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The Business Case for Career Development


by Dan King


If you’re not talking with your people about their careers, you can bet somebody else probably is.

In today’s workplace, your top performers are the very ones that are most marketable to the outside. They are poised to be prime targets for headhunters in this rebounding economy – and there will be plenty of organizations ready and willing to lure them away when the time is right. So if you’re waiting for the annual performance review to discuss employee career goals, you could well be headed for trouble.

Not so long ago, the annual performance review could double as a career development discussion. Performance and career development were linked: if employees’ performed well, their careers grew through a series of promotions and salary increases. This model no longer works. Employees today are looking for more than simply an assessment of their work. Sure, you want to maximize their performance, but they are more interested in maximizing their careers – and these goals are not one and the same.

A career development discussion differs from a performance review in that it focuses on the skills and abilities needed to achieve personal career goals in the future. A broad-ranging discussion has an unlimited timeframe – it can (and ideally should) occur ongoing several times throughout the year – and it is not tied to compensation.

Compare this to a performance review which focuses on an employee’s past performance over a period of time, emphasizing results or accomplishments relative to specific job standards set by the organization. Most employees expect it to be tied to compensation – and it generally is. Years of restructuring, reengineering and rightsizing have caused people to take a more active role in managing their work futures. Managers, individual contributors and support staff alike face career decisions on a daily basis: Should I stay or leave? Change careers? Pursue new projects? And in a work environment where technical skills frequently supersede people skills, the answers are not quickly forthcoming.

That’s why a focus on career development is so important today. To help protect human assets, organizations must provide the tools and resources employees need to manage their careers, to align individual visions of career success with strategic business goals and objectives. It’s not just a “nice” thing to do – it’s a business imperative.

If you’re convinced your organization is ready for a career development initiative, here are fivesuggestions for getting started:


  1. Conduct a career development audit to assess career development needs and organizational climate – and identify any existing career development tools such as job postings, tuition reimbursement, competency profiles, training courses and other programs that may be marshaled into a focused approach.
  2. Develop a preliminary career development statement for the organization which addresses the needs, priorities and rationale for committing to a career development initiative.
  3. Convene a career development project team; comprising a diagonal cut through all levels of the organization, including representation from support staff, counsellors/professionals, managers/directors, human resources and others, to fine-tune the career development statement, generate ideas and approaches for services, and assess organizational goals, timetables and budgets.
  4. Select components for the career development program looking at such possibilities as career management workshops, career workbooks, private professional consultation for employees, career coaching workshops for managers, career ambassadorships for informational interviews, success teams for peer coaching and support, mentoring, job shadowing/in-training, skills databases and online career coaching.
  5. Present introductory career development information sessions to provide an overview, answer questions, and communicate goals and objectives to all levels of the organization. Emphasize anticipated benefits, including improved person-job match, communication about career opportunities, larger talent inventory for special projects, and clarification of career options and resources.


If this is new territory for you, before you implement your program, try starting with a pilot group. This way you can build buy-in and offset any obstacles that may hamper your program’s success. But be prepared for questions that arise, like: “How can I find time to talk to people about their careers with everything else I have to do?” or “If we start talking to people about their careers, aren’t we encouraging them to leave?” You can counter with: “On the contrary, they’re more likely to leave if you don’t start talking about their careers – and by spending time now for informal career discussions, you’ll save the expense in time and dollars later to replace key talent.”

When your top performers entertain a job offer from another company, they’re often fraught with anxiety and uncertainty about the decision. They need a supportive process to help them decide the best future course. But all too often, while the other company is wooing them with future possibilities – money, advancement, challenge – their own company remains silent. It’s this uncertainty about the future that often drives people away. Sometimes they just need a good reason to stay, but without a healthy organizational climate for discussing career issues, they’re not likely to find one!

Dan King is principal of Career Planning and Management, Inc.,, and co-founder of With over 25 years’ experience in the career development field, he supports individuals and organizations in planning and managing contemporary worklife and workplace issues. A frequent radio and TV guest, he is recognized as a Career Management Fellow (CMF) and Master Career Counselor (MCC).


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