Career Growth

Giving your people the support they need to reach their career potentials.

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One of our favorite career growth quotes is from Nelson Mandela:

“There is no passion to be found in playing small — in settling for a life that is less than you are capable of living.”

So, building a culture of opportunity means helping employees think big — and creating opportunities for them to reach their individual human potential. Career growth happens when an employee’s identity and personal goals intersect with a supportive culture and tangible opportunities for growth.

What is career growth?

Career growth can mean different things to different people, including:

  • Receiving formal educational advancements or certifications.
  • Building specific new skills and the job satisfaction that comes with a sense of growing competence.
  • Feeling valued through the opportunity to coach and support others.
  • Earning a promotion and the accompanying financial rewards.

The best companies for career growth are paying attention to what the millennial generation values in employers. Research by PwC shows that 2 of the top 3 demands of millennials are about career growth opportunities for employees. The number 1 thing they look for in a potential employer is the opportunity for career progression. And the most important factor for millennials is a top-notch training and development program. Not surprising, competitive pay and incentives clocks in at number 2.

Failing to support employees’ desire to grow in their careers may be driving away your most talented people.

Why does career growth matter?

So, it’s clear what potential recruits are looking for. But despite the many opportunities that may exist in your organization, attracting and retaining talented employees requires that they actually perceive and experience a culture of opportunity. Thoughtful and inspirational communication in support of a culture of personal and professional growth will pay big dividends.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) cites several trends that point to the need for a culture of opportunity. It’s essential for human resources to provide paths and resources that can support personal career goals. But more importantly, employees will be more engaged when they see the organization cares about their success.

The reason career growth matters is the mindset that employees hold as they enter your workforce. With the breakdown of traditional labor arrangements and flatter organizations, employees often feel they are left to seek out their own career growth plan. With career development left to the individual, it becomes even more critical that employees perceive a range of options to get them to the next level.

According to Gallup, organizations that want to be among the best companies for career growth must embrace a “high-development culture.” The vast majority of millennials, for example, say that professional development is key. And the top reason they leave is a perceived lack of career growth opportunities.

How to communicate a culture of opportunity

At PartnerComm, we see 4 interlinked ways to create a passionate culture of opportunity that plays it big. Specifically, that vibrant culture of possibilities will value career goals and career growth plans as much as employees do. These overlapping pathways include:

  • Defining a culture of opportunity.
  • Building culture through communication.
  • Reinforcing culture through social experiences.
  • Equipping managers to reinforce your culture.

It’s critical to leverage all 4 channels to help employees perceive opportunities and feel supported in acting on them. This belief is formed based on the experiences employees have in the organization, starting from onboarding onward.

Defining a culture of opportunity

Never mind what your recruitment literature says. When an employee arrives for their first day on the job, what is their actual experience?

Gallup notes several elements that employers should cultivate. It starts with building a career-minded culture employees experience from day 1. Make sure you’re able to answer these key questions:

  • What is your culture and onboarding experience?
  • After onboarding, what career growth resources do employees see and experience?
  • What do they hear from others or read on Glassdoor?
  • Are employees getting the message that your organization cares about their personal and career growth?
  • Are managers rewarded when they support learning and growth across the organization?

Focus groups and brainstorming sessions are a great starting point for defining what employees value the most. It may not be what you think, and it will vary across employee groups.

An employer with a career growth culture doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s critical to offer — and to communicate — a variety of pathways for learning. Think about how these three types of opportunities will show up in your culture:

  • Formal — Certifications, college degrees, tuition reimbursement.
  • Short-term — Conferences, workshops, virtual training, access to learning management systems.
  • Experiential — Mentoring, job shadowing, job rotation programs.

The ecosystem of training and development opportunities must be built with diversity, equity and inclusion in mind. Not everyone has the same kind of goals and needs. Making sure multiple avenues are visible is key to showing all employees their values and needs matter.

Building culture through communication

Employers can build a culture of opportunity starting with a Total Rewards brand and a strong employer value proposition, or EVP. Use your EVP to establish career growth and development as equal with compensation and benefits. The brand can’t just look and sound great. It has to reflect the lived experience at your organization. Key tools to consider:

  • An engaging and impactful onboarding experience, including a focus on culture and opportunity, not just nuts and bolts.
  • A well-designed Total Rewards portal that puts resources at employees’ fingertips, including mobile-first design.
  • A multimedia campaign — including digital signage, videos, podcasts, special events and branded giveaways — that showcases career growth and development as core values.
  • Regular outreach to employees with tangible support, such as training programs, tuition reimbursement, certification programs and more.

Reinforcing culture through social experiences

Campaigns and branded portals are an excellent foundation. But smart organizations also pay attention to the everyday experiences of employees on the ground.

People, particularly millennials, want to feel part of something larger than themselves — not just what they personally can get out of life, but how everyone benefits. Building a culture that inspires may be less tangible than touting specific tools like tuition reimbursement, but is just as important. Try these tips for making employees feel valued and supported.

  • Seek out ways to make the fruits of your reward and recognition programs visible to a broad spectrum of employees.
  • Paint a picture of success by showing regularly how success is recognized and rewarded.
  • Think creatively about how this picture is communicated. Are you leveraging social platforms (virtual or in-person) to create a culture that values achievement?
  • Do you publicly recognize all forms of achievement, such as success with a community non-profit project? Or just formal ones, like when people earn professional credentials? Looking at recognition with a diversity and inclusion lens opens new avenues for reinforcing a culture of opportunity.
  • Create ways to surprise and delight with giveaways, fun awards, employee appreciation events and more.
  • Ask employees who have had positive experiences to post about it on social platforms, including Glassdoor.

Equipping managers to reinforce your culture

Finally, don’t forget about training and development for your people managers. Another dimension of career growth cited by Gallup is making sure managers know how to develop their teams. Remember, to create and sustain an opportunity culture, managers have to actually demonstrate they care about employee achievement. Tools for supporting managers may include:

  • Manager toolkits on how to support employee development.
  • Training videos on company programs and resources for formal and informal training.
  • Focus groups with managers to assess how well their departments are creating opportunities.
  • Social sharing platforms to collect great ideas from fellow managers.

A career growth communication example

PartnerComm recently worked with a leading infrastructure solutions firm to create an employee website focusing on building a culture of opportunity. Key topics include:

  • Diversity and inclusion.
  • Recruiting and hiring.
  • Onboarding and transitioning.
  • Celebrating and engaging.
  • Leading and building trust.

While the site is geared toward a manager audience, all employees have access to this culture-building content and online experience. The company reports this critical communication channel has helped to put career growth and opportunity front and center throughout all levels of the organization.

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