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The culture-career development connection

The power of a supportive culture can change careers and whole organizations.

4 min read



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This post is adapted from “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want.” by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni. The book’s second edition is being released Jan. 15.

When it comes to career development, what individual managers do matters. A lot. Their intentions, relationships, and interactions contribute to a tone within the organization. And they can change the lives of those who work for them.

Being heard. Being recognized. Being valued. Being trusted. Being developed. This resonates deeply with employees. And this is what happens when managers commit to a regular cadence of career conversations.

Yet, if one manager’s efforts can have such an influence at the individual level, imagine the effect of a constructive organizational culture on your workforce as a whole.

When culture aligns with and supports development, it creates a synergistic tsunami, sweeping layers of leadership, policies and practices and fundamental sensibilities up and washing it all over the organization. Stragglers can’t hold out for long. They either join in or choose to go elsewhere.

And, in the process, the organization as a whole reaps the benefits of highly effective career development. Engagement. Customer satisfaction. Discretionary effort. Sales. Innovation. Retention. Quality. Productivity. Reputation. Loyalty. Profitability.

Cultures that actively support career development and enjoy its constructive biproducts might look very different on the outside. They can be for-profit or not-for-profit. They can be product or service oriented. They can be large or small. High-tech or low-tech. Private or public. But, under the veneer, these organizations share five fundamental characteristics or cultural markers. They include:

  • Information richness: Career development flourishes in an environment of openness and transparency where information flows freely. Because information about performance, perceptions, and possibilities are precisely what employees need to own their development and drive it forward.
  • Curious: Curiosity fuels a development-supportive culture as well. You see it when leaders bring genuine inquisitiveness to their interactions with others. Or, when ‘seeking out diverse points of view’, isn’t just a talking point but instead the whole point of dialogue.
  • Patient: In today’s environment, where results are monitored by the hour and “long term” means next week, patience is in pretty short supply. But managers and leaders who make career development a reality appreciate the value in focusing on a slightly longer horizon. They don’t need to wrap things up immediately but rather allow thoughts, ideas, opportunities and people to evolve organically over time.
  • Results-orientated: The ability to focus broadly on results — and be less rigid (within reason) about how they’re accomplished — provides a wide berth for employees to experiment, try out new talents and skills, approach tasks differently and grow their capacity. Leadership clarity about the “what” can allow for more creativity and flexibility around the “how,” which creates countless vehicles for growth.
  • Blurry around boundaries: Rather than hard lines between departments or divisions, leaders with blurry vision see opportunities to collaborate. Instead of “us” and “them,” they see how “all of us” are in this together. These sorts of leaders actively encourage development because they can look outside of their own areas for opportunities for people to learn, contribute and grow. They’re willing to move people around and even lose good talent to colleagues as a way to support the development of employees.

Do you want to assess how your organization is performing against these characteristics? Download the Organizational Culture Survey and a two-chapter preview of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want” or visit

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