Editor’s note: “Power Skills” is a 12-part series with one article posted monthly exploring the nontechnical tools today’s health care facilities professionals need to succeed and excel in their career goals. See more articles from the series here

A very wise, if irresponsible, teenager once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The fact that he said this on his way to committing auto theft, identity theft and trespassing on parade grounds doesn’t make him any less wise or this piece of wisdom any less important for each of us to consider when thinking about our own lives.

Our work makes up an enormous amount of our lives. And just like Ferris taught us, if we don’t stop, look around and consider our career choices, we will miss the opportunity to direct it in the direction we want it to go. Managing our career, its goals and advancement is a power skill that has been and will always be important to master.

Career growth supports the individual and the organization equally. For the individual, planning for career growth provides a structure on which to add experience, expertise and engagement. For organizations, focusing on their employees’ career growth increases employee engagement; improves employee retention; helps to attract top performers; and improves diversity, equity, inclusivity and belonging within the organization. 

The difference between career goals, career growth and career management 

Words matter. As we all know, if Cameron hadn’t voiced his request that Principal Rooney wait with Sloane when picking her up, his father’s precious Corvette ultimately wouldn’t have ended up lying in ravines somewhere in Highland Park, Ill. 

In the same vein, it’s important that when it comes to our careers, the terms career goals, career growth, career advancement and career management are well defined. These terms are often used interchangeably, but, in fact, each represents a different key action that one needs to take to maximize their opportunity to grow. 

Maggie Wooll, in a July 2022 article in Better Up, describes the difference between career growth and career development:

  • Career growth is all about your long-term vision for your career.
  • Career development refers to activities done in the short term to enhance your performance in your current role or gain skills for a future role.

In a January 2022 article in Better Up, Erin Eatough, Ph.D., helps to define what career goals are. She states:

“Professional goals are mental targets or milestones that keep you focused and on track to succeed in your career. … Goals can be short-term and long-term, depending on what you wish to accomplish. Short-term goals typically can be accomplished within a few months. Long-term goals take longer to achieve, requiring at least six months, or up to several years from now. Typically, professional development goals are more strategic than personal development goals. Your ambitions will aid you in your career development, whether you’re aiming to receive a raise or a promotion, or starting a brand new job.”

A September 2022 article from Curran Daly & Associates outlines the differences between career management and career development. It describes the differences as:  

  • Career management. Taking control of your career and making decisions that will help you achieve your goals.
  • Career development. Using learning and training to progress in your career.

The lesson here is that it is important to organize your thoughts about your career using all these useful lenses. Consider your career growth (long-term vision). Take active steps in your career management (taking control of your career) by establishing career development activities (using training to progress your career) through defining specific career goals (mental targets or milestones that keep you on track to succeed in your career).  

The role of leaders in supporting their team’s career management 

I don’t know what I’m going to do,” says a lanky teenager with uncertainty about his future (this not being an excuse for his villainous hockey team allegiance choices). Just as Cameron and Sloane walk through Chicago’s Federal Center delving into the future amongst the three of them while enjoying their day off, support from team members as it relates to your own career growth is an important component of its success. Hopefully, your team members encourage your growth rather than set up barriers to that growth. As important as team member support is, support from team leaders play an equally important role.  

A May 2023 article by Robert Half outlines seven steps team leaders can take to encourage their employees’ growth: 

  • Take a personal interest in your employees’ career goals. Make sure to ask team members where they would like to grow their career and help them develop short- and long-term goals that support that growth.
  • Promote training and development of employees. Make employees aware of training opportunities, and work to include training/development dollars for the team in the budget.
  • Encourage mentoring and job shadowing. Help employees discover how other team members add to the outcomes of your work by setting up the structures to support job shadowing. Ask employees about their mentors, and, if they don’t have one, help them find one.
  • Rotate employee roles. Build the team’s bench strength and broaden the horizon of team members by rotating employee roles or responsibilities where applicable.
  • Support work-life balance. Show employees that they are thought of as, you know, actual people instead of cogs in a machine. Support their ability to balance work and life responsibilities.
  • Paint the big picture. It is easy to not see the forest for the trees when it’s someone’s responsibility to focus on a single tree. It is the role of a leader to provide their team with an understanding of how they fit into the wider picture of the organization’s mission and help them imagine other ways they can support that mission.
  • Create a succession planning program. When a leader illustrates to employees that there is a succession plan in place for their role, it provides the employees with the understanding that they are encouraged to grow their career. Make sure to communicate that this plan is not designed to push them out of their role, but to support them when they are ready to move forward, reassuring them that they will not be leaving the rest of their team in the lurch because of their career advancement choice.  

Acknowledging bias in career advancement

What we see is often dictated from where we sit, and most always the same could be said about how the world sees us as well. It is next to impossible to avoid bias, but it is important to take that bias into account. From the perspective of this light-hearted romp through an aging Gen Xer's movie memories, I offer this reinterpretation of the much-maligned Jeanie Bueller, who just wants the world to notice how unfairly she is treated in comparison to her brother Ferris. A brother, who, as we previously stated, gets away with auto theft, identity theft, trespassing on parade grounds and convincing his amazingly obtuse parents that he is sick. (On a side note, one lesson we all should have learned in the ‘80s is you don’t buy a teenage Matthew Broderick a computer!) 

From a much, much more serious perspective, employers and employees need to make sure that bias as it relates to an employee’s socioeconomic upbringing, gender and/or ethnicity does not impact decisions made about their career growth. 

This can start with basic team interaction during meetings or other official group activities. Are ideas presented by a woman challenged but then embraced when the same idea is suggested by a man? Are mentorship opportunities offered to individuals that match the demographics of their leadership? Are upper- or upper-middle-class cultural norms made the expected behavioral norms for the team, leaving out those who did not grow up in that culture? More diverse teams and organizations outperform more homogenous teams, which means that leaders who want to encourage career growth for a diverse team need to ensure opportunities for growth are equitable. The team member’s challenge is to strive to point out where their team leader can support their growth if the team leader does not actively do so.   

Life moves fast, look around

What Ferris Bueller teaches us about career advancement and life in general is that you need to take active steps to try to achieve the life you seek. Where do you see your career in three years, in five years, in 10 years and beyond? What do you need to do a year out, a month out, tomorrow, today to achieve that result? What are the internal and external barriers to that outcome, and what can you do to work to overcome them?  

Timeless advice always is valuable, whether delivered to manage your career, improve the spirits of a deeply depressed friend or, well, to sell Hondas.  

Adam Bazer, MPD, is director of education at the American Society for Health Care Engineering.