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Agile Career Development: Enabling Career Advancement

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This chapter covered the importance of focusing on career development as an enabler of employee satisfaction and how development of a common career framework and supporting career development process can facilitate employee growth and progression in achieving career goals.
This chapter is from the book

Chapter 2 Contents

Why Employees Leave... and the Connection to Career Progression


A Case for Change at IBM


The Definition of a Career Framework


The Definition of a Career


Setting the Baseline for Expertise Management


Competencies and Associated Behaviors


Skills that Align to Specific Job Roles


Developing Capabilities


Why Employees Leave...and the Connection to Career Progression

The case for career development and its contributions to improving employee engagement is now quite clear. In an online survey conducted in October 2007 by ASTD (American Society of Training & Development) in conjunction with Dale Carnegie and Associates and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), over 750 learning, HR, and business executives and other leaders provided insights on their organizations’ practices related to engagement among their workers. According to the survey, “The respondents agreed that learning plays a key role in shaping engagement, and they ranked learning activities high among the processes they now use—or should use—to engage their employees.... Respondents reported on the impact of the learning function on employee engagement when asked about the factors that influenced engagement in their organizations. Quality of workplace learning opportunities ranked first among respondents from all organizations. Learning through stretch assignments and frequency and breadth of learning opportunities also were highly rated factors influencing engagement.”1

It is striking that there is still an imbalance between what management thinks satisfies employees—and therefore actions organizations take to create a working environment—and what employees actually want. One might be quick to jump to the conclusion that money is the prime motivator for employee satisfaction. After all, cash is king, right? In fact, in the late 1990s, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) polled its members to better understand retention factors. Survey results showed that 89% of respondents said the biggest threat to retention was “higher salaries offered by other organizations.”2 But if this is explored further, there is evidence that disputes this belief, even from writings from as early as the 1940s and 50s that sought to analyze and understand human motivation.

If we explore some of the early work of both Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg, both professors of psychology, their theories of motivation provide insight into employee behavior. In 1954, Abraham Maslow published a volume of articles and papers under the title Motivation and Personality. His research and work established a hierarchy based on basic human needs and how this hierarchy would contribute to our understanding of motivation. He discussed these basic needs and their relationship to one another in what became known as Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.”3

In Maslow’s theory, human needs are arranged in a hierarchy of importance. Needs emerge only when higher priority needs have been satisfied. By the same token, satisfied needs no longer influence behavior. This point seems worth stressing to managers and administrators, who often mistakenly assume that money and other tangible incentives are the only cures for morale and productivity problems. It may be, however, that the need to participate, to be recognized, to be creative, and to experience a sense of worth are better motivators in an affluent society, where many have already achieved an acceptable measure of freedom from hunger and threats to security and personal safety and are now driven by higher-order psychological needs.4

Maslow’s theory is often depicted as a triangle, where the basic needs appear on the bottom of the triangle and require fulfillment before the next need is met. Figure 2.15 reflects this hierarchy of needs. If this theory is applied to the workplace, the figure shows how management could provide a working environment that satisfies from the very basic needs to self-actualization. It could be argued that fulfilling self-actualization needs comes from within the person, whether that is by seeking employment in an area that one is passionate about or continuing to grow in one’s career. Managers can then create an environment for employees in which even the needs that sit on the highest point of the triangle are met by providing challenging work assignments and an opportunity for career advancement.

Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in a work environment.

Another theory of motivation emerged a few years later; Frederick Herzberg developed the “two-factor theory” and in 1959 published his findings in a book entitled The Motivation to Work. He and a research team interviewed 203 accountants and engineers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about satisfiers and dissatisfiers at work. Herzberg found factors that caused satisfaction (motivators) were different from factors causing dissatisfaction (hygiene factors).6 Table 2.1 shows the two sets of factors that caused either satisfaction or dissatisfaction and affected employee morale and productivity. Motivation factors relate to the work itself such as challenging work and recognition and provide satisfaction that leads to better morale, whereas hygiene factors relate to the work environment such as job security and salary. Hygiene factors do not give positive satisfaction, however; rather, they cause dissatisfaction if they are missing. Hence management needs to ensure hygiene factors are present—but must also provide the environment for the employee to experience motivation factors such as job achievement or career advancement.

Table 2.1. Motivation and Hygiene Factors in the Workplace7

Motivation Factors

Hygiene Factors




Working conditions

The work itself

Interpersonal relationships


Pay and security

Advancement and growth

Company policy and administration

Although both of these theories have been challenged over the years for one reason or another, they provide insight into how employees are motivated and provide management a potential framework on which to base employee career development practices.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and studies continue to debunk manager perception of money being a motivator for why employees remain with a company. One study, as mentioned earlier, showed that managers believe employees leave for more money. Research conducted by Leigh Branham, along with the Saratoga Institute’s surveys that included almost 20,000 workers from 18 industries and many other studies, dispute this belief. Branham says that this research revealed “that actually 80–90% of employees leave for reasons related not to money, but to the job, the manager, the culture, or work environment... These internal reasons (also known as ‘push’ factors, as opposed to ‘pull’ factors, such as better-paying outside opportunity) are within the power of the organization and the manager to control and change.”8

Branham, in his analysis of unpublished research of Saratoga Institute conducted from 1996 to 2003, looked for common denominators and grouped the reasons for leaving to determine root causes. According to Branham’s analysis:

In fact, the number one response to the question, Why did you leave? was “limited career growth or promotional opportunity” (16% of responses), indicating a lack of hope.10

By now, the reader might be asking—so what do I do as a leader in an organization to improve employee engagement and therefore increase business performance? In the next section of this chapter, we discuss how IBM has used career development as a way to engage employees and increase satisfaction. Specific programs that have been implemented and lessons learned are discussed.

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