Workers are looking – and leaving – for career development

workers say employers need to improve development efforts

Prospective employees see career development as among the most important reasons to sign with —and stay with — with your organization.

And, while you may think you are offering top-notch learning and development programs, they don’t think you are doing such a great job.

Surveys show that workers and employers don’t agree on how well organizations are meeting employees’ development expectations.

And when they don’t see a commitment to helping them gain the skills they need to advance their careers, your employees are open to offers from competitors who are investing in learning and development.

Employee development

Employee development is at the heart of successful talent management.

Company leadership needs to set the stage by establishing and supporting formal and informal orientation and onboarding processes that give both new and reassigned employees the resources they need to succeed.

Those resources range from a knowledgeable guide to help them get settled into a new job to the ongoing training needed to acquire and apply new and advanced knowledge, skills, and abilities.

But it’s the ongoing training that’s at the core of talent management —and of retention.

Retention

Surveys make it clear just how strongly employees feel about the importance of career development opportunities.

Software analysis and review site Better Buys conducted exclusive research into what companies are offering employees and what those employees really value the most.

Over 2,000 respondents shared their views with Better Buys. Some of the key findings:

  • 92% of respondents think having access to professional development is important or very important, second only to compensation
  • but only 78% of those employees report they have access to professional development opportunities and tools
  • employees with access to career development opportunities are 15% more likely to say they are engaged at work
  • three quarters of respondents with access to career development opportunities said they planned to stay at their jobs for five years
  • only 56% of employees without those career development opportunities said they are likely to stick around

Engagement

The survey also found many employees who say they are not engaged at work still see availability of development opportunities as a reason to stick around.

Employees who call themselves unengaged and say they don’t see career development opportunities? You can expect to replace about 85% of them over the next five years.

Ensuring that employees continue to progress in the organization through learning and development activities not only prepares them to take on more and more responsibility. It keeps them engaged and invested in your strategic goals. And, over time, it will prepare them to participate meaningfully in setting those goals.

And in the meantime, savings from lower turnover almost certainly outweigh the cost of offering development benefits.

While the cost of replacing a worker varies by wage and role of employee, estimates of the average costs to replace an employee are eye-opening:

  • SHRM estimates that replacing a salaried employee costs, on average, the equivalent of 6 to 9 months’ of that worker’s salary
  • Other estimates range from 16% of annual salary for high-turnover, low-paying jobs to 20% of annual salary for midrange salaried positions
  • If your development program fails to satisfy one of your highly-skilled, highly paid stars? It could cost you the equivalent of two full year’s salary to find and hire a replacement even before you try to figure out what the lost experience was worth.

Turnover costs include hiring, onboarding, training, ramp time to peak productivity, decreased engagement by remaining workers, higher business error rates, and general culture impacts.

Leadership development

So what are employees looking for and how can you help them maximize career development opportunities?

To get the most out your strongest workers, organizations need to expand training activities that increase supervisory, managerial, and executive competencies.

That can also help you to identify mismatches between talented employees and the jobs they are doing — one of the leading causes of disengagement at work.

Tracking employee development activity and results is key to identifying individuals who have the talents, insights, and energy to keep your company competitive over the long term.

By keeping the talent pipeline full, organizations improve the quality of leadership across all levels and business functions.

Organizations with reputations for developing — and hanging on to — leaders who in turn support their teams’ career development needs have a clear competitive advantage in the marketplace.

For that advantage to persist, organizations need to look even farther down the career development road.

Succession planning

Succession planning is a talent management must-do for organizations of all sizes, whether a global corporation, a small non-profit, a mid-sized college or a family business with a dozen employees.

For employees, the succession planning process translates into stretch opportunities that can help them learn new skills, advance their careers, increase their value to the team and boost earning power.

All those positives can translate into an increased commitment to your organization.

Institutional knowledge/Knowledge management

Whenever employees leave, organizations lose hard-to-replace knowledge about what has been successful and unsuccessful in moving strategy forward.

Unfortunately, relatively few organizations have developed formal programs to proactively prepare for such losses of knowledge.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) publishes talent management recommendations for federal government agencies.

While those are huge organizations, the advice applies to organizations of all sizes.

The OPM urges agencies to identify leadership competencies (and gaps) among existing employees to create a pipeline of new leaders ready to step in as positions open up or new needs are identified.

Without a knowledge management program in place, organizations risk losing critical knowledge about business processes, policies and practices, and historical knowledge.

The result? Threats to business continuity and costly disruption.

Workforce demographics

Demographic trends are making this a more immediate threat – we are now well into the first phase of boomer retirement, with an accelerating exodus of experienced managers and executives looming.

And it can be even more critical for smaller employers to focus on knowledge transfer.

Many smaller organizations fail after losing their early employees to retirement.

One potential strategy is to create function-specific Wikis, crowdsourced repositories of institutional knowledge.

The feds provide another useful example in this area. The HR pros at the National Institutes of Health faced the challenge of “how to transfer complicated [human resources] programs to new owners with no familiarity.”

So, they decided to build a Wiki to “provide a simple, yet comprehensive technical solution for the age-old problem of capturing institutional knowledge before the people who hold it leave an organization.”

Unused tools

But it’s crucial to recognize that, unless they are integrated into a well-designed talent management framework —and publicized as an important development resource — Wikis and other knowledge transfer tools will sit unused.

About 98% of U.S.-based employers say they offer career development tools to employees. And still a national survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of HR platform vendor Instructure found that only 26% of the employees surveyed rated those tools as very effective.

To be sure, employers aren’t blind to the problem — twice as many poll respondents selected development tools as their most important investment than chose any other software category.

And that points up another issue that employers need to take a careful and honest look at — is the money you’ve invested so far into building your career development platform giving you an acceptable return?

Is it the tool?

If not, is it the tool or your career development program that’s failing? In most cases, it is a combination of both.

“We are now in a stage where most companies have too much technology, and not enough time,” said Josh Bersin, global industry analyst.

And much of that technology – including learning management systems (LMS) that support most career development programs – has been implemented in silos and reflects business processes rather than how employees want to work.

Bersin recommends simplifying the technology experience and designing employee-centric HR programs that happen “in the flow of work”.

Employees are looking for career development tools that are easy to understand, he says, and “put employee development at the center of the employee experience.”

Building an integrated employee career development program

Small and mid-sized organizations often don’t have the budget or staff to administer comprehensive career development programs, which can require costly and time-consuming tasks like developing course content, hiring instructors and keeping track of compliance training.

But integrated employee development platforms from vendors like Instructure, Ascentia, Gnosis Connect, Lanteria and others seek to help organizations increase engagement by making learning and training a part of employees’ and managers’ day-to-day workflows while offloading some of the administrative and other overhead.

These platforms, most available as cloud-based services, integrate performance, mentoring and coaching, and analytics tools.

You can find unbiased reviews and comparisons of many of these tools at Better Buys.

Career development coaching

A formalized coaching program is another key to talent development.

Employees come into a new job with a set of talents and competencies but how well they adapt and improve depends a lot on how —and how well — they’re coached.

But a national survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of HR platform vendor Instructure found that three out of four respondents feel they are on their own in finding opportunities for career development.

Coaching can include sharing with employees examples of what has and hasn’t worked in the past and discussing how those examples relate to overall strategic goals.

With technology speeding up how quickly companies can judge success or failure, those examples will move closer and closer to real-time, helping to drive lessons home.

Remember, along with changes in how performance reviews are conducted, coaching helps to focus discussions on what is needed for future success rather than on post mortems.

Talent management is a strategic “must-have”

Talent Management starts with recruiting and hiring good people, but there are critical strategic steps that come before and after you’ve brought them on board.

While performance management metrics, such as those captured by traditional reviews, may be inputs into the talent management process, talent management is far bigger than that.

It includes strategic workforce planning, employee development, leadership development, talent retention and institutional knowledge management.

Workforce planning is similar — and strategically equal — to other resource planning and management functions.

And, anyone who questions this point should consider companies spend, on average, about a third of total revenue on employee wages and benefits. Maximizing the return on that spending is clearly mission critical.

Aligning career development with strategic goals

For HR to do a good job of identifying, attracting, and retaining the right people, organizations need to first clearly identify strategic organizational goals and analyze any competency and skill gaps that can stop you from achieving those goals.

As part of that analysis, talent management team members also need to assess whether the organization is structured effectively and make any needed changes to align that structure with strategic goals.

Then the talent management team needs to work with HR to build a strategic recruitment plan to close any current or expected gaps.

That plan, among other things, needs to describe the characteristics and experience you’ll want candidates to bring to the job. And it should lay out how you’ll train current and future workers to tackle new challenges and achieve their career development goals.

But even when you are successful finding and hiring top candidates, that is just the start.

Achieving the best return on your recruiting investment requires a lot of work after candidates sign on to keep them learning, engaged, and on your team.

Tim McElgunn
Tim, a member of the HRMorning staff, is a veteran writer and editor. His background includes producing and managing publications for Bloomberg, Frost & Sullivan, Gartner Group and McGraw-Hill. Email: tmcelgunn@hrmorning.com