Purposeful Talent Development: Helping Your Staff Navigate the ‘Career Jungle Gym’

red jungle gym on blue sky
Jennifer Stangl Photo
Director of Professional Development

3 minutes

Thinking about growing your people in this new way can help you capitalize on opportunities that could otherwise be missed.

National awareness days and months are all over our calendar. For example, December 2019 is International Volunteer Day for Economic & Social Development month. Dec. 1 is National Pie Day. January is National Mentoring Month. The purpose of these days is to remind us to refocus our energy and efforts for a day or a month to bring awareness or—in the case of National Pie Day, a little joy—to our lives. 

Did you know that November is National Career Development Month? Now, this may not be as exciting as National Salsa Month (it’s May, if you are curious), but it is important. It allows us an opportunity to think about not just our development within our current roles, but our careers. This can seem like a big task for anyone, especially those that may not have any specific career goals or direction. This month is a great opportunity to reflect about what interests you and what might be good opportunities or paths help you do more in than vein.

About six years ago, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, brought the term “career jungle gym” to the masses. From Sandberg, it’s the idea that you don’t have to have a set plan for your career development because you don’t know what opportunities might arise in the future. If we look at this concept from an internal organizational perspective, it’s championing the mindset that you don’t always have to move up in an organization to move ahead.

The career jungle gym highlights and encourages growing your skillset in your current position or making a lateral move to utilize your current skills in a new department and develop new skills. For those that do want to move up, the jungle gym mindset can help expand your understanding of the business by working in and with different departments.  

As a leader, it can be easy to get stuck in the career ladder focus, thinking that to develop, an individual must have a goal of a higher position/title. This bias can impact who and how leaders develop their staff members, potentially missing out on some opportunities and perspectives. 

Supporting the idea of a career jungle gym is critical to supporting the development of all staff within the credit union. Use the questions below to reflect on how well you support development of your staff at all levels. As needed, identify actions you can take to serve as a development resource for your staff.

  • Do I work with my staff to develop competencies not just critical for their position, but to the organization? 
  • Do I support lateral moves to expand an individual’s knowledge of the organization? 
  • Do I encourage or sponsor cross-departmental relationships and project teams? 
  • Do I ask my staff about their individual career goals, both short- and long-term?
  • Do I encourage staff to participate in regional educational events, such as in the industry (CUES Council) or role-specific events, such as an HR conference?

If an individual does not want to move up, it doesn’t mean they can move around. Harness the knowledge and experience of your employees by supporting lateral moves, cross-functional project teams and expansion of current skillsets.

Jennifer Stangl is director of professional development at CUES. 

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