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7 Ways to Measure Professional Development (and Which Ones Really Matter)

21 Jobs of the Future

7 Ways to Measure Professional Development (and Which Ones Really Matter)

Most organisations promote archaic ways of measuring professional growth. It’s high-time to shake things up. “Traditional”...

7 Minutes Read

Most organisations promote archaic ways of measuring professional growth. It’s high-time to shake things up.

“Traditional” growth (read: worker-bee to leader in approx. 20 years) isn’t for everyone. This isn’t a ground-breaking revelation: Not everyone wants to lead. Generally speaking though, professional growth is measured against the path towards leadership – higher and higher job titles and increasing salary.

Professional growth can go in many directions, not just “up”. Consider, for example, those that aspire to become bona fide experts in their field (whereas leaders usually become more generalist as they climb the ladder.) Technological advances are enabling increasingly fluid approaches to work that promote entirely new career models – think: gig economy, portfolio careers and side hustles.

We need a new way to measure “untraditional” professional growth. An aspiring expert in their field does not have the same goals as an aspiring leader. More senior job titles might be a marker of growth for the aspiring leader, but the aspiring expert might be better off measuring growth through their personal brand – i.e. how many people follow them as the go-to source of information in their field?

Personal brand (how many likes do your articles get on LinkedIn? How many twitter followers do you have on your professional account?) and learning agility (how efficiently can you pick up new skills?) are new, important signifiers of professional development.

Other measures are waning in importance: more senior sounding job titles, for example. As we discuss in our latest report From/To, it’s time to take a task-based view of work, instead of viewing work in job roles. These archaic definitions are simultaneously too limited and too broad.

Number of direct reports is also becoming an outdated measure. This used to be a sure-fire way to measure the road to leadership, but traditional people management is being replaced by more efficient HR systems and processes coupled with coachingand mentoring capability. What’s more, ‘number of direct reports’ needs to evolve to include machines. (See our ‘Human-Machine Teaming Manager’ in 21 Jobs of the Future for more.)

Using the 3 E’s model from our report, 21 More Jobs of the Future (where we use it to discuss skills), let’s sum up which professional growth measures are enduring, emerging and eroding:

The Three E’s of Professional Growth

Source: Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work

Different professional journeys, like the aspiring leader and the aspiring expert, need different growth measures. Here are some more:

Professional Journey Priority Growth Measure
Aspiring leader Responsibility, job title
Aspiring knowledge expert Knowledge, learning agility, personal brand
Seeking stability and certainty Salary
Seeking disruption and transformation (e.g. entrepreneur) Learning agility, responsibility
Aspiring coach/ people motivator # of direct reports, responsibility, personal brand
Work in service (e.g. charity work) Responsibility, learning agility

It’s vital that organisations and workers alike start measuring professional growth with metrics that match personal ambitions. For the individual, this means greater personal investment in understanding what your personal ambitions are, as well as prioritising learning and development activities that are targeted towards those specific goals.

There’s no incentive for individuals to do this, however, if employers don’t support varying forms of growth. Some red flags, for example: 1) If promotion means managing direct reports without question or, 2) Being chosen for a leadership development plan is the marker of success, and there’s no alternative for those who aspire towards something else.

So, how can organisations support a diverse workforce with varied goals and professional journeys? Here are three ideas to get you started:

1. Practise Personalised, Data-driven Development Plans

Every organization is sitting on a wealth of data that, when processed efficiently, can help drive better employee experiences.

In our upcoming research (due for publication next month), we asked over 300 knowledge workers with direct reports whether their employers made use of employee data and HR analytics tools to personalize their experiences. A stunning 64% said “no, they don’t”.

This lack of investment in the people analytics space is stifling opportunities to uncover a deeper, more actionable understanding of the workforce and create more meaningful, relevant development plans.

2. Focus on Flexible Growth and Movement

Movement in any direction, not just vertical should be considered growth.

In our upcoming research (due for publication next month), we asked 1000+ knowledge workers across Europe whether their organization supports internal mobility – the ability to move across departments, teams and business units freely. 45% said their organization doesn’t support internal mobility or, if it does, it isn’t well understood by employees. Without mobility, workers are restricted to a single linear career path that promotes outdated notions of professional growth.

Ensure that your organization takes advantage of the tools and technology that can support fluid movement, based on individual goals. Unilever, for example, is working with internal mobility provider Gloat to create a data-driven internal talent marketplace. The platform opens up information about jobs and projects across the company, proactively recommending them to individuals based on their skills, experience and development areas.

3. Celebrate Movement in Any Direction, Not Just Vertical

HR – working with business leaders across the board – needs to inculcate a culture of fluidity and flexibility. Ensure that movement in any direction (not just vertical) is celebrated and rewarded.

Flexible reward programs can be used to support fluid movement by ensuring compensation that suits both age and life stage. For example, Netflix allows people to choose what percentage of their salary they take in stock options (the amount can also change over time), which allows the workforce to increase their cashflow in line with life’s demands.

Celebrating movement can be achieved by sharing diverse experiences from across the business. For example, posting ‘success stories’ with profiles on individuals who’ve made horizontal moves to meet personal goals, instead of always showcasing future leaders.

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