How to Improve Career Development in an Organization: 9 Steps + Real Examples
People's success drives organizational success.
Most companies understand this fundamental truth. In fact, according to LinkedIn's latest Workplace Learning Report, 83% of organizations want to create a people-centric culture. And 81% of L&D departments are helping make that a reality.
While employee development has always been a priority, we're navigating the future of work amidst economic uncertainties, skill shortages, and global tension.
"Forward-thinking organizations need to create environments that embrace and unlock the potential of the whole employee." Linda Jingfang Cai, Global Head of Learning and Talent Development, LinkedIn.
So if you ask us how to improve career development in an organization, the answer is simple: constant learning in a people-first workplace.
‼️ The vital role of career development for your organization
Your employees crave career progress.
In fact, the primary motivation to learn is to make progress toward career goals.
"Career development is fundamental to our employee value proposition, and learning is a key business metric." Rajnish Borah, Global Head of Organization Effectiveness & Learning, WNS Global Services, quoted in LinkedIn's Workplace Learning Report 2023.
A lack of career development opportunities can have drastic results.
93% of organizations are worried about employee retention. Because people who aren't learning will leave.
Career growth, skill development, and the opportunity to do meaningful work are most important when employees are considering a new job.
And this holds to a higher degree for younger workers.
18-34 year old employees rank career growth opportunities, skill building, and learning avenues ahead of the coveted work-life balance.
Organizations naturally benefit from an upskilled, resilient and engaged workforce. Whether that's being able to fill roles internally and saving on onboarding costs or reaching business goals faster with specialized training, career development is vital.
🔍 For more information, check out these 23 employee development statistics.
🌱 How to improve career development in your organization in 9 steps
#1. Assess employee and organizational needs
The first step is to evaluate current skillset(s), aspirations, and potential career paths and identify the gaps so you can chalk out a training plan.
You can evaluate training needs using the Training Needs Assessment (TNA) approach. This assessment process helps uncover knowledge gaps, allocate resources effectively, and empower leaders to make strategic business decisions.
Some tools and techniques you can use to comprehend competencies and future career aspirations include surveys, one-on-one discussions, and annual performance evaluations.
➡️ Want to get started right away? Download our free Training Needs Assessment survey and check out this mid-year performance review template.
#2. Set development goals that align with organizational objectives
Career progression requires some serious goal-setting.
Use 1:1 meetings, 360 reviews, and peer feedback to understand employee potential. Then, align those aspirations with organizational goals.
Let's say you have an employee who wants to transition into a different role.
Does the business benefit from hiring internally?
Considering that employees who make an internal move are more likely to stay with the company, it's an easy yes.
Here, the career goal - internal move - and the organizational goal - increase retention and save on new hiring onboarding - are in complete alignment.
Recent data, however, is disappointing.
For example, only 14% of employees surveyed by LinkedIn said that their organization encouraged them to build a new career development plan.
💪 If you need some pointers, check out our guide on how you can help employees set development goals.
🏋 Alternatively, Zavvy AI can do the heavy lifting for you and your people.
#3. Enable cross-functional experiences (+crosstraining)
Encourage employees to experience different roles and teams within the company through job rotations, shadowing, or cross-functional projects.
These experiences help them gain exposure and inspire lateral thinking. Plus, employees considering leadership positions in the future benefit immensely by having their boots on the ground.
💡 Learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of cross-training employees.
How Drift runs chat duty is a fine example of a cross-functional experience. A company-wide schedule ensures everyone gets their turn to answer support questions. Plus, this approach gives people the opportunity to understand the customers they're building the product for or marketing to online.
"I think it's critical for everyone, regardless of role, to get exposure to our customers. I am answering real customer questions, and engaging with them in a very conversational way. It's actually really fun!" Kari Howe, former Director of Organizational Development at Drift.
#4. Make social learning routine
The top-down approach to learning can't keep up with the pace at which employees need to evolve to keep doing their job. So instead of taking a top-down route, encourage learning through collaboration.
The 70-20-10 framework suggests that 20% of learning happens through direct feedback, observation, and working with colleagues.
Plus, millennials appreciate non-traditional learning modes since attention spans have become shorter. Social learning makes it easier to focus and retain new information. And it can take place through Lunch and Learn initiatives, regularly scheduled chats with a buddy, or nominating someone to host in-house workshops.
🏋️♂️ Learn how Zavvy helped Freeletics create a social learning routine for their leaders.
#5. Offer mentorship and coaching opportunities
Coaches and mentors can help employees learn new skills and absorb real-life experiences in a way that online courses and workshops cannot.
Mastercard has a successful mentorship program powered by its talent marketplace. Mentor pairings are generated based on ambitions and capabilities.
Mastercard takes it a step further with its reverse mentoring program, where junior employees are matched with senior colleagues to have a healthy exchange of information.
Conversely, coaching involves hiring external consultants to teach specific skills and offer professional guidance. For example, coaches can teach employees proven problem-solving techniques like mind mapping or productivity skills like time management.
💡 Want more examples of what coaching can look like in the workplace? Then, check out our extensive guide on the benefits of coaching.
#6. Motivate employees with recognition and rewards
Recognition and rewards as an incentive to learn make perfect sense. As it is, 53% of employees want more recognition. And rewards - financial or other perks - are a great motivator too.
At Rock Content, employees who spend the most time learning essential skills get recognized monthly at all-company meetings and receive financial rewards.
"Since we started, we have seen many employees double the time they spend learning each week. At first, we worried that employees would spend too much time learning and not deliver on their jobs.
But, we have found the opposite to be true: People who are top learners are also top performers. And those top performers are helping build a stronger employer brand name and share what they learn with other employees." Ariel Mendes, HR Global Learning and Development Leader, Rock Content, quoted in LinkedIn's Workplace Learning Report 2023.
💡 Get inspired by 42 additional employee recognition ideas to boost engagement and motivation.
#7. Rope in leaders to create a culture of continuous learning
The number of L&D pros that work with executive leadership to get career development programs off the ground has grown from 43% in 2022 to 50% in 2023.
"Like so many things, it starts at the top, and it starts with having a CEO or a senior leader who actually values learning and talks about it very actively." Mathew Smith, Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey.
And that makes sense. When leaders embrace training programs, the impact is visible across the organization. Creating a state of continual learning is a crucial leadership competency.
➡️ Get our free leadership competency model template to help leaders develop each competency.
#8. Encourage upskilling with gamification
Imagine if you could earn a badge for every skill you learned, like in your favorite video game. And then trade in those badges for actual money.
That's precisely what Zappos, an online retail company, does.
Instead of job titles, employees collect skill badges. When you collect enough badges, you level up, i.e., get a bigger paycheck.
"Compensation is tied to roles, and the badges encompass the work or skills being done in those roles. However, we are building a more robust badging system that will allow people to build their salary based on the avenues they would like to pursue." Lisa Jewett, former Badge Librarian at Zappos.
👠 There are a lot of interesting insights from Zappos' choices regarding their performance management system. We investigated them all in a case study.
You can also implement gamification by turning learning modules into games, using leaderboards to track progress, and organizing team challenges.
#9. Create a career progression framework
The primary purpose of a career progression framework is to give employees clarity on where they stand and the shortcomings that might prevent them from achieving their career goals.
Take Dropbox's career progression framework, for example. It has two main components - level expectations and core and craft responsibilities. To make progress, employees must create a long-lasting impact, understand the expectations for their team and level, and master the technical nuances required.
Intercom, on the other hand, has an entirely different approach to career progression. You can either get on the individual contributor track or choose the management route.
🏋️♀️ Whatever framework you adopt, career pathing software can do most of the heavy lifting for you.
➡️ Improve career development in your organization with Zavvy
From securing buy-in from leadership to setting career goals that benefit the organization, it is a massive undertaking for L&D pros.
And to top it all, people managers must ensure that career development plans are both people-centric and business-centric.
That is a tall ask for anyone. But with the right tech and dedicated experts, it is possible.
Meet Zavvy: A 360° growth system that can help you improve all aspects of career development.
Zavvy will help you streamline multiple people processes.
✅ When you need to assess employee skills or run a training needs assessment process, use Zavy's 360 feedback and surveys.
Usually, trying to capture 360 feedback is a messy process. Too many sheets, a ton of wasted time, and no clear path in sight.
With Zavvy, you can automatically gather all kinds of feedback - self-review, downward feedback, upward feedback, and peer feedback - and make sense of all the data to start making data-driven decisions.
You can also fully customize your performance review system, guide everyone through the ongoing process, and even adds an extra calibration step to eliminate bias.
✅ When you need to set goals, use Zavvy's growth plans.
Zavvy's growth plans turn people managers into coaches and put employees in the driver's seat of their learning and development experience.
You can enable development plans for your people and define career progression.
You can configure this entire process to your company's specific needs. And you can create visibility regarding goal progress to start more meaningful conversations between employees and their managers.
✅ When you need to prep employees for cross-training experiences, access Zavvy's vast library of learning resources.
With thousands of courses from the likes of edX, Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare, there is nothing you can't help employees learn about other roles and teams.
And if you already have your own resources, you can integrate them on Zavvy. Plus, staying on top of learning progress and training budgets is easy.
✅ When you want to encourage social learning, use Zavvy's Connection Programs.
Let employees automatically connect with their peers for casual meetups, walking meetings, or meaningful conversations.
You can even suggest talking points and rely on Zavvy's science-based templates to improve the quality of those peer conversations.
✅ When you want to hire a coach, why not consider an AI coach?
Getting a consultant to coach your employees can be pretty expensive.
Of course, it's worth the investment. But if you're looking to harness the power of generative AI, Zavvy's AI skills coach is right for you.
Employees can learn to write better feedback, find learning resources, test their knowledge, and ask for advice without leaving Slack.
✅ When you want to mobilize employees internally, use Zavvy's career pathing solution.
With Zavvy, you can create a career progression framework that clearly defines role expectations and what it'll take to move upward or make lateral moves.
Plus, you can build clear action plans to help employees make that transition easily. Set action items with clear deadlines and dedicated resources to achieve that goal.
✅ When you want to offer leadership skills training, use Zavvy's training library.
📅 Ready to supercharge your employee's career development? Book a tour of Zavvy and get a free consultation today!
How can career development be improved?
Improving career development requires people managers to first assess the skills and aspirations of employees and map them to organizational needs. Then set goals for employees that align with the business goals. Finally, use proven tactics like social learning, mentorship, and cross-functional exposure to strategically upskill employees.
Investing in the right technology that can do most of the heavy lifting can halve the time it takes to create these complex processes and career frameworks and help organizations make more data-driven decisions.
How do you promote career development in the workplace?
Offer internal promotions, recognition, and rewards to employees who consistently progress in their training and toward their career development goals. You can also run mentorship programs and offer access to career coaches.
Get the C-suite involved and have them lead by example. Having your leadership team on board can also help cultivate a culture of continuous learning in the organization.
How do managers help in enhancing their employees' career development?
Managers play a crucial role in helping their team members achieve their goals. Through 1:1 meetings and 360 feedback, managers can learn more about an employee's career aspirations and help create personalized career paths with a clear action plan to help them achieve those goals.
Whether it's learning a new skill or moving into a new role, support and recognition from a manager can motivate employees and help them get closer to their goals.