Lack of career opportunities and internal mobility are often cited as top reasons employees leave a company. Employees typically ask, “Is career development something my leader should be helping me with?” The answer reveals a gap in expectations between the role of HR, the manager, and the employee in career development.

Setting expectations

Often the employee has an expectation that their leader and company will deliver career growth for them instead of viewing it as something they can drive and influence. Employees should view career growth as a self-driven path, similar to achieving their education and financial goals. While leaders and HR play a role in establishing the framework and processes for career pathing and learning opportunities within the organization, employees should feel empowered to take control of their own career.

People assume leaders are skilled at having conversations surrounding career development, but often the employee is putting their career in the hands of someone who may not be able to help or even know how. Leaders who may lack these skills will appreciate when the employee takes the lead and drives the conversation surrounding their growth.

“People assume leaders are skilled at having conversations surrounding career development, but often the employee is putting their career in the hands of someone who may not be able to help or even know how.”

Employees who assume leaders know what they want and are going to be their career guide or advocate because they had a brief conversation a while ago may set themselves up for frustration.

HR’s role

HR can work with managers to identify the organizational needs and create career paths and internal promotion processes. HR partners can provide further clarity on roles and expectations to employees wanting to make a move, while the Learning and Development team can focus on providing the necessary learning opportunities, competency-based skills training, and development workshops.

When recruiters are asked about career growth opportunities, they can set the expectations for self-driven career advancement at the time of onboarding to help bridge the gap. Employees should know career discussions start in the interview process. They can start by asking, “How will you support my career aspirations?” And in sharing these aspirations, they can understand what the leader will do to support them, setting expectations at the beginning.

HR can also help develop leaders to know their No.1 job is to develop talent. From an HR perspective, the question is, how you embed HR strategy for leaders so they know this competency and understand how much talent a leader can build for the organization. 

While HR sets the framework and culture for building organizational talent, the role of a leader is to champion this mindset every day.

A Self-Driven Approach

In this self-driven environment, during the onboarding process, the employee can work with their leader to establish a regular one-on-one cadence where career aspirations and goals are discussed frequently. Once an employee masters their role and its expectations and has a proven performance record, they can use their time with their leader to discuss new opportunities that will add value to the organization – “I have a proven performance record and a decent mastery of the role. How else can I add value? How should I think about growing my skillset so that as opportunities come up, I’m ready for them?” For employees, it’s about having discussions with leaders around skills not jobs – and knowing the skills they need to acquire that are mutually beneficial for the company.

Employees can also understand what company initiatives are going on so they can express to their leader where they are aligned from a skills perspective – aiming to align personal interests with where they can be helpful to accelerate business performance. This may mean getting on special projects to gain valuable preparation experience for the next role. HR leaders can work together with business leaders on defining stretch opportunities for talent across the organization and understanding the gaps or opportunities in building organizational talent. Different stretch assignments or experiences are what give someone the needed skills to advance, not necessarily a job or title. 

Networking is also a way for an employee to advance by developing advocates across the organization. It is often leaders who are not the direct boss who will advocate for other employees. HR partners can help employees know what company programs offer a means to connect people across the organization (ERGs, change management networks, opportunities with leaders, etc.).

Depending on a company’s approach to internal mobility, an employee may have to rely on a programmatic approach to network in the organization to make these meaningful connections. They can also leverage more formal channels like job boards. HR partners can encourage employees to apply for internal roles, even if they’re not a perfect match. An interest interview brings opportunities to learn about internal mobility structure and can serve as a means to develop advocates to support career ambitions within the business.

HR, leaders, and employees all have a role in working together to create a great experience and work together in harmony to deliver personalized career development. Closing this gap in expectations can go a long way in helping employees get the career they want.