The mood in the room was somber. The executive looked at her direct report and said, “If you can’t tell me, I can’t help you.”
Why this response? The employee had asked for help getting promoted. Problem was, the employee could not clearly articulate where he wanted to be — in what role — in three years and why.
Employees’ inability to state what they are aiming for in their career can cause frustration, miscues and muddled management discussions. Layer on broad development programs that companies invest significant time and resources in while not seeing improved readiness in their talent pipeline, and the result is dollars spent with little return.
How is it that companies spend so much money on development yet still have to hire from the outside for critical roles? And at the same time, employees complain of lack of opportunities for growth?
Employees are not owning their careers.
In companies that focus on creating a culture where employees own their careers, leaders have a much better record of impact from development dollars invested. It’s the first half of the “name it to claim it” formula, a concept rooted in the notion that to achieve a goal, one must first define the desired achievement.
Some employees are satisfied with working hard, making a difference and enjoying their colleagues and company. They happily attend training when it’s offered but have no burning desire to advance. Others desire advancement and increasing responsibility, actively seeking out development plans, mentors and training. But most of these ambitious individuals still fail to answer the simple question, “Where do you see yourself in three years and why?”
Often the response is, “Well, I don’t really know what’s possible, so I can’t answer that question.” This might be an acceptable answer from a millennial new to the workforce, but for anyone else, it’s a sign they aren’t taking career ownership and expecting the company to have a plan for them. Said another way, on a spectrum of entitlement to accountability, this response is leaning toward entitlement.
Most companies unintentionally enable this tendency. They offer programs, develop swaths of people and train leaders to create development plans and have the pertinent conversations with their staff — but they never expect employees to take a dominant role in the process.
Chief learning officers can change this by introducing the “name it to claim it” concept to ambitious employees who lack clarity on where they want to go and why. This can be done in several ways:
- When reviewing the talent strategy with the CEO and executive team, embed the principle of employee accountability in career management in the strategic framing of talent management. This will likely drive a lively debate and much head nodding, as executives tend to be allergic to the entitlement mentality.
- Communicate broadly that the company expects employees to take personal accountability for their career development. It’s especially powerful if the CEO, chief human resources officer or CLO teaches the “name it to claim it” concept in employee and leadership forums.
- Start every company learning program with a refresher of the concept, repeatedly reinforcing the idea that employees play thecritical role in their career advancement and growth.
What is the company’s obligation? Companies exist to make and sell products or services that result in shareholder value creation. That requires companies to define a winning growth strategy, make plans to achieve that growth and have the people and capability to deliver that value.
Companies are not obliged to develop every employee. Or to create elaborate development plans as part of an annual process. Or to lay out their career paths. This may not sound humanistic, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Rather, their obligation is to ensure the right people are in the right roles at the right time to deliver value to shareholders. That’s where talent development becomes primary. It’s why smart companies have chief learning officers devoted to preparing employees to demonstrate the critical capabilities the strategy requires, and to invest development dollars and time accordingly.
Again, the company must have a plan to deliver shareholder value. The employees must have a plan for their careers. The sweet spot of impact — where the right people occupy the critical roles and perform — occurs when the company knows what it needs and prepares talented, growth-oriented employees for it, and when those same employees know what they want, where they are headed and how that dovetails with the company’s need to deliver shareholder value.
Mindy Mackenzie is founder and principal for MM Enterprises Inc. Her book, “The Courage Solution: The Power of Truth Telling with Your Boss, Peers, and Team,” will be released on May 1, 2016. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.
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