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Managers Make or Break Your Culture of Career Mobility

You can talk about career mobility all you want. But unless the managers across your organization buy into it too, it’s all just lip service—followed by negative, real-world consequences.

People often leave organizations for two reasons. The first? A bad boss. The second? A lack of professional development.

To give your people the development they seek and to create real business value for your organization, career mobility must be embraced. This strategy comes to life when an internal marketplace that connects employee skills and skill development to ongoing, real-time internal opportunities for people to explore new types of work is embraced.

And for a career mobility program to really work, managers need to play a pivotal role, Degreed CLO Kelly Palmer said. “The manager is the role that actually makes or breaks whether this will be successful.”

Culture Through Partnership
Internal opportunities, the lifeblood of any career mobility program, originate with managers. With employees demanding growth opportunities, managers supply the means through stretch projects, gig work, mentorships, and more.

And once those opportunities are defined, “It’s the manager’s role to partner with employees to help them progress on their career journeys,” Palmer said.

The end goal is to create a rich and supported learning culture—one that integrates your skills, technology, and implementation strategies. To get there, research indicates that managers benefit from positive encouragement.

Rewarding Connection
Managers assessed solely on their ability to get work done will hoard talent. And hoarding talent, especially rock-star performers who want to develop, is a surefire way to lose those people to other organizations that will offer those opportunities.

When managers are evaluated on leadership skills, however, they’re more likely to be flexible about sharing talent with other teams, and they’re more open to letting their people be mentored by other team leaders.

According to a 2019 Gartner study, organizations that are most successful at developing their employees cultivate managers who connect employees to the right people and resources at the right time. These managers boost employee performance by up to 26 percent and more than triple the likelihood that their employees will be high performers.

Some companies track career conversations, how many projects are staffed cross-functionally, and how many promotions are internal. When managers are measured by these metrics, Palmer said, “They’re recognized for being amazing leaders for internal talent, and then they’re much more willing to be that kind of manager.”

Three Takeaways for Managers
First, make your relationship with your workers a partnership, Palmer said. “Have regular career conversations with your employees.” And because those conversations have a different dynamic and purpose than a performance review, do them separately.

Second, always think about how you can give your people new challenges. Again, these can be special projects and other short-term opportunities. Maybe one of your people wants to be trained or mentored. Or perhaps that person wants a chance to train somebody else.

Third, help create a company culture that rewards managers for supporting career mobility. And if you are a manager, Palmer said, “Model what you want to see.”

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I could not agree more with this advice. I would argue the best measure of a great manager is not how productive their team is, but how confident their team members are about their career prospects beyond their current roles. That's because people who feel valued at work and see the long-term potential at an organization *want* to excel and want to stay longer. Managers can nurture this by encouraging/facilitating cross-functional collaboration, learning, and mentorship.
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