Career Development

Career Coaching Tips for Clueless Employees

What is your career plan?

“I don’t know where and how I want to develop”
“I am too busy with work to think about this”
“I want to develop as an XX, but I don’t know how to get there.”

These are comments from your “clueless” employees. They are probably your solid workers. They are reliable, do their work and add value to the company. But they are not ambitious and have not invested spend time thinking about their career. Or even if they do, they do not know how to put a plan together. They probably have a vague idea that career development leads to higher positions, but lack clarity and specific strategies to get there.

Such employees will certainly benefit from learning how to plan and develop their career. A workshop participant exclaimed, “Since I was young, we have been told to study hard, do well, and go from primary and secondary school to tertiary education. We are also encouraged to study subjects that will add value to the economy, such as computer science, life sciences, and engineering. But after we graduate, suddenly there are no more instructions!”

How true. We spend so much of our lives studying content that we will never use. Think of calculus, physics laws, or biological terms. But we do not spend time learning how to navigate forty years of our career! It is assumed that we will develop internal direction. But that is also a process.

So in having career conversations with these employees, our objective is to find a sweet spot between their skills and the organization needs. This is even more important when the rapidly changing environment demands new skills.

Here are some quick tips:

1. Encourage these employees to take ownership of their career.

  • Rather than wait for the manager to take initiative or for their career to happen.
  • They need to get to know their strengths and skills, manage their reputation, understand what skills will be required in future, and decide what and how they need to develop.
  • Share your own career journey. What helped you?

2. Give them permission to dream.

  • For some, they do not expect much from their career and limit their own sense of possibilities.
  • Expand their mind by asking these questions, “Tell me a time when you really enjoyed your work and felt a sense of aliveness?”, “Other than a salary, what else does your job give you?”, “What roles could give you more of this?”, “What challenges do you enjoy at work?”
  • Encourage them that they can move towards the direction they want.

3. Educate them about career planning.

  • Expose them to books: What Colour is Your Parachute? is a career planning classic.
  • Point them to articles or websites. Just Google and many good resources will show up or refer to the resources on our website.
  • Encourage them to take a course in career planning

4. Break the big concept Career Planning into small bite size

  • Some people seem to know what they want to become at Day 1, but the reality is we change our aspirations along the way or our career emerge from the experiences we have. So assure them it’s ok if they don’t have all the answers. The questions are more important.
  • So don’t worry about the BIG question – what do you want to be in your life? Instead focus on:
    1. What excites you?
    2. What are your strengths?
    3. What you are curious about?
    4. What do you want to learn?
    5. What projects are interesting to you?
    6. What could be the few natural next steps?
    7. How can you leverage your strengths and experience?

Hope this is helpful. Love to hear your experience or questions on this issue, pls feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

Written by:
Wendy Tan
Connect with Wendy on LinkedIn







  Wendy Tan   Jun 27, 2019   Career Development   Comments Off on Career Coaching Tips for Clueless Employees   Read More

Using a Career Philosophy to build a Development Culture

Do your employees feel comfortable initiating career conversations?
Are your managers able to articulate their role in supporting their staff’s career? 
Does your management have a common stand on supporting career development in your organization?

If your answer is ‘no’ to these questions, then chances are your organization needs a ‘Career Philosophy’.

What is a Career Philosophy? 

It is a set of principles and norms that says how careers are supported and developed in your organization. It guides employees on what to expect and what can they do to further their career in the organizations. It articulates what a good manager does in supporting their staff’s development. Finally, it can serve as a unique selling proposition to recruit new talents.

Here is a list of questions to help your organization craft your own Career Philosophy:

  1. From the organization’s perspective, why is it important to develop employees’ careers? Are there any other reasons beyond the organization’s interests?
  2. What is the role of employees in their own career development?
  3. What is the role of managers in their staff’s career development? What behaviours does a good manager exhibit?
  4. What is the role of the organization in its staff’s career development? What do good responsible employers do?
  5. What do managers do or not do to support career development?
  6. What can individual employees do to explore their career development?
  7. If an employee wants a promotion but is not ready to be successful in the new role, what does the manager do and say?
  8. How do we see employees who want a role outside of the department? What should the manager and staff do?
  9. How do we treat employees who want to explore ‘the world out there’? Do we still keep in touch with them as potential returnees?
  10. What do we say to employees who choose to stay within their comfort zone?
  11. What resources does the organization invest in to support the career development of the staff?
  12. Are there specific expectations, such as 2 functions, 2 locations and 2 roles in a given time frame? Or are employees expected to change role every so often?
  13. Is it acceptable for one to propose a slowdown of one’s career development to tend to other priorities such as health or family?

Remember defining the Career Philosophy is not just the job of HR  department. Often HR spearheads and engages the rest of the management, so it is the organization’s collective agreement on, “here’s how we develop careers in this organization.”

Love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Feel free to reach me at to share your ideas or ask any question.

Written by:
Wendy Tan
Flame Centre

  Wendy Tan   May 27, 2019   Career Development   Comments Off on Using a Career Philosophy to build a Development Culture   Read More

How to Become a Talent Magnet

Wise leaders build engagement by becoming magnets for high­-performing talent.

Never before have organizations paid more attention to talent — keeping it, attracting it, developing it and engaging it.

Talent is no longer simply a numbers game. It’s about survival. It’s about winning market share and bringing on new investors, clients and big contracts. Companies depend on their top performers to innovate and differentiate themselves from their competitors. They’re reliant on their
employees to thrive.

Executives, line managers and the learning and development professionals who support them agree that engaging and retaining talent is a core business initiative. In fact, many enterprises have elevated talent retention to the top tier of objectives, on a par with generating revenue
and managing costs.

In support, leaders constantly seek new ways to build everyday engagement — the brand of engagement that is natural, effective and sustainable. Wise leaders build engagement by taking a lesson from science. The magic and science of magnetism has many relateable applications for engagement and retention. Let’s face it, most of us could be more magnetic — and most of us would like our bosses to do the same.

Magnetism is an extraordinary power that attracts or repels. It gets its name from Magnesia, Turkey, where more than 2,000 years ago the Greeks found rock that possessed mysterious powers. The rock, a form of iron ore called magnetite, could attract metals, making the rock and the metal stick together.

A magnet is a substance — usually a metal, such as iron or steel — that has been magnetized so that it will behave like magnetite. Any metal that can do this is called magnetic.

What’s a Talent Magnet?

Magnetism can help leaders understand human reactions at work. That understanding is often the first step to increasing leadership effectiveness and employee engagement.

Managers can be talent magnets, and decide how much energy they devote to attracting and developing talent. While organizations have magnetic forces by virtue of their mission, vision and values, the manager must translate those forces into everyday action.

Managers can attract and hold talent. An organization as a whole, a business unit, function, team or person can be a talent magnet. Because managers have the most power and influence in the engagement and retention arena, we’ll focus on them.

Managers decide how much energy they devote to attracting and developing talent and translate those forces into everyday action.

When leaders have strong magnetism, they feel it. So do others. Energy, morale, engagement and productivity are measurably high. Recruiting talent is easier because people want to work for talent magnets. Talent magnets get positive press. If leaders recognize and use their own magnetic powers, they can create more, achieve more and earn more.

But what if leaders aren’t magnetic? Well, they’re in trouble. Finding and keeping top talent makes or breaks a team, business unit and, ultimately, a company.

The good news: Even the most nonmagnetic leaders can create, increase and sustain magnetism.

Here are some examples of how magnetism works in talent retention:

  • Every magnet has a magnetic field around it. Every talent magnet creates a culture that attracts and keeps talented people.
  • The stronger the magnet, the larger the magnetic field. The more magnetic managers are, the more people they affect.
  • If you break a magnet in pieces, you’ll produce new magnetic fields around each new piece. Magnetic managers create more magnets by sharing their power and ability with others.
  • Metal objects that attach to magnets become magnetic, too. Employees of talent magnets attract others, at least while they work for a magnetic manager.
  • Something that behaves like a magnet after it leaves the field of the inducing magnet is said to have residual magnetism. When managers lose talent magnets to the competition, they lose a crucial competitive edge.
  • The attraction of two magnets toward one another depends on how close they are and how strong the magnetic force is within the magnet. Talent magnets get to know their people well. They get close and stay close, learning all they can about their employees’ motivations and desires.
  • If a magnet is suspended in air, it will always point in a north­-south direction. A compass always finds magnetic north. Magnetic managers create, share and lead by a strong vision.
  • One can create a magnet by giving it an electric charge or by putting a specific metal in the mix, like iron. Talent magnets know when and how to boost engagement through learning and development. They take action when something employees want is missing.
  • One can demagnetize a magnet in many ways. Managers can put people off by actions they take or fail to take.

Identifying the ‘Sticking Features’

What makes an organization, team or leader magnetic? Decades of research confirm that most workers want fair pay and a good work environment. Beyond that, they want exciting, meaningful work, a chance to grow, and a good boss. These are sticking features that people have in common.

But this doesn’t tell the whole story because everyone has a unique sticking features list. If leaders guess at what their talented people want, they’ll often guess wrong. Instead, managers at all levels will do well to stop guessing and start conducting stay interviews with every one of their employees.

Stay interviews are conversations between managers and their employees that intend to tell people how much they’re valued and to learn what will keep them engaged and on the team. Stay interviews prevent exit interviews.

Managers need to discover what people really want and need to bring their discretionary effort to work and to stay in the organization. As part of a stay interview, for instance, one manager might ask their employee: “Which part of your job do you wish you didn’t have to do, and which part would you like to expand?”

That simple question can open up a conversation that leads to job enrichment and increased engagement.

Managers today face more to do with less time in which to do it. They need to recognize that every interaction with direct reports is an opportunity to create, increase or sustain magnetism.

Managers today face more to do with less time in which to do it. They need to recognize that every interaction with direct reports is an opportunity to create or increase magnetism.

Create Magnetism

Once managers know which sticking features matter most to their employees, they’re ready to create magnetism.

Apply an electrical charge. For some employees, the electrical charge comes from a career discussion, a new learning opportunity or a much­desired “thank you” from the boss. Talent magnets learn what kind of charge their people want.

Consider this hypothetical example: When Sergey’s boss asked what he wanted to learn next year, he said, “I’d like to improve my negotiating skills.” They began a three-­step learning process. Here are the steps they followed and how it worked out for Sergey.

Step 1 — Conscious Observation: Sergey’s boss selected someone who was exceptionally skilled at negotiating for Sergey to observe. Later, Sergey and his boss discussed what Sergey learned and would do differently.

Step 2 — Selected Participation: Sergey’s boss allowed him to take a well­defined but limited role in a negotiation. The goal was to let Sergey practice without feeling overwhelmed. Afterwards, Sergey and his boss discussed what worked and what to improve.

Step 3 — Key Responsibility: Sergey’s boss gave him primary responsibility for a project that required excellent negotiation skills. Sergey completed the entire negotiation with the vendor and was accountable for the outcome. His boss was present, of course, but would have stepped in only if Sergey requested his support. Afterward, his boss asked him what worked well and why.

It worked. One year later, Sergey is thrilled with his job and continues to develop mastery as a negotiator for his organization.

Put some metal in the mix. Some people want a deeper relationship with their boss, while others want more fun at work or more time away from work. True magnet managers will discover what’s missing and partner with their employees to add those ingredients to the job.

Talent magnets are always curious about what’s working and what’s missing. They then collaborate with their employees to find the right formula for magnetism.

Increase Magnetism

Sometimes leaders have magnetism, but not often or powerful enough to attract, engage and keep the best people. The good news is magnets can get stronger.

Turn up the voltage. Some people would like more praise or encouragement. Others want to know their bosses care about them, their lives and their careers. Talent magnets should notice when employees’ job enthusiasm appears flat. They can even use failure as a learning experience.

Get bigger magnets. Magnetic managers often connect themselves to other magnets, becoming more powerful themselves. They reach up and out to learn and give more to those who follow them. In the race to engage and retain talent, there is never a time to say, “I’ve done enough.” There is always a way to improve the relationship or enrich the work.

Recharge. Talent magnets check in often with their talented employees. They want to know how the sticking features have changed. What do they want more of or less of from work? Listening is the most powerful tool in the talent magnet’s toolkit.

Magnetism can make objects attract or repel each other. It’s sad but true that actively disengaged or toxic bosses can drive talent out the door. Retention researchers agree that people seldom leave organizations; they leave managers.

Magnetic managers need to be vigilant and courageous. They regularly recharge themselves and whom they manage. They mentor, manage and ultimately remove demagnetizing forces from their teams.

Talent magnets are a powerful force for an organization. They attract others who can help them build and sustain engaged, highly productive work forces. They watch for and disempower demagnetizing forces.

The strongest leaders ask themselves how they might grow even stronger or know their people better. They ponder how they might increase the electrical charge help employees find missing ingredients or turn up the voltage.

The payoff for talent magnets and the organizations they lead is profound. It can make the difference between an organization being mediocre and it being hugely successful.

By Beverly Kaye & Sharon Jordan-­Evans
May 18, 2018

  Wendy Tan   Feb 13, 2019   Career Development, Engagement   Comments Off on How to Become a Talent Magnet   Read More

Plenty of Room to Grow

Career Growth

Moving up isn’t the only way to achieve successful career development.


Engagement surveys reveal, again and again, that individuals join organizations to pursue career possibilities and they leave organizations if those opportunities don’t materialize. In fact, a recent Gallup study reported that the majority of millennials—projected to be 75 percent of the workforce by 2025—say that professional growth and continued development is very important in their decision to join an organization or take on a new role.

Recruiters who describe an organization as having a development culture need to understand what it means to follow through on that promise. Company culture must meet employee expectations and desires for learning and growing. When the reality doesn’t match the promise, a coveted new hire can easily disengage or become a quick quit.

It’s no secret that yesterday’s career ladders have faded or lost rungs along the way to today’s flatter organizational structures. Goals defined only by moves up the hierarchy and recognition systems centered primarily on celebrating promotions are setting the stage for frustration, disappointment, disengagement, and potentially loss of talent. The very definitions of growth and career development need to be broadened to encompass the full scope of growth options that exist in the world of work today.

So, what’s the answer?

Organizations are striving to stay ahead of the competition and on the cutting-edge of serving customers. Recruiters and HR professionals need to see return on the time, money, and energy invested in attracting talent. Managers are focused on building and engaging a team of valued players who are ready, willing, and able to deliver results. Individuals are developing current and future capabilities to realize their career aspirations. Continuous growth opportunities will meet the needs of all entities.

Organizations that meet the challenge of providing continued professional growth in spite of fewer promotional opportunities will attract and retain talent. Managers who recognize, embrace, and encourage nontraditional career paths will build reputations as development-minded leaders and establish trusting relationships with their teams. And employees whose growth needs are met will see a future within the organization and remain engaged and committed to the work.

A good place to start achieving this is recognition.

1. Recognize the issue—and the opportunity. Recognition of the issue and more importantly, the opportunity that lies within the issue, unlocks a wealth of opportunities for individuals and potential for the organization. Many traditional career paths don’t exist anymore, but in many cases, fulfilling alternatives have replaced them. Candid conversations with candidates, new hires, and tenured employees about opportunities to grow professionally create solid partnerships and send the message that growth is still there—it just may be packaged differently.

Nontraditional options can bridge functional groups and uncover potential paths by triggering interest in professional passions that employees may not be aware are possible. For example:

  • IT professionals can have transferable skills for product design and marketing roles;
  • instructors see line management assignments that draw on their expertise in the field of learning while affording the chance to stretch into new areas; and
  • a sales leader can excel as a direct customer contact manager.

The key, however, is ensuring transparency regarding what continued growth looks like within the organization. For many, the mental image of growth is still a step up a ladder. While the reality may be very different, it is no less valuable toward the ultimate goal of building a personally meaningful career for individuals while simultaneously building future capability for the organization.

2. Recognize the options. When multiple options for learning and developing are recognized and consistently communicated across an organization, a growth culture is formed. There are six types of experiences that, when mixed and matched within a career pattern, create a kaleidoscope of development opportunities. They include:

  • Enrichment: growing in place. Not all workers want to move from one role to another, but growth within current roles can and should happen. Through enrichment and learning programs, individuals feed their passion about the work, stretch to build new capabilities, and grow professionally. Enrichment builds resilience and fosters engagement.
  • Exploratory: testing the water. So much can be learned from simply trying on a role to see if it fits. Exploratory experiences can identify future roles that are ideal as well as eliminate others from consideration. They can also provide a road map of the behaviors and skills needed to be considered for a future role. Whether the employee steps into a temporary assignment or simply conducts a series of informational interviews, exploratory experiences can uncover details that contribute to informed decisions and better choices for the future.
  • Lateral: moving sideways. A sideways experience is an opportunity to leverage transferable skills acquired at the same or similar level while learning a new aspect of the business. In many organizations, movement among teams is more fluid and frequent than in the past and offers the opportunity to grow. Lateral experiences can build breadth of expertise, which senior leaders value. Employees who get hands-on experience in multiple areas learn functional interdependencies and gain a deeper understanding of how the organization works.
  • Realignment: stepping back. Too often labeled as a negative, stepping back can at times be the perfect choice. When a talented individual voluntarily realigns by stepping back and continues to contribute to the success of the organization, the employee and the organization win. Realignment experiences are often valuable when changing disciplines or fields. Whether changing disciplines or simply adjusting the work-life balance scale, taking on a role of less scope or responsibility could lead to greater engagement and satisfaction.
  • Vertical: moving on up. Promotional experiences still exist in organizations. It is critical that individuals choosing to pursue steps up clearly understand what to expect and examine the downsides as well as the upsides of the new role. Promotions can be enticing and they can also be rewarding. The key is in making sure those rewards—visibility, influence, compensation, and the like—are in sync with any accompanying trade-offs—longer hours, increased pressure, greater risks, and so on. When the time is right and the role checks all the boxes, then up is the answer.
  • Departure: leaving the nest. Often, there comes a time in most careers when stepping out the door is the next best option. If a particular competency or skill set can’t be acquired, or the environment or culture is not the right fit, then leaving might be best for the employee and the organization. The key here is to ensure that there is always an opportunity to return in the future. For many individuals, the chance to step out—even for a short period of time—and gain another perspective or experience is an opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored. Some of those individuals may decide to return at some point, bringing with them new skills.

3. Recognize growth and celebrate it! Ensuring that employees are encouraged to stretch and learn, are coached when redirection is needed, and are celebrated when milestones are mastered, builds a sought-after development culture. When employees’ efforts to grow in traditional or nontraditional ways are acknowledged, a clear message is sent that the leader involved, as well as the organization they are a part of values and recognizes that growth. Employees want challenges in their work, opportunities to learn new things, greater employability, and leaders who value their contributions and care about their futures. These are all possible by expanding the definition of career growth.

Beverly Kaye is the founder of Career Systems International (now doing business as Talent Dimensions) and the author of multiple books on career development and engagement. Lindy Williams is a consultant with Talent Dimensions and the co-author of “Up Is Not the Only Way: Rethinking Career Mobility” along with Kaye and Lynn Cowart.

  Wendy Tan   Feb 13, 2019   Career Development, Engagement   Comments Off on Plenty of Room to Grow   Read More

The 3 Essential Jobs That Most Retention Programs Ignore


by Lynn Cowart, Cile Johnson and Beverly Kaye
January 05, 2018

For more than a decade, leading human resource strategists have hit on a recurring theme: You want your star players working in the roles that matter most to the business. For example, in 2009 professors Brian Becker, Mark Huselid, and Richard Beatty estimated that in most companies less than 15% of jobs are what they call strategic positions and said management should focus “disproportionate investments” on finding A players for those jobs. USC’s John Boudreau, CEO adviser Ram Charan, and consultants at Bain & Company, McKinsey, and Korn Ferry have made similar arguments.

Building on these ideas, we have identified six leverage roles where you want to make sure you have — and keep — your highest-caliber people. But over and over again in our three decades of experience as talent development and retention specialists, we’ve seen that companies consistently overlook half of them. As a result, these companies risk losing highly effective people in positions that have much greater impact on performance than many leaders realize.

The roles that already tend to get lots of attention at most companies are:

  • Indispensable senior leaders. The chief marketing officers at consumer products companies, the heads of design at luxury apparel companies, and the heads of logistics at large retailers are cases in point.
  • Connectors in the middle. Although long ignored, these middle management positions have become increasingly recognized as critical to executing a company’s strategy. In sales-driven companies (think pharmaceuticals and industrial equipment), they are often field sales managers who direct dozens of salespeople in the highest-volume regions.
  • High-potential future leaders. These are up-and-comers expected to fill the organization’s top management positions.

But most organizations we know give little if any attention to retaining people who occupy three other roles. These overlooked roles are:

  • Essential experts. These are jobs in R&D, technology, and other areas vital to a firm’s strategic direction, product development, and process efficiency. These people tend not to have — or want — management responsibilities.
  • Customer experience creators. People in this role regularly interact with a company’s most valuable customers and determine whether they stay customers. The jobs are in sales, customer contact centers, and field service positions.
  • Critical contractors. They are not employees; they are contingent workers who are nonetheless vital to an organization’s R&D, marketing, and other key processes. They are different from the standard independent contractor in that they are high-priced free agents with extremely valuable, 
and rare, expertise that a company doesn’t possess.

None of these jobs are at the top of the organization chart, and with the possible exception of some customer experience creators, the people who hold them aren’t looking to move up in the organization. Because these aren’t management-track jobs, companies often overlook the importance of keeping high-performing people in them. Let’s examine each a little more closely.

Essential Experts

Essential experts possess crucial knowledge but don’t want to manage others. This role is common in technology, engineering, and life sciences companies, where domain expertise in narrow and arcane areas can be crucial to market success. But the role is becoming important in many other industries as well, such as creative arenas (for example, product design in retail) and communications.

Note that essential experts typically don’t want to manage others; they only want to manage themselves. That makes retaining them very different from retaining someone who wants to scale the corporate hierarchy by managing increasingly larger operations.

So how do you keep them? Competitive compensation is table stakes for these folks. (Some might deserve to make more than certain executives in your company.) After all, they can easily take their expertise elsewhere. But your work environment is also a chief concern. They expect to do work they consider meaningful and that aligns with their values.

As an example, look at Google and its investments in artificial intelligence. In 2014 the company shelled out $650 million to buy AI startup DeepMind Technologies and went to great lengths to keep that firm’s 50 AI scientists and engineers in place. For example, Google had to promise it wouldn’t use DeepMind technology for military or intelligence purposes. It also had to let DeepMind scientists continue publishing their research in scientific journals — knowledge Google might have regarded as proprietary and kept private.

Capability development is also very important to a company’s essential experts, especially gaining knowledge and applying it to meaningful projects. They are lifelong learners who often want to be regarded as leading lights in their fields. Helping them become recognized as thought leaders — by being published in prestigious publications, for instance, or speaking at notable conferences — can go a long way toward keeping them.

Customer Experience Creators

These employees influence whether visitors become customers, and whether those customers return. They may be salespeople whose customers need lots of handholding — think life insurance, for instance, or industrial machinery. Or they may be people who interact with customers after the sale. Think of customer reps who support the biggest investors at asset management companies like Fidelity and Putnam.

The two most important retention drivers to keep people in these roles are compensation and organizational reputation. Competitive compensation is a minimum requirement; they can often make more elsewhere.

Organizational reputation is also important because employees need to feel good about the products and services they sell or service. For example, Vail Resorts, a $1.9 billion company that operates multiple ski resorts, has grown to understand the employee retention value in reputation. About 80% of its more than 30,000 employees are seasonal hires, and many of them are customer experience creators — lift operators, ski instructors, lodge and restaurant workers, and so on. Mark Gasta, the company’s chief human resource officer from 2008 to 2016, said these workers were “essential to the organization’s success… [T]heir long tenure is important.” Ideally, seasonal workers will return, year after year.

Keeping key talent was essential for Vail Resorts’ return to prosperity following the 2009 recession, and one move that was instrumental in doing that was clarifying the company’s values. As a firm that strives to create great outdoor experiences for customers, it’s no surprise that protecting the environment became a core value — something that matters to employees at the front lines.

“It doesn’t matter how much you pay,” said Gasta, though he noted that Vail Resorts’ pay is competitive. “If you’re not in line with their personal aspirations, they’ll eventually leave. Employees want to know that they work for a company that does good, and then they want to know how they can contribute.” The company put sustainability front and center in external and internal communications. In 2017 it announced a bold initiative to end carbon emissions, reduce waste to landfills to zero, and eliminate adverse environmental impact by 2030.

When it comes to work environment, Vail Resorts introduced flexibility to give employees time off to pursue their passions. It offers ski breaks, for instance, and employee ski days. In fact, “having fun” is one of its six core values for workers.

Critical Contractors

Independent contractors have become ubiquitous. Some 20% to 30% of American and European Union workers are independent, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. About 30% of those 162 million people are free agents by choice, not necessity, according to McKinsey research. In fact, another study, by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that 94% of the net new employment in the U.S. from 2005 to 2015 came from freelance work.

All that to say, independent contractors are here to stay. Consider the example of Ecolab, a $13 billion global company that provides water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services that protect people and vital resources. About 6,000 of Ecolab’s 48,000 workers are contingent workers. Some of its most important contractors possess rare and deep expertise in key areas, such as sugar beets and how to refine them. “There are very few sugar beet experts in the world, and one of them works on a contingent basis for us,” says Laurie Marsh, Ecolab’s executive vice president of human resources. “He was retired and didn’t want to come back to working full-time. We’re glad he’s on call and on our team.”

To keep such critical contractors in the fold, Ecolab provides the “best set of materials to do the job,” Marsh said. “We spend a great deal of time ensuring that they have the latest technologies and the best research facilities.”

Compensation is also of utmost importance, as it is for other star employees, and capability development is too, specifically around personal brand. This doesn’t mean offering a career path inside your company; it means helping a critical contractor further develop their credibility in the marketplace.

An organization’s reputation is important to critical contractors. To put it simply, they want to work with winners. Companies with strong brands have a leg up in attracting critical contractors. Those with weak brands have a much harder time getting the best of the best, unless those critical contractors are up-and-comers and don’t yet have strong personal brands.

Keeping your company’s talented essential experts, customer experience creators, and critical contractors working for you and engaged in their work starts with acknowledging that senior leaders aren’t always the most valuable people in the company.

Many companies direct their retention strategies almost exclusively at top management and high potentials. But by ignoring other key roles — the roles that drive competitive advantage — you may be letting valuable talent slip through your fingers. Figure out which roles have the greatest impact on market performance — and staff them with stars.


Lynn Cowart is Vice President of Quality Delivery at Career Systems International, a consulting and training firm that helps companies retain and develop key talent.



Cile Johnson is Senior Vice President at Career Systems International, a consulting and training firm that helps companies retain and develop key talent.



Beverly Kaye is the Founder of Career Systems International and a bestselling author on career development and workplace performance. Her most recent book (with Lindy Williams and Lynn Cowart) is Up Is Not the Only Way: Rethinking Career Mobility.

  Wendy Tan   Jan 29, 2019   Career Development, Engagement   Comments Off on The 3 Essential Jobs That Most Retention Programs Ignore   Read More

Does Career Development Make a Difference?

Does making career development a priority make sense?

For years HR departments have included an ‘official’ career development conversation somewhere among three or four conversations managers are asked to have at specific times during the year. Lengthy debates have ensued over whether the topic of career development should be included with other topics in one of the standard – usually quarterly, one-on-one discussions between the manager and the direct report or addressed in a standalone meeting focused solely on the employee’s career aspirations. Another approach has been to touch lightly on career development now and then, or maybe just leave it to the employee to bring up the subject when and if they’re ready. After all, individuals are supposed to own their careers.

Rather than viewing career development as an addition to other conversations or as one more thing to add to an already overflowing list of To Do’s, why not switch the lens and view it as a fundamental part of the employee experience?

There are four core assumptions that enable this lens switch:

One – Everyone has a career. Professionals are not the only people who have careers and certainly not the only group that wants and needs career development. A career pattern might be made up of years spent in one role doing one type of manual labor or could be viewed as a patchwork of varied experiences or roles of increasing responsibility. When an individual wants to stay put – loving what they do – their career development focuses on continuing to find ways to make that role as exciting and energizing as they need it to be to remain productive and continue contributing. When another individual wants variety or aspires to a greater scope of work or authority, career development means using the present experiences and time preparing for what could be — and should be — next.

Two – Career development is a powerful motivator. Surveys continue to point to career development as an essential element of effective engagement strategies. When employees can envision a future inside the organization, they are much more willing to stay and, in fact, they report higher levels of commitment to the success of the company or mission. If that line of sight to the future is missing, they will disengage and leave.

Three – Career growth is mandatory. This statement sometimes generates resistance. The cries of “But what if I don’t want to grow!” or “I’m happy right where I am.” My response is, “That’s your choice – AND – that role, whatever it is, will change around you. So your growth – your career development – will be, for the time being, ensuring that you grow right along with the role.” The world of work is changing too rapidly for anyone – in any job or role – to stand still and hope things will remain the same. From the service employee who last month was writing orders and this month is entering information into a tablet to the engineer exploring applications for artificial intelligence – jobs are changing. Growth is mandatory.

Four – Career development doesn’t have to be difficult. Yes, it requires some time. Yes, it requires some thought – on the part of the individual and the manager. And yes, it requires commitment on the part of the organization to provide tools, resources and opportunities. AND it can be integrated into what is already happening every day, every week, every month. When employees understand what it means to be the career owner; when managers know when and how to step in to help; and when organizations supply the surrounding support structure, career development happens. Conversations transform into ongoing dialogue rather than check-the-box meetings and rushed discussions.

In an HRO Today article I co-authored with Beverly Kaye recently entitled “Plenty of Room to Grow,” we highlighted continuous growth – the career development of individual employees – as the magical intersection of needs – the point where the needs of the individual, the manager and the organization meet.

  • Employees need and want to work in ways that are meaningful for them – career development moves them toward that objective.
  • Managers need and want teams of people who are performing at their best – career development moves a team toward that result.
  • And organizations need and want a workforce that is ready, willing and able to meet the challenges of today as well as what tomorrow will bring – career development equips employees to deliver on that outcome.

So the answer to the questions posed in the title is ‘yes’ – career development does make a difference!

  Wendy Tan   Aug 26, 2018   Career Development   Comments Off on Does Career Development Make a Difference?   Read More

3 Ways To Ensure Your MVPs have a Mobility Mindset

You’ve probably heard that old management saying, “We need the right person, in the right role, at the right time.” We need to modernize that saying to, “What if there were more right places?”

It’s an interesting question and a necessary one in today’s business environment. Think about it. The career ladder, with its finite number of promotion positions available, would cease to be an obstacle when it comes to satisfying top talent with great skills, tons of ambition and no place to use them.

By identifying more “right” career places, talent leaders can create a development culture where everyone has growth opportunities in different sequences tailored to individual preferences, abilities, timing, and tastes. We just need to adjust our vision to see beyond the traditional career ladder and take advantage of its adjacent possibilities. That requires a mobility mindset, not just for an organization’s talent leaders, but for talent as well.

  1. Ensure talent know they are in control of how they define career success.

    Employees have to be willing to assess what success means to them personally and professionally, to take responsibility for their futures. They have to ask themselves, “What do I want from a company by way of development, career advancement, and general growth?” They have to be willing to ask for feedback – and listen, even when what they hear isn’t all good. Essentially, they have to be willing to do the work. Employees have to not only dig out these truths, they have to get up the nerve – and feel free – to ask their managers to help them realize their career goals.

  2. Managers have to shift their mindset from day-to-day operations to provide strategic talent development support.

    Providing stretch assignments can’t be seen as “extra work.” Coaching, mentoring, preparing individuals to learn, these activities must become part and parcel of the manager’s regular lexicon. Development has to be a key underpinning for everything that happens on the job. The support role is a big one. It requires that managers debrief with employees after stretch assignments to make sure the learning sticks and ideally cascades throughout the organization. On the job, learning stops being solely a task for the learning function and becomes a key step to advance business growth and employee satisfaction that managers never want to miss. Further, managers have to keep a keen eye out for growth opportunities to share with talented direct reports. may have to ask some tough questions and listen to some not so pleasant answers, be willing to endure uncomfortable conversations in the name of talent development, retention, and growth.

  3. Organizations have a substantive role to play in establishing a mobility mindset.

    While employees are owning their career futures and managers are looking for growth opportunities to share, the organization at large has to create a continuous development culture that will enable an employee and a manager’s mobility mindset. The HR function, senior leadership, and other stakeholders have to provide access to systems and tools that employees can easily use to find out what development opportunities are available and how they can apply for them. That might mean setting up the suitable communication vehicles to promote mentoring programs or formal stretch assignments. It could mean celebrating lateral moves as well as promotions “up” the career ladder. Or, it could mean rewarding talent leaders who share talent across departments or functions.

At the end of the day, career mobility has to be an essential part of an organization’s talent management strategy. That mindset has to flow through different – perhaps even all – areas of the business.

Promoting flexibility, agility, skill acquisition and lateral, internal career moves that provide a rich mix of experiences is a journey. But it’s a journey top talent is eager to go on, and one that top organizations are equally eager to make happen.

This article is written by Lindy Williams from Career Systems International. 


  Wendy Tan   Oct 04, 2017   Career Development   Comments Off on 3 Ways To Ensure Your MVPs have a Mobility Mindset   Read More

Career Coaching Tips for Managers: Dealing with Disappointed Employees

In our career coaching programs for managers in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region, most agree that they need to support the career development of their employees. But as they have career planning conversations, one of the biggest challenges they faced are remarks like these from their employees:

“When can I be promoted?” 
“Why am I not promoted?”

These are the most feared questions from managers. They typically come from employees who are self-confident, eager for success and want progression now. They tend to be younger employees and are not shy to initiate these career conversations. Asking for feedback from managers is a norm. They actively compare themselves with their peers and if they are not promoted as quickly, they ask if not confront managers about it.

The key is to manage such questions is, to be honest, manage their expectations and channel their energy for challenge constructively. Here are some quick tips:

  1. Tell them the truth, promotions do not depend only on performance.

    • Do they know how they are perceived by their career audience? Career audience is people who have a formal or informal influence over their career. The staff might think they are good, but how do others perceive them? Do they have any blindspot?
    • Do they know the expectations for the higher level job? Promotion is not just based on performance. The truth is people are generally promoted after they demonstrate their capability for bigger roles. Give them the hard truth on their higher level capabilities.
    • Opportunities go to people who are prepared, so help them prepare themselves by focusing on learning.
  2. Find out what their longer-term career aspirations are and help them to be strategic.

    • Understand what is their long-term direction. Sometimes we are torn between what is deemed as successful and rapid ascent versus taking time to develop depth and experience. The way to get to the top is to move sideways, just like a CEO needs broad and varied functional experience. This means lateral moves, rather than helicopter ascent.
    • Moving up too quickly or specializing too fast could limit their flexibility to move into other roles in the future. In the context of today’s rapid change where one could have a few careers in a lifetime, having broad base skills and experience, especially in the early part of one’s career, helps one to have versatility.
  3. Reframe the conversation

    • From being about promotions to being about experiences and skills needed for future roles. The promotion is an outcome of many factors. Some people are just at the right place at the right time. So rather than be angst about what is beyond our control, invest in ourselves, our skills.
    • Ask them what skills will up their game? What is it, that if they master, will bring their capability to another level?
  4. Find out what is beneath this desire

    • Needless to say, many people like to be promoted. But go beneath our assumptions, and ask, “What does the promotion mean to you?” or “What does the promotion give you?”
    • Is it need for more money to pay the mortgage? Is it ego need – to be perceived as good? Is it a desire for more challenge?
    • Perhaps there are other ways to meet this need? For example, recognition and involvement in special projects could meet their ego and challenge needs?

These are different approaches to redirect a potentially stressful conversation to a productive one. Don’t wait till your staff asks, take a proactive approach and initiate these conversations. Believe me, it will be far easier than dealing with disappointment or disillusion from a perceived missed promotion.


Hope this is helpful. Love to hear your experience or questions on this issue, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

  Wendy Tan   Sep 26, 2017   Career Development   Comments Off on Career Coaching Tips for Managers: Dealing with Disappointed Employees   Read More
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