How to Provide Professional Development Opportunities When Advancement is Limited

Employee Retention, Satisfaction & Professional Development Opportunities

When it comes to employee satisfaction and retention, many companies who work with People Element struggle with a lack of advancement opportunities. The reasons can differ based on the organization and the industry, but here are some of the common issues we’ve encountered:

  • Employees accept a position to get a foot in the door, and then are disappointed when they can’t move up as quickly as they’d like
  • Advancement opportunities aren’t well communicated within the organization
  • Certain job titles/positions simply don’t have a lot of upward movement available

We will address these three common barriers below, and provide best practices for each that can help you remove this barrier to employee satisfaction and retention.

Barrier #1: Employees accept a position to get a foot in the door, and then are disappointed when they can’t move up as quickly as they’d like.

What you can do about it:

  • Ask questions during the interview process about career aspirations, to gain an understanding of a prospective employee’s career goals and whether or not they’re realistic.
  • Set very clear expectations with all new employees regarding the average time it takes to advance. The average time to advance may be different based on the position, the time of year, and other factors, but giving an estimate is better than letting the employee set their own mental expectations with risk of being disappointed later.
  • Make sure supervisors are having regular conversations with employees about their career aspirations. Start these conversations very early and encourage supervisors to help employees grow and advance.

Barrier #2: Advancement opportunities aren’t well communicated within the organization

What you can do about it:

  • Does your organization have a job board or something similar where opportunities are posted? If so, you can never over-communicate something like this. Look for any chance you can take to let people know the process and location for finding job openings.
  • Sometimes, we’ve found that employees perceive unfairness in the process of finding and/or applying for internal job openings. If internal openings aren’t well-communicated, people may feel like they’re at an unfair disadvantage for upward mobility. And if employees don’t receive follow-up after they’ve applied for an opportunity, it can be frustrating. Create or review processes for following up with all internal applicants after an interview. Bonus points if the applicant’s manager can have a discussion with an employee who wasn’t chosen for a position to discuss what they can do to better their chances next time.

Barrier #3: Certain job titles/positions just don’t have a lot of upward movement

What you can do about it:

  • Be very clear during the hiring process what the career ladder (or lack thereof) looks like in the organization. It is much better to set realistic expectations upfront with a prospective employee than to disappoint a new hire.
  • Understand the difference between upward mobility opportunities (moving up the career ladder, usually associated with an increase in pay and/or title) and professional development opportunities (chances to learn new skills through things like cross-functional training, taking classes, online learning, job shadowing, etc.), as well as the positive impact that professional development can have on retention and engagement. Read the Harvard Business Review article called Don’t Underestimate the Power of Lateral Career Moves for Professional Growth for some compelling data on professional development.
  • Be sure that opportunities to develop new skills and train cross-functionally are provided and are well communicated, especially in areas where chances for upward mobility are few and far between.

Setting clear expectations, communicating advancement policies, procedures, and opportunities, and providing exciting and meaningful professional development opportunities are all ways to tackle the issue of a lack of career advancement within your organization. The strategy you create to make a positive impact depends on the specifics of your organization and your people, but if you’re striving for an innovative team that excels consistently, you’re going to have people who are hungry for development. Having opportunities and a strategy to help your team understand them well is always a plus when it comes to employee retention. People Element would love to help you create that strategy. For more information on how we can partner to achieve meaningful change in your organization, contact us today and start the conversation off right.

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