What is career development? Does it mean advancement with a promotion, new title and more money? Is it a new cubicle or office? Does it mean taking on a new responsibility or learning to do something you’ve never done before? Is it gaining designations and credentials?

What career development means depends upon whom you ask. Several years ago, the Gallop Organization conducted a study to define a great workplace. It asked employees what “great” was and came up with 12 components; among these, 3 had to do directly with career:

? There is someone at work who encourages my development.

? In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

? This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

If you want to know what career development means for someone, you’ll have to ask. But what if that person has no clue?

Combining the Gallop Poll findings with reality, we deduce that while employees want to learn new things, be asked about progress, and be encouraged to develop, no one will ever care more about an employee’s career than the employee. It is an individual’s responsibility to define what he or she wants. Remember when you were a young adult? Did you know exactly what you wanted to do? And how many of us know someone well into midlife who still hasn’t figured it out?

One useful tool is the Richard Nelson Bolles book, “What Color Is Your Parachute?” first published in 1970. It’s not a book about traditional job searching; it’s a tool to help the reader identify what life experiences have been most enjoyable. Key insights emerge to help identify one’s passions and how and where to put those passions to use.

What small offices can provide

The small financial advisory office is not likely to offer the full range of training and career guidance of a Fortune 500 company. Yet there are creative ways to ensure that development and training are available. Here are some examples.

Projects

Delegating unique projects provides opportunities to learn and apply new skills. Planning a company outing or a small client appreciation event is fodder for the aspiring event planner. Conducting a client survey may delight the scientific academic. Designing and managing steps to convert the organization from traditional investment management service to a wealth management model may be perfect for the project manager.

Licenses and designations–The FINRA Series 6, 7, 24, and 66 securities licenses can increase marketability; completing coursework toward the CFP or CFA can do likewise.

Conferences and conventions–Whether offered by your broker/dealer or an industry association, conferences and conventions provide a stimulating experience. Having an employee present what he or she learned at the conference to the staff deepens the experience beyond the one employee who attended. But beware: flying to a destination city to take a course and stay in a hotel may be as much of a perk for one employee as it is a dreaded responsibility for another.

OTJ–Learning can happen on the job (OTJ), especially if a new task is handed from the advisor to the employee or from one employee to another. Doing this with an element of formality is worthwhile. For example, be clear (in writing) what the learner should be able to do as a result of the training. Be sure the trainer has adequate time to deliver the lesson without being rushed. If clear objectives are defined, an assessment can be completed. Successfully learning the content is a positive outcome for teacher and learner and gives the organization something to celebrate.

Online training in a wide variety of topics is increasingly available. From Microsoft tutorials to academics degrees, online courses are growing resources for lifelong learning.

Tuition reimbursement–You might want to institute a formal tuition reimbursement policy. For instance, the company will reimburse up to $500 for formal academic training relevant to an employee’s job. This raises 3 questions:

? Does the reimbursement happen before or after course completion?

? What grade is considered acceptable?

? Who decides if course content is relevant to the work?

This is where management discretion comes in.

Advancement–As more ensemble organizations form, career tracks for advisors within the organization are emerging. The 2007 Moss Adams Compensation and Staffing Study presents the model of progression, including service advisors, support advisors and lead advisors.

Mentoring–For some, the advisor taking time to answer questions and involve staff in various steps of the financial process is a form of development. One aspect of this mentoring vigilantly focuses on helping staff to define career aspirations. Whether structured as a formal program or less formal conversations and guidance, this approach may be perfect for some.

Be a good manager–This sums up other findings of the Gallop Survey mentioned above. There are several ways that people consider being managed well (see chart).

Conclusion

Be prepared: A talent shortage is coming. Increasingly, job applicants ask about career development. If you want to hire the best and that best person is career-oriented, be prepared with an honest response about what you will provide.

Remember when you started your career? Who helped you? How did they help you?

It’s payback time.