How to Provide Career Development

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

We completed an employee survey at the end of the last year. Overall, our results were encouraging, and employees gave us fairly high marks on our culture, leadership and team approach. One resounding theme was that we don’t do enough career development. This was only one question on the survey, but the results were dismal; less than 30% of our staff believes we do a good job in this area. We would like to take steps to address this issue, but we’re not sure where to start. By the way, we have an asset management firm, not a financial advisory if that makes a difference in your answer.

Marcus M.

Dear Marcus,

I need to start my reply by applauding (a) your willingness to conduct this survey (especially at yearend), (b) your interest in reviewing the results and understanding them and © your quest to find an answer to address the only area your results were weak. If only every management team would do this, imagine the happy and productive employees we’d have across the industry.

Let me come back from my dream state to answer your question. While I am a big proponent of surveys and getting the pulse on negative and positive inclinations, I find that they often leave many questions unanswered. This seems to be the case here. In my experience when an employee asks for “career development” it can mean many things. They could mean they don’t have the skills necessary to compete in a changing marketplace, and they want the company to help them. They could be making a statement about the capabilities of your management team in the area of mentoring. They could abso be talking about your HR and talent development area (or lack thereof). It’s difficult with a generic term like “career development” to pinpoint what success would look like to your employees and how to make this score go up on next year’s survey.

Because of this, I recommend two courses of action to dig deeper before you decide how best to implement a solution:

  1. If your firm is large, I would convene a representative group of 12-15 people and charge them with talking to their colleagues to gather more data about what type of career development they desire. Give this group specific direction and timelines, and ask them to bring a set of recommendations to you for review. This accomplishes two things: it gets you additional information, and it puts solving the problem into the hands of your employees. They may take more ownership to see that the outcomes they suggest actually work.
  1. Hire an outside firm to conduct a number of qualitative interviews with select staff members. Again, you would provide the firm with timelines and with developing recommendations. In this case, you may get more “truth” from your employees because staff will often tell an outsider things that they would not tell an insider. You could implement the ideas internally, but having the external view could be useful.

In both cases, I’d first give your employees the feedback from the survey, and let them know that you take their input seriously and want to address it. You’ll surely get brownie points for a willingness to look at negative feedback and an attempt to improve.