By Steven Ross, Penna

With green shoots now having substantial roots, the economic recovery is now robust enough in many sectors to enable employers to start thinking about investing in their people. And with so much of the last six years having been about survival, cost reduction, static wages, headcount reduction and lack of job progression — a refocus on investing in people can’t come soon enough.

In fact Penna’s Career Development research found that ‘lack of opportunity’ (20%) was the main reason for individuals to leave organisations over the past twelve months. And with one in three (33%) organisations having seen an increase in resignations over the past twelve months, it’s critical that employers take action to show staff how valued they are, how they can feature in the longer term success of the business and their commitment to their development — or they risk losing them.

For managers and leaders, knowing how to develop individual careers for maximum effect within their own business is challenging enough — let alone having the time and resources available to carry it out during an ‘early recovery’ period. Even when there is positive intent, sometimes the stretch on leaders to drive career development initiatives and map out individual paths is simply too much and not viable amongst other critical responsibilities required to maintain business performance.

This ‘parent — child’ type management relationship — where the onus is on the leader to manage and drive careers for employees — needs to be challenged and moved towards a culture where the responsibility rests with the individual. Not only does this benefit the leader, freeing up time to focus on driving the business forward, but it also puts the employee firmly back in charge of the direction of their career.

By helping employees to understand what drives and motivates them, challenging them to think about where they want their career to go and how to get there, helps to set employees on the right path to proactively managing their careers and taking greater responsibility for its direction. In order to encourage employees to do this, business leaders and managers should consider the following factors:

Make the context clear

As the leader, you still have a responsibility to set and explain the overall business direction and provide parameters over where and how people can engage in developing their career. They need to know what is likely to be possible, rather than set their sights on a development or career path that isn’t viable or is in the wrong direction for the business. To follow the parent-child analogy: just because they can now feed themselves, doesn’t mean they’ll know how to cook dinner.

Make it easy

For employees to successfully make the transition from expecting career mapping to be done for them to doing it themselves, it has to be as easy as possible. A simple framework or process to work through, and easy to use career development tools to help them manage their career, will make for higher uptake and a more successful outcome. This is the same for any process leaders are trying to embed into everyday working life — whether its career management or encouraging employees to think about development and training — it has to be easy to access and fit in around their other activity.

Quality career technology solutions can really work well here, guiding employees through the process. Whether its high quality items to read, or career orientated internet gaming, the investment in their careers will be apparent and can aid engagement.

Make it attractive

Personal career management should be communicated as an attractive and a positive opportunity for employees - rather than it being because the leaders can’t be bothered to manage their careers anymore. No-one knows better than employees themselves about what they want from their career - and they will get there faster if they take responsibility for it, rather than waiting for someone else to create it for them. Articulating how this can positively impact both the employee and business is crucial.

Make it continual

As the leader, you still have obligations in helping employees to manage their career. It is not a case of handing it over and never re-visiting the topic. Good career development depends on regular, short and informal dialogue about “how it’s going”, rather than keeping it all bottled up for a once a year conversation. Research from Penna found that 52% of organisations hold career conversations annually and this is not frequent enough to meet the demands of today’s workforce - particularly Generation C, who expect regular and informal feedback about their progression.

Leaders need to remember that career development is all about engaging and retaining key talent by showing them they can have a say in where their career goes within the business; keeping people engaged depends on multiple interventions, not just one-off’s. By taking a proactive approach to helping your people manage their own career, you can increase their engagement, productivity and ultimately the success of your business.