The workplace has changed dramatically in recent years. Harsh economic realities have redefined the business landscape with lay-off, right sizing, and delayering initiatives. Although time marches on, baby boomers seem not to. They're living longer, working longer, and occupying roles that newer entrants to the workplace had in their sights. As a result, promotions and even lateral moves are less plentiful than in the past.
Additionally, jobs themselves have morphed, becoming more fluid and responsive to marketplace and customer needs. And a significant amount of work gets done through consultants, contractors and the contingent workforce - all people who may not really be the employees of their employers. Today's workplace is dramatically different than it was even ten years ago.
The ‘ladder' approach to career development
But what hasn't kept up with these seismic changes is our expectations of and approach to career development. Ask ten people what picture comes to mind when they hear the word ‘career' and I'll bet that at least nine will say ‘ladder'. This imagery has been seared into our minds, forming the expectation of predictable progression every few years from one role to another, ever closer to that ideal job.
And despite the obvious limitations of most organizations to deliver on this expectation, many career development efforts continue to forge forward as they have for decades. Career paths are laid out. Plans are made for advancement (frequently toward jobs that may not even exist in the future). And employees complain about the career development they receive... routinely citing lack of opportunity, mobility, and investment on the part of their employers.
So, perhaps it's time to rebrand, redefine, and reconstitute career development in a way that's more congruent with the business landscape and more aligned to what organizations can actually support. Perhaps it's time to change the lexicon and replace our current focus on career development with a focus on learning.
Learning opportunities as a tool for career development
Learning resonates for employees. It represents a tangible investment in them on the part of the organization - a benefit of sorts. Learning activates intrinsic motivation, supporting a sense of competence and wellbeing. It makes them better at their work- which, depending upon the organization and role, could translate into other benefits as well. And it prepares them for opportunities that may present themselves in the future.
Learning also resonates for the organization. It is a very cost-effective tool for supporting job satisfaction and retention. It expands the employee's capacity and ability to contribute, which translates into a range of business results. It changes the conversation from ‘how are you going to get me from here to there' by focusing on and leveraging the current role. As a result, the new conversation becomes ‘how can we squeeze the most from the position you currently occupy' or even ‘how can we expand the envelope of the current role to encompass more challenges and opportunities to learn.'
Creating a thriving organization through learning
Most importantly, learning is perpetually possible in a way that career development (at least as we've come to think of it) may not be. Imagine an organization that...
- Values and markets learning as a key employment benefit.
- Encourages people to grow everyday right where they are... rather than waiting for future moves to develop.
- Compensates people based upon what they can do rather than what title or level they've achieved.
This is an organization that will thrive regardless what challenges present themselves... because it appreciates the power and possibilities associated with creating the conditions by which learning can become the new career development.