People development and growth is as important for individuals as it is for businesses. Some individuals have an inborn talent, whereas some others do not. Notwithstanding, also innate talent to be transformed in expertise, competence and professionalism, needs to be nurtured and further developed.
The harsh competition nowadays characterizing every market and the frequency employers are confronted with financial downturn and slowdown periods have given employers to understand that the qualities of their human capital are crucial in order for these to gain competitive edge. To meet their ambitions and expectations on the other hand individuals look for jobs enabling them to fully express and use their capabilities, qualities and skills.
Especially when the labour market circumstances are particularly adverse, individuals in general and young generations in particular to dramatically increase their chances to find a job enabling them to express their personal capabilities and meet their ambitions should seriously consider expanding their knowledge and competency.
All in all, it can be argued that talent, expertise, skills, capabilities and excellence are and should indeed nowadays be regarded as extremely important qualities by both individuals and employers; albeit more often than not the latter seem to be more genuinely sensitive to the development of people filling management and executive positions, rather than to the growth of the individuals filling other types of roles.
What career planning is
The idea of career can effectively be expressed by means of the metaphor of career as a ladder. The concept can be associated with the process of progressively and constantly enhance and improve personal and professional abilities, skills and capabilities in order to attain a pre-identified objective, which can be broadly identified with self-advancement. Career planning can be defined as the systematic and structured approach enabling individuals to accurately and craftily plan, by their own initiative or by mutual agreement with their employer, their professional progression, development and growth.
Individuals who have identified clear personal career objectives, regardless of their current role but preferably in line with it, are in a position to develop a specific plan of action enabling them to attain or facilitate the attainment of their purpose. These initiatives clearly need to be both consistent with and supportive of the career path an individual aims at pursuing. A person aiming at embracing the HR profession, for instance, should in the first instance try to gain the relevant qualification and join the local accredited professional body.
In some instances, this choice can prove to be rather challenging, but needs to be invariably far-sighted. A doctor of medicine, for example, might aim at becoming a paediatrician or an orthopaedic, a dentist or a cardiologist; whereas a lawyer may orientate towards a specialization, for instance, in criminal, civil, international, tax or employment law. Yet, a doctor of medicine still needs to decide whether s/he wants to be a surgeon or a generalist, whereas a lawyer needs to decide whether to point towards a barrister or a solicitor career. An attorney in the US does not need to make such a decision, but still needs to determine whether s/he wants to become, for instance, a judge or a district attorney.
Individuals who have decided to pursue a career in HR may aim at specializing, for example, in reward, learning and development, employee relations, talent management or change management. In the event these should also aim at filling a management or business partner role, these should also seriously consider investing in, for instance, project or risk management and gaining a relevant qualification. Negotiations and communication abilities and the art of being persuasive can be nowadays regarded as particularly important qualities of modern managers and HR specialists; gaining or enhancing these personal qualities may hence prove to be extremely significant. Regrettably, not many people are approaching their career planning in such a structured fashion, but doing it may prove to be particularly productive.
When making such decisions, notwithstanding, individuals should not only consider their ambitions and preferences, but should also try to objectively pinpoint whether they genuinely have the potential, strength and features necessary to attain their desired career objectives.
In those cases in which career planning is activated on an employer initiative, this should be developed so as to balance individual aspirations and career objectives with organizational needs. This clearly entails an employer investment so that organizations should take extra care when assessing and identifying the people on which focusing their resources and efforts. To assess individual potential and aptitudes employers habitually seek external professional advice; internal managers’ and colleagues’ feedback, however, may also help them to make accurate predictions as to the likeliness that an individual may succeed.
Individuals usually aim at filling management or highly specialized positions; notwithstanding, people are genuinely satisfied when performing compelling jobs giving them the opportunity to express their ability and the required latitude to make decisions.
Career planning developed within organizations is not necessarily, and let alone exclusively, intended to develop individuals already holding management positions. It is, more in general, aiming at identifying, according to individuals aptitudes, aspirations and disposition, the most suitable initiatives enabling them to meet their desired career objectives.
Individuals are no more longing for just a job, but rather for compelling, absorbing and interesting roles, whereas employers are growingly interested in accomplished and assertive people capable to properly and effectively fill a whole range of positions considered of paramount importance for the success of their business. Career planning essentially enable both employers and employees to fulfil their expectations. Irrespective of the circumstance that plans may lead or otherwise to a management position, career planning unquestionably is a process providing individuals practical opportunities to higher levels of responsibility.
Career planning can indeed prove to also be a powerful means to an end, namely that of retaining and engaging individuals. In fact, in addition to its contribution to employer branding, by contributing to provide individual intrinsic benefits from the job itself it also proves to be an effective component of non-financial reward. The plan of action developed by employers and individuals, to ensure that the latter attains the desired objectives, should imply a series of practical activities, aiming at reinforcing individual sense of belonging, participation and ultimately loyalty.
Career planning can be in many respects regarded as a pre-stage of succession planning. Despite it is not necessarily intended to nurture managerial capabilities and help employer to fill future executive positions, its early implementation could reveal tremendously important also to this extent.
Organizational approach to career planning design and development
Career planning can and has to be essentially intended as a systematic and structured approach to people development. Without an accurate and meticulous preparation, it is highly unlikely that the intended objectives might be attained in practice. Yet, since the process typically unfolds over a great length of time, it can be said that career planning can be in many respects tantamount to business strategy.
The first stage of the process is in fact concerned with the direction the individual and the employer are expected to go to. Both organizations and individuals need to have crystal clear ideas as to their expectations and of how these will be met, whereas it is a precise employer responsibility to ensure that the identified final goal is consistent with the business aim and that the organizational context can actually enable the individual to develop and attain the objective agreed.
Once the direction has been identified it is crucially important to determine the timescale, that is to say the different stages of the path and the deadline by which each stage of the programme should be completed.
Assessment and check
The assessment and check activity is basically concerned with ensuring that throughout the process the barriers eventually arising are timely removed. This activity is extremely significant in that it is aimed at averting later disappointment. In the event, for instance, some barriers should actually require additional efforts, resources and time to be removed, this may imply the initial schedule to be modified or the overall process to be reviewed and amended accordingly. This phase is also particularly beneficial in that it practically enables employers and individuals to regularly assess the technical and behavioural improvements made by the employees concerned.
Evaluation of final result
The final stage of the process is represented by the assessment of the final results achieved. Albeit the necessary adjustments have been timely introduced and implemented throughout the process, it might still be possible that the final result does not exactly coincide with that initially planned. This stage enables thus employers and individuals to identify what eventually went wrong and what should have been done to avert the identified problems to arise. A typical side-activity of the final stage is represented by the compilation of a lessons learned log and of a final report.
Assign each individual a mentor
Each development programme should be supervised by one or more individuals appointed by the employer. The individual identified to closely look after the employee should act as a mentor and coach and should hence be able, also from the technical viewpoint, to understand whether the employee actually points in the right direction. This role is particularly important to secure the successful outcome of the overall process. In addition to provide support throughout the programme and constantly assess individual achievements, the person in charge of coaching employees also needs to provide employees feedback and identify the most suitable opportunities available within the firm for the individuals’ development.
Does career planning pay off?
Carefully prepared career planning definitely enables employers to gain a whole range of advantages. One of them is definitely represented by the massive savings employers attain in terms of sourcing talents.
Once the need for some positions emerges, employers can post jobs internally and reach with the interested individuals, according to their personal aspirations, goals and interests, a win-win agreement enabling employees to pursue meaningful career objectives, whilst ensuring employers to properly fill key positions. Employers would also derive a considerable benefit sensibly enhancing their attraction and retention practices.
Leibowitz et al (1986) identified seven different categories of mutual benefits for employees and employers: improved skills in career management, retention of quality staff, enhancement of communication between managers and direct reports, increased effectiveness of performance appraisal meetings, deepened individual understanding of the business and enhanced employer branding.
Introducing these programmes within organizations can help employers to foster a culture based on excellence and self-advancement and to convey the message that employers identify and offer individuals opportunities for development and growth by virtue of their qualities, commitment and behaviour, that is to say whether and only whether these have showed to have what it takes to deserve the employer’ trust and confidence.
Employers should clearly get the message across that this opportunity can only be offered to individuals really keen to grow and ready to take responsibility. Developing and sustaining a corporate culture endorsing these values may also enable employers to establish an even clearer and more transparent psychological contract: we promote and favour personal and professional growth but you have to show that you deserve it, have what it takes and are ready to make the extra efforts this requires.
What employers need to do for the process to be flawless
The successful outcome of career planning is essentially based on the mutual efforts of employees and employers. Notwithstanding, there are a number of activities that employers can perform to favour the positive outcome of the process.
First and foremost, organizations should put individuals in a position to cover demanding jobs and experience different types of situations and challenges; to this extent job rotation can absolutely help. This will clearly contribute to expand, in a relatively short period of time, individuals experience and help them to develop a better understanding of how complex a role can prove to be and of how important is for people holding responsibility within an organization frequently and promptly trying to come up with different, new and sometime even original solutions.
The business management clearly also plays a particularly significant role. Individuals, especially in their first work experience, tend to model themselves on their managers so that the circumstance these need to have good leadership skills and abilities can be taken as axiomatic. Managers also need to have excellent communication skills and be able and willing to provide constant feedback, counsel and positively influence individuals’ career.
By contrast, employers should utterly avert making to employees promises they will not be able to keep. The downsides this irresponsible behaviour is likely to cause may prove to be severe and irreversible.
Posting jobs internally definitely represents a practice enabling individuals to pinpoint the types of roles, requirements and qualifications the employer is interested in.
Is career planning worth the efforts?
Career planning clearly represents for employers a demanding activity. The involvement of managers and specialists and, before that, ensuring that these have all of the skills and abilities necessary to effectively contribute to the growth of other individuals clearly represent a daunting feat for employers. Analysing the return obtained by the execution of such a process is hence particularly important.
The reporting activity carried out at the end of each process can actually enable employers to assess the value of the final results obtained, also against the direct and indirect costs incurred to implement it.
Individuals approach to career planning development
Individuals aiming at developing a career planning by themselves need a fortiori to scrupulously follow a methodical and systematic approach. To this extent, these can have recourse to a series of online services, self-assessment exercises and tools, or benefit of the careers advice service offered by local universities.
As suggested by Merrison (2012), the process of planning for self-development and advancement should be mainly based on three crucial tenets, which need to be considered throughout the process: informed, systematic and realistic. The approach proposed by the Open University to career planning is based on the DOTS model developed by Law and Watts (1977) and is composed of four stages: know yourself, explore opportunities, decide what to do and take action. All of these activities need to be carefully and accurately performed.
Once again, the metaphor of career planning as business strategy can help to explain the correct approach to it. The first stage consists in determining and hence comparing where you are now with where you would like to be. As for business strategy, everything starts with this type of gap analysis. This is clearly also the time when individuals have to define how to get where they would like to go.
This phase of the process is essentially concerned with the definition of what individuals like and enjoy, what skills these would like to use and what type of employer may be interested, insofar as paying them, in all of that. It is crucially important being both realistic and focused on the identified goal and objective.
At this stage, individuals also need to objectively take heed of the constraints which may prevent them attaining their desired goal, such as the impossibility to: relocate, travel too far or work during unsocial hours (Merrison, 2012).
This phase basically requires individuals to match their interests and wants with those of a potential employer. Safe in the knowledge that their skills and expectations should be regarded as useful by an employer and help this to achieve its intended objectives. Professional bodies, job centres and job sites can definitely help in the process.
Decide what to do
When deciding what really an individual would like to do, this should take into consideration that Rome was not built in a day. Should hence be adopted the jigsaw approach; before hopefully having the full picture every piece is added at a different time. This clearly requires efforts and sacrifices, such as working on a voluntary basis, filling entry level positions in different environments and under different circumstances.
This stage is directly linked to the previous one in that it aims at underscoring the importance of work experience, which in some cases is considered as a mandatory prerequisite, whereas in some others as a distinct advantage. Working experiences also enable individuals to find out whether they are comfortable in a given working environment and whether the real reality matches their plans on paper. Work experiences are indeed also important, for instance, to build up contacts and receive advice, reference letters and information about different opportunities.
Career planning developed on individual initiative is not that different in scope from that agreed between an employer and an employee. The main difference being that what an individual plans by him/herself may not necessarily meet employers demand. That is why individuals aiming at planning for their future career and development need to be focused and concentrated on their objective and gather as much information as they can.
Could not be more appropriate what Alessandro Manzoni (1806) wrote in the poem In morte di Carlo Imbonati: “from your final aim never turn your eyes.”
Longo, R., (2012), How to develop career planning programmes; Milan: HR Professionals [online].
Useful links for self-assessment
Windmills Life Fitness Check - http://www.windmillsonline.co.uk/interactive/
National Career Service - https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/tools/Pages/default.aspxProspects planner (for graduate) - http://www.prospects.ac.uk/links/Pplanner