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Career Management — A new approach to performance management.

Viewpoint by Anna Stuart, Partner, & Kelly Dawson, Consultant

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Engaged employees. These are employees who are passionate about the work they do and committed to achieving the strategic goals of your organization. The Gallup Organization has proven that engaged employees are more productive, customer-focused and likely to resist temptations to leave. In fact, a recent Gallup research study has shown that organizations with high levels of employee engagement post 2.6 times the growth rate in earnings per share (EPS) compared with other organizations in the same industry.

Certainly human resource professionals have long recognized the importance of employee engagement to overall organizational performance. And dramatic and pivotal shifts underway in the labour market are making true engagement more important than ever. We all know the available pool of talent is shrinking. Baby Boomers, who currently comprise the largest percentage of the labour force, are beginning to retire, and the number of new entrants will not be enough to keep pace with demand in the years ahead. These new entrants – commonly referred to as Millennials or Generation Y – bring a very different set of values and attributes with them. They have a high level of skepticism, even higher expectations, and little loyalty to their employers. They see work as a means for personal fulfillment – a place to achieve their career goals. Fueled by a strong sense of self-interest, many Gen Ys look to employers to help them in their professional development, viewing their organizations’ objectives as secondary. The organizations that fail to recognize the values of these employees will fail to engage them, and could find themselves plagued by high levels of turnover and mediocre performance.

Such a profound shift in the labour market demands new approaches in people management practices to stay competitive in recruiting, developing and retaining talent. Performance management – the traditional method for improving employee engagement and productivity on the job – is simply outdated and no longer effective. Instead of annual, one-sided conversations assessing an employee’s performance in the context of what the organization wants them to do, leading organizations are beginning to adopt a new and better strategy for employee development and retention – Career Management.

Philosophically, Career Management changes the focus from evaluating job performance based on the organization’s needs to something far more important to its employees - understanding and aligning their strengths to achieve both their goals and their employer’s objectives. It recognizes that employees expect more from employment than just a job; they expect to build skills through experiences so they can further their careers. It’s the ability to explore and create options that distinguishes Career Management and makes it an ideal retention strategy.

Many performance management programs are built on relatively static career paths, where an individual is positioned on a particular career track and managers help him or her to stay on course. Though it sounds good in theory, employee development doesn’t typically work that way. Your employees’ interests can change, or they may discover they lack the competencies to succeed in a particular area. Career Management is about matching each employee’s evolving interests and competencies with opportunities in your organization. Helping your employees find the right fit for their abilities leads to increased contentment on the job. That, in turn, leads to improved levels of engagement and performance, because employees are doing work they both excel at and enjoy. And that increases the likelihood that they will choose to stay and advance their careers with you.

Career Management is also unique in that it is a three-way partnership between employees, management and the organization. Employees take ownership of their professional development, management facilitates the process, and the organization provides support. It starts through conversations, where you explore the interests, skills and aspirations of your employees to determine their values, passions, strengths and goals. It blossoms when you give them access to all of your organization’s position profiles, because they can see the opportunities open to them, find the right match for their strengths and interests, and determine the skills they must develop to make it happen. Essentially, they map out their own careers within your organization.

For managers, the two-way dialogue of Career Management is markedly different from the ‘top-down’ conversations that predominated performance management systems. Great career conversations are wide ranging, incorporating an exploration of employee strengths and organization needs, the creation of options for aligning individual and organizational goals, and feedback from manager to employee and employee to manager.

At the organizational level, Career Management is an effective means of talent planning – revealing the number of people with the right skills to effectively execute your strategies and meet your succession needs. Simply put, Career Management is a way to align employee development with your evolving requirements, so you can better retain talent as you create a new generation of leadership candidates.

Ultimately, what makes a Career Management program so attractive to the next generation of employees is the fact that it speaks to their values. They are involved in defining the challenges they seek, developing the skills they want, creating satisfying work and opportunities to give frequent feedback. However, Career Management programs are a double-edged sword. If your organization does not commit wholeheartedly to the three-way partnership, or fails to follow intent with action, your employees will immediately sense the lack of authenticity. This will damage your engagement levels, particularly among younger workers. As morale declines, so will productivity and your reputation as an employer of choice, making it difficult, if not impossible, to attract and retain the talent you need.

In an increasingly competitive labour market, the calibre of employees you attract and retain, and the steps you take to develop them, will determine the future success – and sustainability – of your organization. Organizations that support employees in pursuing their career goals through Career Management programs are far more likely to attract and engage productive employees, and, most important of all, keep them from looking for opportunities elsewhere!

Anna Stuart is a Partner and Kelly Dawson is a Consultant with Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette, Atlantic Canada’s leading integrated human capital solutions provider. Throughout her 20-year career, Anna has provided recruitment, strategic and operational advisory services to government, industry and family. An experienced career consultant, Kelly has coached employees and managers to recognize their strengths, prepare career portfolios and participate in effective career conversations.

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