More than likely, you’ve been asked this question by your manager or HR: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? But rarely is this follow-up question asked of management in return: How are you going to help me achieve my goals? Perhaps it’s because many organizations have established job ladders and training programs for career progression. The focus is growth within the company and usually within the specific job group.

So what’s the problem with this common approach?


People who can move up the career ladder are usually limited by compensation schedules, performance reviews, and lack of opportunities. People with poor performance reviews are even more restricted. When career development programs remain limited to a select group of people, most will feel left out or maxed out when pondering career choices within the organization.


Additionally, most career development programs are only focused on growth within the job group, and it can be difficult to move outside of one’s core job. It is more difficult to get educational opportunities in new interest areas that don’t relate to one’s job or area in the organization. For example, many people burnt out in their current role might benefit from a job rotation to another area of the organization. A new learning process might improve the person’s attitude towards the organization — and the organization might benefit from a new perspective as well.


The worst is how organizations deal with career development in a poor economy. Educational opportunities or training programs are cancelled, and development talks between employees and management are put on hold, too. The environment takes on a crisis mode, and things like career development are better left for another time (or at least that’s the way it seems).


Early in their careers, many people carry out their work because they have to. Little thought is given to what work they would rather do. Over time, especially as people age, they discover that what they most want is a sense of fulfillment and coherence about their work. This insight is usually not thought through very deeply. It starts as a feeling that one’s work is no longer fulfilling or satisfying. The career development process, which is only linked to existing job ladders and organizational opportunities, limits growth.

So what is the answer? Try these new approaches:


The best manager knows that when people have opportunities to learn new things, which interest them and they can apply at work, joy and productivity both improve. The best manager understands the link between worker happiness and work output. The best manager knows the difference between just having job ladders versus an on-going process for education and opportunities for current roles, as well as opportunities to re-invent or expand into new roles for people.


Encourage people to grow and develop in areas which can both benefit people and the organization. These approaches range from enabling all people to try out new roles, get education in new areas, and have formal processes in the organization for self-discovery and greater self-awareness.


The best manager knows that during challenging times even more emphasis should be focused on people development to keep morale high and, more important, show that the organization will invest in their people on an ongoing basis despite the economy. These methods don’t always cost money. For example, implementing coaching programs within the organization to focus on development, implementing new job-rotation opportunities, and enabling people to offer education to peers on their areas of expertise, are all ways to show people during difficult times that the emphasis is still on the people.


One might assume that people will always make good career-development decisions; however, this does not take into account the dynamic aspects of the career-making process. For example, as people age, they get some experience, new self-appraisal, and, at times, new clarity about their work and life. Some may find that it is the time to reevaluate their life and career status. Some wonder how they would actually spend their day if they had unlimited flexibility and opportunity. As people age, they might be more receptive to change in their work. Just being presented with data may not be enough to offer guidance at this stage of life. This time, it can be critical for individuals to be aware of their needs and work towards satisfying them while, at the same time, accepting and reconciling past events, both successful and those which were not as successful. Again, this can require both self-reflection and opportunities for discussing with others work-related options and possibilities. This inner reflection is important as it can lead to inner readiness for change and growth. The internal assessment can help to see the gap between where a person expected to be and the present state. This tension is inherent in the human condition and therefore critical for mental well-being.

What are the next steps to correcting traditional career development?

People thrive when they have opportunities to learn and develop into areas which deeply interest them. When people feel like the organization cares and supports career development during good and bad times, they respond with more energy, loyalty, and focus. Re-evaluate the career development activities in your organization. No matter if it is a one-time program or an on-going process, it should be both unique to the individual and yet linked to the business objectives of the organization.


  • What new activities should be added and which ones should be dropped?
  • What are the emerging and declining skills in the organization over the next 12 – 24 months?
  • What process can be put into place to match both organizational needs and people needs with the goal to move towards greater joy and fulfillment at work?

Just discussing these new approaches will do wonders for morale.

I’ll be cheering you on as you go!

Craig Nathanson

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