The current high rate of change and high levels of workforce mobility are trends that organizations have not often faced in the past. Employees today are less engaged, less connected to the business’ strategy and less empowered. As a result, they tend to move on quickly from their organizations. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of people who quit their job rose from 22 million in 2011 to 40 million in 2018.

Clearly, retention of key talent, particularly the large (and growing) millennial population, has become a major issue for many companies. The ongoing cycle of hiring, onboarding and training new employees is a significant burden on managers and the entire organization.

Self-navigation is a concept that enables individuals to navigate their careers within the organization. It heralds a new bottom-up approach in improving the alignment, engagement, empowerment and, eventually, retention of key talent. In this approach, employees can take full ownership of their careers, because the organization shows them the different options and avenues of development that they can pursue. This approach makes employees the drivers of their careers rather than waiting for a slot or vacancy that might serendipitously become available.

In the process of self-navigation, employees learn to operate a compass-like methodology to answer four questions regarding their career: where, why, why not and how.

Self-navigation Compass

  • In north, employees identify their “true north”: the optimal next step in their career and a practical vision to go with it.
  • In east, employees explore why they want to move in this direction, tapping into their core motives and drivers.
  • In south, employees determine what might stop them from achieving their desired goals and how to break through their limitations.
  • In west, employees create a plan that will take them where they want to go.

For example, a large global information technology (IT) company with a unique and strong culture realized that the majority of its leaders left the company within their first year. It taught this self-navigation process to over 150 new managers and executives over the course of four years. The company said the result was a “major success and turnaround,” with over 85% of participants staying at the company longer past their first year.

Additional research on the self-navigation process asked 500 managers across 10 industries in 12 countries to evaluate themselves after using the self-navigation process. Below are the results.

Before the self-navigation process…

  • Just over 75% of employees were not engaged with their organization and felt disconnected.
  • Almost 75% of the workforce had no vision for the future in both their professional and their personal lives.
  • From employees’ perspective, 80% of the organizations did not lead change processes or manage the career development processes.

After the self-navigation process…

  • There was a 183% increase in the number of participants who said they had a high level of clarity regarding their personal direction and vision.
  • There was a 103% increase in the number of participants who said they had a high level of personal strategic connection with the organization.
  • There was a 63% increase in the number of participants who said they felt highly engaged and empowered.

Many people never learn to navigate their careers methodically. Cultivating a proactive mindset using a structured set of tools for self-navigation helps employees drive their own careers — within their current organizations — in an authentic and sustainable way. For the organizations, this process results in better engagement, alignment and, eventually, retention for its most valuable talent.