HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Wendy Tan

Find out what is the ultimate productivity booster for Singaporeans


What is the ultimate enhancer of productivity? Some managers in Singapore say it’s automation, skills upgrade, good teamwork and even better health.

No one said this - the ultimate enhancer of productivity is when your best people get even better. This is not about training or even leadership development programs, but it's their career development – having a big picture about their careers, so that they know what they need to learn, how they can contribute and therefore stay in the organization over the long term.

However, we are seriously not doing a good job in using Career Development as a strategy to improve productivity. Towers Watson Global Workforce 2012 study shows that 54% of respondents from Singapore believed that they have to join another organization to advance their careers and 30% feel that senior management is doing a poor job in grooming future leaders. A large percentage of employees continue to be dissatisfied with their career development even though 81% of job satisfaction is related to career development (Blessing White, 2012).

Why is this so? What are some problems in realizing Career Development as a viable productivity strategy? Let’s consider a few reasons:

  • Many Managers Avoid Career Conversations: They fear questions such as, “When can I be promoted? How do I get that job there?” and raising expectations in the process. Some managers even prefer to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and avoid talking about career development for fear of implanting thoughts in their employees’ minds. It is not as if employees don’t think about them already! Other managers have the will but not the skill to do career conversations well.
  • Many Employees Don’t Know Their Career Fit: Most have a vague sense of climbing the ladder. Job-hopping has become a way of finding progression, especially in some Asian countries such as China and India, where opportunities are abundant. Our research shows that more than 70% of the respondents are open to opportunities within and outside the organization in seek of career development. Imagine the impact of just half of this number leaving your organization.
  • How HR Treats Career Development: In our work with organizations, we find many HR professionals putting an inordinate amount of time and energy creating career paths. The intention of such career paths is to tell staff where they will move in the next few years. However once career paths are defined on paper, they change because the speed of change in organizations is rapid. Just think restructuring, delayering, right sizing, and centralizing. The other more insidious problem is the mindset inherent in this approach – career development is seen as a ladder, moving up to the top, rung by rung over the years. This approach is unsustainable, because there are just insufficient up places even for deserving employees.

So how can we effectively use Career Development as a strategy to increase productivity? Here are some ideas:

  • Reframe Career Development from a Ladder to a Rock Wall: Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni, authors of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go” say career development is like rock climbing. To move to where we want, we need to move laterally, diagonally, vertically or even take a step down before moving forward again. When we see careers this way, we see many more opportunities. Career Development then becomes moving forward, rather than just upward.  
  • The Role of HR: HR’s role is to enable and support career conversations between managers and employees. Managers need guidance on having practical and productive career conversations. Design a process to gather the outputs of the career conversations, so that HR can link employee aspirations to business needs. This information also feeds into succession planning and talent development. In doing this, HR needs to shift from providing predictability to putting accountability on the employees and being creative in seeing opportunities in the evolving business needs.
  • The Role of Managers: Managers need to support career conversations by listening and asking good questions, rather than cave into the pressure of giving answers. Put the employees accountable for their own development and link them to resources such as other mentors and development assignments, so that the load is not totally on you. Be prepared that you may at some point need to let go of your best people to other departments. However these talents will remain in the organization because of your support. In turn, you attract other talents because people want to work for managers who care about their growth.
  • The Role of Employees: Employees need to own their career development and be the spark. Initiate conversations with your manager after you think through who you are (values, interests and strengths), your career reputation, career options and what you need to learn to move forward. Remember career spans over at least 40 years of our lives. It is not just about the next promotion. Focus on what you need to learn and the opportunities will come forth.

These three steps will present a huge shift in the way we leverage on Career Development to improve productivity, engagement and retention. Try out these ideas and let me know how they go. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Wendy Tan

Wendy Tan

Wendy Tan is the author of Wholeness in a Disruptive World: Pearls of Wisdom from East and West. A speaker, consultant and founding partner of Flame Centre, she works with organisations to develop, engage and retain their talents.

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