How to Make Career Development Employee-Centric

About one-third of organizations agree with this statement: We believe an employee’s personal aspirations are as important as the organization’s needs when considering career advancement.

Those organizations are 3.6 times more likely to have effective career-development programs than those that believe the organization’s priorities are more important, according to the Brandon Hall Group Study, Career Development: Are You Considering What Employees Want? Those employers are also twice as likely to have managers who care highly about their employees’ personal happiness in their jobs and careers.

Career development must be aligned with learning and performance to be effective.

Among those three variables, career development has always rated a distant third. Organizations invest heavily in learning without tying it to business outcomes. One outcome is talent retention, which depends heavily on employees believing they have an opportunity to advance their careers.

Organizations that managed to develop an effective career-development program embrace it as a business strategy and their managers believe their responsibilities include helping employees develop their careers. Employers who say managers care about their employees’ happiness in their careers are 10 times more likely to have effective career-development programs.

Top talent won’t remain at your organization without believing they can advance along a path that aligns with their personal and professional aspirations. That means employers should provide multiple career paths, communicate and provide resources for employees to improve their skills and competencies to meet the requirements of the jobs that interest them.

Brandon Hall Group research shows that high-performing organizations enable employees to explore flexible career paths that fit their aspirations while aligning with organizational needs. It’s up to employees to do what’s necessary to grow into new roles but employers must provide them with the tools they need to make it happen.

  • Are we treating our internal job candidates (current employees) as well or better than we treat external candidates during the recruitment and hiring process?
  • If not, why not?
  • What must we do to make career development and internal mobility more employee-friendly?
  • How can we better integrate learning, performance and career development to build the skills and competencies employees require to advance their careers in ways that help them and the organization?

Each employee has unique career aspirations. Organizations have their own objectives for their employees’ career development. Aligning them is the only way to ensure career development and advancement are mutually beneficial for employers and employees.

Each must consider the best interests of the other. But in most organizations, employers call the shots. There are limited career paths and most are vertical, leading to management. If employees cannot find opportunities that fit their interests and aspirations, they become disengaged and eventually leave the employer.

Here are six high-level strategies to help make career development more employee-centric:

Reverse-engineer career development. Start with internal mobility goals that will help your business thrive and determine how career development should change to reach them.

“Recruit” your high-potential employees. Work with them as you would elite external candidates. Advancing more of your current employees’ careers will increase talent retention and your cost of acquiring talent will dramatically decrease.

Transform managers into talent developers. They should be trained and empowered to develop future talent through coaching relationships rather than just manage day-to-day business.

Design compelling career options. Build horizontal as well as vertical career paths and leverage technology to create visuals that make it easy to envision the future. That’s a daunting task when you consider all the job roles you have, so start with the most vital one and create a schedule to add roles at a comfortable pace.

Link career development to performance goals and learning experiences. You can’t build dynamic programs without aligning those three aspects. Also, make learning as experiential as possible. To advance, employees must learn to apply current and new skills to new situations. You can’t learn that in a classroom, either live or virtual. Learning by doing is the key.

Measure. Create career-development metrics tied to business outcomes, analyze them regularly and adjust as needed. Start with talent retention overall and in key demographic groups.


Brandon Hall Group Strategy Briefs answer the critical questions learning, talent, HR and business leaders must address to manage their human capital. To tackle these critical questions in more detail, we built tools, frameworks, research summaries and business builders based on up-to-date research and case studies for you to implement best and next Human Capital Management (HCM) practices. To gain access to these valuable resources, contact [email protected].

Leading minds in HCM choose Brandon Hall Group to help them build future-proof employee-development plans for the new era. For more than 27 years, we have empowered, recognized and certified excellence in organizations around the world, influencing the development of over 10,000,000 associates and executives.

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Mike Cooke



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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.

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