Maximize Your Workforce’s Potential with Career Development Tools

By Megan Headley

Looking to get the most out of your employees in the New Year? Then it might be time to take a fresh look at the career development resources you’re providing. Giving your employees the resources they need to grow professionally — even if that growth takes prepares them for opportunities outside of your organization — can provide a number of big benefits to your organization.

But first, know that if you’re not focusing on career development now, you’re not alone. Sixty-five percent of employees feel their organizations rarely or never provide career planning or development to help prepare them in their roles, according to a survey by talent mobility consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison. Lee Hecht Harrison surveyed 379 workers throughout the U.S. via an online poll asking: “Has your organization used career planning and development to prepare employees for roles?” The results were as follows:

  • Nearly always – 6%
  • Frequently - 10%
  • Sometimes - 19%
  • Rarely – 35%
  • Never – 30%

That means that taking the time to offer your workforce career training resources can give you a competitive edge in more ways than one.

“Pressures are mounting for a hyper-efficient workforce made up of just-in-time employees who are skilled and ready to take on roles and responsibilities quickly. But, with just 16 percent of employees reporting they receive career planning and development support, many employees will struggle to succeed if they lack resources to build the skills needed to perform optimally,” says Kristen Leverone, senior vice president, global talent development practice leader for Lee Hecht Harrison.

According to Elise Freedman, a senior consultant in Towers Watson’s Talent and Rewards business, there are benefits both to holding out for skilled new hires as well as providing on-the-job training. “Rather than looking for skilled new hires versus training the hires that best fit their corporate culture, a company shouldn’t be relying on just one or the other — but really doing some amount of both,” she says. “Companies need to clearly identify the skills that are critical for a position and the behaviors and values that drive success at the organization.” Freedman offers an example: “In certain entry level positions the skills might be more trainable, so the cultural fit may be more critical — but that decision will be position-specific. They key is having organizational clarity on what elements are most critical for employees to join with and what can be developed over time.”

Leverone reports that organizations that mobilize their workforce — effectively understanding, developing and deploying talent in response to business needs — are 12-percent more likely to report revenue growth above target levels. “When companies lack insight into talent needs and fail to provide development opportunities they face significant challenges as they strive to remain competitive and grow.”

Investments Can Pay Off

Sharlyn Lauby, founder of the blog and president of the ITM Group, offers a startling suggestion: helping with the career development for potential hires.

In a recent webinar, “5 Recruitment Trends Every HR Pro Should Know for 2014,” hosted by and iCIMS, Lauby talked about the creation of talent communities as a trend in the year ahead. The creation of talent communities — think a LinkedIn group based on a shared skill or industry — can create long-term channels for future job opportunities. This can be particularly helpful, Lauby says, “If you have a particular skill that you want to create a community around, especially when it comes to technology and software.” These communities allow for conversations among members and can help in building relationships with potential candidates.

Lauby says that this can mean helping candidates find a job or information about career development even if they’re not being hired by your firm — yet. She related one instance of having to hire a second choice, only to be contacted a few weeks later by the first choice candidate when that individual’s job choice proved to be a poor fit. Investing in developing that person, and building that relationship, led to a strong hire.

As Lauby elaborates, when you create an opportunity to network, opportunities will come up when you can take that perfect candidate with whom you’ve been building a relationship and finally say “we have an opportunity for you.”

And, as Lauby points out, “Smart companies are out there always looking for talent.” She notes that she has found the most success in hiring when she was always recruiting, even when there wasn’t an immediate opening.

Concerned that training your current employees will give them the tools they need to pursue other opportunities? It’s worth it to run the risk, Freedman says.

“Towers Watson research has shown for a number of years that one of the top reasons employees leave an organization is due to lack of career opportunities/development,” Freedman says. She continues, “Where you invest and how you invest, however, requires a segmentation approach and a workforce planning strategy so that the organization knows which roles and skills are critical. All of this knowledge combined helps an organization make good business decisions on investing in career development and learning and development at the right time and the right way for the right roles.”

How to Grow Talent

So what are some ways in which your company can grow the talent of current employees or ensure that your next batch of hires meet your skill requirements?

Ideally, companies should focus on both job-specific and general training. “There are certain jobs where technical training is critical for an employee’s success. There are other positions where much of the technical training is best done on the job with supplemental coaching and materials, and then broader training can add more value to the organization in general; examples include manager and leadership training. Having clarity on what drives success in the organization and the specific role requirements will enable organization to develop a cost-effective learning and development strategy that will drive success,” Freedman says.

In addition, Leverone suggests that organizations take the LHH Talent Mobility Diagnostic to gain insight into their current talent management practices. “Our diagnostic is designed to help organizations identify gaps and benchmark against current best practices to help guide their talent strategy. It’s critical for organizations to develop a workforce that is prepared and ready to meet evolving needs. Career planning and development plays a key role in ensuring an organization can fill talent requirements and hit financial targets.”

Finally, Freedman points out that investing in capable managers (and their training) can help ensure that your organization is creating a culture in which continuing education is a priority.

“Organizations need to maximize engagement and discretionary effort of employees in order to maximize organization performance and business results. Career development and strong managers are critical components of the equation,” Freedman says.

About the Author

Megan Headley is a freelance writer based in Fredericksburg, Va. She can be reached at