Motivating staff not interested in career development

Employers must look to alternative career paths to motivate employees that aren’t interested in leadership opportunities.

Modern workers are no longer as interested in the path to leadership as they once were, with more and more talented employees turning down what used to be the ultimate career goal. As leadership loses its place as the only measure of success, employers will need to consider alternative career pathways for their best and brightest or risk losing them.

Many businesses have career pathways that lead only to the top, with few options for those who don’t want to become a manager. Inevitably, many staff hit a ceiling with their current employers and start to reconsider their options elsewhere.

While great leadership is important to a business’ success, there are many strategies that businesses can use to motivate employees who aren’t looking for a vertical promotion. We recommend the following tips to create an effective career development program that will satisfy both staff and business needs:

1. Find out what your staff really want

The first step to providing staff with the right career is to understand their career goals. The best way to understand your staff’s career goals is simply to ask them, using regular one-on-one career conversations between managers and employees. While most managers assume that they know that their employees’ priorities are, it can be dangerous.

Managers are often surprised when an offer for a promotion is rejected. Understanding your employees’ career goals will reduce unpleasant surprises later on, both with resignations and rejections.

2. Create career pathways to fit staff and business needs

Now you understand your existing employees’ goals, you can then start to create a career path structure that will satisfy business and employee needs. Career pathways clearly communicate the potential for advancement or development across each function, providing a motivating picture of success for staff.

While career programs should be developed with employees in mind, employers also need to consider their own needs by identifying which skills will be critical to their success. Truly effective career development programs fill future skill gaps by developing those skills internally.

To identify the types of positions and skills to include in your career pathways, look at your recruitment or business plan first and work back from there.

3. Keep your staff doing the work that they love

One of the major reasons that leadership roles lack appeal is that many employees prefer to stay working in the field that they love. If a worker genuinely loves their job, a management position may not appeal with the extra responsibilities meaning that they’ll have less time to work in their desired area. Creating specialist career pathways is the key to retaining these employees, by providing them with development opportunities that fit their aspirations. Specialist career paths make business sense: staff continue to work in the area that they love, while the business can make use of employees’ skills where they are the strongest.

A specialist career pathway generally revolves around skill mastery, rather than continual promotions. Whilst it should still be called a promotion, specialist pathways focus on employees applying their expertise to tasks of increasing complexity and impact. For example, consider promotions to a skill/behavioural mastery, training, or mentor role.

4. Challenge often beats advancement

For many employees, continual challenge and development is far more motivating than a promotion. Employers can motivate these staff with ongoing learning opportunities, ensuring that all workers can have access to career development, even when a promotion isn’t suitable or available.

To keep these staff satisfied and learning while keeping business costs down, look to low-cost programs such as ‘directorships’. Directorships involve allowing an employee to develop in an area that can be related or unrelated to their normal work, to allow them to develop without changing positions or employers. For example, an accountant may want to develop their skills in marketing or in operations.

5. Career development plans for each employee

Finally, employers should link individual motivations to their overall career strategy by creating formal career development plans for each employee. A career plan sets out an employee’s goals, covering career aspirations with skill and behaviour development.

This step is the most important, to ensure each employee has an accurate idea of where they can expect to go if they meet or exceed performance goals. We recommend for managers to meet with employees on an annual basis, to plan how and if the employee can meet their aspirations. This will motivate staff by ensuring that they feel in control of their careers.

While it’s impossible to meet the career goals of every employee, a flexible and well-rounded career development strategy will give a business an edge in the war for talent. By giving staff options that better suit them, your business will benefit by developing the skills it needs to succeed in the future.

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