All Articles Leadership Careers No development budget? Internal career mobility is still within your reach

No development budget? Internal career mobility is still within your reach

Many employees still equate professional “growth” with a promotion. Leaders need to reframe that conversation, especially when promotions and development funding are scarce.

4 min read



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According to Gallup, as many as 87% of employees say that professional development is important to them. Today’s flat organizational structures provide limited opportunities for professional development in the form of a promotion. So, companies have turned to other ways to foster professional grow.

Many organizations now focus on “internal career mobility,” which is defined as a company’s efforts to provide career opportunities laterally throughout the company.

Although some companies actively promote internal mobility through formal programs, it’s not a given. But that’s not a problem for the resourceful manager. As Smartbrief contributor and career development expert Julie Winkle-Giulioni points out, creating internal career mobility is really a matter of creating opportunities for your team members. And that’s something all leaders have at their disposal. Even with zero professional development budget dollars.

Here’s how it’s being done in the real world.

Reframe the discussion on “growth”

Many employees still equate professional “growth” with a promotion. Leaders need to reframe that conversation, not only because a focus on promotion limits employees’ opportunities, but also because growth comes in many forms.

Chad Koetje, a national accounts manager for a technology firm, has held several leadership positions in his 20-year career. Koetje has found that “employees (especially those new to the workforce) are so concerned with advancement. They tend to underestimate the value that lateral mobility provides.”

Koetje coaches young, ambitious team members by pointing to senior leaders in the organization who have held a variety of similar-level positions. This helps employees realize how a well-rounded set of experiences is a legitimate way to advance in one’s career.

“[Younger employees] tend to focus more on the job title than the value of the experience they will gain,” Koetje says, so he views his role as helping them see the longer horizon and benefits they’ll experience by trying out lateral job opportunities.

See the opportunity in daily activities

The best developmental opportunities are often the most mundane, and might be met with indifference or even disdain. But if you can help your team see that everyday activities like leading meetings, making presentations and managing projects do indeed strengthen their skill set, you’ll have abundant opportunities to develop them professionally.

Staci Miller is an EHS professional with over 20 years of managerial experience. She constantly looks for ways to delegate responsibilities to her team members. Miller’s favorite methods include assigning a team member to organize a brief team-building activity during multi-day offsite meetings and asking members of her team to attend meetings in her stead when her attendance isn’t mandatory.

“I choose meetings that provide visibility to senior management. If my attendance is a must, then I still allow for development by deferring questions during the meeting to allow my team members to demonstrate their expertise,” explains Miller.

Get clear on their goals, and then find ways to grow them in those areas

Here’s an example from an employee’s point of view: Emily Hazelbach is an early-career learning and development professional who works for a global manufacturer of health and beauty care products. Hazelbach’s team leader has a strong commitment to team development.

“Each year, my boss meets with us one-to-one to discover information on how we work, what we are passionate about, and what focus areas we want to pursue for the year,” says Hazelbach.

Armed with that information, Hazelbach’s team leader keeps an eye out for developmental opportunities, based on that employee’s focus areas. As a result of this year’s career planning, Hazelbach is designing the training for a product launch, which will sharpen her facilitation and instructional design skills.

“I really appreciate the extra effort my boss has taken to help me develop professionally by providing opportunities to grow in the areas I am passionate about” reports Hazelbach.

You can offer internal career mobility to your team members even without a substantial professional development budget. All it requires is a bit of creative thinking on your part about what what constitutes “development.” From there, internal career mobility will naturally flow, one opportunity at a time.

Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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