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Apt Career Development: It’s More Than Just ‘Up’

Apt Career Development
December 2018

Historically, employees have viewed career development as linear progression up the corporate ladder: First, mastering a skill, then managing a team of associates and so on. While this approach may work for some, organizations that deploy the single-threaded “move-up” strategy can miss the boat on developing and retaining talented, diverse work groups.

Employee populations from Millennials to Baby Boomers can benefit from experiences that leverage and strengthen existing talents in new ways and provide opportunities to explore new career paths. Here are examples from the rental housing industry of value-added experiences that provide the opportunity for development and growth by moving “over” or “deeper” within a field rather than “up.”

Making Lateral Moves to Exercise Skills in New Ways

Career development through a lateral job reassignment happens when organizations transition employees who have already demonstrated proficiency in their current role, taking them out of their comfort zone and dropping them in a completely new environment. This new environment may mean a change in the market, product type or function, or new situational-based challenges. Reassigned employees must apply and adapt what is already in their toolbox while learning a whole new set of skills – and in the process, they may even discover new talents or career paths.

Example: When the manager of a mid-sized, suburban property is laterally reassigned to an urban high-rise property, they begin to broaden their abilities and knowledge of managing resident relations, adapting to new leadership styles and delivering on specific investor expectations. Ultimately, this lateral move will help them to make better-informed decisions about their preferred work environment.

Similarly, lateral moves can help employees become even more well-rounded and valuable assets for their company. Case in point: The Draper and Kramer portfolio has evolved in recent years from primarily a long-term hold approach to include a focus on new markets, value-add and development projects. As a result, some of the company’s property managers needed to gain a new perspective to apply their talents to support the organization’s growth goals. Identifying key employees’ experience gaps against the new company focus helped determine transitional roles that allowed team members to build a specific skill set so that when a higher-level role was available, the company had an internal pool of prepared candidates to consider.

Finding New Opportunities for Development in an Existing Role

For those employees who are in the process of mastering their current roles, lateral development happens through access or exposure to new situations such as expanded job responsibilities, temporary reassignment or assigned special projects. It is important for organizations to create a culture where employees are supported and encouraged to ask for development opportunities and take on additional work as an investment in their future.

Example: A leasing agent who is interested in becoming a property manager: This employee may be invited to observe in operational meetings they wouldn’t normally attend, or volunteer for project assignments where they collaborate with their peers in property management. Employees who volunteer and accept these assignments are more than team players; they are being strategic about their own career development goals.

At Draper and Kramer, the management team continually assess the firm’s talent base by identifying high-potential/ high-performing employees against the needs of the company’s growing portfolio. When skill gaps are identified, interim assignments or projects are tools to round out an employee’s experience. In one recent example of this experience-based development approach, a Draper and Kramer team member participating in a special project identified a valuable service to bring in-house. Not only did this cut third-party expenses for the company, but it also resulted in a new full-time role for the employee, who was thoroughly energized to take on a new career path.

Development for Engagement vs. Advancement

Once an employee reaches their desired job level, it is important for companies to still offer them growth opportunities. One strategy is to foster subject matter expertise within an organization, which is critical for solving problems, encouraging innovation and helping others with knowledge transfer. Finding outlets for subject matter experts (SMEs) to continue to learn while demonstrating their expertise is an important way to bring about employee engagement.

Example: Asking a long-tenured property accountant to deliver a lunch-and-learn training session on best practices for budgeting. Utilizing their expertise for the benefit of others, while also gaining practice in the art of effective presentation, sends a powerful message that these employees are valued by the organization.

Seasoned Draper and Kramer employees are also encouraged to earn professional credentials and participate in industry-related events so they can report back and share what they learned within their teams. Additionally, these SMEs are called on to help with specific issues or challenges that arise at other properties. They bring a fresh perspective to the problem while leveraging their deep expertise to identify the best possible solution.

Participating in Development Programs

Employees should be encouraged to take advantage of all available opportunities for career development. Development in this context is not the same as training. Training typically refers to a specific skill or knowledge required for current job performance, while development initiatives tend to be geared toward professional growth and promotional readiness.

Example: At Draper and Kramer, one-way employees are invited to participate in career development is the firm’s recently launched DK Elevate program for high-performing associates representing many different areas of the business. During this program, participants create their own blueprint for career growth by identifying what activities and experiences are needed for them to achieve their goals.

Career development is a personal pursuit and varies greatly based on an individual’s goals and aspirations. Organizations that offer opportunities to learn and grow through experiences that connect with these goals have a significant competitive advantage for retaining talent.