John's learning experience has a sporting context but more arm power and less horse power...
I recently had a learning experience in which the challenge stretched my skills. I was out of my comfort zone and, in terms of the flow model by…
Last week the Division of Work & Organisational Psychology (DWOP) of The Irish Psychological Society invited me to talk on the topic of career development. It was one of the first really fine evenings of the summer and I was a bit concerned about whether or not we would get an audience. It turned out to be a great event, with real engagement from attendees and plenty of discussion. I want to thank them, and particularly Kathryn McCarthy, Heather Weight and Karen Lopez Moore for organising the event.
My slides and an audio of the talk are available here. It is roughly in three parts:
- My career story and how I came to be involved with career development from an engineering background
- The role and importance of career development in organisations, including some discussion about performance management and talent management. See these other posts for more on the topics discussed The new psychological contract , Performance Management v Career Development and The social enterprise, more equal or more successful? .
- A brief overview of how careergro can support employees in managing their career development.
I was scheduled to talk for 1 hour with 20 mins for questions, however I was interested in getting some discussion going with everyone in the room and so I spoke for less than 30 mins. The discussion continued for at least 40mins, which was great. Even better if the discussion continues here, so please share you comments, thoughts and questions below.
Last week I attended the L&D Connect Unconference and met lots of people interested in a conversation about learning and development (L&D). Please have a look at this video by Martin Couzins and this storify by Ian Pettigrew from the event. One of the people I met was Flora Marriott who wrote this post on what she’s learned from trees. I’ve spent a lot of time in the forests in the Dublin mountains over the last year and Flora’s post got me thinking about what I’ve learned in the woods. Of course the discussions at the Unconference find a way in here too.
About 18 months ago I took up mountain biking and joined a local club. The first few times were a bit hairy and there were quite a few spills. I was hesitant, nervous and maintained a clenched fist on the brakes. However I really enjoyed the activity, the social side of it and getting to see a new side to Dublin, so I kept at it. Fast forward to last weekend and I took some friends out for their first time mountain biking. They were hesitant..you get it, they were like me when I started. I realised for the first time that I had developed my ability significantly (with still a long way to go!).
My development experience
As Flora says in her post, it’s long term. I didn’t develop new skills and abilities overnight, in fact I wasn’t even aware of how I had developed until time had passed and I was reminded of where I had started from. I did have a clear idea of what I was trying to achieve and I was able to draw on the experience of others in the club, on line resources etc as needed to help me progress. Mostly, I learned by doing, there were no training courses although that might be useful in the future. Learning was fun, social, and challenging. I was usually operating in a state of flow, immersed in the activity and at level of challenge that was pushing my ability (though not too much). Importantly there was no fear of failure, it’s expected that things will go wrong every now and then and if you play it too safe you feel like the odd one out.
Learning in the workplace
Ok, it’s nice to know about my mountain biking but what’s the relevance to work?
First I think it’s important to pay attention to how we learn. Is it engaging and continuous or tedious and short lived? I think on the job, experiential learning, in a social environment certainly works best for me and delivers results over the short and long term.
Secondly, how to balance short term and longer term learning needs?
Day to day learning needs arise due to performance requirements in your current job. Most people and organisations have this covered to some extent and it drives much of the learning in organisations.
Competency frameworks can guide learning and development (L&D) for more medium term objectives, like advancing to the next rung on the ladder. Competency models are developed from the top down and are relatively static, compared to the blistering rate of change in the world of work. Is it possible for them to capture the full picture, especially over the long term and to stay relevant in a changing world?
There are a wider range of career skills, skills in your chosen field and skills that go beyond the roles defined in the competency model, which may be essential for long term success. Each individual should think about what these career development objectives are for themselves work towards them over the long term and in a way is relevant to their current role.
Ideally career development will be a healthy balance of performance driven L&D, competency driven L&D and L&D driven by the career development needs of individuals. It should be a social experience, engaging and tolerate failure. Mostly, I think the individual needs to be the one who owns their career development, even the performance driven elements of it.
How does all this work in your company? Do you struggle to balance long term and short term L&D? Who owns career development, HR, line managers or individuals?
What does career development mean to you and to your company? Why is it important? How to do it?
This is the first of two posts on the subject of career development practices in companies. First, I want to discuss the reasons why companies are interested in career development. In the next post I will move on to how they are going about it.
I recently attended Legal Island’s HR Symposium, at which Orla Graham and Dr. Mary Collins of Deloitte Ireland presented on managing talent in Deloitte. The Deloitte talent management strategy is
“To be the number one firm for career and personal development, where talented people can do their best work, progress quickly and fulfill their potential, whatever their background”.
The reason why career development is important was clearly expressed. There is a war for talent and the top two factors cited to succeed are ‘Career development’ and ‘Training and development’. Once in the company, developing capabilities is part of the talent management strategy (including deployment and collaboration) that delivers organisational capability, employee commitment, alignment with business goals and, ultimately, performance.
consultingmag.com: Career Development in Professional Services
Other examples from the professional services industry are given in a series of articles (Best Practices in Career Development & Best Practices in Career Development: Point B) from consultingmag.com. They examine seven leading firms and some of the reasons given for investing in career development are:
- “It’s what attracts people to come here and stay” – Russ Hagey, partner and worldwide chief talent officer Bain & Company.
- “Our philosophy is to support people in their career decisions. We hire staff for life. We are not a body shop.” – Aimee George Leary, director of learning and development Booze Allen Hamilton.
- “This is why our conversations with employees is about long-term career goals—not what needs to happen next week or next month.” – Bill Pelster, managing principal of talent development for Deloitte LLP. He adds that this flexibility has assisted retention efforts.
- “Sales and marketing can be broken down into twenty discrete things,” says Jeff Griese, principal and Chief Human Resources Officer, ZS Associates. “An expert to us is someone who has mastered each of these by doing them many, many times. We’re building depth of mastery.”
The common thread is attracting recruits, retention and performance, echoing the message from Deloitte Ireland.
Study of career development in progressive Canadian organisations
A benchmarking study of the human resources practices of fourteen Canadian of organisations, considered to be on the leading edge of career development, identified some common reasons why these organisations invest in career development.
Leveraging their workforces’ talents and skills is the chief means of staying competitive in the face of global competition and rapid technology change. The authors state that the “quality, innovativeness and commitment of its human resources are what make the difference in terms of a competitive edge”.
Alignment with the business
Alignment between the individuals career development needs and the organisations needs is critical. The career development process can make this alignment happen.
“In today’s ‘lean and mean’ business climate, development is a necessary survival strategy: it helps companies position themselves so they can adjust to rapid changes in their environment. …Development processes enable companies to meet such challenges quickly and effectively. … Organizational career development [is] a strategic process in which maximizing individuals’ career potential is a way of enhancing the success of the organization as a whole.” – (Organizational
Career Development: Benchmarks for Building a World-Class Workforce)
Attraction of recruits
A quote from one of the participants in the study illustrates the point.
“One of the key differentiators for an organization to become an employer of choice now and in the future … is the amount of avant-garde strategic development you do so that people will be learning the newest things that need to be learned in whatever field. … This is the value that people are looking for in terms of … corporate development or institutional development in any organization. … Offering career resiliency and offering opportunity to learn the best will be the attraction for
people coming into the job market. That’s what they are looking for. They’re looking for companies that will give them career resiliency.”
The common points are once again attraction of recruits, and performance. In this study the authors do not cite retention or engagement, however they do identify employee commitment as an important factor.
Career Development a Driver of Attraction, Retention and Engagement
Towers Watson presented the top eight drivers of attraction, the top eight drivers of retention and the top eight drivers of engagement from their Ireland database, at Legal Island’s HR Symposium in February. I assume the results are similar in the UK.
Important attraction drivers were ‘career advancement’, second, and ‘learning and development’, fourth. Pay was number one. Career development’ was the second most important retention driver, behind only pay. For engagement ‘career development’ was number four. Interestingly the top drivers of engagement were ‘leadership’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘image’, all quite things that are difficult to change.
So why invest in career development?
If you’ve keep with me this far, you will have seen some common themes emerging as to why the best organisations are serious about career development. It boils down to
Career development and career resilience need to be on offer to compete in the war for talent
You need to have a long term view of your employees careers and allow career development happen if you want to retain the best people.
Commitment comes from within, it’s not something that can be imposed on someone. Aligning personal career development needs with the needs of the business is key to an engaged employee.
- Individual Performance
Engagement and capability building depend on career development. These are drivers of individual performance.
- Organisational Performance
At the organisational level, the alignment of business goals and individual goals lead to operational effectiveness today. The career development process facilitates this alignment.
Career development is essential, in the face of global competition and rapid technology change, to maintaining competitiveness for tomorrow.
Does your organisation take career development seriously? Why? Why not? I’d love to hear your experiences.
‘Bitzer,’ said Mr Gradgrind, broken down, and miserably submissive to him, ‘have you a heart?’
‘The circulation, sir,’ returned Bitzer, smiling at the oddity of the question, ‘couldn’t be carried on without one. No man, sir, acquainted with the facts established by Harvey relating to the circulation of the blood, can doubt that I have a heart.’
… ‘but I am sure you know that the whole social system is a question of self-interest. What you must always appeal to, is a person’s self-interest. It’s your only hold. We are so constituted.’
I was reminded of this episode in ‘Hard Times’ while reading Gillian Tett’s column in the FT this weekend. She outlines two views of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. One view is that companies should engage with CSR because many societal problems are too big to address without the help of corporate muscle, and that companies have had a big impact in some cases when they have been involved (she cites the impact Coca-Cola had when it started battling Aids in Africa). The other view is that societal problems are for governments to tackle and the fact that companies are looking at these issues is a sign of government failure.
Having just chaired a panel of business leaders in Davos, Gillian is able to report that CSR is growing in strategic importance because of the failure of government but also because global stability is under threat from issues such as income disparity. Income disparity is an issue for companies because it deprives consumers of spending power. Should self-interest, such as the need to counter income disparity, drive CSR programmes? This is the question that brought Bitzer’s utilitarian comments to mind.
The renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow touches on these issues in the book ‘Maslow on Management’ . Maslow talks about the importance of the far or long term goals and values of an enterprise and how the continued health and profitability of an organisation, over the long run (i.e. 50 to 100 years), is dependent on utopian, ethical and moral goals. It is a question of having a purpose that your employees can get enthused by, develop towards and work together to achieve. A quote from T.K. Kurien, head of Wipro, in the FT article illustrates the importance of the far goals of an organisation, “Young people in India used to be happy to have a job. But now they are aware [of social issues] – they don’t want to work in something such as defense, but [in] something like health”. Well know examples of utopian long term goals are Facebook’s mission “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” and Google’s mission “to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
Maslow’s presciption for companies could be described as self-interest too, but of a different character, where the permanent goals and values of the company have a connection with societal issues, in contrast to a more short term approach i.e. let’s deal with income disparity today as it’s going to impact our viability tomorrow. Maslow stated the management challenge as “how to set up the social conditions so that the goals of the individual merge with the goals of the company” , and he stressed that personal development of employees is key to long term success, “if the long run is taken into consideration, hard-headedness and tough-mindedness and profits and all the rest of it absolutely require considerable attention to what we might call personal development“. In Maslow’s view, long term corporate success requires moral and ethical far goals, alignment between employee goals and organisational goals, and a focus on personal development.
If CSR programmes are delivering benefits to society, that is to be applauded and the reasons for these programmes are arguably not so important. But maybe a CSR programme linked to genuine company goals is an opportunity to engage employees and deliver superiour benefits to society and the company. It’s almost 150 years since Dickens hit out at Utilitarianism. Which companies will be around 150 years from now and which will have had the biggest impact on society?
I prefer to avoid learning too much about films before I see them.
When Jean-Pierre Darroussi, the lead actor, appeared pre-show to state baldly that we would not find anything to laugh at in this film, I started to wonder if I had made a wise choice for my evening’s entertainment.
Early One Morning starts with Paul, a banker in his 50s, arriving in his workplace and gunning down his boss and a younger colleague who was threatening his position. Through a series of flashbacks the film explores what has brought this man to take such a desperate act.
The proximate cause is straight forward enough. With the banking crisis underway, Paul’s employer BICF has brought in new management to squeeze more results from the operation. Paul’s results are poor and he comes under pressure. Once a high flyer, Paul is now sidelined to a low status position and routinely humiliated by subtle and less than subtle mechanisms of corporate politics. For example the new boss invites Paul to boardroom meetings at inconvenient times, only for Paul to arrive, flustered, to an empty room.
The root causes are of course more interesting. Leaving to one side the question of what has created a corporate machine capable of chewing up and spitting out someone like Paul, the film focuses on Paul’s story and his choices. Paul has given everything to his career, neglecting his family and friends to the extent that he has nothing to fall back on when his work life falls apart. We are shown glimpses of what could have been. Paul’s family life had been better in the past and he and his wife did charity work, supporting a family in Mali and building a school. In scenes of Paul building the school he is completely engaged in the work and a picture of satisfaction.
It seems that Paul had important values that he suppressed through his single minded focus on his high status job. Rather than seeking to live his values in his work, it seems that Paul was seduced by the effortless rise through the ranks earlier in his career (and the status and money that went with that) and failed to ask the question, ‘Is this work intrinsically satisfying for me, is it aligned with my values?’.
This is a story about how a man was driven to desperate measures by a ruthless corporate machine, with unenlightened management and a corrosive culture, but it also shows how some of the responsibility for what happened is shared by the protagonist who failed to live a life true to his values.