This article is a summary of an approach to engaging and inspiring employees in their professional development planning, using “career stories” as a foundation. The aim of this approach is to encourage employees to take a broader view of their career planning that has clear benefits for them and fits better with the organisation’s need to encourage internal mobility and reskilling.
One of the key current challenges for CLOs lies in “how to create directed career paths, stronger internal mobility, and motivation for employees (and managers) to reskill themselves for their high growth jobs” (Bersin, 2023).
As the business environment continues to change rapidly, and as hiring continues to become more difficult, companies are looking inwards to fulfil their skills requirements and manage their talent. Amazon is just one example here, with programmes in technology, machine learning and user experience available to their employees.
On the other side of the equation are the employees, and here again the outlook is promising: individuals want to adapt and grow with their current employers. In fact, according to LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report, in addition to pay, benefits, and flexibility, what they most want are:
- Opportunities for career growth within the company
- Opportunities to learn and develop new skills
- Challenging and impactful work
Our view is that we need to consider each of these carefully, think about what they mean for the employee and the company, and establish a compelling narrative to inspire and engage employees.
Career growth, reskilling, and challenging work
Both organisations and individuals can sometimes have a blinkered view of what growth looks like. For individuals, in many cases they want to continue in their current functional area, increase their skills, and move into management. For others, keeping their technical skills up to date is critical. They want to continue as individual contributors at the top of their game, and given the shortening half-life of skills, they work to constantly update their skills, moving to new technologies or platforms as these become popular. The possibility of moving to another part of the company is not one that they always consider. Companies need to do more to help employees see the breadth of opportunities available to them, while also encouraging them to be proactive in reaching out to explore opportunities that interest them.
Companies also need to think about the skills that they need. Again, Amazon is a good example: their upskilling programme is not a learning free-for-all: they have clearly taken the time to identify the skills they need before establishing the programme. The next steps are surely in continuing to communicate the benefits of upskilling to employees.
The final point – employees’ need for challenging and impactful work – fits very well with the idea of reskilling. Learning new skills can be challenging, and one of the best ways to learn is through practice – initially in a safe space where it’s OK to make mistakes, then moving on to on-the-job learning where employees’ impact is felt as they work on genuine, useful, projects that continue to challenge them. Combined with strong feedback mechanisms, this is a great way for them to develop and recognise the depth of their learning.
So the idea of reskilling, internal mobility, and directed paths fits pretty well with employee needs. And as you start to put the different elements in place, a key consideration has to be around how you inspire and engage your employees. This is where career stories can help.
Presented as videos, podcasts, or text, career stories are stories from colleagues at various levels in the organisation about the actions they’ve taken and the skills and strengths they’ve relied on in making career decisions. These stories emphasise the importance of owning your career and being proactive rather than waiting for opportunities to come to you.
By carefully selecting storytellers from across the organisation at a range of levels and in different functional areas, we can create a collection of highly relatable individual stories that help employees to move towards a more flexible, empowering view of career development. With a focus on lateral thinking and constant learning, these stories will benefit the employee and the organisation.
Stories are tagged with the most relevant skills and strength, to encourage employees to explore possibilities. These can be based on a company’s existing skills matrix, or can be linked to a purpose-built lightweight skills framework.
These stories can be an eye-opener for employees. Stories are powerful: authentic stories from colleagues are inspiring and encourage employees to see things differently. They emphasise the need to be flexible and proactive. For employees and employers, this is a benefit: employees are encouraged to think laterally, and to step forward for opportunities that interest them.
These stories can bring career development to life. Pre-existing skills matrixes or competency frameworks might hold all the data for career development, but career stories bring these to life and demonstrate the role of individuals’ skills and strengths in developing their careers.
Career stories fit very well with other employee development initiatives, from personal development initiatives to implementing a culture of lifelong learning. They can contribute to employee reflection, performance reviews, and other training and development. We have had success in providing a reflective toolkit for employees to encourage them to reflect, plan, and set objectives for their learning and careers.
To be most effective, career stories and other tools aimed at employees need to be deployed in a supportive culture, where managers are keen to coach, mentor, and provide feedback. Managers should already be adopting a skills-based approach to talent management, thinking not just in terms of job roles, but also projects in their area where it would be beneficial to bring in skills from other parts of the business.
For many managers, this represents a significant shift in behaviour, so it’s important to consider how you can support your managers as they make this shift: you may need to provide training, coaching, and toolkits and checklists for them as well. And of course, managers are also employees, so they too need to be able to benefit from a supportive culture where their managers are keen to coach, mentor, and provide feedback.
Internal mobility and reskilling programmes can be good news for companies and their employees, where there is good communication and employee engagement, supported by a culture of learning and inclusivity. Career stories can be a critical component in inspiring, exciting, and engaging employees, to drive their future success as well as the success of the business.
Talk to us today if you would like to find out how we can help you with your L&D offering!