A New Look at Organizational Career Development

By Gutteridge, Thomas G.; Leibowitz, Zandy B. et al. | Human Resource Planning, June 1993 | Go to article overview

A New Look at Organizational Career Development


Gutteridge, Thomas G., Leibowitz, Zandy B., Shore, Jane E., Human Resource Planning


"People are our most important resource" has become far more than an obligatory line in an annual report. Organizational career development (OCD) has evolved over the last several decades and has emerged as a competitive strategy for enhancing organizational effectiveness through a well-developed workforce.

Before painting an accurate picture of how OCD has changed over the last few decades, we need to set the context by sketching various "big-picture" transformations that have occurred in the business landscape. First, bottom line margins of success can no longer be guaranteed by technological advances; competitiveness means mastery of interpersonal communication, teamwork, and critical thinking. New information and communications technologies, along with harsh global economic realities (e.g. downsizing), now require new ways of looking not only at career development but also at the appropriate balance between individual and organizational needs. Finally, career development is increasingly taking place in a context of systems that connect such development with other HR initiatives and practices.

In order to assess the impact of these changes, we decided, in the early 1990s, to embark on a full-fledged reexamination of OCD. Our aim was to determine how far the field has come, attitudinally and practically, since 1978--the year in which the American Management Association sponsored a major survey of OCD practice (Walker & Gutteridge, 1979). That study revealed "widespread support" for career planning but also a "wide gap" between actual and ideal practice. The essential questions prompting our own investigation were these: What is the current state of the practice of career development in larger organizations? How have things changed since 1978? And what new ideas or trends are in the offing--that is, what is the state-of-the-art of OCD?

Updating the 1978 Survey

Our study, sponsored by the American Society for Training and Development and presented in detail in our book, Organizational Career Development (Jossey-Bass, 1993), made use of both broad-based surveys and structured telephone interviews. We conducted a random sampling of 1,000 U.S. corporations and 96 federal agencies; in addition, our survey targeted samples of between 500 and 1,000 European, Australian, and Singaporean corporations. (We will discuss the results of each sample, starting with the U.S. one and then comparing it with the foreign ones.)

Because the career development systems of large organizations are typically more visible than those in smaller organizations and thus afford richer data, we concentrated on large entities (over 40 percent of which were international) in diverse industries. Our survey had a healthy 26 percent response rate, and we believe that the results (although unstratified) offer a meaningful representation of OCD trends in bigger organizations. Directed at HR executives, our survey instrument (like that of the 1978 study) included questions on the following issues:

* the prevalence of career development systems (defined as "processes and practices that link individual career goals with the organization's HR needs");

* system "drivers" (factors prompting system design and implementation);

* corporate attitudes toward OCD;

* implementation (audiences and structures);

* perceived effectiveness; and

* outcomes and assessment.

OCD Practice: Findings From Our Recent Survey

Nearly 70 percent of our U.S respondents had or were launching career development systems; most of those systems were either less than a year old or over six years old. (We suspect that this prevalence rate is above average for large U.S. organizations overall because of the self-screening involved in choosing to be a respondent.) Organizations without systems cited three main reasons for this lack: insufficient top-management support, inadequate budgetary resources, and lack of organizational capability or interest. …

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