Streetwise: The Real Reasons People Leave: Career Development

February 20, 2021

From our friends at Eure Consulting:

This is the second blog in a series of five. (Read the first one.)

In January of 2020 (my last in-person conference) I heard a keynote by Jamie Taets of Keystone Group International about going “beyond the paycheck”. The talk focused on helping us, as leaders in our organizations, understand that paying people well is not enough. We need to do more to retain our top talent.

What resonated with me the most were her five reasons why people leave their jobs. Her reasons were all spot on and I have seen each and every one of them in action. Those reasons have never been more important to pay attention to than now. As companies are starting to hire again they may potentially hire away some of your best talent. Using her talk as inspiration, I’ve decided to revive this blog series on those five reasons (her information came from the American Progress Organization) and how you, as a business owner, can address them.

This week we’ll be addressing the need for career development opportunity.

Clarity of opportunity is a key element in a healthy organization.

Employees that don’t have a clear career path laid out for them start to feel stagnant and may even get bored. The workforce today is full of “job hoppers”. These are people who are eager to learn and grow and they will often leave a job simply because they feel it’s time to move on to the next thing and try something new. They are not scared of switching industries or starting over because they are more focused on ensuring that they stay excited about what they are doing. They want to be passionate about their work and feel fulfilled by it. They want to feel challenged and stretched. If they aren’t getting these things, they are quick to jump ship.

You can partly address this issue of engagement through organizational and personal clarity that we discussed last week. But that will only address their sense of fulfillment and their connection to the organization’s purpose, not their need to be challenged and to continually grow.

The most effective way to address your employees’ needs for development opportunities is to lay out career paths for each role.

Yes, you might be an engineer your whole career, but you can move from Engineer I to Engineer II all the way up to Engineering Specialist. The title is not the important part, laying out what stepping stones lie along a given career track is. While people may be excited to come in to work every day as a first-year employee, eventually their work can become routine and mundane. They will start to lose that first-day excitement when they’re performing the same tasks day in and day out. You can help them bring some of that excitement back into their work by showing them where they can go next.

Let people know what that next bar of performance is and what they need to do to get there. What trainings do they need to go to? What skills do they need to develop? What experience do they need to gain? This will give them the opportunity to interlace their current work with opportunities for growth that are not only interesting to them but that they know are moving them towards that next stage of development.

This information should be easily accessible to each employee for every role at your company.

You shouldn’t only be sharing the sales career tracks with sales and the marketing career tracks with marketing. Everyone should be able to see what the requirements of everyone else’s role at the company are. This will not only lead to everyone having a better understanding of what everyone else does at the company, but it will also help everyone better appreciate the skills, knowledge, and experience that their teammates bring to the table.

What it really comes down to is transparency. As the employer, you want to show that there is no guesswork in how people can move up in your company. By having clearly laid out guidelines for growth and promotions, you empower your employees to put in the work to improve and grow. They know exactly what they need to do to get to that next level so they can be proactive in figuring out how to develop those skills or gain that experience.

And maybe an employee even wants to switch to a different department. If all career paths are easily accessible then they’ll be able to figure out what they need to do to make that happen.

Some employees won’t want to use these career development tracks.

And that’s okay. Some employees like the stability that comes with knowing their role extremely well and knowing that they can perform that role extremely well. There’s no need to push them to grow if they’re doing well in their current role and are truly happy doing it. By providing them the roadmap for growth you’re giving them the option to grow if they want to choose it, but you should never force someone down a path they don’t want to travel.

You should also keep in mind that every career path should not lead to managing others. Not everyone wants to manage people. And, more importantly, not everyone is cut out to manage people. People should still have the opportunity to continue their growth and development even if they don’t want to become a manager. There are plenty of other ways that individuals can provide value, like becoming subject matter experts or training new employees, so make sure you include those non-managerial opportunities in your career paths too.

Providing clearly defined career paths will help keep even the notorious job-hoppers engaged longer.

By laying out a clear direction and growth plan for each role, you’ll give your employees the ability to envision what their future will look like. And they will have the ability to make that future a reality. You put the ball back in their court and give them the opportunity to run with it or not. Their development is completely in their own hands. Knowing exactly how to improve and grow is extremely empowering for an individual. They will literally be able to control their own destiny at your company by knowing exactly what is needed to continue moving forward.

Take the time to define what improvement looks like in each role and give your employees something to aim for and you’ll see a significant uptick in employee engagement and satisfaction.