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  • Jessie Brennan, MPH

Career Development at the Speed of Business

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 36% of workers are engaged at work, while 64% are either disengaged or actively disengaged. That means approximately 6 out of 10 employees are disengaged or actively disengaged. Picture your team of 10 on a row boat.

  • 3-4 are busting their rear-ends

  • 5 are looking at the scenery

  • 1-2 are trying to sink the boat


This isn’t new information to leaders anywhere. We know that employee engagement is one of the keys to the success of your team. It is also key to staff retention, much more so than money or the chance of promotion. The keys to engagement and retention are related to more intrinsic motivators: autonomy (the urge to direct our own lives), mastery (the desire to get better at what we do), purpose (the desire to do something bigger than ourselves). This brings us back to the topic of our last Leadership Update. The key to developing autonomy, mastery, and purpose in your staff members lies in employee career development.


So, employee career development is valuable, but is it feasible? I know that many of you feel stressed and stretched thin as it is. When you’re starved for time, things like employee development (and self-development…and self-care…and lunch) can get pushed to the back burner. It may seem as though there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to ALSO squeeze in some employee development. However, it may be more feasible than you think.


Increasingly, time-pressed managers are opting for shorter, more frequent conversations that can cover the same ground as a more formal development plan, but in an iterative and ongoing fashion. When you reframe career development in terms of ongoing conversations, rather than procedural checkpoints or scheduled activities, you have more flexibility and the chance to develop careers organically, when and where authentic opportunities arise.


The benefits are compelling:

  • Shorter conversations fit better into your busy schedule.

  • Frequent, ongoing dialogue demonstrates a genuine commitment to the employee.

  • Iterative conversations allow employees to develop awareness, insights, and action naturally.

  • The ongoing nature of the conversation keeps development alive in everyone’s mind (as opposed to tucking it away for a formal meeting).

  • These frequent exchanges sustain momentum and fuel learning, growth, and progress.

  • Conversations act as an ongoing reminder of the organization’s commitment to employee growth.

Another benefit is that the onus of responsibility for development is put on the employee, not on you. A career conversation is completely unbalanced in favor of your employees. However, this does require a particular skill on the part of the manager: asking quality questions.

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