Though programs differ, four distinct elements of career planning programs emerge. They include (1) individual assessments of abilities, interests, career needs, and goals; (2) organizational assessments of employee abilities and potential; (3) communication of information concerning career options and opportunities with the organization; and (4) career counseling to set realistic goals and plan for their attainment. Each of these elements is discussed in greater detail below.
Individual assessment of abilities, interests, career needs, and goals is basically a process of self-exploration and analysis. Individuals are frequently guided by self-assessment exercises.
The self-assessment process is basically viewed as an individual responsibility; however, organizations can aid in this process by providing the employee with materials and opportunities for self-exploration and analysis. A variety of self-assessment materials are available commercially, but a number of organizations, including IBM, Xerox, General Motors, and General Electric, have developed tailor-made workbooks for employee career planning purposes. Individual career planning exercises can be done independently by employees or in workshops sponsored by the organization. Workshops have the advantage of combining a number of career planning elements including self-assessment, communication of organizational career and development opportunities, and one-on-one counseling to ensure that career goals are realistic.
A key issue in career counseling sessions is whether an employee's goals are realistic in terms of organizational possibilities and organizational assessments of employee abilities and potential. Accurate assessments of employee abilities and potential are important to both the organization and the individual.
Organizations have several sources of information for making assessments of employee abilities and potential. First is selection information, including ability tests, assessment center test, interest inventories, and biographical information such as education and work experience. Second is current job history information, including performance appraisal information, records of promotions and promotion recommendations, salary increases, and participation in various training and development programs. Organizations have traditionally relied on performance appraisal data as the primary basis for assessing employee potential.
Career Information within an Organization
Before realistic goals can be set, an employee need information about career options and opportunities. This includes information about possible career directions; possible paths of career advancement; and specific job vacancies. In organizations with informal career planning programs, employees learn about career options and opportunities from their supervisors within the context of developmental performance appraisal interviews. Organizations with more established career planning programs make greater use of workbooks, workshops, and even recruiting materials to communicate career options and opportunities. Career paths have been defined as logical progressions between jobs or from one job to a target position. They can be either traditional or behavioral.
Traditional career paths are based on past patterns of actual movement by employees. They tend to be limited to advancement within a single function or organizational unit, such as purchasing, sales, or customer relations. Years of service to the organization largely determine the rate at which advancement can occur. For example, a salesman might expect to advance to the position of account supervisor after five years, to sales supervisor after 10, to district manager after 15, and to regional manager after 25 years of service.
More flexible patterns of employee career movement are described by behavioral career paths, which are based on analysis of similarities in job activities and requirements. Where similarities exist, jobs can be grouped into job families, or clusters. Thus, all jobs involving similar work activities and levels of required skills and abilities form one job cluster, regardless of job title. Focusing on job similarities across functions and organizational units brings to light new career options for employees and greater flexibility for the organization in utilizing its available human resources. One organization, for example, was able to shift a number of its sales personnel to purchasing positions when sales declined in one major product line and opportunities became available in the purchasing department. This shift was undertaken when a job analysis showed behavioral similarities between the two previously distinct functions.
It is in counseling sessions, typically with supervisors and managers in developmental performance appraisal interviews, that most employees explore career goals and opportunities in the organization. Supervisors and managers need accurate assessments of employee abilities and potential, as well as information about career options and opportunities in the organization. HR professionals may be involved in some informal career counseling activities, but basically their role is to support career counseling activities of supervisors and managers. This means providing supervisors and managers with needed information as well as with the necessary training to function effectively as counselors.
In career counseling sessions, employees seek answers to the following kinds of questions:
1. What are my skills and what are the possibilities for developing them or learning new ones?
2. What do I really want for myself insofar as work is concerned?
3. What's possible for me, given my current abilities and skills?
4. What's really required for certain jobs?
5. What training will be required if I choose to pursue a certain career objective?"
When counselors are equipped to help employees find the answers to such questions, realistic career goals can be set. Next, development strategies must be devised.