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SME Career Management

Blog Post

Written by John Berry on 1st May 2017. Revised 16th November 2020.

4 min read

Career ManagementGovernment statistics suggest that as few as 30% of staff in UK organisations are happy with the opportunities available with their employer for career advancement. Staff commitment depends on staff feeling that they have a future with their firm. The statistic suggests that 70% of staff feel uncommitted – a statistic borne out by other surveys using other measures.

Whilst commitment can be built in many ways, the core reason for this poor state perhaps has its roots in UK investors’ short-term expectations. After all, why would you invest in staff and put effort into their careers if you expected to sell up in a couple of years.

This low staff commitment is only exacerbated by the fact that contractors today fill many jobs, including management roles. Using contractors can only be a costly and short-term fix. Firms have no incentive whatsoever to invest in contractors’ careers.

So what’s the solution?

Top management commitment

One possible thread is to be found in one definition of talent management. This states that the firm should take such action as needed to ensure that it has “the right person in the right job – always”.

This is one of these superbly simple sayings that are so terribly difficult to achieve, particularly for the small firm.

To kick-start career management, top management must first elect that it sees benefit in putting effort into staff careers. Without such management support, any efforts by line managers will fail.

Benefits are easy to find. Even if implementation of a career management system were only part-effective, there would likely be huge reductions in recruitment costs, benefits in avoiding reduced productivity caused by colleagues having to cover unfilled vacancies and advantages in being a more attractive firm when actually having to look outside. Those are the tangible benefits – before we try qualifying that elusive ‘enhanced commitment’.

The right approach

Management must then elect an approach to career management. There are several.

The simplest is the Professions Model. In this, each job in the firm is linked to a relevant professional progression up a ladder dictated by one of the many professional institutions. The Institution of Engineering and Technology has, for example, a multi-level accreditation scheme starting at Engineering Technician and ending at Chartered Engineer and Fellow of the Institution.

Such a progression then needs to be linked to the salary and benefits system, to job descriptions and job evaluation and to organisational structure, recognising both technical and managerial progression.

Managerial careers might also be linked to the Chartered Management Institute progression structure and identified as a separate career path – there will be those who embrace management and those who prefer to keep to a technical track.

So being practical, how should career management be done?

Converting strategy to action

Again there are many approaches. One is to set up a framework and coach employees to manage their own careers within this (Personal Career Management). Staff would then enter continuous dialogue with all managers, applying for new roles whenever available. Another is for management to manage careers centrally, meeting every six months or so adjunct to their organisational development activities (Directed Career Management). This latter approach is more directive, like playing chess with people, moving folk from here to there as the organisation needs.

Behind all of this gamification of careers is one fundamental assumption – that management considers that the benefits are worth having and that to make it all happen, they are prepared to put in some financial investment.

Management itself must be prepared to put energy in to convert strategy to action. It must already embrace organisational development.

And when a member of staff wants to move from customer services to accounts, their distance-learning course to pave the way needs to be paid for. And when management identifies that a marketer should be developed to become product manager, opportunity must be provided. Career management will be empty promises unless there’s the budgetary wherewithal to make it happen.

SME career management

Management is a rich tapestry. Sometimes it seems full of negatives like disciplinary and grievance. But at other times it’s sheer adrenalin, driving the firm forward. Career management is one of those positives. It’s an opportunity to work on the firm as a project, making change and then reaping the benefits.