Not so long ago, careers were a linear trajectory: study a subject at university, find a job in a related field and stay with the same company for decades. It was not uncommon for people to work at the same company for 20 or 30 years, if not longer, if they had a job they were satisfied with.

Nowadays, the career landscape has changed radically, particularly as millennials have started their professional lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the U.S., the median time spent at one company is 4.3 years for men and four years for women. In addition, research by LinkedIn found that young workers switch jobs more frequently than previous generations.

The traditional performance management process is no longer a fit when it comes to ensuring people receive regular feedback and have the tools they need to be in the driver’s seat in their careers. Many companies are faced with one of three problems:

  • A lack of clarity and alignment: People aren’t having regular conversations with their managers and don’t know where they stand when it comes to performance.
  • Few opportunities for professional development: Managers aren’t helping employees identify their strengths and weaknesses. As a result, they’re uncertain about their career trajectory within an organization and the opportunities for growth.
  • Infrequent recognition: People are working hard but don’t feel that their work is recognized due to a lack of communication and a lack of informal channels for positive feedback.

Companies have a responsibility to help employees prepare for the future of work, including enabling people to change careers if they want to. The “war for talent” is not likely to improve, particularly since there is no longer a stigma associated with job-hopping. As a result, employees have unlimited options when it comes to shaping their career path.

Companies will soon (if they haven’t already) realize that they can’t retain employees for a lifetime. Here are four steps your organization can take to improve role clarity and prepare for the new way of working.

1. Have Regular Performance Conversations

Start by ensuring there are ample opportunities for discussion within the organization. Encourage managers to have regular one-on-ones with their direct reports to establish rapport and, more importantly, understand how their team members are feeling and discuss performance. These regular conversations help avoid surprises for everyone once the performance review comes around and can help first-time managers ease into their role.

The practice of one-on-ones doesn’t have to be limited to managers and their direct reports. For example, HR might want to create drop-in hours for people to discuss concerns or ask questions around specific processes. Senior managers can also offer drop-in hours or an open door policy for people to come with their questions, creating open streams of communication.

2. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses

Without discussing performance and introducing the idea of professional development, it’s hard for employees to know where to start when it comes to defining opportunities for growth. Even for more senior professionals, when starting a new job, they will still be unfamiliar with the company and its approach to career progression. Similarly, with new roles being created due to automation or business transformation, employees might not be aware of opportunities for lateral growth.

Once one-on-ones have begun the conversation, the employee and manager have the opportunity to reflect on the employee’s strengths and weaknesses. A strong culture of feedback within the organization can reinforce this process: If employees are encouraged to regularly share feedback with one another, they feel more comfortable asking for feedback when they want to know how they are doing.

As people gain better clarity around areas where they want to improve or new skills they want to learn, they can start to identify potential career paths.

3. Define a Path for Progression

In order to facilitate the process of creating a career path, L&D should make opportunities for professional development clear. For example, are there opportunities to work on cross-functional or interdepartmental projects? Does the company support people changing roles?

Managers and their direct reports can explore these career possibilities together during their one-on-ones and when setting goals. These conversations give employees concrete timelines to work toward; give managers the ability to check in on progress; and ultimately create better clarity and alignment among individuals, teams and managers.

It’s important to remember that none of these processes will succeed without a clear organizational vision and mission. If employees don’t understand how their work fits into the bigger picture, they will be less motivated to contribute. For employees to stay with a company for five years (which is a long time these days), they have to understand and support its vision.

4. Create Opportunities for Learning and Development

If employees are clear on their performance, know what areas to develop and have an outline of how they’d like to progress, what’s next? Enabling learning and development. According to research by LinkedIn, the people who spend the most time learning at work are 74% “more likely to know where they want to go in their career.”

Learning and development doesn’t always have to be costly and cumbersome. Here are some ways to make it scalable:

  • On-the-job learning: Allow employees to shadow colleagues from different departments, work on a project that’s outside of their department or even send them abroad to another office.
  • In-house training: Encouraging colleagues to teach each other, like Google does with its Googler-to-Googler program.
  • Online training: Online platforms enable people to acquire new skills on their own time, which can be especially useful when learning how to use new tools.
  • External training: Last but not least, there are many opportunities, such as conferences, workshops and multi-day courses, to send employees to another site to meet with peers and return feeling inspired.

The way people interact with companies isn’t fragmented to one specific point in time; it’s holistic. From enhancing performance management to providing learning and development opportunities, there are many ways organizations can help employees prepare for the future of work.

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