Career planning

Feedback from my team suggests that there are concerns about training and career progression. I realise this is important if we...

Feedback from my team suggests that there are concerns about training and career progression. I realise this is important if we are to hold on to valuable IT staff, so can you give me some practical pointers on how to implement a meaningful career progression strategy programme for my team?

Structure staff rewards

David Taylor


Find out what people really want. Use annual appraisals to do this, rather than wasting time on meaningless tick-boxes. People do want to "progress", but this means different things to different people: some want more responsibility, others new skills, others may want new projects - find out. However, there is one common factor that runs across all human beings: we all want to be valued by other people. So make sure that your career structures and opportunities provide that value. Also, implement a mentoring programme.

Train to meet business needs

Jon Eary

Senior consultant, The NCC Group

No staff member should expect an employer to provide them with a lifetime career, but they will expect opportunities to progress their career over the next few years. Employability is the key. If staff believe they are able to enhance their career prospects by staying with your organisation then they are less likely to leave.

Training should be seen as an investment. There are returns on this investment, notably skills acquisition and development of staff for future roles. A strategic view of training is needed. The first thing to do is prepare a skills continuity plan. Ask what skills the business will need in the near future. Can these skills be obtained by training current staff? What job roles will be needed in the future, and can current staff be developed into these roles?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then you have opportunities to offer career progression to your staff. Communicate these opportunities and talk to your staff to make sure they match their own aspirations.

On a practical level you should:

  • Set well-defined and achievable skills-development objectives for the employee

  • Identify appropriate, planned training (on or off the job) to assist staff in achieving their objectives

  • Hold regular assessments of the objectives achieved and the training completed by employees in order to plan their progression towards the next objectives or grade.

    Bear in mind that progression can be sideways as well as up. Good technical people are not necessarily good managers. Consider creating a structure that recognises technical skills, creating new roles as an alternative to management positions.

    Involve staff in progress plan

    Rob Lambert

    Senior lecturer in information systems, Cranfield School of Management

    Any meaningful strategy is delivered by your business processes and must be owned by your staff. So, for you to have a credible career progression strategy, you need to review your own processes. Typically, organisations have islands of unco-ordinated activity, such as training and strategic planning. Your employee development processes should co-ordinate the key activities within career progression, such as:

  • Strategic planning to identify future resources and skills

  • Appraisal procedures to review staff performance and aspirations

  • Development of succession plans

  • Training and development linked to real needs and aspirations

  • Skill development on the job, with coaching and counselling

  • Planned and co-ordinated recruitment and succession activities

  • Meaningful reviews of performance.

    One way to convince your staff is to get them involved in developing your employee development process and deciding the best ways to co-ordinate and undertake the above activities. Only by getting your staff involved in clarifying the issues and designing the solution will you get an outcome that is meaningful to them.

    Set objectives within a framework

    Paul Williams

    Arthur Andersen

    Each person needs a clear understanding of the benefits of progression ("what's in it for me?"), the timelines for progression and what they must do to get there. Setting objectives that stretch the individual and meet corporate objectives is vital, as is making objectives specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely (Smart), because then you can measure progress against them at regular review meetings. You can also use them to form the basis for a personal development plan, including personal learning, training courses (including "soft" skills), computer-based training and ensuring individuals get the on-the-job experience they need.

    It is important to ensure that any initiative you embark upon fits within the corporate framework. It is also important to set your team's expectations, as it is likely that you won't be able to afford (and may not want) to meet all of their training needs, which again could be de-motivating unless set in context from the outset.

    Remember that career progression is not just about promotion. It is equally about being given new challenges and new responsibilities and the opportunity to increase knowledge and experience.

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