When I receive candidates in job interviews and I ask them why they want a change of scenery, among the most frequent answers I hear: “I have no visibility on my future and my career” or “I feel stucked in my career”.
Rightly or wrongly they have the impression that they are going to work, doing their job and that perhaps one day they will be offered a career development but without knowing when (or if it will happen), nor what kind of development they can expect or expect, nor the conditions to be met (if they exist objectively), in order to be eligible for it.
In other words, they think they have no visibility on the road, the trajectory on which they are, nor do they have the impression that they can be an actor in this trajectory by working on their eligibility for an evolution or by orienting this evolution in one direction or another. And as we have already seen, this notion of “trajectory” is very important for young people, which does not mean that it is not important for others.
The irony of the story is that while many recruiters hear this story, employees from their own companies are leaving them for the same reasons.
But if we start from the premise that the employee’s experience consists of what he or she “experiences” at work, the way in which he or she lives his or her career and the way in which it is managed and that he or she can manage it is an element that should not be neglected.
Perception is reality
Then of course I hear my friends in HR getting offended! But of course there are career monitoring and steering systems with known and totally objective criteria and at the end of the day they complain that employees are not sufficiently interested in them and are not proactive in managing their careers.
And it’s true. At least in large companies. In medium-sized companies and a fortiori medium-sized and small companies, it’s less, it can be less formalized and more “artisanal”. The reason is simple: the smaller you are, the less room there is to move people. And when moving often means “upwards” (companies and employees often only value hierarchical and managerial progression to the detriment of paths based on expertise) it quickly gets to a point where there is a traffic jam.
But it doesn’t matter that the mechanisms exist if they are not known and visible to all, with short horizons and clear rules. Indeed, it doesn’t matter that things exist and that they work well when they are used, as long as the employees have the perception that they don’t exist and/or that the rules are not clear, it becomes the truth in their minds.
Mechanisms known and visible to all. It doesn’t matter that career management, internal mobility, promotion and eligibility rules exist if, unless one is interested, no one knows about them. This must be explained to everyone when they arrive in the company, explained and detailed in the form of documentation accessible to all, or even highlighted, and at any quarterly or yearly review with their manager the employee must be able to ask what are the next possible steps, when, under what conditions and what is their percentage of fulfilment of these conditions.
So some will tell me that there are compulsory professional reviews for this, which in France must take place at least every two years. It’s a pace that’s totally unsuited to the world we live in.
Two or even three years is the horizon on which an employee wants things to happen, not the horizon on which he or she wants to talk about it.
Make a list of all those whose situation hasn’t changed at all (position, mission, salary…) in the last 3 years, you can bet that most of them will have left or will have tried to leave in the next 12 months even if on the surface they don’t say anything . If their employer doesn’t proactively show a legible mechanism that shows that they are being taken care of, then they will do it themselves and most often it will be by looking outside. You can also tell yourself “too bad, he is not irreplaceable” or even “so much the better we didn’t want to keep him” but this lack of action will not fail to be mentioned when he talks about his company to the outside world and will therefore feed the employer brand and not in the best sense.
Waiting for the employee to ask is also a bad idea. Too often I have heard “he didn’t ask for anything, he didn’t get anything, so I don’t understand why he is leaving”. It’s called hiding while waiting for the cloud to pass, most often to pinch pennies. On the other hand, when you proactively go and see him by saying “you’ve been here for x years, you’ve demonstrated that, you’ve ticked all the boxes in terms of training/skills, so we’re offering you that” without waiting for the person to ask and sometimes ahead of schedule if the person has “ticked the boxes” faster than expected, we see the opposite effect in terms of motivation and engagement. Being proactive in career management is called recognition.
A last word on visibility: it’s good that a mechanism exists and that people know about it, but it’s better to see it working. They can see it working on themselves but also on others…seeing how others are treated is reassuring as long as everyone is in the same boat.
Which brings us to the second point.
One changes jobs every three years, but wants to talk about it all the time…
Short time horizons. An employee who hasn’t experienced any career development in the last three years is a leaving employee, whether you are aware of it or not. And an employee who is satisfied with the situation may be someone who thinks he has found a good place in the warmth that he no longer wants to leave, and that may not be better news.
But it may not be possible to move people every 2 to 3 years. That’s true, but sometimes it’s for good or bad reasons. A bad reason can be “the person has reached his or her full potential”. But maybe it is in a vertical logic and that a horizontal logic can allow him to develop even more. Perhaps, because too low a turnover can also be a problem in a company that does not renew itself enough, that a logic of “up or out” very common in the consulting world could make sense.
Not moving should not mean stagnating.
Maybe the person doesn’t want to change, there are jobs where this is common, especially those that require real technical expertise. I have a lot of developer friends who don’t want to become managers, or product managers! Their trick, their passion, is to get their hands in, to code. So maybe that will change with age, but it’s better to have an expert who stays in his place than an expert promoted to manager, in which case it’s often a double penalty: you lose a real expert in the field and you get a bad manager. But here again, the person must not have the impression of stagnating and a career development not oriented towards management but the recognition of expertise is a good idea.
On this point it is time to break a taboo: far too many people accept a hierarchical progression and follow the managerial path not because they want to but because it is the only way to obtain a salary increase. All the more reason to find ways of rewarding expertise without going through hierarchical promotion, as some companies do very well, even if it is not widespread outside the technology industry.
One good reason, however, is “we don’t have room to move people or not that fast“. That’s not a problem. Employees can wait (a reasonable amount of time), as long as they know exactly where they are and what the next step is. What they don’t tolerate is vagueness. You can manage career trajectories like Disney manages its queues. You can stay in them potentially for a very long time, but:
- One can’t see the whole line, so do not despair.
- One can see the next stage, the next bend. Often one realizes afterwards that there is still a line and another bend and so on but it doesn’t matter, one goes from a close checkpoint to another close checkpoint instead of immediately projecting oneself on a finish line that is too far away.
So the company can put up milestones. Cut long cycles into two shorter cycles. Set clear conditions: to move on to the next stage, one must follow such and such training and obtain such and such certification, so the employee understands that it will take time but knows what he is dealing with.And it’s not enough just put higher requirements .In the end it is the level of all employees that will increase. At least… the ones who’ll stay.
Which takes us to the third point.
It doesn’t matter to wait as long as people figure out why…
Clear rules. Career development should not appear to be governed by obscure rules or subject to the arbitrary decisions of a manager or whoever. Some of it will remain subjective : of course assessing “soft skills”, that are very important and too often neglected, also remains subjective, but as we have seen with training and certification (for the professions to which it applies, of course), it can make it possible to objectify things. There can be a myriad of training courses, free or paid, short or long, which an employee must have taken for the purpose of developing skills or even raising awareness. But we’ll talk about this in a future article dedicated to the subject.
There’s no road for one who doesn’t know where he starts from
It is often said that there is no path for those who do not know where they are going, but we often forget that the basis is to know where we are, where we are starting from. The problem for the employee is, even if he is on a road, not knowing how far he is from the next crossroads, what options will be offered to him, what conditions he will have to meet…or even if he has the right to touch the steering wheel or the accelerator pedal.
Moving to another company should not be the most readable career path
Today there are far too many employees for whom the simplest and most readable career development is a change of company. The problem is that very often this affects the employees that we least want to see leave. Don’t say to yourself “as long as they don’t say anything, I won’t to anything because the day they day something will be too late to keep them.