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Career development: if we know what it is, why don't we do it?

Career Development: If We Know What It Is, Why Don't We Do It?

The big day has finally arrived and the excitement is contagious. All the planning and design work, the revisions, and the frustrations are just about over. Production and maintenance people have done their part and the initial training has been completed. Engineering is justifiably proud of completing its part early--the major reason why the new piece of equipment is being installed two weeks ahead of schedule. And now it's "showtime." It may take a couple more weeks after installation to work the bugs out and get everything settled down, but then we'll finally be on our way. Production will go up, maintenance costs will drop, scrap and reclaim will decrease, and...

Sound familiar? IT should, because it's a scene being repeated more often in more places across the United States. Management is making certain that the right people are getting involved earlier, communications are becoming more efficient and everyone is taking personal pride in what their "teams" have accomplished. After all these years, we really do seem to be getting it right. Up-front planning is steadily improving, life-cycle-costing is helping to more accurately project the real costs of buildings and capital equipment and the numbers are definitely showing positive results.

Since it is obviously making sense for companies to invest the time and resources to conduct detailed planning before introducing multi-million dollar pieces of equipment into the manufacturing process, are they investing the same level of effort and resources in their really critical assets--their people? If we asked them this question, most would probably quickly and indignantly respond that they do plan for the integration of new personnel into their work forces. They will proudly point out that their recruiting personnel regularly visit good college campuses to seek out the best, most highly qualified undergraduates who can best meet their latest, most critical needs. And to this point, they are probably correct. What happens after and as a result of these activities, however, needs closer scrutiny.

Once the initial screening interviews have been conducted and the most promising candidates identified, they will receive invitation letters and plane tickets to come to an interview. They will be met at the airport, taken to breakfast and given a grand tour of the company. After a full day of meetings with key personnel and after receiving our undivided attention, a final determination will be made of the intervieees who will receive offers. The lucky winners will be notified, and then what? What normally happens after applicants are hired and added to the payroll and organization charts? A year should be enough time for these new graduates to gain some experience and get reasonably well settled in, so let's jump ahead a year. What are their expectations now? How do they feel with a year of experience compared to how they felt and what their expectations were during the interview process? Back then, every attempt was made to make them feel important and special and to show them the very best of what we had to offer. We let them know that their talents and abilities would be well invested with us, that we were a special company.

Inevitably, all honeymoons end and the realities of the daily work routine begin--the time when careers really start--which is the proper time to ask the question, "How do new employees feel now, a year later?" The most likely answer is that it's doubtful anyone knows for certain because few serious or sincere attempts have made to find out. This is probably true, in spite of the fact that most companies have a policy of conducting performance reviews at the end of the first six months of employment and another at the end of the first year. Even if these policies are administered and the reviews are performed, it's still a matter of conjecture as to whether they are meaningful or accomplish their purpose. What they may do, however, is set the stage for future performance reviews and possibly even careers.

If done properly, these initial performance reviews can be very meaningful and accomplish a great deal, both at the time and for the future. If they are perfunctory or viewed as just something else that must be done, they will accomplish little more than if they were not conducted at all (except to ensure that a manager receives credit for completing them). Given these circumstances, the results of these reviews can be any of the following: a feeling of managerial relief that the review is done and can be checked off the "things to do" list; puzzlement on the part of the new employee about what took place and whether or not it was significant; or the filing of the paperwork in the employee's record, where it will remain hidden until the next review.

These missed opportunities represent potentially serious organizational and systems failures for both the company and the employee. The performance appraisal process is a critical and important part of an employee's career development and is integral to a strong succession planning process. For the employee, performance appraisals set the tone for years to come. How they are administered tells everyone how the company values the appraisal process and what the worth of the process really is. For these reasons, managers must take seriously their responsibility to conduct them well. They must also make a commitment to create a work environment where people can openly and freely discuss their jobs, concerns, careers goals, and needs so that timely, constructive, and objective performance evaluation and career development can take place.

With all the other responsibilities assigned to them, managers must honestly ask if it is possible to devote the time necessary to do this effectively. An appropriate response to this question is another question: "What is the cost of not investing the time and energy to do it well?" Before managers can feel comfortable making this investment, they need to see their organizations make a commitment to and consistently support the appraisal process. Any lesser commitment will ensure that companies will ultimately be unsuccessful in attracting and retaining high-quality professionals.

Even though conducting timely and meaningful performance appraisals is important, it is just one part of the career development process. There are many others. The ones listed are not meant to be inclusive or overly detailed; instead, they are listed to focus attention on some other activities which can help make the career development process more effective.

When companies hire new employees, there is initially a general idea about where they will be placed and what they will be doing. What can't be determined is where these new employees will best fit into the organization and the level of performance they will achieve in the long run. Recent statistics place the lifetime cost of a new employee at about $6 million, a figure sufficiently large enough to impress any organization with the need to determine as soon as possible how and where to best utilize their new resources. Depending on how successfully they do this, new employees can either be excellent investments or expensive mistakes. The prospect of gambling and losing $6 million to find out makes planning for the selection and integration of new employees a more critically urgent bottom-line issue.

One industry that has developed a process for determining employee success early in the employment process is the airlines. They hire a predetermined number of flight crew members on a regular basis and, at the completion of initial flight training, place them in a limited duration probationary status. At the end of this period, only a few of them are offered permanent employment. The others are released. With the exception of some external factors, which are difficult to control, the airlines have been very successful in meeting their long-term objectives because of their planning and refinement of this process.

Though there are some obvious and significant differences between hiring and training pilots and professional school graduates, some elements of the process are similar. Companies could initially put new employees in a probationary status for a time during which they would receive exposure to different aspects of their specialty as well as to more strategic, general business objectives.

Training programs could be designed to help employees understand how their work both affects other disciplines and is, in turn, affected by other disciplines. This would help them develop a more holistic, broad-spectrum view of how they contribute to and support the company's strategic objectives.

Developing and implementing an effective training program requires a significant investment of resources, but it is in the long-term best interests of new employees and the company to have some time during which each can evaluate the other. A period of one to three years should be sufficient time to give new employees opportunities to demonstrate their talents and abilities as well as their willingness to become involved with some high-risk assignments and responsibilities. During this training/probationary period, the company would be able to make a more objective evaluation of new employees to determine whether it would be mutually beneficial to continue a professional relationship. New employees would also have time to determine if their interests and talents would be well utilized and, if not, could choose to seek other employment for which they would be better suited. Even though the investment of time and resources to develop and maintain a training program like this would be substantial, the long term payoffs would justify the investment.

Businesses are becoming flatter as they continue to streamline their operations with the result that many traditional career paths have disappeared. With their disappearance, many promotional opportunities have ceased to exist as well. This complicates the career development challenge because managers can't promote or move their employees to continue to provide meaningful work experiences for them. Further complicating this situation are the obstacles managers face when trying to replace employees they have lost or moved. Even though moving and promoting people is a part of a manager's responsibilities, the realities of meeting daily business needs require that they keep certain key employees rather than letting them go on to other opportunities. This "lose-lose" situation has a severe corrosive effect on the morale and productivity of managers and employees.

During these interim periods, companies should consider moving some employees to other positions or areas in which they are interested and for which they are qualified. Even considering the risk of some short term disruption, this can help keep employees motivated. At the same time, reasonable efforts need to be made to ensure that both company and employee needs are met in the process. Lateral moves must be seen by employees and the company in the same light as promotions because of the increased exposure and experience they can provide. Lateral moves also demonstrate to employees that the organization is as concerned for their professional needs as it is for its own long-term health and success.

There are two major reason why companies need to provide employees with opportunities to develop broad backgrounds and experience. First, it requires the active involvement of employees in partnership with the company to develop their careers--a partnership which can help build trust, confidence, and mutual respect. Second, by doing so a large base of experienced employees will be developed which can adjust quickly to accommodate rapidly changing business needs.

Companies and employees have a strong vested interest in creating and maintaining a long term, "win-win" situation which balances the short-and long-term needs of both the company and employees. Only when this has been accomplished can companies legitimately claim to have met both their moral and business obligations. And when they do, they will be winners in the world marketplace.

As business improves, there will be more congruity of opportunity and promotions; in the interim, organizations will need to develop a more creative, long-term strategy for providing career development opportunities for its employees. When this happens, lateral moves should still be viewed as a vital part of career development and not a fall-back measure reserved for business downturns.

Effective career development requires a sincere management commitment to being involved in developing open, trusting working relationships with employees. It will also require managers to do more than just be supportive and positive; they must at times also be straightforwardly honest and objective, telling some people that their career goals are not realistic or attainable under current or anticipated circumstances. It may require managers to put their own careers and reputations on the line to obtain deserved opportunities for their employees. If managers will not or cannot commit themselves to do these things, organizations will not be able to capitalize on the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their employees.

Managers must be willing to delegate their power and authority to those who need it without feeling threatened or equating such delegation with loss of control. They must constantly communicate with their employees about the work that needs to be done. They must encourage employees to assume more responsibility and accountability for doing it, and at the same time they must provide the help and support needed to accomplish it. They must resist the temptation to become inappropriately involved in the activities and decisions rightfully belonging to others. At the same time, they must still maintain responsibility and accountability for monitoring and achieving results.

If organizations want managers to demonstrate certain behaviors, they must reward them for doing so--which may require changing the reward system. It is naive and unrealistic for companies to assume that managers will be more open and communicative simply by being asked. Managers must be told by the company that this is what is desired; then they must be consistently rewarded for doing it. When management selection begins to be based on the demonstration of this behavior rather than on purely technical expertise and experience, more managers will begin to demonstrate it.

And even though technical skills and experience will continue to be important, they can no longer be viewed as the sole determinants of management selection. Managers must be able to accomplish organizational goals and objectives by developing trust, teamwork, and open communication. These qualities are at least as important as technical skills.

Organizations and people do not change overnight, and it would probably be unhealthy if they did. But if what we want is more participation and openness in the way business is conducted, then changing the reward system is one of the most effective ways to do it.

Managerial involvement in all aspects of business is more important and essential now than at any time in the past. However, the nature of these responsibilities and how they are discharged have changed significantly and the willingness and ability of managers to make these changes will be critical to their success and the success of their organizations.

Companies are being challenged today more than they have ever been challenged in the past and in ways which could not have been anticipated five or ten years ago. What has not changed, however, is the value of motivated and involved employees.

In our increasingly complex business and personal lives, what remains constant is the need we all have for making meaningful contributions to society, our professions, and our families. No longer do we have the luxury of planning for the short term--recent history is littered with notices of the demises of the companies that thought they could. Resources of all kinds will become increasingly scarce and valuable as demand for them increases. If we want the best resources for our businesses, whether material or human, we will have to pay well for them and ensure that they are utilized well and wisely. And the one resource which should never be used up is the human one. If we fail in this responsibility, we will not retain this resource because other organizations and businesses will have made the commitment to take a long-term approach to selecting, hiring, training, developing, challenging and rewarding them. And they will ultimately succeed.

Dale Hendricks is administrator of Employee Participation at John Deere's corporate headquarters in Moline, Illinois. Mr. Hendricks graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968 and served ten years active duty as a pilot, making two Mediterranean cruises on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Independence.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hendricks, Dale W.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Words:2724
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