job. The current war for talent, especially among individuals with certain technical skill sets, makes it essential for employers to ensure that they remain attractive – or risk losing their best people.
Simon North is founder of career consultancy, Position Ignition.
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Simon North


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