Tomayto, Tomahto: Career Growth vs. Career Development

Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig
Feb 25 2024
6 min read
Tomayto, Tomahto: Career Growth vs. Career Development

While often used interchangeably, the concepts of career growth and career development mean different things – and not only should employers understand the difference, they should have a hand in enabling both career growth and development for their employees.

Employees today are still hopping between jobs at a high rate, and when asked why, the answer often includes a desire for career growth opportunities. For the busy HR or L&D manager, it may seem at first sight like that’s the employee’s problem. But the reality is that both worker and workplace benefit when plans for career growth and career development become an organizational concern.

First Things First: What is the Difference?

Career growth is the long-term journey of professional development. A common career path of growth includes getting promoted either at your organization (AKA internal mobility) or moving to a higher career level at another company. (This second type of move currently accounts for most of the advancement in the workplace).  

In contrast, career development is the actions a person takes that enable career growth. Career development includes building valuable new skills within their career management plan while keeping track of opportunities both inside and outside of a person’s current workplace.

Yes, there is significant overlap and connectivity between these two concepts. To grow, an employee needs to develop, and upon developing, they’ll have more chances for growth.

To make the most progressive career growth choices, everyone should have a career development plan. Of course, some people just have the talent, privilege, and/or luck to wind up in a good career. But most employees could use assistance in developing their career development goals – many a determined, good-willed employee could get lost in the day-to-day and be so burnt out they can’t think ahead, and creating a career plan by themselves is just too overwhelming to think about.

By helping them update their career goals once in a while according to the market, their progress, personal situation, and level of ambition, you’ll keep employees on track – and gain important insights into employee growth, skill sets, and career plans. It can help you, as an HR or L&D professional, recognize rising talents, future leaders – and the less ambitious procrastinators, as well.

Career Development and Career Growth – Organization Benefits

Career development and growth aren’t only about the employee, as we’ve already touched on. Companies that support the advancement of their workers reap many other significant benefits, including:

Increased loyalty and engagement 

Research has proven that investing in your current workers leads to an increase in employee retention rates and overall satisfaction. Similarly, a lack of opportunity for professional development and advancement is a leading factor for employees quitting.

Risk reduction 

Hiring internally means that the organization is getting somebody who already fits, understands the culture, and knows that this is where they want to stay. In contrast, a new hire might find that their role doesn’t meet their expectations, while the same goes for the employer – not every hiring process results in a suitable employee.

Cost and time reduction 

Putting out a notice about a job opportunity within the organization costs next to nothing and offers employees a chance to move upwards in their own company. Plus, the vetting process is handled by existing staff who likely know the applicants and after removing any biases, can offer help with understanding if they’re right for the job.

On the other hand, hiring externally requires recruiters, background checkers, and advertising costs, which all take time to coordinate. Finding the right employee today is also increasingly difficult, even with The Great Resignation going on – many people are choosing not to go back to work for the time being, while others are being more selective in choosing their next position.

Companies that understand these advantages should be directly involved in both career development and growth. Through learning and development programs and the participation of HR, organizations can lend a helping hand and motivate more employees to stay.

Empowering Employee Career Paths

Most employees have a vision of their professional future and may aim for a specific role – CEO, for example – to try and reach. It’s possible that he or she would be perfect for the role in the future. And yet they may have no real clue how to get there.

Career management can and should be a cooperative function between HR and the employee. Career assessments can help employees better find and decide on their career paths and training programs can help them achieve their goals – all while being more motivated and satisfied and therefore (hopefully) being more productive and efficient.

Companies can also encourage career development by:

  • Financially supporting employees whose career path requires a degree or other external education program
  • Hosting workshops and events that discuss career growth options
  • Offering challenging opportunities within the organization to expose employees to new experiences

Manager Involvement and Personalization in Career Development 

Two factors are essential in building effective career development programs: managerial support and personalized learning.

Managers: The Ultimate Vantage Point

Managers are really ‘closest to the action’ when it comes to career growth. They’ve already climbed the ladder that their employees may want to follow. They know what professional skills are needed to make that climb. They are also familiar with the talents of the people on their team and can give them honest advice about their career choices. 

In addition, managers can be fantastic development leaders. If an employee wants to try out a different type of work, their manager might be aware of a relevant opportunity. Or, they can invite an employee to ‘shadow’ them for a day to see what the role of a manager is all about.

Finally, managers act as guides. They can motivate accountability for the ambitious employee, an element that can make a huge difference. Managers can also provide feedback regarding an employee’s career plans, personal potential, and development path.

Personalization: The Secret Ingredient to Success in Career Development and Career Growth

One crucial theme in successful career planning and development is the learning needs of the individual. That’s because every employee – even those who hold the same positions in the company – has their own goals, talents, pressures, and experiences. One employee might lack certain leadership skills, while another needs to improve their time management skills

The optimal way to fill their skill gaps, and not waste valuable working time, is by enabling each to access the most relevant L&D program. This is true for any employee development initiative, but especially imperative for career growth, as gaining skills empowers employees to climb the organizational ladder.

Career Growth through Growthspace

Growthspace technology enables companies to turn career development plans into a reality. The platform sources experts–the very best trainers, mentors, and coaches in specialized fields, according to the needs of the organization and its employees. With Growthspace, companies can easily deliver personalized L&D programs to enable employees’ career growth and continue their career development.

Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig
Eric Bierig is an organizational development strategist at Growthspace. With an MSc in Industrial Organizational Psychology and experience in Talent and Organizational Development roles in various organizations, Eric leverages his subject matter expertise to share knowledge and best practices, build guides and materials, develop & execute new and impactful programs and products, and help enable both Growthspace and their customers in achieving their strategic initiatives. Eric is a husband, a father, an amateur musician, an avid hockey fan (Lets Go Rangers!) and a functional cereal addict

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