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Career development vs. career advancement: Leaders need to understand both

Career development vs. career advancement: Leaders need to understand both
(Image credit: Pexels)

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Imagine that one of your best employees came into your office and said that he wasn’t happy with his job because you don’t focus enough on career development. How would you respond? Would you even know what he was talking about?

Leaders tend to think career development and career advancement are interchangeable terms; however, these are two very different concepts.

Career development is the lifelong journey of a person’s work identity. It’s the big-picture view of someone’s ultimate career goal and includes her years of education, training and jobs. Career advancement is a short-term step or goal — just one part of the bigger career development picture.

Not everyone wants both. Traditionally, people viewed career advancement as moving up the corporate ladder through promotions, but business leaders should avoid falling into the trap of thinking that’s what everyone wants. Some employees want opportunities to develop in their current roles.

It’s important to engage with employees in a way that motivates them, which is easier to do when you understand their goals. Either way, you should give everyone the opportunity to expand their capabilities through education, training, mentorship and business opportunities.

Mastering career development and advancement

As a leader, you need to understand the difference between these two concepts, why they matter to employees, and how they can strengthen your company. Both are crucial components to every career and every company.

Employees who are offered career advancement opportunities benefit by gaining cross-functional skills, learning to self-manage, and pursuing loftier career goals. Career-development opportunities help them feel motivated and fulfilled because they’re working toward their lifelong goals.

By supporting both, your company gains capable employees who are more engaged — which leads to higher retention rates — and the ability to attract and retain top talent. You can help employees advance in their careers and develop as professionals by:

  1. Finding alternate ways to reward employees. Instead of always promoting your best employees (and making your company top-heavy with talent), devise other ways to reward dedication and innovation. Send an exemplary employee to a conference, give her a bonus or invite her to lead a big project. Your company will be stronger if you can retain talented players at every level — not just management.
  1. Opening a dialogue for fresh insights. Encourage open, honest communication by increasing opportunities for employees, managers, and executives to come together and discuss ideas, complaints and successes. You can build trust with your team by addressing them as peers rather than sugarcoating the facts or trying to be motivational. A straightforward, respectful exchange of ideas will boost camaraderie and improve communication throughout your organization.
  1. Supporting autonomy. You hired your employees because of their talents and skill sets, so don’t micromanage them. Give employees plenty of opportunities to direct their own work and expand their leadership skills. They’ll gain confidence, trust, and respect each time they succeed on their own.
  1. Finding out what your employees want. Devote as much attention to your employees’ needs and work experience as you do your customers. Conduct stay interviews (rather than exit interviews) to find out what your employees love about their jobs and what you can do to improve their work experience. This can help you figure out what kinds of training or educational opportunities they might find rewarding. Listen carefully, and act on their feedback to cultivate real team loyalty.

Understanding the difference between career development and career advancement is the first step toward building an environment that keeps top performers engaged in the long term. Then, you have to create opportunities for growth. Reward your employees by helping them better themselves and their careers, and they’ll reward your company with hard work and great ideas.

Beth Knuppel is vice president of talent management at Ericsson and has extensive experience coaching C-level executives at the world’s leading corporations, including General Electric, American Express, and Pfizer. Knuppel has lectured internationally on many aspects of HR and talent management. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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