A recent post on Forbes pointed out that 2/3 of the millennial generation, which now makes up the largest part of the workforce, does not want to work for a large organization, but would rather pursue an entrepreneurial career, and so far about 20% are doing it. I can attest to this trend. I have a son who will graduate from a university this December, and he has made it clear that he has no interest in taking a corporate-type of position. Many of his cousins have chosen similar paths.

What’s behind this trend? Part of it is a desire to control one’s destiny rather than relying on others. Another factor is that technology and the social media landscape have made entrepreneurial careers much more available and realistic. Few in today’s talented workforce are looking to just have “a job”; rather, most workers want to see immediate progression in their career growth and challenging personal development opportunities.

In my last post, I discussed the 5 elements of organizational culture and why culture matters. The Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list includes companies with strong employee cultures that help attract and retain the brightest talent.

In this post, I will discuss the application of the organizational culture framework to creating a culture of development. The first step in creating a culture of development is clarifying a vision of what development means for our organization.

Before we can create a vision, we need a definition of “development”. I would define it as building one’s capacity to contribute to organizational results. As a practical matter, development can occur as one becomes more competent within a role, by learning completely new skills that allow him/her to move laterally into a different role or by expanding one’s ownership for new areas of responsibility (a move up the hierarchy for instance). Temporary career assignments can also be tremendous developmental opportunities, such as a move to another geographic location for a period of time, or a short-term high intensity project.

Here’s the organizational culture model I presented in my last post, now with an application to development. In this post, we’ll discuss the Vision component, and successive posts will review the other components in more detail.

Figure 1
Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 12.17.48 PM

Do we really need a vision of what development means? The short answer is, “yes”. We have to start with a collective understanding or view of what development is and what it looks like operationally. We will not attract or retain our best talent if we send contradictory or confusing messages.

Most executives might roll their eyes when it comes to creating a vision statement, thinking that a 3-day offsite is required to create the perfect vision. I am not thinking of it that way. Creating a vision of development can be a relatively quick exercise and the result does not have to be a beautiful poster hung on a wall. Here are a few questions, the answers to which will help clarify the importance of development in your organization:

  • What is the business case? Why is the development of our talent important to our organization?
  • If development were occurring in an ongoing way, what would be some indicators (for example, what proportion of our senior leadership should come from internal sources)?
  • Do we value our technical talent and to what degree? What technical resources are most critical to the mission of our business? How far can technical resources take their career in a technical path in our organization? Or, do they have to become people leaders to be deemed a “success”?
  • Do we encourage lateral movement? Are we willing to “take a chance” on an internal candidate that may not have the perfect match for a degree or skill set and give him or her a chance to move into a different space and gain the skills needed?
  • How open will we be with feedback? Will we have an open and candid environment or will people have to really push hard to know exactly where they stand and what we think of their potential?
  • Are we going to do nothing or focus our development efforts on specific groups (like “high potentials”) or do we believe that everyone can (and should) be developed? The continuum in Figure 2 illustrates some ways to think about our development audience.

Figure 2

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.52.00 AM

Once you’ve had a chance to discuss those questions with your leaders you can begin to craft a vision statement. Here’s one example of a statement (I’ve omitted some of the organization’s specific language for sake of use here):

  • Business Need: Ongoing employee development is key to achieving our future growth
  • Feedback: Helpful, candid feedback is sought for and shared regularly and gathered from multiple sources
  • Communication: Multiple forums and channels exist for ongoing career discussions
  • Opportunities: Everyone has an opportunity for challenging developmental actions/assignments
  • Tools/Resources: We continuously evaluate and upgrade our tools and resources to support development at all levels

Not fancy, but in this case the organization has made a stab at clarifying key characteristics which they can now reference and use as a guide for the other cultural components. Creating a vision statement will allow your organization to powerfully communicate to current and potential talent why they should (continue to) choose your organization over their growing list of choices.

Of course, having a vision alone won’t cut it, the words have to be put into action. But, it’s a heck of a start, and you’ll find the process itself will make a huge difference in bringing your leaders together into a common mindset and in offering millennials a compelling reason to join (or stay with) your team. Future posts will discuss the other cultural components of Figure 1.