More than promotion: redefining career growth opportunities

Career growth isn't just about promotions anymore. How is HR evolving to address both career development and advancement?
Career growth opportunities: better than a promotion
Establish the "internal mobility" reflex before external recruitment
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It was while reading a few statistics that I came up with the idea of looking at what we consider to be a career opportunity. The first establishes that 86% of employees believe that the best career opportunity is to change company (HBR). The second shows that 1 in 2 employees feel they have not learned or progressed in the past year (Gartner)?

Given the irrefutable correlation between retention and the number of opportunities for professional development, how can we offer every employee the same level of opportunities ?

This paradox is all the more puzzling given that spending on learning and development (L&D) for companies with more than 10,000 employees has increased by almost 25% in 2023, according to the LinkedIn Learning Workplace Report 2023. Despite this colossal $400 billion investment, only a third of millennials report that their most recent learning experience at work was actually worth the time invested.

Are we really tackling the right issues? Do we fully understand how employees perceive and value career opportunities?

Career growth and career growth opportunities

What is career growth?

Traditionally, career growth is the dynamic process of advancing towards one's ultimate professional goals through a series of roles and responsibilities, embracing both planned paths and the unforeseen opportunities that reveal their value through experience. It is a journey of discovery, where each step, whether by design or serendipity, contributes to the individual's long-term career vision.

Redefining career progression for the contemporary workforce

Career growth isn't just a ladder you climb​—it's more like a jungle gym where you might not even recognize an opportunity until you're swinging from it. Think of it as your epic journey from that eager beaver fresh out of college to the mastermind leading your own crew, or even sitting in the CEO's chair. It's about chasing that big dream, whether it's to revolutionize an industry or kickstart a movement with a non-profit.

However, career development does not follow a predefined trajectory, but is built up over the course of one's various experiences. Today, one in six employees changes career path every year, and professional reconversion has reached new heights in the wake of Covid-19, and seems symptomatic of this need for ongoing intellectual fulfillment.

While this journey may seem orchestrated according to professional objectives, it is also punctuated by spontaneous decisions and opportunities seized on the spur of the moment.

After all, how can you know if something's your next big break if you haven't even tried it on for size?

What do we call "career development opportunities?"

Career growth opportunities refer to the various avenues and experiences that enable individuals to progress towards their career goals, encompassing both the acquisition of new skills and the assumption of increased responsibilities. These opportunities can emerge through structured programs within an organization or spontaneously, offering pivotal moments for professional development and advancement​.

Types of growth opportunities

As previously explored, the concept of 'opportunities' encompasses a broad spectrum and should be valued on par with promotions to foster a culture that embraces lateral moves and nurtures a workforce eager to excel in a company driven by innovation. 

Here are some non-traditional opportunities that we're convinced can make a big contribution to employee engagement and performance.

Mentoring

From 2009 to 2024, the number of Fortune 500 companies with a mentoring program rose from 70% to 94%.

How can we explain such an increase in the use of mentoring in companies? 

The average age of the employee population in many companies, the effectiveness of this knowledge transfer format and the importance of skills behavioral explain the rise in mentoring usage:

  • The aging workforce: As the population ages, the need to transfer crucial skills and knowledge from older to younger employees to ensure continuity is increasingly recognized.
  • The effectiveness of mentoring compared with traditional training: Mentoring offers more effective personalized support than generic training programs, enabling real-time feedback, tailored development plans and learning from practical experience.
  • Demand for soft skills The growing complexity of the workplace, and the emphasis on leadership, emotional intelligence and other skills social skills, have reinforced the importance of mentoring.

Mentoring catalyzes career advancement by offering personalized support from experienced professionals. These relationships enable employees to discover new career opportunities and perspectives, contributing directly to their growth. By connecting individuals eager to advance with experts, mentoring offers both the vision and practical experience needed to climb the career ladder. In essence, it's a dynamic tool for navigating one's career path, making each step more informed and impactful.

Leadership development or expertise programs

As mentioned in the introduction, managers and HR teams are gradually realizing that every employee does not define "growth opportunities" simply by the expression of a promotion. There are many other avenues to be explored within an organization focused on providing skills.

Research by leading organizations such as PwC and Deloitte reveals a significant change: employees no longer favor traditional career paths such as taking on additional responsibilities, often achieved through promotion. Instead, opportunities to learn and acquire new skills skills are emphasized. This trend underlines a growing preference among the workforce for acquiring new skills skills and meeting new challenges, rather than the traditional appeal of upward mobility.

Leadership development programs are essential if HR is to nurture talent and leadership within an organization. Promoting these learning levers unlocks previously less visible potential and accelerates career growth. Encouraging participation in these programs, particularly in voluntary leadership roles, not only enriches the learning experience but also prepares employees to contribute to the success of many multi-disciplinary projects. 

Jobs assignments

Offering employees occasional assignments in different cities, regions or even countries is a strategic approach that HR teams can use to strengthen organizational talent and career development. These missions go beyond the simple opportunity to move geographically; they are essential for broadening employees' professional horizons and networks through varied experiences such as cross-functional projects, volunteering based on skills, or job rotation programs.

  • ‍Cross-functional projects : Facilitating employee participation in projects requiring cross-departmental collaboration can significantly improve their understanding of the organization and develop versatile sets of skills .
  • Volunteering based on skills: Encouraging employees to get involved in volunteer activities using their professional skills can enrich their experience while having a significant social impact.
  • ‍Job rotation schemes: Implementing job rotation schemes allows employees to explore various roles within the company, clarifying their career preferences and enhancing their overall contribution to the organization.

By integrating these diverse professional assignments into their talent development strategy, HR can not only help employees diversify their skills but also provide valuable insights into their career aspirations and potential growth paths within the company.

Internal mobility

Internal mobility, comprising promotions, role changes and cross-functional mobility, is crucial to the development of talent within organizations. It aligns employee growth with organizational needs, improving satisfaction and retention. These mobilities play a key role in this process, offering employees avenues to explore different areas without changing hierarchical levels, reinforcing their cross-functional skills skills such as adaptability and collaboration.

This mobility enables employees to take on a variety of roles, fostering a set of cross-functionalskills essential for today's dynamic work environments. For HR professionals, promoting internal mobility with a focus on developing skills people who can be mobilized in a variety of roles reinforces the agility of a flexible human capital that can be redeployed when strategic orientations change.

By prioritizing internal mobility strategies, organizations ensure a resilient, skilled talent pool, ready to respond to business needs.

Understanding the differences between "career development" and "career growth".

Despite major investments in Learning & Development (L&D) programs, a disconnect persists between organizational efforts and employees' perception of their value. This gap can be explained by the differences between career development and career evolution tools. The former respond to immediate needs for learning and mission variety, while the latter are focused on more long-term considerations of talent orientation.

What are the differences between career development and career growth?

Career development shapes skills, while career evolution charts the career path towards ambitious professional goals. Let's take a closer look:

Career development 

It represents the support and opportunities offered by an organization to improve an employee's skills and knowledge, aimed at building short-term skills . This support includes training programs, educational resources and opportunities to improve skills. It is an external process facilitated by employers to equip employees with the necessary tools for success.

Career growth

In contrast, career development is the progression of the individual towards his or her professional goals and aspirations. It is an internal and personal journey that involves not only climbing the professional ladder, but also broadening one's professional capabilities and experiences. Career development is shaped by the opportunities an employee seizes, the learning they pursue and the decisions they make to advance their career.

Understanding the distinction between these concepts is essential to creating a supportive environment where employees can harness organizational resources for personal and professional advancement.

Remove obstacles to career development for your employees

Encouraging employee ownership of career paths

First of all, while HR teams and managers play a crucial role in providing career development opportunities, the responsibility for navigating and achieving career progression rests largely with the employees themselves.

Tailoring career paths to employees' aspirations

Secondly, traditional career management and planning may not match the immediate desires and aspirations of employees, who are increasingly looking for flexibility and short-term advancement opportunities rather than long-term projections within a single company.

Need for appropriate career management tools

Thirdly, there is a growing need forcareer management tools that enable all players - managers, HR teams and employees - to visualize potential career paths through an ergonomic and intuitive interface, like the solutions offered by platforms such as Neobrain.

Tackling these challenges requires a nuanced understanding of the differences between career development and career evolution, as well as strategic action to remove barriers to career progression.