by Justin Standfield
What would it be like if companies could help their employees achieve their most profound goals – not just their work objectives, but their dreams? Imagine the difference it could make to engagement levels if people in your workplace were more fulfilled in both their professional and non-professional lives.
We’re all familiar with the expression “living the dream”, but this is often used to describe an existence that centres around material possessions and a luxurious lifestyle; alternatively it’s used sarcastically or in self-deprecation when referring to particularly unpleasant or mundane work. Although the phrase “living the dream” means different things to different people, a dream is typically described as a possibility that someone imagines for their work or personal life, which ideally will generate excitement and hope. My experience of working one-to-one with people as a coach suggests that, for many people, their dreams seem to be a distant reality, albeit a positive one.
Research conducted by Tim Hall and Elana Feldman of Boston University shows that companies that actively support employees’ professional development not only increase job satisfaction and talent retention, but also create an atmosphere that drives growth. Their 2011 report called ‘Helping Employees Realise Their Dreams’ indicates that companies that help employees pursue their dreams and find meaning in their personal and professional lives end up with a far more engaged and productive workforce. Those organisations also tend to be more successful at holding on to their most talented people and generate innovation and growth into the bargain.
Ask yourself a couple of questions. To what extent does your organisation help employees pursue their dreams? What would it be like if your company was able to simultaneously improve productivity and engagement? If this has got you thinking about the possibilities and you’re interested in pursuing them further in your organisation, there are four key approaches that you could use to create a career development programme that factors the ‘whole person’ into the equation.
Authentic, demonstrable management buy-in
Get senior management on board and keep them there; the degree of support and commitment expressed by top management is one of the most important factors contributing to the success of any career development system. Training, support and reference guides that have been designed specifically for a company’s development programme give managers absolute clarity about what’s expected from them. Better still, involve them in shaping it.
Nurture personal, not just personnel, development
Many employees are very happy to plan their own personal development, but for some a lot more encouragement is needed before they will engage with the process and become self-initiating. Another factor that increases interest and supports self-direction is the bespoke element of the career development process, where this can be incorporated. When it is tailored to the real needs of the individual instead of solely to what the company’s need is, a development programme can truly be called ‘personal’.
Walk the talk
People judge you by what you do, not what you say you’ll do. It’s counter-productive to tell employees that you’re committed to supporting them in achieving their dreams if, in reality, it’s actually just a tick-box exercise. Paying lip service to an important aspect of the psychological contract like this will be noticed by employees and they will draw conclusions from it. This, in turn, often contributes to issues such as low engagement, decreased morale and inconsistent productivity. To achieve long-lasting success, take concrete actions to make sure your employees’ explored dreams and aspirations come to fruition.
Gauge effectiveness as you go (and don’t stop)
From the outset of the career development programme, set up some form of ongoing evaluation process – you’ll be glad you did it at the beginning, rather than adding it in part way through or, worse still, at the end. Monitoring and assessment activities are especially important during the roll-out phase, and whatever tools are selected they should gather feedback from employees and managers. Career and personal development that makes a lasting difference at both individual and organisational levels doesn’t happen overnight, so it needs a long-term commitment in terms of regular, ongoing evaluation.
If you’d like to know more about how your workplace can help employees pursue their dreams and find meaning in their personal and professional lives, talk to Justin today. Incendo regularly works with organisations to create bespoke career and personal development programmes that align with their culture, strategy and future direction, and make a positive impact on the bottom line – as well as the aspirations of their people.