If Your Company is Doing Career Development To Increase Engagement This Way, It Will Fail


Career Development as a tactic to increase engagement theoretically works because:

  • We know that the #1 reason people quit is lack of growth opportunity
  • And we know the main reason they leave a job for a new job is better growth opportunity
  • It is an expression of caring on behalf of executive leadership that enhances employment brand and loyalty
  • It increases the value that an employee can offer the organization, and thereby would theoretically increase their compensation

So, it seems logical that by offering your employees career development you would improve retention and engagement by offering them a chance to develop new skills.

However, I have been seeing some “experts” advise companies to go about it in a way that will backfire, sending retention numbers, morale, and employee/leader relations downward while costs increase – at worst, and produce little to no ROI – at best.

Don’t decide what skills you want to develop in your workforce by evaluating which would help them do their job better. Decide by helping employees understand how they can make increasing contributions that are meaningful to them. If an employee is really going to feel as though they are growing, these contributions have to be acknowledged and rewarded by leadership, and their influence has to expand in correlation with their expanded expertise. The means that the organization has to recognize that job satisfaction and engagement are two different things. Also, make sure your organization is keeping abreast of future trends, devising and implementing plans to leverage up and coming skills, and offering employees who want it, a chance to gain exposure and training in these skills. Yes, this will make them more marketable for other jobs and more attractive to your competition. As Richard Branson said…

“Train people well enough so that they can leave, treat them well enough that they don’t want to.”

Don’t decide which employees you will train now or later based on management’s assessment of an employee’s aptitude to perform.  It is a flaw of management theory that if you invest in developing and tending to the top 10% and the lowest 10% of your talent that you are covering your bases. However, theories like that are what contribute to such a prolonged, high rate of disengagement. How can you expect 80% of your workforce to be engaged if leadership is not engaged with them? ALL employees need this type of offer. Some may not take advantage of it, but you can’t have an inclusive workforce if you exclude anyone from growth opportunity.

Don’t decide whether you will use internal or external resources for skill development based on what is most cost-effective. Focus on the option that represents the best chance of the desired outcome, otherwise, you will not get a return on your investment. You have to be able to objectively assess if an internal resource will be credible and trusted.  Maybe using an internal resources is cheaper, but there’s already been evidence that people have suffered for being honest, you will need an external resource who can build rapport and trust. However, if employees expect that their manager is supposed to look out for them, hiring someone from the outside may seem lazy.   Another option is to train managers to be better career developers (we help with that, too.)

The most desired outcome for an employee of true career management is control. Some people may suffice to take their company’s direction and grow in the ways that benefit the organization most. These are the employees who usually wake up sometime in their midlife wondering how they got here, and if they’re where they want to be, where they could be, and if it’s not too late to decide and arrive where they would be happiest. I know because these people are my clients. In fact, career coaches everywhere who niche in senior corporate professionals or executives will likely echo the same thing.  If your company experiences a strange exodus of mid-level to senior-level tenured talent, this is why. You have exerted too much control over their career. Some companies will at this point rely on retirement benefits or accrued vacation to retain this talent, and that might be effective in retaining them, but it won’t engage them.

Don’t only frame career development in terms of what benefits the company most. You will get biased assessment results that fail to address the real aspirations of people, which may not backfire right away, but it will backfire eventually. Let people grow in the way that serves them best, and if the organization can benefit from it, make it work. If not, let them go, and I don’t mean abruptly or without an exit plan that supports them transitioning out while you transition someone else who would be more engaged in.

I can understand why it might seem counterproductive to implement career development plans “my” way; it seems as though you will inadvertently encourage employees to follow career paths that place them outside of your organization. That will happen, and it will present the costs of replacing that talent, but you will also be ridding your organization of people who represent high risks of disengagement.

If your company doesn’t have:

  • Trust and rapport between employees and an internal career development coach, manager or not
  • Confidentiality assurance
  • A culture that honors honesty without executing punitive consequences for it
  • The competency to help employees determine their most ideal career path
  • The resources and budget to train employees into growth roles once a growth role is identified
  • A culture that will give employees a two-way communication channel to assert their influence
  • A way to leverage skills that are increasing in demand
  • The means to compensate employees more overtime for the organizational advancements to which they contribute

… then career development is not going to work as a way to increase engagement. In fact, you can expect that low engagement will persist and that it will continue to cost your organization 35% of your compensation expenses and render your human capital investments, if any, void of ROI.


Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where her students won the 2018 national competition and were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs.

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