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Dear Workforce How Do We Introduce the Process of Career Development to Our Workforce

September 7, 2011

Dear I Need Magic:

Ensure a clear path to career development

You are indeed facing a complicated—but not impossible—project. Before advising you on how to begin, I first want to raise a cautionary yellow flag based upon how you've described your company. Unless yours is a very specialized business model, 15 divisions and 95 job titles may be excessive for a 350-person company. Clutter of this type is not uncommon if you have grown rapidly or if "legacy" jobs and divisions have not been streamlined as the company has evolved. However, it is extremely difficult to set targets for individual career progression if it is unclear to employees exactly what their jobs entail. Proceed with caution, as career paths may be challenging to define in a structure where zigzag (versus straight-line) job advancement is required.

Focus on the critical roles

Once you have evaluated your structure, look at who needs to learn what. Your executive team is more likely to endorse a process where the investments made in people yield a clear return. Granted, providing career resources to all employees may help to build a strong employer brand. But by focusing on the most critical roles first (by level, role or employee segment), you will add more value to the bottom line. As to what people should be learning: develop competency models based on your current high performers in each broad job category. Then, translate those into individual development plans. Developing everybody is only useful if the company needs those skills.

Manage risk, invest in future critical capabilities, and involve leadership

You also mention that succession planning is a driving force behind this effort. As a small organization, there are two approaches you can take. At the most basic level, succession planning is all about risk management—in other words, having someone ready to do a critical job (not just the top job, but any job essential to performance) if the incumbent is unable to do so.

A more advanced approach—the one you seem to be taking—is to focus on development by assuming that the business will change and that now is the time define and develop the capabilities that will be required in five to 10 years. So make sure your CEO, corporate officers and business unit leaders help you define a succession strategy to address both current and future needs. In addition, as a small organization, don't rely solely on development for your succession plan. Instead, hedge by creating a pool of passive candidates to recruit from, and thereby augment your internal development efforts.

Don't forget to assess, evaluate and measure

It's true that the "devil is in the details" so make sure, as you break the strategy into smaller tasks, to build in performance and potential assessments along the way, hold leaders accountable for developing others and measure progress regularly.

SOURCE: Randolph Harrison, Capital H Group, Chicago, June 12, 2008.

LEARN MORE: A previous Dear Workforce article discusses the formation and structure of in-house units devoted to employees' career development. Also useful is the Workforce.comarchive on career development.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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