Career development and advancement are among the top drivers of employee engagement and performance. Organizations that can increase their employees’ sense of control over their own career advancement and potential progression within the company will have employees that are more engaged, motivated and committed to their work. These increases, in turn, will have a profound influence on everyday productivity and business performance.   

So, the question is: How do you make employees feel like they are in control of their careers? The answer is simple: You give them more control over their careers! You dedicate less of their one-on-one discussions to short-term tasks and more to their long-term career aspirations within the company. You give them the training, tools and permission to focus on themselves. You show them how to make themselves more visible and marketable.    

Throughout 2020 and into 2021, despite a global pandemic, one of the top financial companies in the world deployed a training program specifically designed to help employees take control of their one-on-one development conversations with managers and increase their sense of career ownership. It drove pro-active, pro-career behaviors like goal-shaping, networking, and personal branding. A critical part of promoting the team’s key learning and behaviors was the direct involvement and support of the immediate leader the ones who are supposed to have more targeted discussions with their employees.   

Measuring Impact 

Using a sample of participants and leaderswe wanted to measure how applying the techniques from the program, and having more robust development conversations, could promote greater career ownership. Our measurement strategy asked three core questions: 

  • Did employees gain new and valuable insights into how they can exert more influence over their own careers? 
  • Did employees apply those insights and improve critical self-promoting behaviors on the job three to six months after the training? 
  • How did their managers involvement affect the overall application and impact of their employees’ training? 

After training hundreds of employees at various band levels, we began our data collection and analysis. Highlights of the results are summarized below:    

  • 93% of participants gained new and valuable insights into how to take greater control of their own careers. 
  • 96% of those employees applied/improved at least three of the behaviors and techniques back on their jobs and now feel more control over their careers. 
  • The two behaviors that were most improved were: 1.) Employees taking more control over writing their performance goals and 2.) Eliciting clearer feedback from their leader about their strengths and performance gaps. This finding was significant because these two areas were identified early on as target objectives and are among the strongest drivers of career ownership 
  • Participants who had managers who were more involved (came more prepared for their development conversationand scheduled them more frequently) had 1.8 times the amount of improvement and impact, compared to those who had less dedicated managers 

Stay Tuned for ROI 

Employees will always remember how their organizations shifted during the COVID-19 crisis. While some companies stopped or paused professional development efforts, others pressed fast-forwardWe all know that during times like these, companies can’t send their employees on elaborate training retreats or international conferences, but they can send them a small signal that they have a strong future together by continuing their focus on training and development. And more importantly, they can shift some of the power over that development directly onto the employees.   

The important point is this: If you have the right discussions and provide the right training during the most turbulent of timesit will send a profound message of commitment that won’t be soon forgotten. And that commitment reciprocated will surely yield very high returns in the future. Mark my words: The most successful companies of 2021 (and beyond) will be those who continued to invest in their greatest asset during the crisis — their people.