Career Development Gets a Charge at Sears Credit

Article excerpt

Attention to career development is important at any stage of a company's life cycle. But as Sears Credit learned, it's especially critical after a major reorganization. The company 's strategic plan prompted the Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based firms to close approximately 50 small units, expand nine others, offer a major voluntary retirement program and accept third-party credit card in competition with the Sears-Charge card--all of which impacted the careers of Sears Credit's associates. To better align associates' skills and work loads with the reengineered company, Sears Credit launched a major career development initiative. The process Sears Credit went through is discussed below by Peg O'Herron, manager of training and development for Sears Credit, and Peggy Simonsen, president of Career Directions, a career-development consulting firm based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, that Sears brought in to assist in the process.

Reorganization required new career strategies. Sears Credit is responsible for all credit transactions in the retail stores and other field units of Sears Merchandise Group. In 1990, the firm employed about 13,000 people at 50 field locations. By 1994, consolidation had reduced the number of locations to 20 and shrunk the work force to 10,000. Although the firm closed several units, some of those remaining grew tremendously--from an average of 350 associates to 1,000 associates per operating center.

This reorganization had many career implications:

* Virtually all jobs were newly created or significantly redefined

* No longer were there career paths to emulate due to the number of new and redefined jobs and the elimination of others

* There was a need for outside hiring at all levels to obtain new talent immediately. This was a major change for a culture that traditionally promoted from within and wasn't used to external hiring

* There was a need to develop new skills in the current work force to succeed in the new environment ere was a need to develop "bench" strength of associates prepared to fill future openings.

To respond to the major cultural, staffing and structural changes at Sears Credit, senior management worked with human resources and training professionals to establish the company's overriding goals. The group determined that it wanted the company to have more open communication about career opportunities, the development needs of individuals and new staffing procedures.

The group also established that Sears Credit needed to help its associates and managers reframe their mindset from "the company will take care of me" to a proactive attitude that redefined success in terms of what's important to the individual rather than how fast one moves up the ladder. People would need to understand not just hear, that career development wouldn't be limited to promotions.

The company also needed to redefine responsibility. Not only would associates have to take on new responsibility for managing their own careers, but managers also would need to recognize their role as coaches in supporting associate development. The organization too, represented by HR practitioners and senior management, had responsibility to provide information and resources so associates could take the initiative. In short, Sears Credit needed a partnership to ensure that individuals at all levels could continually add value to the company.

The group also determined that to move beyond words to action, associates needed to know their skills and understand their marketability, and also know how to identify opportunities for development. They needed a planning process to create goals that included ones other than promotions. And to be viable, goals had to be linked to the business needs and the direction of the changing organization.

Finally, HR, trainers and senior managers realized that everyone needed to break away from "next job" thinking and take a longer, broader perspective of their careers and career-development options. …