career planning

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

Up is not the Only Way: Career Paths to Patterns

Planning a career has always required some fundamental skills coupled with the willingness to devote time and energy to defining a personal view of success. All of that remains the same for today’s careerists. However, navigating a career in today’s workplaces also required a different way of thinking.

The turbulent workplace of the past decade has transformed traditional career paths from orderly routes with predetermined destinations into flexible collections of experiences designed to acquire skills that build resilience and offer continuous growth.

Savvy careerist knows to prepare for twists and turns and to expect the unexpected. The nonsavvy risk becoming frustrated when the unexpected occurs and too often fail to see the opportunities that can emerge from change.

A History of Career Paths

Career paths emerged in response to employees’ need for assistance in navigating through increasingly complex workplaces. New functions appeared, existing units merged and strategic focus shifted. Employees were finding it more difficult to identify viable routes to success.

Moreover, organizations invested time, energy and funds in formalizing logical paths based on a combination of organizational history and anticipated business direction. Paths were often prescriptive and came with an implied promise.

Employees translated that to mean successful completion of a series of steps, positions and coursework would result in arriving at the last stop on the path – a job. After all, that’s what a path does: It leads you to a predetermined destination.

“Are paths still useful? Yes – but a career path alone may not get individuals where they want and need to go.”

Paths were intended to be guidelines for career management, but they came with some unintended side effects. Paths led some employees to adopt a “check the box” approach to career planning. The upward progression that defined most paths endorsed vertical, promotional moves as the career option of choice. The careerist who aspired to a nontraditional career experience could feel uninspired and disengaged with the development process.

Career paths have not disappeared. In fact, they’re everywhere. A simple search of “career paths” will produce hundreds of links offering everything from a series of highly specialized roles to a sequence of gradually expanding leadership jobs.

So are paths still useful? Yes, but a career path alone may not get individuals where they want and need to go.

Today’s workplace is more complicated. Employees sit time zones away from managers. Matrixed reporting relationships increase the size and variety of career audiences.

Project-based assignments offer unique and stand-alone experiences. Rotational programs and temporary assignments are plentiful and offer a wide range of growth opportunities. Organizational redesigns demand flexible career planning and pliable options.

Careers are still a series of experiences, roles, assignments, and jobs. However, it is impossible to anticipate all the twists and turns that a modern career will take. A career that extends into 2025 and beyond will most likely be a combination of segments extracted from traditional paths, planned and unplanned stops, meaningful side trips and perhaps a few leaps of faith.

The savvy careerist examines the ever-changing landscape and builds a pattern. A career pattern, not completely unplanned but certainly flexible, prepares the careerist to not just weather the occasional roadblock or detour but also to thrive on the changing landscapes and unexpected challenges.

Paths are fixed. Patterns are fluid. Paths were based on what was done before by others. Patterns are for employees to design. Patterns leave something to the imagination. Just as two career journeys will not be identical, neither will two patterns be a replica of one another.

To understand the career pattern approach, envision a kaleidoscope. When you look through the lens of a kaleidoscope, you see a pattern of shapes and colors. If you twist the outer cylinder even slightly, the pattern changes. A new combination of shapes and colors appears. Today’s careers are similar. Organizations evolve, industries shift and professions change focus. The careers that emerge either flex or become obsolete.

Flexible Career Patterns

Imagine driving along a curvy country road, and around a bend, the road is blocked with a barricade and sign reading, “Road Closed.” A natural reaction is probably to search the side of the road for a detour sing and arrow. Or perhaps grab the phone to search for options from a GPS app.

A career pattern can offer options – detour signs – when a career experience is blocked or has disappeared. If the international assignment was awarded to someone else, then what equally enticing experiences are included in the career pattern that could be pursued instead for now? What learning was expected from the experience that could be obtained doing something else?

Employees may choose to change direction, or a change may choose them. When changes occur, a career pattern offers alternatives. Change may be an opportunity to redirect or rearrange the order of the planned experiences. Career patterns can be as detailed or as general as their owners – the employees – desire them to be.

The Pattern Partnership

Managers have always had a key role in career development. That role is as important today as it ever was, but the manner in which this role plays out in a career pattern is different. Managers will need to accelerate the new shift in the following ways:

Let go of control. The message that employees own their careers has been repeated often. Ownership comes with a responsibility to put forth the effort and energy to continue to grow. But ownership also builds an expectation that the individual will have some control.

Allow for flexible timelines. In today’s organization, it is folly to ask employees: “Where do you want to be in five years?” The rate of change in some industries makes predicting what roles will be available or appealing even next year an impossible task.

“Patterns are for employees to design. Just as two career journeys will not be identical, neither will two patterns be a replica of one another.”

It is up to employees to decide whether they want to plan for the next year or the next month. The savvy careerist examines options and set expectations based on “What’s now?” as well as “What’s next?” Managers and organizations need to allow that latitude.

Think experiences, not position. If careers are made up of experiences, then planning for a career is not a matter of drafting a list of potential future positions. When employees focus on the kinds of experiences they want from a career vs. the job, title, or position, they open up a wide variety of possibilities.

Replace the question, “What role do you want to pursue?” with “What experiences will result in a career that you would find rewarding and meaningful?” Do employees want to lead people, start up a new unit, manage a group project or take on an assignment outside the current country of residence? Here’s where those traditional career paths can help.

Think of them as a travelogue. Look for what fits. Study them and sear for ideas and options. There may be experiences described in a path that an employee will want to incorporate into the new career pattern.

Move from promises to purpose. The implied promises of a path – complete these steps and you will get that position – set motion some unrealistic expectations and can initiate or feed an entitlement culture. When employees identify the experiences they hope to include in their careers, the next important step is to put the experiences to the test.

Ask them to write the experiences they hope to have on flash cards and identify a purpose for each one. Ask questions like, “What will you learn or gain from the experience?” or “How will each experience prepare you for the future or for the next experience?” Patterns with purpose are enticing and will include experiences they can’t avoid.

Focus on possibilities, not predictions. Paths provided predictability even though they were never meant to. Patterns provide possibilities and options. Paths are fixed. Patterns are fluid. Careerists who create patterns have options when the change occurs.

Encourage employees to keep career patterns fresh and relevant. If an experience in the pattern is no longer enticing or important, it may be time to replace that experience with another that will provide a greater opportunity to learn. Help them consider which experiences come before others and which ones provide skill-building that can be used as they move through the pattern.

Share stories. Experience is said to be the best teacher, but even the most comprehensive career pattern can’t offer every experience. Employees learn from the career experiences of others, and a great place to start is with a story.

Share stories from successes and mistakes and ones that reveal major turning points, lessons, and inspirations. Managers should share stories that talk about a job that forced new thinking. Encourage employees to ask leaders about their career journeys. The stories they hear will reveal a wide variety of routes. Rarely is a career a straight, uninterrupted series of ladderlike steps.

Owner’s Role: the Employee

Like a kaleidoscope, the beauty of a career pattern is in the eye of the beholder. Career patterns are owned, managed and nurtured by the employee. Only the owner knows what personal professional success will look like for them. Only the owner knows how much or how little they plan to commit to achieving their success. And only the owner can make a pattern come to life.

Creating a career pattern starts with coming up with answers in three areas:

  1. Experiences: What experiences do I want to have during my career? Who can I watch? Who can I talk to? Who has had a career I want? How can I do that?
  2. Purpose: What will I learn or gain through each experience? How will what I learn, serve me in the future?
  3. Plan: How will I move between the experiences? How can my experiences build? What should come first?

Paths needed managing. Patterns need to be managed, too. As Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu’s said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Employees must decide where to begin and then look for routes to take to bridge from experiences to experience.

Here are 6 tips for managing a career pattern:

  1. Redirect: If the hoped-for experience is not available right now or the timing is just not right, redirect to an alternative experience immediately. Don’t waste time stewing over it – find experiences that have a similar purpose.
  2. Refine: Often something is learned from an experience that was not expected. Examine how accidental learning might refine or reshape one or more future opportunities. Patterns can be refined to fit and tailored to leverage new knowledge.
  3. Recycle or Replace: Sometimes an experience that seemed meaningful and full of opportunities yesterday becomes less important. Recycle it. Toss it out. Replace it with an experience that is more relevant or inviting.
  4. Refresh: Pursuing experiences that are no longer enticing results in an unproductive pattern. Patterns should be refreshed regularly to see if they still inspire commitment. Tying a pattern refresh to something easily remembered – maybe when clocks are reset for daylight savings or even a birthday – can ensure a refresh occurs.
  5. Rearrange: Several factors influence the sequence in which experiences are pursued. The first is drive, commitment, and choices. The order in which pattern experiences happen needs to make sense for the owner. Second, careers will not happen in a vacuum. Outside forces often determine what opportunities are available and when. The savvy careerist stays in tune with what’s happening in the organization and industry. If a change or shift occurs that places an experienced front and center, it is important to not allow the opportunity to pass. Rearranging the pattern to take advantage of the timing can make all the difference.
  6. Rejoice: Celebrating the success – the experiences that turn out to be awesome, and even the occasional stumble, the experience that teaches so much – makes the pattern a rich resource of energy and accomplishment.

The workplace landscape is changing so quickly that no sooner do we map it than our map is out of date Savvy careerists – individuals who commit to designing, pursuing and living career patterns that are their own – and managers who encourage and guide them are leading the way in this new approach to careers.

This article is written by Beverly Kaye and Lindy Williams on

  Wendy Tan   Jul 03, 2017   Career Development   Comments Off on Up is not the Only Way: Career Paths to Patterns   Read More

Why is it important to develop your employees?

It wasn’t long ago that career development was a workplace nice-to-do. Now, it’s no longer even a need-to-do, but a “non-negotiable survival strategy” for employers.

The perk is growing in popularity and importance because it’s essential in driving employee engagement, Julie Winkle Giulioni, co-founder and principal of consulting and instructional design firm DesignArounds, said this week at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in New Orleans.

“It’s the Swiss Army knife for managers — it’s flexible, it’s productive, it does a bunch of different jobs for you,” she said. “When people feel like they invest in their work, they are happier at work. And it develops a positive reputation that will drive other employees to your organization.”

Additionally, according to research from consulting firm Korn Ferry Hay Group, while a competitive compensation and benefits program is often a key reason that employees join an organization, a lack of career development opportunities is the No. 1 reason employees leave organizations.

Career development encompasses everything, from promotion and management opportunities, training and classes to coaching and simply providing mentorship to employees.

“It doesn’t have to be huge or onerous,” Giulioni said. Employers can start off small, she said, noting that career development needs to be practiced constantly.

“It isn’t an annual exercise of checking boxes, but an ongoing exercise of checking in with employees,” Giulioni said. “It’s like brushing your teeth — you don’t do it once or twice a year; you have to do it daily.”

Beverly Kaye, CEO of Career Systems International, which provides employee engagement programs, says it’s important for employers and employees to think about career development as a climbing wall, with multiple places to go in any direction, rather than a ladder with only so many rungs. Employers should have conversations with employees about what kind of work they want to do, what problems they want to solve and what kind of legacy they want to leave.

Kaye and Giulioni offered some tips for how to mentor employees:

1. Flag performance: Give employee details on a specific project. “Tell them, ‘I think you nailed this’ and ‘I think you need to work on this,’” Giulioni said.
2. Focus on development: “Managers can tell their employee, ‘I think it will improve your development if you try it this way instead of that way,” Giulioni said.
3. Foster performance: Ask an employee how he thinks he did on a certain project and listen. Then the manager should tell the employee how she thinks he did.
4. Celebrate achievements: Celebrate employees’ achievements and growth. Giulioni says it can be as simple as telling a worker, “I saw how much you changed from last week to this week in how you addressed the team.”


“When people feel like they invest in their work, they are happier at work. And it develops a positive reputation that will drive other employees to your organization.”


This post was written by Kathryn Mayer on


  Wendy Tan   Jul 03, 2017   Career Development   Comments Off on Why is it important to develop your employees?   Read More

Career Development: Today’s Meta-Priority

Last week, Julie Winkle Giulioni (co-author of Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go) and I spoke at the SHRM conference in New Orleans. Our session was entitled Career Development: Today’s Meta-Priority. The session was so well received, I wanted to share concepts from it in this blog.

In the past, career development was often considered a “nice-to-do” or “when you get around to it” activity. Today more and more organizations are viewing it as a necessity, as several studies link career and talent development to valued business metrics.

Leaders who prioritize career development think and act differently. They’ve incorporated ways to make career development a priority into their daily habits. Demonstrate your commitment to the development of your employees by trying one or more of these priorities.


Priority 1: Assume that everyone has the potential to learn and grow.

This mindset will inspire greater confidence in your employees.


Priority 2: Focus on an opportunity-filled future.

Realize that opportunity still knocks….it just opens different doors!


Priority 3: Cultivate peripheral vision.

Continuously refine your view of the big picture. Be aware of factors that affect your business, industry, and culture.

Priority 4: Treat career development as a daily part of the leadership role. 

Recognize and seize small moments within the context of daily work to connect with your employees.


Priority 5: View talent as an enterprise-wide resource. 

Don’t hoard talent!


This blog post was written by Beverly Kaye, Founder of Career Systems International. Posted on

  Wendy Tan   Jul 03, 2017   Career Development   Comments Off on Career Development: Today’s Meta-Priority   Read More

Conversations to Engage, Develop and Challenge

Talk is cheap … or so the saying goes. But when it comes to what matters most to employees today, talk is one of the most valued commodities organizations have to offer.

In a recent survey by Career Systems International, a vast majority of Human Resource and Talent Management professionals said career development conversations are the types of conversations employees most want to have with their manager. On the flip side, these same professionals report they are not happening. What is? Conversations about daily operations and tasks.

And while every employee needs to know the “what and how of their job today,” they are thinking about a whole lot more. Can I see my future in your future? Do I really like it here? What’s next for me?

The simple truth? Talk is exactly what employees want … we’re just not giving it or giving the kind they want. Conversations to engage, develop and challenge employees are the bedrock of strong relationships between employees and managers. These conversations can and do create an environment where employees feel valued, respected and heard.

So, why aren’t we doing it? Turns out, talk may not be cheap, and it can be hard. For some, that is. Common fears from “what if I can’t give or get what I want” to “I don’t know what to say” hold all of us back from having meaningful, authentic conversations at work. What if it wasn’t that hard?

Turns out, it doesn’t have to be.

Start by cultivating a sense of wonder in your organization. People are inherently curious. Conversations can help us harness and direct that curiosity to engage, develop and challenge others. How? Remember, it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Ask powerful questions and then listen, really listen to what others are saying. Then, ask another. Suspend your need to rush the conversation along, stop yourself from answering the question for them, and approach each and every conversation with a sense of wonder … I wonder what really inspires this person … I wonder what they want to get out of this opportunity … I wonder what skill they really want to develop.

When we really listen, we are often really surprised. Let your employees surprise you and don’t be afraid to surprise others. After all, we all want conversations to engage, develop and challenge. It’s up to you to make them happen.

Conversations kick-starters you can use in your organizations today!

Conversations to Engage

  • What makes for a great day at work?
  • What makes you stay?
  • What might entice you away?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • What kind of support do you need from me? What are you not getting?

Conversations to Develop

  • What opportunities are available for your continued growth and development?
  • What skills do you most want to develop in the coming year?
  • What career option most appeals to you in the next three years?
  • What do you most want to learn about?
  • What is the most enriching aspect of your work?

Conversations to Challenge

  • What is holding you back from taking the next step at work?
  • What is your reputation in the organization?
  • Who do you enjoy collaborating within the organization? How are you building that network?
  • What can you improve on?
  • What feedback do you need and from whom?

“Let your employees surprise you and don’t be afraid to surprise others.”

This article is written and published by Career Systems International.

  Wendy Tan   Jul 03, 2017   Article-Consulting, Career Development, Engagement   Comments Off on Conversations to Engage, Develop and Challenge   Read More

The Power of Pause

WOMEN REPRESENT ABOUT half of the nation’s workforce yet still make about 83 percent of men’s median wages, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They’re also underrepresented in the c-suites and boards across nearly every industry. In other words, women are working just as hard but aren’t seeing the full benefit of their efforts.

As talent management professionals, we work with many of today’s Fortune 1,000 companies. They invite us in to help their employees take ownership of their careers. Our formula is time-tested and successful but only when it’s lived out beyond the classroom and put into practice.

Employees leave our sessions knowing what to do, but the actual doing is quite hard. And it’s a little tougher for women. Why? A woman’s focus is almost never solely in her career. She’s juggling multiple priorities, so intentionally managing her career is an easy one to push down the to-do list.

What does it mean to manage one’s career intentionally? We talk about career management in the context of five critical questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. How do others see me?
  3. What’s changing in the world of work?
  4. What are my options?
  5. How can I achieve my goals?

Answering these self-reflection questions requires muting the noise going on outside and focusing on the inside.

For women, that means not checking their text messages and see who forgot their school lunch, holding off listening to a voice mail from an ailing parent, and not stopping everything to add a calendar reminder to pick up eggs.

But muting is necessary for a process of discovery to unfold. So, if you are a leader of women, help them press mute and concentrate on what’s going on inside the place they work: what’s happening now, what’s going to happen, and what will make them the best professional now and in the future. Then walk them down this five-step path.


What do you hold most dear, what do you do better than anyone else, and what do you really love doing? We talk about these three areas in the terms of having a good career fit.

Being able to be articulate one’s skills is critical. In much of our work, the stereotypes prove true—women have a harder time articulating their specific skills (not just “I’m good with people”) and speaking about them as if they’re owned. We have seen exceedingly skillful women unable to passionately and vehemently defend their almost innate abilities, and we often see women rating themselves lower in their skill sets.

And while women may have a harder time articulating these skills, they inherently possess many savvy behaviors that are key to navigating a successful career. They tend to score higher on their ability to listen well, collaborate, be comfortable with diversity, and build relationships through teams. In build- ing these relationships, however, women can suffer from putting their own interests last. So, while they might know what they are passionate about doing, it’s not uncommon to see the female talent to hang tough and do work they don’t enjoy for the sake of the team or peace at work.

Finally, what about values? What matters most to women? We’ve gotten a variety of answers over the past 35 years—everything from spending time with family and friends to challenging oneself intellectually.What is consistent is how women rate satisfaction with their values given their current work situation. It’s common to see female talent more dissatisfied. Perhaps this is related to their willingness to tough it out for the sake of the team, the organization, or the family. In our own experiences, we’ve put major promotions on hold to care for young children where the value of family trumps the value of a career.

One value we do see more often with women is the desire to feel appreciated and respected. It’s important to them that their tough-it-out mentality is recognized: Hey, can’t you see the sacrifices I’m making here—appreciate me!


The days of having your manager tap you on the shoulder and point you to your next job are over. Today, no one manages their career in a vacuum and no one truly works alone. Even if you work in a remote office, you’re still connected and how all these connections view you is important.

To know the opinion of others requires feedback. And, while women are generally eager for feedback, it’s not uncommon to see them ruminate on it. In fact, one of us is still talking about the feedback we received from a boss in 2005. It was accurate feedback—about pouting in a meeting—but still, stings.

Perspective from others is effective when women keep their emotions in check. We encourage them to stick to the facts and ask for specific examples when the feedback is fresh. Then step back and look for the truth within it. If you’re not sure, ask a peer or mentor. Mentors are a powerful resource; women benefit from learning from someone who’s walked a mile in their shoes.

We’re talking more to women’s groups about the power of personal branding in today’s workplace. It begins by asking the hard questions like “what’s my reputation at work” or “what do people say about me when I leave the room?” If you don’t ask, you won’t know if your brand is getting in the way of the career you want.

“Once a plan is in place and women are excited about it, our experience is that they will pursue their goals with a tenacity that’s often unmatched by others.”


Careers grow and evolve within ever-changing cultures and environments. A critical step in any career management is knowing exactly where you stand amid this changing environment and arming yourself to see opportunities where others may not.

To grow in today’s complex organizations, it’s essential to build a rich and diverse network. The key word here is diverse. We often see women looking more for networks at their own level and not higher-level networks that may help advance their careers and knowledge. Conversely, it’s not uncommon to see their male counterparts being more strategic about who they want in their network. They take the “you never know unless you ask” approach.

Managing one’s network is a conscious responsibility and the prescription for personal and business success. Know what you want, who can help and how, and what you can offer in return.


Here is where we see women in the workplace both thrive and struggle. Typically, we find that women aren’t as upward-focused as men but they do see multiple career options: Up, down, sideways, a little of each, or growing right where they are. The barrier is the either-or mentality they often take. Do they pull out all stops to get ahead or just keep their heads down and hope it all works out? The right answer is yes.

We recently spoke at a Women in Leadership Conference and career options was a highly charged topic. The women in the room openly voiced the concern about saying no to any opportunity that comes their way. By saying no, many thought they were giving into the stereotype that women don’t really want to do whatever it takes to get ahead. The fear prompts many women to say yes even when it may not be the right fit.

Leaders can support women more fully here by realizing that we employ a whole person and that whole person brings to work values, skills, interests, and perspectives that may not align with every opportunity. It’s why self- awareness is so critical. Saying yes or no should begin with who you are, not what others want you to be.


Careers happen, planned or not. You won’t achieve even the clearest, most realistic goals without commitment and focus. It’s this focus—or lack thereof— that can be a real roadblock for women. It requires putting themselves first. They can do so by reaching out to other women as mentors for guidance, form- ing career action teams where they support and hold one another accountable, or even asking for very specific development ideas from people in their career network, including their manager.

Once a plan is in place and women are excited by it, it’s our experience that they will pursue their goals with a tenacity often unmatched by others. But it starts with having the courage to press pause. Do you have what it takes?


“For women in the workplace, the key to continued growth is intentionally muting the noise.”


Written by Beverly Crowell and Beverly Kaye on Talent Quarterly, The Boss Issue.


  Wendy Tan   May 16, 2017   Article-Consulting, Career Development, Resource for Performance Conversations   Comments Off on The Power of Pause   Read More
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