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A Fresh Take on Career Development in Our Changing Business Environment

December 20, 2018

Career development

Traditionally, career development has been a highly selective, well-orchestrated process aimed at growing an organization’s future leaders through years of formal training and deliberate internal transfers. Today, reduced employee tenure, flat organizational structures, and unpredictable business needs make traditional career development a risky business investment. At the same time, workforce diversity, knowledge work, and the consumer experience mean that both employers and employees seek something different from the career development process.

With these drivers in mind, some best-practice organizations are transforming performance management, opening career development opportunities to every employee—not just those with “high potential”—and making powerful development tools and resources available for easy access, anywhere in the world.

One key to the success of these new approaches is employee empowerment: By placing development tools and opportunities directly into employees’ hands, organizations are empowering employees to evaluate what they really want from their careers, take control of their own paths, and seize the resources they need to achieve their goals at the pace they choose.

Organizations are also offering employees more flexible ways to chase the career of their dreams, whether it’s through targeted development or leadership training relevant to their current role or through cross-training opportunities that ultimately take their careers in entirely new directions. For some, career moves aren’t always promotions—a lateral move to a different business unit can expand competencies and organizational knowledge, sometimes leading to a new career path that is highly valuable to the organization.

Following are examples of how SAS Institute Inc. is taking this kind of fresh approach to employee careers.

Career development at SAS Institute

Based in Cary, N.C., SAS is the world’s largest privately held software business, with more than 14,000 employees and offices in about 60 countries. To meet strong employee demand for development opportunities, SAS has embedded professional development and initiatives for creating future leaders right into its three-year strategic plan. Because turnover is remarkably low—just 3% to 5%—SAS is committed to providing development opportunities that will help mid-career, seasoned employees grow into future leaders, while helping incoming Millennial talent get up to speed and advance in their careers. At the same time, SAS is investing in cross-cultural and global business education to support an ongoing globalization initiative, which is transforming its subsidiaries into global business units with multicultural teams.

SAS makes it easy for employees at any level to learn about available development opportunities and potential career paths and to pursue professional development and training that fits their career goals.

Self-service career development portal. All employees can access career guidance and development opportunities through the SAS employee career portal. This self-service system shows employees how to take control of their career, recognizing their current title and presenting career path options based on the previous moves of employees with similar characteristics. Employees can explore job descriptions and see a full list of competencies for any career path that interests them, and they are directed to specific development opportunities on the learning management system (LMS) that fit their career goals. They can also search for opportunities by keywords, topics, or location.

Formal career paths. The LMS automatically assigns a career development path for new employees in certain roles. For example, the sales onboarding path sets expectations for an employee’s first six months and tracks each individual’s progress toward them. Sales expectations include set deadlines for specific training courses, meetings, activities, customer contacts, account planning, and pipeline requalification.

Career counseling. All employees have access to a career counselor, who can help them establish their goals and access available learning opportunities to help achieve them.

Goal setting and coaching. Three years ago, SAS got rid of its ratings-based performance management system, replacing it with a process based on setting goals and regular coaching conversations with managers. Because the success of this approach depends on the managers’ ability to communicate clearly and help employees align their goals with organizational strategy, SAS provides leadership development to help managers provide high-quality coaching, as well as resources and messaging to guide effective conversations.

Competency-focused career planning. SAS recently rewrote its competencies and mapped them to job families, empowering employees to search for learning opportunities by competencies and find relevant positions that are posted internally. This gives employees a clear path for how to move their careers to the next phase.

Meet employees where they are

Regardless of location, level, or leadership potential, employees today seek to maintain the kinds of skills and experience that employers need most. Empowering employees to take control of their own career path, in alignment with organizational goals—and giving them the support, resources, and tools to do it—builds a sense of loyalty and ensures the organization has a strong base of talent to draw on as the business environment and workforce inevitably change.

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About The Author

Elissa Tucker is APQC’s principal research lead for human capital management. With more than 15 years of experience researching HR, Tucker has completed numerous research studies on topics such as leadership, strategic HR partnerships, performance management, and talent management. Prior to APQC, she worked as a senior research consultant at Aon Hewitt. Tucker co-edited and contributed to the book Workforce Wake-Up Call: Your Workforce Is Changing, Are You? (John Wiley & Sons, 2006).

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