Maximize Employee Engagement and Retention by Aligning Individual and Organizational Career Journeys

By Kathy Harris

A few years ago I noticed a huge gap in the work being done to help clients create and implement compelling career journeys within their organizations. As career practitioners, we were working hard but something always seemed incomplete.


Being trained in both making career decisions and using career information made it easy to see that we, as career practitioners, were doing an excellent job of providing clients with information (about self, work and learning), but we were not teaching them how to use it effectively.


As a result, I created a ‘how to decide’ program that shows workers how to look ahead, figure out where they are going (i.e., to work that fits) and then map backwards from their goal(s) to figure out how to get there. It soon became apparent that the process for making career decisions is the same for everyone, be it post-secondary students transitioning into their next learning/work situation, or employees setting a personal development plan for growth within their organization. The tools and process remain the same, only the content and nature of the decision changes. Major elements of this program include:

  • People learn how to recognize work and learning that are a good fit (i.e., they get to do what they love, in a way that suits them and that accommodates their realities)


  • For each ‘good fit’ element, there are specific tools, such as identifying each person’s unique intrinsic motivator – their strongest connector to work


  • People are being taught how to use their tools to manage the overwhelming number of work and learning opportunities and find their best matches, then decide exactly what to do next to select work and learning that fits them.


The program was successful. Where once the task of deciding “what I want to be when I grow up” had been confusing and overwhelming, it was now concrete, clear and simple.


Organizational leaders, hearing of the program’s success, invited me to come into their organizations and ‘fix’ their employees and get them to ‘step up’ and take a more proactive role in contributing to their company’s success. Employees who participated in my program got very excited because they felt in control and confident in their ability to manage and self-direct their careers. They learned how to take responsibility for their day-to-day levels of engagement and they could efficiently and effectively set their personal development plan.


However, I quickly realized that I was providing only one third of what had to be done to align employees’ career plans with their organizations’ needs. Equipping employees for their role was easy. Having them put their career development plans into action was nearly impossible. First, they hit a wall called “No Internal Career Information”. I was astonished to see how few companies provide a list of the different kinds of work available within their organization. How can an employee look ahead and figure out where they are going within a company if they have nothing to look ahead at? That particular problem was the simplest to fix. If a list of the different kinds of work available internally did not exist, I simply asked permission to produce one.


More problematic was the program graduates hitting the wall of “Leadership Resistance”. I originally thought that leaders could not shift things easily to get employees into work they were excited by, so they resisted employee requests. However, I soon realized that fear was a bigger contender. Some leaders feared the loss of operational control, perhaps because they worried about the possibility of employees doing whatever they found exciting, rather than what the organization needed done.


It was an eye opener! I realized that, like individuals, organizations need the tools and skills to set their own career journey – one with the solid foundation of knowing where they are headed so they can flex and change direction as needed without getting lost. Viewing the organization as an individual led to developing a program to help businesses set compelling career journeys – to look ahead, figure out where they are going and back map to figure out the best ways to get there, including how best to fit employees into the plan. Some key program components include:

  • Helping leaders identify where the organization is heading (i.e., set its long term purpose), clarify its mandate (rules and regulations to be followed) and set its core values (guiding principles)


  • Setting an operational framework - Identifying major areas of work associated with the three success pillars (internal, external and connecting the internal to the external) and equipping each with the direction needed to support moving towards the organization’s goal


  • Setting a plan to get there - Back mapping to set a short term vision for each pillar (the work/projects/tasks that need to be done over the next X years) and matching employees to the work.


With both the employees and the organization able to set compelling career journeys, all that remained was to get and keep them aligned. This requires someone to do the original alignment, which is typically a subject matter expert. Then someone needs to be equipped to maintain alignment over time. This critical role resides naturally with leaders since they sit between the organization and its people and are most influential in building the corporate culture needed to support it.


Equipping leaders to be master career journey aligners is the third piece of the puzzle. They are equipped to handle three alignment areas. They must:

  • contribute significantly to defining the organization’s career journey


  • ensure that every current and future employee possesses the tools and skills needed to set their personal career journeys


  • build and sustain a culture that supports employees doing work that fits as much as possible.


By equipping all three groups - the organization, its employees and its leaders – with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to set, implement and maintain well-aligned career journeys, the gap can now be closed. Organizations can become natural generators of engagement and retention.




Kathy HarrisKathy Harris, President of Jobmatics, is passionate about making sure that as many individuals and organizations as possible have the opportunity to develop and use their unique gifts to improve economies, communities and individual lives. She has held many roles in national, provincial and local organizations in her quest to understand what stops people from moving forward. She can be reached at kathyharris@jobmatics.com or by calling 613.387.3301.

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1 Comment

E. Niel Carey   on Saturday 08/04/2012 at 08:43 PM

Kathy, thanks for writing an informative and useful article. You have provided a workable process through which employees can make plans to "take charge of their career" and at the same time, you provide employers with excellent suggestions for encouraging and retaining valuable employees.

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