Astronauts, Executives, Technical Purists, Steady Eddies
One critical need that every organization has is to continuously OFFER challenging and rewarding growth opportunities to every employee. This is not to be confused with formal Succession Planning or formal Development Plans, although those are often offshoots of a culture of growth and challenge. Notice the word OFFER.
Every leader must also be extremely careful about their bias and assumptions. Do not assume that every employee wants a promotion, more work, to be a supervisor, to follow a traditionally-linear career path. More importantly, don't read negative reasons into why some individuals don't seem interested in advancement. Spouse schedules, elder care, child care, health conditions and many other reasons can be a driver behind why it may look like someone doesn't want to learn and grow. And, more practically speaking, companies can't afford for everyone to be A-player rock-stars on the high-performance trajectory. We need a strong base of what I call "steady-Eddies" and it's just fine if someone wants to be a solid performer in their current job and is happy doing just that...we have to stop beating the career progression drums all the time.
THE VERY AMBITIOUS
High flyers want constant challenge. They respond well to gamification and want to enjoy accomplishments on a very frequent basis. They expect to advance in meaningful, visible ways. Programs for these individuals need to be agile, sophisticated, and offer lateral opportunities in addition to the traditional, linear ones. In fact, to keep programs fresh for these employees it's a great idea to involve them in focus groups or steering committees to continuously gather data, analyze and improve the program.
This represents the vast majority of employees. Most of us want some challenge and the opportunity to advance over time but are not as tunnel-focused on just the professional part of our lives. These individuals value knowing that opportunities are there and will make use of them in ways that fit their needs. Their pace is moderate, often traditional, may include one or two lateral changes over the lifespan of their entire career and companies need to design meaningful programs for this majority group.
WE ALL NEED THE BASICS
All of us, no matter the level of ambition or type of job, need to have basic training available. These programs should be driven across the entire company to create a foundation where everyone is using the same terminology, technical standards, values/beliefs, complying with law and policy and common approaches to work. Examples include communication, risk management, safety, HR policy, contracts, etc. Many companies overlook the potent effect that common programs can provide.
WHAT PIECES SHOULD BE PART OF THE PROGRAM?
So many companies spend a lot of time, energy and money on truly wonderful programs but that are developed in a vacuum. Often it's only the Learning and Development (HR) staff that create these programs. While they may be experts in instructional design and adult learning, if you fail to incorporate the input of a healthy cross-section of the target audience then it will miss the mark, fall victim to low adoption and then gets mothballed. And the next time the organization tries to address these needs the bad memories of the wasted effort return and often the attempt is starved of resources and continues a cycle of failure.
The "ask" is the most crucial part of the process. When supervisors assume that someone wants to advance they start alienating the employee because they're trying to force them down a certain path. When supervisors assume that someone wants to advance in a particular way the same condition is created. Simply put a candid discussion with each employee to understand if and how they would like to be challenged to learn and grow is step one. This removes all doubt, bias, assumptions and wasted efforts.
Another landmine that is important to avoid is to stop acting like challenge, growth and the potential for career advancement is "for a limited time only." When organizations present career development as a finite set of activities that have to be embraced as quickly as possible because the opportunities are only available for a short time it is self-defeating. It creates a entitlement mentality whereby the employee feels when they meet all the requirements now they will be promoted. It creates an environment where employees are conditioned to run a series of career sprints instead of marathons. And it contradicts most company messages that they offer continuous opportunities and challenges throughout someone's career.
While it is important to offer growth at a pace each employee wants, the messaging about accepting their choices needs to be loud and clear. Companies should be explicit that their role is to create a learning environment, challenge staff throughout their careers, and create programs capable of making good on those promises but no one is going to tap the employee on the shoulder and say, "would you like to be promoted today?" Employees need to understand they own their development and they need to express a desire to learn and grow. And when they do it initiates a dialogue with their leadership who are responsible for providing opportunities and removing obstacles.
Companies need to be transparent about rewards and compensation, including that they are typically greater for those who are constantly pushing and advancing. While it is absolutely acceptable to be a Steady Eddie, that choice or need results in a series of competitive but nominal pay increases over time not large, promotional bumps. So they may see peers who are on a different, more aggressive path shoot past them and they need to accept that outcome. In terms of clarity, companies need to be open that if someone isn't ready for an opportunity when the business has that need they have to accept that someone outside the department or company may be brought in for that position.
There are many more components of a solid program but we'll end on those items above. With extensive experience on practical solutions to these organizational challenges, HR4ALL can help your company create an effective, right-sized approach to learning and growth. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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