April 27, 2021

Post-COVID Career Development

by Wendy Ryan in Blog Roll

Leaders everywhere rang in 2020 with big plans for elevating their careers and organizations. I’ll admit I was right there with them – encouraging my team members to dream big with stretch goals and career paths.

We quickly realized that 2020 was not going to be the year for making the moves we had planned, but rather the moves which were either necessary or newly possible for us to envision. Many of our clients and their team members worked from home alongside their kids, pondered their new reality, and in so doing some completely rethought their future and their career goals in the process.

In many cases, rethinking career goals turned out to be a positive step for individuals and their organizations. COVID’s silver lining (for some) became an opportunity to really slow down and take stock of what’s most meaningful and important to life satisfaction.

Now that we’re well into 2021, the tide is turning. We see more opportunities opening up once again to resume planned career growth and development. Happily, more organizations now seem willing to support employees in leveraging their newly identified or reimagined growth opportunities.

But what about your career goals? Life isn’t the same today as it was in late 2019 and that means many of the goals your team rallied around in early 2020 have changed. Your career path might look a little different than it used to, your team’s charter may have changed or maybe your whole organization has shifted its focus. Maybe, all of the above is true.

That’s okay. You can support your team where it is now and help your team members to achieve new goals while honoring your own needs and that of your organization.

In fact, I would argue that doing so is much more of your responsibility than it is for Human Resources. You are closer to your own life, your customer, and the needs of your team members than most of the HR staff.

Back to Business is Unusual

We’ve been talking a lot about returning to work, and one thing is clear: doing business the same way we did pre-COVID for most organizations no longer exists. There are emerging best practices to consider, and it’s important to customize them to fit your context.

When looking at how to move forward with your team, start by revisiting your organization’s mission and values. What’s most important and vital right now to sustain your mission? What aspects of your organizational culture are you trying to shift? It might feel uncomfortable, but the more work done here now, the better you’ll be able to navigate future challenges.

Check in With Your Team

Have you talked to your team members about what they want and need to be successful, now? Again, progress against last year’s goals may no longer be relevant. Instead, do a check-in with everyone so you can be on the same page when making decisions together for the future and setting mutual expectations.

Questions like, “What did you learn about yourself over the last year? What is your vision for your current role, now? And, how have your priorities changed?” are good ones to get you started.

Some employees may not feel comfortable or safe sharing how their goals or personal circumstances have changed, so it may be helpful to be vulnerable yourself, first. Leaders who are willing to show some vulnerability often make better leaders and team members will be more likely to follow your lead if you open up to them, first.

Get Systems in Place to Increase Equity and inclusion

Recognize the inequities and exclusion from opportunities that many employees faced before and during quarantine were embedded in many existing systems. To mitigate that now and in the future requires a thoughtful response and committed action from leadership. If your organization is moving to a trauma-informed, hybrid work environment, how will remote employees get the essential water cooler time that in-person employees can access naturally?

And if you don’t know what those systems are just yet, being transparent about the intentional conversations you’re having so team members know that you value them and their needs.

Prioritize the Conversation

The conversation around career development can happen in multiple places at the same time: at the executive level, when it comes to workforce planning and processes, at the cohort level, when it comes to building bench strength for future leadership roles, and at the individual level, when it comes to determining each employee’s needs moving forward.

Starting with leaders, decide how you’ll communicate about promotions and developing people as an organization. What guidance will you offer employees and how will you need to rework the system to fit the new reality? An interim policy may be of service to you now while you figure things out.

At the employee and aspiring leader level, normalize asking questions and getting feedback from the people who are most impacted by these decisions. They’ll feel much more connected to and invested in a successful outcome if their preferences and ideas are taken into account.

It’s time to develop a post-COVID career development plan for your team, your organization, and yourself. What’s on your list for 2021?