Blog Post

To improve the employee experience, focus on career growth

Dream Chua (they/them)

Product Marketing Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility, Cornerstone

In the wake of the so-called turnover tsunami, questions like “How are you treating your employees?” and “What are you doing to retain your best talent?” are critical for talent leaders to address today. But delivering a meaningful experience at work requires more than just offering key perks — many of which no longer hold as much value in remote or hybrid environments. It requires connecting growth and development to each of your employee’s purposes.

People demand more from their employers than simply fair wages, improved benefits plans and a flexible work schedule. They’re seeking career paths and opportunities to actually change their lives. They want to develop new skills, new careers and find acceptance, purpose and belonging at work.

Organizations know this, and yet almost 75% of workers cited a lack of career progression as the reason they would be most likely to leave their job. To improve the employee experience for everyone, your organization needs to focus on connecting your people to your purpose, supporting employee growth and giving employees more agency over that growth.

Purpose, not just pay

To develop a positive employee experience, you need to demonstrate an investment in your employees’ growth and development built on transparency, ownership over the process and a connection to purpose.

Internal career opportunities can help keep turnover down and boost retention. Employees with three years of tenure who have advanced in their career have a 70% chance of staying with the company, compared to 45% for someone who stayed in the same role. Providing employees with a sense of purpose and growth helps them see a future inside the organization. It’s imperative for leaders to understand their role in facilitating this and how it’s part of their jobs to connect employees with meaningful growth opportunities to learn and develop.

Reimagining the workplace for growth

One of the first steps in developing a better employee experience is unlocking a mindset that work is not just a place to complete tasks, collaborate on projects or churn out products. It’s also a place to train, learn and grow, and employees should be able to see their organization as an avenue to develop skills to improve their whole self while also building stability in their careers.

Say someone working in marketing discovers an interest in how the organization drives sales. If you can provide the right skills development, networking opportunities, mentorships or peer shadowing, this marketer can feel empowered to learn about another role within the organization. Giving that marketer access to adjacent skills that the sales team uses can help give them a better understanding of how marketing leads feed the sales pipeline.

Providing your people the freedom to explore how your organization works is also a blueprint for getting well-rounded employees driven, motivated and ready to innovate. But to get there, employees first must understand that their employer invests enough to help them succeed and is willing to create a culture that allows them the space to experiment with their interests.

Reimaging your workplace isn’t always easy, especially since managers can sometimes be reluctant to release their talent. They might not feel like they have enough time to dedicate to employee development or feel they need their employees’ full bandwidth on their existing job responsibilities. Some managers might even keep their best people within their own department or worry that by developing people too well, a person may leave the organization.

But creating an employee experience that situates people for new opportunities can help managers mobilize teams faster — opening the entire organization as a supply of talent options. It can also help reduce the need to automatically hire out for new skills. Supporting internal mobility also helps organizations earn a reputation of facilitating career growth and mobility, which can, in turn, helps them attract and hire into critical roles faster.

Using skills to give employees ownership over their growth

To help organizations — and people managers in particular — create a workforce with competitive skills that’s ready to adapt to future challenges and mobilize at the drop of a hat, it’s time to center the conversation about growth on skills.

Rather than thinking about projects in terms of people (“I’m going to staff this project with these three people from my team”), we should be thinking about the skills required to complete projects. For example, you might need marketing, sales and communication skills for a project. Anyone can have these skills, not necessarily just people with those words in their job title.

Effective people managers will create opportunities that people want to work on. And communicating about work at the skill level gives employees the ability to actively seek these opportunities out. Employees get to experience new projects, gigs, etc., that align with their career interests and goals, while the limits of managers aren’t bound to their immediate team members.

And, when employees can self-select the skills they want to gain, it can empower managers to tap employees who might be hesitant or nervous about jumping into new opportunities.

Self-management is a crucial advantage of a talent marketplace

A talent marketplace puts employees in control to authentically build their skills. Instead of following an archaic A to B to C career path, people can see how their existing and future skills might take them to new places — especially when those skills can stay with a person no matter where they are in their life or their career.

  • For example, a talent marketplace can help your people:
  • Promote their skills and aspirations
  • Explore recommended projects and assignments
  • Skills-match with roles
  • Find and engage with mentors and learning content

Giving workers the ownership to determine what they want to learn and for what reasons helps create a more genuine employee experience centered on personal growth. When done right, a talent marketplace can deliver a broad range of business benefits, too — improving organizational agility, enhancing workforce productivity, and fostering increased transparency, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Connecting growth and development to employee purpose

Creating a growth environment that emphasizes skills can also help break down the HR silos between learning and development and career performance. Organizations can connect how and why people learn with actionable advancement instead of viewing these as separate categories. And when employees are choosing their own paths, it helps unlock another critical aspect of employee experience: purpose.

Ultimately, purpose is motivation. It’s why people engage with work, and that engagement drives them to perform their best. That “why” is going to be different for every person. That’s where building an inclusive employee experience comes into play: HR systems need to facilitate and support everyone’s version of learning and growth.

If the skills that employees are developing help them in a new role, amazing. If the skills help them outside of that role, that’s great too. They’re developing transferable skills or maybe even picking up something that could help them with a passion project outside of work.

But when there’s a connection to purpose, that’s how employees can remain engaged. And engaged employees are the ones who drive to innovate. They’re the ones that are going to keep your organization ahead of the pack.

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Cornerstone Performance: Holistic talent development that drives business forward


Cornerstone Performance: Holistic talent development that drives business forward

Whether you do performance reviews only once a year or have a robust, continual performance management process, with Cornerstone Performance, you can set goals, coach employees, receive feedback, guide development, and give recognition. Seamlessly link performance and skills data with internal learning opportunities to enable employee-driven, manager-supported growth. Because the best way to invest in business growth and achievement is by investing in the growth and achievements of your people with Cornerstone Performance.

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