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Career Growth - Skills or Hierarchy?

"This organization provides me with the opportunity for growth and development." It sounds pretty standard, right? It's often a key driver of Engagement; many people want to work in a company that will allow them to grow professionally. But what does that look like? When people are thinking about growth, what do they have in mind?

When taking action on this item it's important to understand what that means to people. Some want to climb the corporate ladder, and do so quickly. Others are happy to be individual contributors their entire career, so long as their skill set continues to develop throughout their tenure at the organization. A key part of managing your team members' growth and development expectations is not only to understand their goals, but to help them understand what is possible within their organization as well. When someone comes into a small company, hierarchical growth and development possibilities may be limited. If someone comes into an organization already a subject matter expert, they may need to attend other workshops and conferences in order to continue to push their skill set. All of those are good opportunities for growth, but expectations should be set so employees know the opportunities available to them.

For me, I never want to stop learning. Whether that is learning how to increase my current skill set technically or as a leader, as long as I am challenged and learning, I am excited about the ability to grow personally and professionally.

What about you? What growth means the most to you? How do you handle conversations with your team members about the type of growth opportunities that interest them and are available to them?


  • In general, when employees leave my organization, I want them to have a better resume than when they started. As much as possible, I try to create development paths within the organization so that I can retain a homegrown team of experts with institutional knowledge, but that's not always possible. Still, I feel that I have a responsibility to people to give them experiences that accelerate them beyond where they were when they started. Sometimes that's new roles that they grow into, sometimes it's training and education, and sometimes it's just exposure to a project or task that they had not had previously.

    I used to work at a big research institution, and one thing they told employees is that we would not move up in their organizations unless we knew how to manage people or projects. I think that was a good policy, and it seemed fair. Many employees came in as technical experts already, and there wasn't a lot of technical development they could pursue. The company wasn't going to pay people more for the same technical skills they had when they were hired. But they would pay you more if you could create something bigger than yourself through the management of a team or project. To that end, they had an in-house management training program, and they sent all their high performers to it. So there was two parts: they told employees what development was needed for the company, and then they provided an environment for those employees to have that development.

    Personally, my concept of growth has changed over my career. Early on, it was about learning as much as I could, applying it at work, and moving up as quickly as I could so that I got new experiences and responsibilities. Growth was very tangible, measured in promotions, job offers, degrees, trainings completed, etc. Now that I am further in my career, my own growth is a more nuanced experience. I change roles and companies at a slower rate, and I am considered an expert in many of the skills related to my field. However, that does not mean I am done growing, and I think talent optimization is a great lens for bringing attention to my ongoing growth. My growth continues to be in areas of soft skills, and my performance is not measured so much in my own skills as it is in how much I help others to grow or facilitate high performance at my company.

  • But what does that look like? When people are thinking about growth, what do they have in mind?

    I think that's a personal thing that will vary wildly based on an employee's current level, industry, personal aspirations, and outside influences. Tech has only recently acknowledged that people get into tech because they love it, and they stay doing tech for that reason.

    "Opportunities for growth" can also vary wildly from paid training, to giving work that challenges a person to stretch. That can involve mentorship, more opportunities to interface with different areas of the business, and/or ownership of projects. It can even be as simple as giving someone permission to try something different with clear permission to fail.

  • I agree with @Sharon that growth and development means something different to each person. I think this is where the Talent Optimization process comes into play in designing the right development, learning and advancement framework for the organization.  Working within that framework, individual approaches can then be tailored to aspirations and interests of each unique individual. PI Behavioral Assessment data combined with 1:1 conversations with leaders with about career and learning goals will be creating a personalized plan to help each employee reach their personal and professional goals.

    I used to work at an organization that used a "one size fits all" approach in standard trainings, but then applied a tailored approach to work experiences and on-the-job learning. Upon reaching a certain level within the firm, everyone in a certain department would get the same standard training. Then in their work, we tried to give them diverse experiences (for example, the ability to work a variety of clients, industries, sizes and needs). Their leaders would then discuss with them where they wanted to focus or further expand their knowledge through work experiences. This wasn’t necessarily a perfect system (as client needs often necessitated staffing people according to our business demands versus their personal goals), but employees seemed to appreciate ability to learn through diverse work experiences and being able to discuss and influence their areas of focus or continuing growth.

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