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In the constantly evolving, uncertain world in which we work, individuals are looking for a sense of direction in their careers and an understanding of what a successful career is to them. Career development is the link between an individual’s sense of direction and motivation, and the organisation’s talent management strategy.

What is Career Development?

Career development is a proactive process for identifying an individual’s intrinsic and extrinsic career goals and implementing actions to achieve these in line with the organisation’s goals and objectives. It assists employees to build a sustainable, future-proof and adaptable approach to the management of their careers.

Those individuals around us who appear to have the most ‘success’ are not there by chance. Their journey, while not always planned, is the culmination of a series of conscious and deliberate career development actions that have led them toward their preferred career direction.

The best organisations partner with their employees to make this happen.

Unfortunately, most organisations are not clear on how to execute career development activities. As a result, many career development practices are haphazard, sporadic or focussed more on individual performance and learning than on career development. Alternatively, organisations design their career development as a ‘one size fits all’ approach, which is also suboptimal.


Those individuals around us who appear to have the most ‘success’ are not there by chance.


What are Career Development activities?

As most HR professionals and leaders are now aware, money is not the primary motivator when it comes to employees wanting to stay in their role. Instead, it is intrinsic factors such as a sense of meaning and purpose, contribution, achievement, connectedness, and wellbeing that really motivates employees. Effective career development practices foster these intrinsic factors. As individuals in the workplace develop personally and connect the activities in their roles to their broader career and life goals, the organisation as a whole benefits.  A team member who is engaged in personal development activities is also more likely to have increased motivation, morale, and effectiveness. Get your career development eBook now!

Career development activities include:

Career Conversations

A career conversation is a meaningful discussion between an employee and another party - most often a manager - about aspects of the individual’s career. A career conversation, when understood and conducted properly by both parties, allows the employee a chance to ensure their career goals and ambitions align with the organisation’s objectives and vice versa. For the employee, the career conversation should answer their most pressing career questions and prompt strategic thinking about their individual career journey.


Mentoring is based on the experiences of the mentor and focuses on the development of the mentee as a whole person. Mentoring does not require any specialised training, although providing guidelines are helpful, and can be undertaken by anyone senior (or junior, in some cases) to the mentee. The mentoring relationship often addresses career questions and can be particularly beneficial in helping mentees to navigate the politics of an organisation and working out how to best progress their careers inside their organisation. Many organisations are recognising the value of mentoring and are implementing formal internal mentoring programs that deliver positive outcomes for employees and the organisation by providing structured training for mentors around their role.

Career Coaching

Career coaching is designed to enable employees to identify their preferred career direction and equip them with the career skills to achieve this within their organisation. Career coaching is beneficial to both the coachee and their organisation. Career coaching allows employees the time and guidance to work on goals and improvements relevant to their work, giving them increased confidence in their roles and their own ability.


Secondments involve the temporary transfer of an employee to another role or department within the same organisation, to a project team for the duration of a project, or to a completely different organisation. Secondments are often a win-win for the employee and the business as they provide additional opportunities for employee career advancement as well as increasing the number of individuals with wider expertise in the business and saving on recruitment costs for short-term projects or where there is a temporary capability gap.

Career Development Workshops

Workshops are a cost effective and efficient strategy that allow organisations to educate and communicate career development practices to a number of employees at one time. Workshops can encourage participants to think about their future career direction, their strengths and areas for improvement, and how they can use these to achieve career success. These workshops can also provide skills development in areas such as personal branding, networking, writing resumes, interviewing and job search strategy.

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Human Resources teams are implementing a wide variety of impressive and interesting initiatives to attract, engage, develop and retain talented workforces. As well as the above, initiatives, these include the development of sophisticated workforce plans, the implementation of mature talent management strategies, and the completion of analysis to gain a strong grip on the critical roles and capability profiles of organisations’ workforces.

In our work, we have found that strategic Human Resources functions are also grappling with the question of how to continuously improve their approach to talent management and remain employers of choice in their changing markets.

How do you improve your organisation’s Career Development practices?

Get your managers on board to coach employees

In the past, a large part of a manager’s role was to pass on knowledge, skills, and insights through coaching and/or mentoring. However, in today’s world of global organisations, flat organisational structures and competitive workplaces, managers are also relied upon to engage, motivate and provide guidance around the career and personal development opportunities available to their employees. Supporting and developing managers in their roles as career coaches is important for ensuring a consistent and effective approach to the engagement and development of your workforce.

Encourage your employees to invest in their own career development

It is important to emphasise that one-size-fits-all learning programs no longer work in today’s organisations. Career development activities will only succeed when individuals own, self-direct, and control their development opportunities. This must be coupled with a career development framework that supports employees in achieving their goals and the objectives and goals of the organisation. The development and growth of your employees is crucial to your ongoing success and productivity

Understanding what a ‘career’ means to each generation

With five generations actively in the workforce, organisations have the broad-ranging and difficult task of understanding the expectations these different generations have of their careers and what they want out of them. When organisations can meet these expectations, they set themselves up to remain employers of choice into the future.

Provide relevant career development opportunities

Formal career development programs such as career coaching, mentoring and career development workshops can ensure that employees see the alignment between their work and their career goals. This can increase buy in from the employee and demonstrate the ‘what’s in it for me’ value of their efforts on behalf of the organisation.

Continue to reinvent development solutions

Employees need to consider how they will remain relevant, competitive and ultimately marketable in their careers in this changing and digital world. Career development programs can help them to realise this and become more adaptable in their roles and careers.

Don’t neglect your virtual teams

With the growth in globalisation and virtual teams comes the need for creative and flexible thinking around how formal and informal development opportunities are delivered. Just because employees are out of sight doesn’t mean they should be out of mind when it comes to career development.

Top down approach

It’s the adage of “lead by example”. If managers want employees to engage in career development activities, then they must demonstrate that they are actively engaged in their own personal career development process.

In what situations should Career Development be used?

Career development programs that encourage insight into oneself, and allow for the exploration of future possibilities, provide clarity for individuals at many points throughout their careers.

Regardless of an individual's age, gender, role or industry, career development programs can reduce the difficulty employees face moving through different career stages. In the process, the organisation is likely to benefit from increased attraction, retention and motivation of staff in the long term.

The common theme which has emerged over the 24+ years we have been delivering career services is that people need the most help at eight critical transition points in their career.

It is at these junctures that people benefit most from career coaching.


Career Plateau


Lack of career direction


Stepping up the leadership ladder


Making a career decision


Getting back into the workforce after a career break


Transitioning out of the workforce


Transitioning from education to the workforce


Forced career change

How do effective career development practices benefit individuals?


Clarity about their future career direction

Career development programs assist individuals to identify preferred directions and set concrete actions to move forward in their careers. Career development initiatives also arm employees with an enhanced self-awareness including strengths and areas for development and how these can be leveraged to achieve career success.


Increased job satisfaction levels

Through continued investment from the business, employees can have a much stronger sense of job satisfaction, which can improve their motivation within their role. This reduces employee turnover and increases productivity, which directly improves profitability. It also prevents competitors from taking away your best employees.


Provides a reality check

Career development programs increase employee awareness of the roadblocks and challenges to achieving career success and allows individuals to explore opportunities to overcome these. Career development practices generally provide employees with enhanced self-management in daily work and challenging situations.


Provide internal promotion opportunities 

Employing new staff involves high recruitment costs and significant time for on-boarding and training. However, with ongoing training, your existing staff can become more eligible for internal promotions. Unlike new staff, you can guarantee they have a complete knowledge of your business, the correct skill set and are people that you know and trust.


As the world of work continues to morph and change, and with the war for talent continuing, organisational career development programs must be a key part of any talent people development strategy.


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How do effective career development practices benefit organisations?


Aid your retention strategy

Your employees want to feel like they’re appreciated and making a difference, whilst also needing to feel like they have clarity over their future and a clear path ahead. If your team members don’t feel challenged, or they sense stagnation in their careers, they'll look for advancement opportunities elsewhere.


Increase engagement

Helping your employees to see the connection between their roles, and their career and life goals can increase engagement, motivation and discretionary effort. Employees want to know that their efforts are worthwhile and that they will lead to a desirable future career.


Support succession planning

Career development programs help clarify the goals and ambitions of your high potential employees. In this regard, targeted career development can assist you ensure your best and brightest are ready and willing to take that next step. Additionally, promoting from within often has many more benefits than hiring externally.


Support performance development conversations

 Employees are more motivated to pursue performance goals that are aligned to their own interests and career preferences. Training your managers to have meaningful career conversations as part of your performance development process will result in more engaged employees who willing to invest discretionary effort on behalf of the organisation.


Become an employer of choice

When you offer career development opportunities, you’re building a positive reputation as an employer that cares about its workforce and strives to employ only the best. Your customers and clients will benefit, too, from the high level of efficient service they receive.


Career development programs, as with employee development programs, must be tailored to individual needs and stages of careers.


What career development practices should you implement into your organisation?

Contemporary approaches to career development assume a degree of shared responsibility for careers between organisations and employees. Despite this, there are still differences between organisations in terms of how much ownership they assume and the degree of support they provide to employees.

Clarifying your organisation’s perspective on careers is critical, as it determines which practices and policies are put into place. If your organisation’s perspective is genuinely that people matter, then the career development initiatives will likely reflect this view.

There is no one off-the-shelf product for career development. It depends on the organisation’s strategic direction, perspective on careers, values base, and maturity of talent management practices, as well as the individual’s own needs.

The importance of tailored career development programs

Career development programs, as with employee development programs, must be tailored to individual needs and stages of career. Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues’ research on careers found that people have different conceptions of work:

Some saw work as a job, as a means to an end and were comfortable putting in a hard day’s work then going home.

Others, saw work as a career, held a deep personal investment in their work and derived a sense of achievement both objectively (through material rewards, promotion) as well as subjectively (through a sense of esteem and meaning).

The third category are those who see work as a calling whereby work and life are inseparable. Work is done solely for the fulfilment it brings to the person, not for other rewards.

This research highlights why career development practices must be tailored and specific to an individual.

For larger scale career development initiatives, they must be sufficiently nuanced to appeal to those from all three perspectives. They should be flexible so that employees can choose the degree to which they want to be involved in career development, while still meeting the minimum growth and development that the organisation requires from its staff to remain nimble and adaptable to the changing market conditions.

Get your career development eBook now!


In the uncertain world in which we now work, individuals are looking for a sense of direction in their career and an understanding of what a successful career is to them. This is an important part of employee engagement.  

Career development programs must help employees build a sustainable, future-proof and adaptable approach to the management of their careers.  

Career development is the link between an individual’s drive and motivation and the organisation’s talent management strategy. An engaged workforce with a pipeline of talented leaders requires a career development strategy.