Many career development initiatives within organizations originate in response to employee survey data suggesting employees lack career opportunities or support. The organization’s leadership then says “we’ve got to do something about this,” followed by lots of energy and investment in creating a plan, allocating resources and kicking off the career development initiative. While the intent and initial energy is good, the development initiative then fizzles after a period of time.

Why do some initiatives fail? Although there are many reasons, some of the most common issues are listed below:

  1. Lack of a clear strategy and definition of what is meant by ‘career development.’ Too often little thought is given to the specific objectives. For example, is the objective to improve long-term retention or increase the pool of leadership successors? Or perhaps to maximize the contribution of employees for whatever the period of time they stay with the organization, regardless if it’s 3 years or 30 years?
  2. No follow-up or measurement of impact. Not knowing what problem you’re trying to solve leads to a lack of defined results and understanding of what success look like. Most organizations recognize the need to measure results, but few do it in the HR arena. I’m not suggesting complex research, but rather just a simple ‘pulse survey’ to find out how the initiative is going and what people need help with to keep the momentum going.
  3. Searching for the perfect solution. Rather than sticking with a career development process or approach long enough to embed it in the culture, the organization looks for the next ‘flavor of the month’ and jumps on that bandwagon.  Or, a new leader comes in and wants to transition to his/her favorite approach. The problem is that the first implementation never gets traction and does not become part of the culture. 
  4. Trying to do too much at once. Making the initiative too complex can cause a well-intentioned effort to fail. To be successful, simplicity rules. Get very clear with your leadership about the outcomes and expectations and don’t burden the initiative (or the employees) with too many forms, details, and dates.
  5. Thinking that career development is only for the ‘little people.’ I’ve seen organizations assume that people managers and senior leaders don’t need career development training or education, and therefore they don’t get immersed in their roles as leaders of the development process and don’t spend enough time on their own development. The best developers of talent also are great at developing themselves. Employees need role models of what internal development should look like.

Time spent up front on addressing these issues can mean the difference between a successful effort and a large waste of valuable resources.