6 steps to building a robust internal career development solution

The Great Resignation has highlighted the need for organizations to create better systems for internal mobility. Use these 6 steps to build a comprehensive career development solution that leads to improved retention, greater engagement and a stronger employer brand.

Business leaders, academics, consultants and HR professionals have talked about the global talent shortage for several years. As far back as 2010, nearly one-third of employers worldwide reported difficulty finding the talent they needed, according to ManpowerGroup.

That talent gap has only widened in the intervening years, and the COVID-19 pandemic shook up the talent market in unexpected ways. Across the world, employees at all levels and functions examined priorities and made decisions about the long term that led them to look at new positions or leave the workforce entirely. This Great Reshuffle or Great Resignation has made it more challenging than ever to fill open roles and meet organizational talent needs.

In this challenging talent environment, many companies respond by offering additional benefits to external recruits—hiring bonuses and flexible schedules, for example. But some organizations may be missing the best talent resource of all—the people already on the payroll. While additional benefits or flexibility may help improve employee retention marginally, career development may be the key to long-term retention, engagement and employer brand. In fact, one study found that “employees with access to professional development opportunities are 15 percent more engaged in their jobs, which led to a 34 percent higher retention rate.”

The key to thriving through the talent wars may be to create your own vibrant internal talent marketplace that focuses on developing employees at all levels of their careers. Follow these six steps to build or improve your organization’s career development offering, align career development with your organizational core values and embed the importance of internal mobility in all your people programs.

Step 1: Determine organizational needs

Conduct a needs assessment that includes an evaluation of the current state of internal mobility and how well the current hiring protocols support the goal of internal mobility. What is your internal hiring protocol? How easy is navigating the application process, finding job requirements and scope and accessing an internal applicant pool from inside the organization?

To help determine your needs, form focus groups and gather baseline KPIs. Conduct research that includes surveying existing employees—how were they hired? Have they been promoted or made lateral moves since joining the company? Was that process simple to follow or full of obstacles and challenges, either on the HR side or with managers who may have been reluctant to let people go or look for new hires internally?

Finally, create a business case and KPI dashboard baseline for your plans and present them to senior leadership to get buy-in. By getting senior leadership support, you’ll help ensure your internal mobility system is aligned with core values and championed from the top down.

Step 2: Develop strategy and roadmap

Define what career development will look like in your organization, including how it supports performance management and talent initiatives. Start by designating a core team to develop your strategy and roadmap. Your HR function will lead the roll-out, but cross-functional representation is important, too. Other departments may have insights into future needs that could drive internal mobility or development efforts.

In addition, decide what expertise you will need from external sources. This could include technical support to overhaul internal systems and better connect all aspects of internal mobility, or it may involve high-level organizational design experts who can help ensure that your strategy and roadmap will achieve ultimate goals.

Finally, confirm buy-in from senior leadership and designate an executive sponsor. Establish check-in protocol for future updates and budget requests.

Step 3: Design career development solutions

Organizations must provide clear career pathways to bring internal mobility to life. At this stage, you must decide whether you will adopt an off-the-shelf solution or create your own career development framework as the foundation for programming, resources, assessments and tools. 

Once a career development model and the foundational components are determined, the stakeholder group can start creating the curriculum and resources required by their plan. This will be different for every organization but will usually include presentations, workshops, career coaching programs, workbooks, worksheets, videos and more. Topics may include career planning, personal branding, building relationships, interviewing, the role of managers, and so on.

Be sure to make a robust selection of assessments available to help people drive their own careers. Include options such as LEAD NOW! Self-Assessment, CliftonStrengths, Working Genius, SocialStyles, personality assessments and similar assessments.

Finally, create or adopt additional collateral for managers to ensure they have the tools and skills necessary for career conversations. Resource guides, templates and micro-learning videos are particularly effective options.

Step 4: Create change management plan

Change management is vital to the success of your internal talent initiative. Start by having your stakeholder group develop internal marketing plans to emphasize why career development is important while offering direction on how individual employees and managers can access the tools and resources. Align your messaging around existing company values and goals and the business case for employees growing and staying with the organization.

Once you’ve developed your core messaging, roll it out in a phased approach. While you may believe nothing but good can come from your plan and that everyone will be on board, remember that people adapt to change at different speeds. Distribute messages through various means, such as HR bulletins, manager meetings, newsletters, e-mails, flyers or short videos.

One important factor to remember as you roll out your career development program: not all employees will want or need career development. While everyone may have a development plan, not everyone will want additional career development options. Start with high-potential employees and those who have requested career development, then move on gradually to others. The excitement generated by those already participating in the programs may help spur interest from others. Remember, everyone has different goals, aspirations and needs; if employees choose not to participate in career development, that’s okay.

Step 5: Implementation

Your HR professionals should be trained first in all solutions. As the critical players in your internal mobility program, they should be proficient and ready to address questions and challenges before rollout to the rest of your organization.

Next, train managers on their roles and clarify questions, concerns or challenges to your system. Use reinforcement tools to strengthen your new development environment.

Finally, roll out the new program to a small group or pilot program to help you gather quick wins. These early wins will also act as reinforcement; when managers and leaders start to see greater engagement and retention, it will reinforce the desire to improve internal mobility.

Step 6: Measure success and improve

Finally, go back to your initial needs assessment and KPIs and measure successes and improvements. Plan to regularly assess similar factors or measurements as appropriate to the business goals and needs. Periodic check-ins with executive sponsors are critical as well, along with continual benchmarking and research.

A robust internal career development solution and talent pool isn’t something that you will build overnight, but neither will happen on its own. By committing to an intentional process with specific goals and clear desired outcomes, you can position your organization to take advantage of the talent already inside its doors—and keep your company a step ahead of the competition in the global talent market.