How to Use Career Development to Drive Talent Retention

Retaining top talent is the most important business strategy in 2022, with 87% of organizations citing it as important or critical in Brandon Hall Group’s HCM Outlook 2022 Study

To reduce voluntary turnover, which 39% of organizations believe will increase greatly or moderately this year, organizations seek to re-imagine several elements of human capital management. Career development sits at the top of the list. 

Overall, less than one-third of organizations believe they have an effective career development program. That requires organizational commitment, strategies and technology that align career development with learning and performance, and empowers employees to own or actively participate in their career development. That is not present with most employers surveyed in Brandon Hall Group’s research: 

The key for the modern workforce is mutual benefit. Employees must see how career opportunities at the organization help them meet their personal and professional aspirations and the needs of the business. 

Brandon Hall Group research shows that employers with strong manager commitment to employees’ career development are at least 2½ times more likely to see year-over-year increases in: 

  • Employees’ sense of belonging 
  • Employee’s sense of well-being
  • Engagement
  • Employees’ feeling heard and understood 
  • Employees feeling valued

 These all are important drivers of talent retention. 

  • 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 need to advance their careers in ways that help them and the organization? 
  • How do we better enable employees to drive their own career development? 
  • How can we enable managers to be better partners with their team members in preparing them for future roles? 
  • How can technology improve career development? 

This generation of employees needs a reason not to look for greener pastures. They are used to continuous change and evolution. Seeking new experiences comes naturally. Therefore, organizations must provide reasons why the grass is not greener elsewhere. One way to do that is to show employees they can have a bright future right where they are. Here are six high-level strategies to do that. 

Provide all employees with Individual Development Plans (IDPs). 

This sends a message that the organization prioritizes personal development. The IDP must go beyond recommending development activities. It must be aligned with the employee’s career aspirations, performance development needs and the organization’s (or team’s) business priorities. 

But just having IDPs for all employees is not enough. They must be revised as often as necessary based on changes in employee performance or aspirations and the needs of the business or team. Only about one-third of organizations update IDPs regularly, our research shows. But doing so demonstrates the priority the organization and manager place on continuous development. 

Hold career discussions with employees several times per year. 

IDPs cannot be updated regularly without frequent career development discussions. Employees don’t think about their careers only once a year, so managers must be prepared to discuss their team members’ aspirations as often as needed. 

These discussions don’t always have to be formal. Organizations that hold frequent employee check-ins have a built-in platform to frequently broach career development. Employers should provide managers with the training or resources they need to be comfortable having career discussions. 

Offer coaching and mentoring to employees regarding career growth. 

Many leading organizations — those that believe their career development programs are effective — provide career coaching and/or mentoring to employees. This can be live or virtual and sourced internally or externally. Counseling on career growth is much easier and effective when organizations have clearly defined career paths for people on a leader track and those seeking growth in individual contributor roles. 

Enable self-service career planning. 

When we speak with managers and HR leaders, they often complain that employees — not the organization — should steer career development. Our research shows that most employees want to take ownership of their career development. But employers must provide the tools for them to do so.

Only about one-third of organizations tell us they offer easy-to-navigate apps or portals where employees can do their own career planning. Leading organizations do this and more. 

One Fortune 500 company — a perennial Brandon Hall Group Excellence Award winner — has a self-service career tool for employees to see job roles and career paths in every line of business within the company. This company considers it a priority to make mobility attractive to its workforce. 

To compete to retain your talent, you must empower them to see all the possibilities. Done well, you make it much easier for employees to stay with an organization they know rather than rolling the dice with another company. Creating such a consumer-grade experience is important in a hypercompetitive talent marketplace.

Match employees to internal opportunities to develop their capabilities. 

Employers are only beginning to take advantage of what is a new, emerging category in human capital management: the opportunity marketplace. 

Opportunity marketplaces are digital platforms where organizations provide — and workers find — the opportunities most relevant to their mutual benefit and success. 

As employers — even large enterprises — struggle to build career paths that provide enough high-quality opportunities to attract employees to stay, matching employees to shorter-term options is an efficient and inclusive way to strategically align the aspirations of individual employees and the enterprise. 

Use assessments to better understand employees. 

Assessments on behavior traits, preferred workstyles and capabilities can reveal valuable insights that can help organizations work more closely with employees to meet their career goals. 

Many employers struggle to use assessments strategically and consistently for several reasons, ranging from expense to lack of consensus on the best assessments and providers. But with the stakes of talent retention so high, leveraging these tools takes on a new urgency. 

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