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Why Career Management Programs Miss the Mark

Leverage tech, train managers and define career paths to put programs on track

Career management programs should help employees understand advancement opportunities and chart career paths in their organizations. But employers recognize that their programs are falling short, the 2014 Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey reveals.

Less than half of employers (49 percent) say they are effective at providing traditional career advancement opportunities, while a smaller group (38 percent) report they are effective at providing nontraditional career development opportunities. However, employers rank the availability of career advancement opportunities as the top reason that employees would join a company, ahead of base salary and challenging work. And the lack of opportunities to advance their career is the No. 2 reason that employees give for leaving an organization (pay is the No. 1 reason).

A newly published paper draws on the survey findings to show that while it might seem simple enough to organize jobs, provide career planning tools, define competencies and communicate opportunities, the reality of building an effective career management program is more complicated. In Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers, Renée Smith, a talent and rewards director at Towers Watson, points out the following challenges that employers face in developing and delivering effective career programs.

Unleveraged Technology

Less than half of employers (45 percent) make effective use of technology, such as corporate intranet platforms, to deliver career advancement programs, the survey found. However, technology platforms that provide access to current career information and tools can enable employees to take an active part in managing their careers.

“Given that such a platform typically captures performance management information—e.g., performance objectives, reviews, competency assessments—as well as career management data, it shines a spotlight on the aspirations and capabilities of the company’s talent pool,” Smith noted in her paper, adding, “It is necessary that this type of platform link to an organization’s HR information system to ensure seamless access to critical HR data, including career management information.”

Untrained Managers

Less than half of organizations (47 percent) say they provide their managers with career management training and tools in the form of talking points or discussion guides. This could help explain why only 41 percent of employees rate their manager as effective in holding career development discussions.

“It is important for organizations to ensure that managers are trained to have effective career conversations with employees,” Smith wrote. “Regardless of whether these conversations are formally set at certain intervals or occur informally at any point in the year, managers need to be equipped with information on the organization’s career management strategy and tools. This will prepare them to ask the right questions as they guide employees through the process of developing actionable career plans.”

Disjointed Communications

“Information related to career management is often communicated in a disjointed manner. In some organizations, different parts of HR own different elements of the career management process without clear accountability or partnership,” Smith pointed out. “Additionally, organizations may lack the business buy-in for career management programs, which can make career management the sole domain of HR. Given this situation, it’s critical for employers to step back and think through how to best design, deliver and measure an effective and integrated career management program.”

Among other common problems Smith highlighted that undermine career management programs:

Career architectures and paths are poorly defined. Less than half of employers (48 percent) report that their organizations have career architectures (or formalized frameworks) and career paths in place.

Most organizations don’t know if their programs are working. Only one in four respondents (27 percent) monitor the effectiveness of their career management programs.

“Many companies are failing to see the big picture when it comes to career management programs and are in danger of losing some of their best talent,” Smith warned. “At a time when hiring and turnover are increasing, and employers are experiencing problems attracting and retaining talent, employers need to understand the importance of providing career advancement opportunities.”

The Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey was conducted from April to June 2014 and includes responses from 1,637 companies worldwide, including 337 companies from the U.S.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.


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