Dear Weasel, What do you have against career growth?

The inevitable follow up to my last post is a discussion on career growth, and how to manage it effectively. For the record, I am not against career growth – in fact I think it’s one of the most important parts of my job. What I’m against, is employees making decisions based on growing their career over decisions based on making our customers lives better.

I’ve built “career guides” before to give employees examples of what growth looked like. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing, but I don’t think so any longer. If an employee leaves your org / company because they didn’t feel like they had enough opportunity to grow, the problem is NOT a missing checklist of example tasks or competencies.

It’s a management problem.

Every manager must be deliberate and passionate about understanding what their team members are good at, and where they need to improve. Managers need to provide challenging opportunities for their employees, and provide a balance of tasks that stretch their employees and make them learn; and opportunities in their “wheelhouse” where they can excel and lead by example.

Managers who don’t do this should not be managers.

This is a point worth more discussion. Many people move into management, as a growth opportunity (or more directly, they view it as a promotion). They may like the perceived importance of more meetings and visibility, but that’s absolutely the wrong reason to be a manager. Of course, decision making, communication, etc. are important for managers, but the most important thing has to be managing the careers of your employees. If a manager is not vested in challenging and growing their teams, they are 1) not challenging themselves, and 2) managing a team that is not learning or growing. In my experience, this is a horrible way to manage a team.

So what does this have to do with career guides / ladder levels / whatever your company calls the checklist they use to describe career growth?

What I’ve seen (granted in one company directly), is that employees use the guides as a checklist. They look at the bullet point examples for the growth level above their own and write a sentence about every single one, and then go their manager and ask why they aren’t being promoted. The guide drives their work.

I much prefer a model where it’s the managers responsibility to make sure employees have a growth plan, and transparently and frequently communicate with them on types of tasks and challenges that are appropriate to their growth – but focus on the work that makes the business and the customers successful rather than on words on a page in some internal HR documentation. Create career development plans – write them down if you need to, but focus on improving the business, and assign tasks and responsibilities that stretch and grow your employees towards that goal.

I do see how transparency on career growth communication can help a company – and even why some companies may need it; but I think there’s a huge trap to fall in when going down this path that most companies do not consider. Do what you must, but, as with most initiatives, be very careful of driving wrong and damaging behavior.

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