Employee Career Development Is The Manager’s Job

By Chip Joyce

Lack of career development opportunity is the best leading indicator that your company will fail to keep your talented employees, new research indicates. So the adage that “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers,” may be untrue.

Or is it?

Here is the breakdown from one study on why people are dissatisfied at work.

It Takes Two To Tango

One problem is that it is often unclear who is responsible for career development at work: managers and employees tend to blame each other—and the fact is, both sides are wrong.

Career development is the responsibility of both the employee and the manager: it must be a collaborative effort because it cannot be done unilaterally. The employee is responsible, ultimately, for career management and development—and reading The Start-up of You is an excellent guide. The manager, though, is equally responsible.

One important part of a manager’s job is to maximize the alignment between company goals and the employee’s professional goals: the spirit being “help transform the company and I’ll help transform your career,” as The Alliance: Managing Talent in a Networked Age, explains. (These two books compliment each other brilliantly, to help both the employee and manager know how to live up to their responsibilities.)

Managers Must Do the Heavy-Lifting

Managers need to step up to their responsibility and develop their employees’ careers, as Monique Valcour explains,

Gone are the comprehensive career management systems and expectations of long-term employment that once functioned as the glue in the employer-employee contract. In their place, the manager-employee dyad is the new building block of learning and development in firms.

While it seems to be true that most people leave companies for lack of career development, the manager is neither irrelevant nor powerless.

The vast majority (some sources say as much as 90%) of learning and development takes place not in formal training programs, but rather on the job—through new challenges and developmental assignments, developmental feedback, conversations and mentoring. Thus, employees’ direct managers are often their most important developers. Consequently, job candidates’ top criterion is to work with people they respect and can learn from. From the candidate’s viewpoint, his or her prospective boss is the single most important individual in the firm.

The real lesson is: employees leave managers who do not do their job by developing employee careers, so managers need to do the heavy lifting for career development.

Tips for Managers

Ms. Valcour suggests that the the best managers address employee career development by asking,

“How can we harness employee strengths, interests and passions to create greater value for the firm?” Systematically linking organizational performance and individual development goals in the search for learning opportunities and better ways to work is a hallmark of organizations where sustainable careers flourish. And this is not a question managers try to answer by themselves; instead, they discuss it regularly with their team members.

The Alliance explains how it is the manager’s role to build alignment.

Alignment means that managers should explicitly seek and highlight the commonality between the company’s purpose and values and the employee’s career purpose and values.

Alignment is built by defining a mutually beneficial mission objective with a specified duration, that defines measures of success for both the company and the employee. The result is a tour of duty.

In order to do this, the manager needs to “learn each individual’s core aspirations and values” by having regular, ongoing, high-value career conversations with each employee. (Which is something which our consultancy, Allied Talent, teaches managers to do.)

To learn more about Chip and all of our speakers, visit BigSpeak.com.

Originally published LinkedIn Pulse on February 23, 2015.