I recently visited a trendy new restaurant with friends. Arriving a bit early, we decided to grab a drink, but there was no menu in sight. The mixologist (James) explained that this was by design and offered create the perfect cocktail for each of us. He began by ‘interviewing’ each of us about our likes, dislikes, and how we were feeling that evening. Then he proceeded to whip up a tray full of cocktails that my friends and I could never have ordered – but that met our every specification and were delicious. Bespoke cocktails.
But it’s not just trendy cocktail lounges that operate like this. High-end tailors construct custom shirts and suits, and couture design focuses on one-of-a-kind garments crafted with the unique needs, wants, and preferences of the individual in mind. Bespoke fashion.
The range of bespoke creations available today got me thinking: Might this sort of ‘just-for-me’ mindset be exactly what organizations need right now to elevate engagement, make development relevant, and stem the current tide of resignations? Bespoke career development.
To date, organizations have worked hard – and invested heavily – to generate systems, processes, pathways, and programs to accommodate the desire of their employees to grow, learn, and advance. And yet, these (on-the-menu and off-the-rack) efforts frequently fall short of expectations.
- The Great Resignation is only gaining steam with the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report highlighting another 4.5 million people leaving their jobs in November.
- One of the top three reasons people leave their job is because of lack of growth. In one poll, 83% reported ‘I no longer felt like I was growing in my position.’ https://www.inc.com/melissa-angell/great-resignation-burnout-workers-upskilling-career-development.html
- Seventy percent of U.S. employees report being at least somewhat likely to leave their current employer for another with a reputation for investing in employee learning and development, according to a Harris Poll study.
Current approaches appear not to be delivering the retention or results organizations need. So, perhaps it’s time to trade one-size-fits-all career development for a more individual, uniquely constructed development experiences designed to deliver the meaningful growth that each employee wants.
Bespoke career development has the potential to dramatically elevate the employee experience and contribute to the range of business outcomes that emanate from greater employee satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty; but it demands more of the managers and leaders charged with making it happen. Here are two high-impact actions you can begin taking today.
Expand the Definition of Careers and Career Development
Fundamental to bespoke development are different options and possibilities. But this runs counter to the traditional thinking held by many employees. How many of your employees have confused advancement with development or a new position with growth? Defining development exclusively by promotions is like offering a one-item menu as opposed to mixing and matching experiences to create bespoke opportunities for growth that are as unique as the individual.
Managers and leaders can change this mindset and help others embrace a more expansive definition of what careers are and how they’re developed. You can do this by shifting the conversation away from what employees want to be and focusing instead on what they want to do. Encourage people to think broadly with questions like:
- What kind of work do you really want to do?
- What contributions are you ready to make?
- What difference do you want to make here?
- What do you want to learn?
- Who do you want to learn from?
- What challenges are you ready to take on?
- How can you find greater meaning in what you do?
Questions like these go deep and cultivate profound conversations and connections. They tap what really matters to people. And they help others begin to see the vast opportunities to grow and develop their careers right where they are.
Look Beyond the Normal Suspects for Development Opportunities
Once an employee’s mindset shifts and they understand that careers are far bigger than promotions and positions, bespoke developers must be ready to take the conversation in different directions. You can’t fall back on the old ‘to get from here to there, you must XYZ.’ You must instead dig deeper and use what you’ve learned to match what employees want to do with meaningful activities and experiences. This requires looking beyond courses, seminars, and conferences to explore organic opportunities to grow.
The workplace itself is filled with experiences capable of delivering bespoke development. Do you have someone who’s ready to step up to the next challenge? Perhaps solving a persistent customer care problem could offer the stretch they need. An employee who’s eager to refine their collaboration skills. That cross-functional quality team could be the perfect venue for such learning. Adding variety to a job. Enabling passion projects. Offering greater visibility. Increasing decision-making. The options are limited only by the creativity that you and the employee invest in identifying development actions that speak directly to their unique needs.
These two actions have the power to change an employee’s relationship with their career – and your relationship with employees. To surface opportunities for growth that weren’t obvious before. To send a clear message that ‘you matter’ because development is tailored to the individual. This is the power of bespoke development.
 Forbes. 1-4-22. The Great Resignation rages on as a record 4.5 million Americans quit. https://fortune.com/2022/01/04/great-resignation-record-quit-rate-4-5-million/
 Inc. Magazine. January 2022. The Real Reasons Workers Are Leaving in Droves? (Burnout Is on the List, but Not at the Top).
 Instructure. 2019. “How to Get Today’s Employees to Stay and Engage? Develop Their Careers.” PR Newswire, June 3. www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/how-to-get-todays-employees-to-stay-and-engage-develop-their-careers-300860067.html
Julie Winkle Giulioni
Julie Winkle Giulioni is a speaker and consultant who helps organizations tap their only sustainable competitive advantage: talent. One of Inc. Magazine’s
Top 100 speakers, she’s the co-author of the international bestseller, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go
and author of Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development. Help Employees Thrive.
(Released by ATD Press March 2022.) For more information, please visit https://www.juliewinklegiulioni.com
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