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Focus on 3 Elements of Career Growth to Keep Your Best Employees

Focus on 3 Elements of Career Growth to Keep Your Best Employees

by Shannon Mullen O'Keefe

Story Highlights

  • How companies manage employees is under scrutiny during COVID-19
  • Employees seek jobs that provide them with a chance to learn, grow and advance
  • Focusing on the employee experience can set you up for success

Let's be honest.

These days your very best want to be known for what makes them unique. They are looking for things like purpose, relationships with their team members and a manager who can coach them to the next level.

They are looking for career growth from the start.

Even though COVID-19 has disrupted our workplaces and the economy, the need for purpose, relationships and growth won't change much.

In fact, it may matter even more now. Everyone from customers to employees is carefully watching how companies manage everything through the crisis, including their people.

Companies that pivot to fill empty calendars with learning opportunities that reinforce investments in their teams' development will stand out in the long run.

Even though this pandemic is shuffling the deck and throwing many out of work, these conditions won't last forever. When the world goes back to work -- and companies need workers -- the competition for top talent will remain. The best are likely to look for organizations that give them the best opportunities to learn, grow and advance.

Just as before, if your organization does not provide what your very best need, they will look elsewhere to find it.

If your best are not looking, they are always sought after.

As a recent Economist article pointed out, "The most far-sighted HR-ers at the most resilient companies are already starting to look beyond the flattened curve … [Some have] begun to court talent at rival firms."

So, in order to keep your best employees, you need to think about their career growth long before they are hired.

Discover the 3 Elements to Career Growth

To do this, you need to embed a career growth mindset in the heart of your very workplace culture by doing the following:

1. Consider how your employee experience and the employee life cycle can best work to set your organization up for success from the start.

Career growth needs to be embedded in your employee experience model from the beginning and then knit into every phase thereafter.

Each of the seven stages in the employee life cycle matters, starting at the very beginning with your attraction and hiring strategies.

Are you aiming to win the best people? If so, they are looking for signals indicating that once they're hired, they will have an opportunity to grow.

If your organization does not provide what your very best need, they will look elsewhere to find it.

Career growth needs to be a part of your messaging to candidates. This can happen in many ways:

  • Don't overlook your job ads, even. Review these carefully to be sure they represent your employment brand well and that they help you to attract the right candidates. As a part of your candidate attraction strategy, for example, you might include a nod to growth-oriented aspects of your culture. This purposeful messaging can act as a sort of signal flare that is subtly aimed to attract candidates who fit your culture and your needs for the future.

  • Your recruiters, who are key ambassadors for your employment brand, need to understand and articulate to every candidate what growth trajectories look like in your company for the positions they are hiring for. They interact with candidates every day and play a significant role as messengers for this.

  • Also, be honest in your materials and in your job interview process when you are hiring. If your organization is flat, for example, don't promise upward trajectory to a candidate, but describe realistically how your best demonstrate real growth in the company. Be clear about it so they can envision whether it seems like the right fit for their style. Don't seek to hire someone who needs a ladder to climb, if that isn't possible in your company. You will set the company and the new hire up for a bust from the start.

  • And, there are other, more subtle ways to keep growth front and center. Your own employees, in fact, share in casual conversations with their friends and family every day about their experiences with your company. This happens on social media accounts and by word-of-mouth, but the thing to know is this: If you have a growth-oriented culture, word will get out to the stars you hope to recruit in the future.

When you start at the very beginning you ensure alignment and that everyone starts out with the right expectations.

2. Get granular about career growth by holding managers accountable for outcomes.

Of course, each person has accountability for their own development in many ways. But another basic tenet for career growth is that managers advocate for and are held accountable for the development of those on their teams. This means leaders need to celebrate those who show remarkable progress early on as stars in their career at the organization. Furthermore, leaders should ask managers to name stars and demonstrate how the manager is promoting career growth for this star as an important outcome.

The best managers naturally talk with all employees about both short- and long-term goals. And we know that the best managers get to know all of their employees through purposeful conversations and ongoing connections.

Organizations that use the Q12 as a metric can watch items like "This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow," and, "At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day," and, "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person," -- to get a pulse of how things are going.

3. Now, think beyond the status quo.

Getting all this right means thinking beyond the existing state. Leaders building cultures of growth must be ready to tackle barriers like the following, too:

Now is the time to revisit how things stand now. Some organizations have standard rotational programs, for example. These sorts of programs may help to underpin key experiences needed for future roles, but just be sure they do. Remember, customization is at the heart of the best career growth. This means that as individuals grow, jobs are crafted around who they are and what they do best.

The best leaders know to look out for this potential in order to customize experiences that will help individuals to grow uniquely. So, HR leaders should ask themselves, does it make sense that everyone completes a rotation as a recruiter (or name the role)? The simple answer is, probably not.

Think holistically about career growth across the workforce: As Gallup's Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived report states, "A year is made up of 8,760 hours. Working women -- especially those with children -- account for every one of those hours." And it goes on to say that 33% of working mothers rate their employer "very poorly" when it comes to "allowing them to work from home when needed."

Though it may not seem obvious at first, this can be a barrier for some of your potential stars, who, after all are whole persons. And Mother Nature, whether we like it or not, just forced us to create new work-from-home realities for many of our teams. Now is the time to consider the who, what, when, where, why -- and how much makes sense for your company culture moving forward.

The best managers naturally talk with employees about both short- and long-term goals. And we know that the best managers get to know their employees through purposeful conversations and ongoing connections.

Overall, this means that in addition to employees' career growth with you, leaders need to remember other well-documented aspects of wellbeing too, including social, financial, physical and community.

Your aim is to build in enough flexibility to ensure that aspects of personal wellbeing do not suffer or become barriers to growth. If you want to retain all top talent, then your cultural structures and values need to be flexible to account for this. And you must eliminate barriers to career growth from the start.

Your very best will always hold themselves accountable to their own career growth, and they'll naturally ask the "big questions" like, "What really motivates me?" and, "What am I doing that I really don't like to do?" And organizations that aim to retain these high performers will get out way ahead of this. They'll be ready before they even get there.

The very best organizations establish cultures that facilitate individual career growth from the start. When they do this, the top talent they are seeking seeks them out, too.

Discover the best tools for leaders and managers to foster career growth by creating a culture that keeps your best employees around:

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