The Trainer's Paradox
Career development refers to a lifelong process of learning to choose among the various roles available within organizations based on the knowledge of one’s abilities, interests and changing life circumstances. Facilitating the optimal development of an individual’s career has been the responsibility of the employer as much as it is of the employee. Yet today the training and development professional faces a new dilemma. The dilemma emanates from the fact that the contemporary notion of work has come a long way from the traditional concept of long term employment that dominated the work contracts in the past few decades in India. The new age employees today have begun to envisage careers for themselves that is independent of any single organization. A significant Human Relations challenge then, lies in handling the training and development needs of these employees. How do you ensure maximum returns on investments made on facilitating the career advancements of the employees when the workforce itself is not very constant? Yet on the other hand organizations can’t ignore the need to develop their talent. After all, it can’t be denied that any business is only as good as its people!
Point and Counterpoint
Reid Hoffman the founder of the popular professional networking site- linkedin, argues in favor of an urgent need for a change in the organizational perspective towards talent management. He believes that the best way forward for organizations today is to accept that talent might not stay permanently with them. Beginning with this premise the wisest alternative for any organization would be to invest in enhancing the ‘employability’ of their employees. Paradoxical as this assertion may seem in today’s context, this strategy actually works as a long term investment according to him. It is a way of building lasting alliances with one’s employees even after they leave the organization. These employees also become a source of strengthening the professional network of the organization through their own connections. He advocates the need to enter into short term employment contracts with employees (he calls these contracts- tours of duty), work on developing their career and employability and then give them the leeway to choose their career paths either within or outside the organization. This framework for managing talent has been tested with success within linkedin. The question however is whether or not it is an economically viable option for all organizations?
The best way to evaluate any shift in perspective in career development would be to start by addressing the fundamental question of “why do people move from one organization to another?” Is it always in search of better career prospects? The reasons for the mobility of talent vary from personal issues like for seeking greater work-life balance, accommodating for the location constraints of their spouses etc. to work related reasons like experiencing a stunting of one’s growth opportunities within an organization, interpersonal conflicts with superiors or colleagues, lack of opportunities for self-expression or simply for an increase in pay. In economic environments where the opportunities for employment are abundant, individuals find it easier to move from one organization to another when they experience any of the above mentioned reasons.
If we consider just the work related reasons for job shifts (since personal reasons can’t be controlled by the organizations), a rational argument based on common sense would then suggest that when employees experience fewer work related frustrations i.e. when they are able to express their abilities and deal with interpersonal conflicts at work, they might choose to stay with the same organization. Career development efforts by this argument therefore actually ensure high returns on training investments. To put my argument in perspective, what I’m suggesting is that when the focus of career development and training, changes from cost-saving to revenue-generation a number of benefits can be noticed. Research suggests that when people identify with an organization (i.e. construct their personal identity around the organization and their work within it), their commitment towards the organization and work increases. This eventually leads to increased productivity. When organizations communicate to the employees through concrete actions that they are dedicated towards the career development of their employees, it facilitates greater identification with the organization. Such an atmosphere is also conducive for increased entrepreneurship and innovations at work.
These arguments nevertheless are yet to be tested and new parameters for assessing and quantifying the revenues accrued through career development training need to be developed. Through this article I simply intend to spark a conversation on these issues because irrespective of what the answers to these questions might be, it cannot be refuted that a fresh perspective on career development and talent management has become a growing necessity!