Fostering Employee Career Changes

I’ve thought about changing careers over the years. The Internet has made the publishing world a hard place to be, so I have thought about becoming a marketing or advertising writer, or moving into a corporate communications role. The problem is, I’m in my forties now, and have no prior experience in any of those fields. So, not surprisingly, I have never had success making that transition.

I’m not alone in worrying about job stability and salary-growth potential in the field I am in. Research released last week by, a nonprofit online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT, found that 32 percent of respondents to a recent survey have considered making a career change at some point within the last year, and 29 percent of respondents have completely changed fields since starting their first job post-college. The chief drivers of these continuous shifts are a desire for salary increase (39 percent) or interest in another field (21 percent).

The question is whether you can accommodate the need to shift careers within your organization, or whether employees will need to look elsewhere to make a change. Millennials seem less likely than older generations to stick it out for 30 years in a career they don’t find fulfilling. They came of age in a time of customization—when everything from the coffee they order to the clothing they purchase can be individualized to be exactly as they like it. If customization is important in trivial matters, then it must be much more important in something like a career, right?

Does your company give employees a way to customize a career path, instead of accepting a one-size-fits-all development plan? I’ve never worked for a company that laid out options for me at different stages in my career. It was in these companies’ self-interest to have me stay in the same role I was hired into, so discussion about moving into another role was discouraged. Is that the way it is in your organization?

Enabling employees to move into roles other than the ones they were hired to fill can be challenging, but the payoff is huge. If you’re able to accommodate employees’ needs to change careers, then you retain those individuals in-house, rather than hiring an unknown entity, or having individuals abruptly leave their roles with little to no transition time. The beauty of moving high-performing employees into other roles is that they stay under your roof, and can help you choose their successor. Plus, they’re around to help you train that person, and can be available as needed to answer questions that might arise. Once an employee decides to leave your company because you couldn’t accommodate her need for change, she gives you two weeks’ notice, and then is simply gone.

What ideas can you share for creating development plans that include the possibility for both upward and lateral moves within the company? One idea is to have quarterly meetings with departments or business units that require similar skill sets to discuss new career opportunities that might be opening up. Rather than being competitive with one another for talent, managers could be encouraged to think of it as a team effort, in which they all are focused on matching the best employees with the best roles for both them and the company, regardless of where in the organization those roles happen to be.

Department heads could be incentivized to facilitate lateral moves for employees. They could have each lateral move count as an achievement on their record, and they could get a financial bonus every time they help to place one of their employees in another department in a role the employee expressed interest in and is highly qualified for.

When it comes to recruitment and retention, a culture that stresses collaboration over competition is the most productive. How does your company do this, and how could you do it even better? If you’re not doing it yet, why not? And how might you persuade executives above you that it’s worth giving a try?


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