Emily Allen: Progression opportunities remain integral for an organisation in challenging times

Tue 04 Aug 2020

Holding an idea

Emily Allen, MOL CIPD Product Manager, discusses the benefits of progression opportunities in a challenging environment and offers some tips for implementing within your organisation.

The last few months have been a steep learning curve for all of us, both personally and professionally. I look back now at the various stages we have been through. In March we faced a  panic as we all had to restructure our lives to work from home. Employee concerns around childcare, finding somewhere to work, spending a lot of time on their own or a very intense time with their loved ones become a focal point. Whilst no sector, industry or profession was exempt from worry about our jobs, our health or our families. We were in crisis mode, just getting by.

But work had to go on. As we all became more familiar with software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, we achieved a different kind of normality. We were no longer in crisis mode, but our organisations sent messages that times are going to be tough and we need to concentrate on productivity again.

Onto our current phase, in many ways this will be the hardest.  We are surrounded by news of redundancies and difficult times for many sectors. Industries we once thought were staples of our economy are in trouble, such as retail, hospitality and travel.

But where there is change there is always opportunity. It’s important we keep our staff developing and progressing. The world hasn’t stopped, a contraction in the economy and working from home are not two excuses to manage poorly. An important lesson we all learnt from the recession in 2008 is that you can reduce reward packages, stop development opportunities and scale back to save the business – but if you cut back too much, your good employees move on.

It’s important to remember that, just because times are tight in your organisation, other organisations may be growing and recruiting. Some industries have done really well out of lockdown (delivery companies, IT, etc). You can still lose your best staff if you don’t manage them properly. It is important to reward staff and any HR professional will know this doesn’t have to be just by money.

That is why development is important for so many reasons. We need to develop skills in our organisations, and we need to be thinking about succession planning and future leaders. We need to encourage new staff to join and job roles to change, or thinking gets stale. Progression opportunities also engage and encourage good employees to stay. Furthermore the world is changing, people need to change with it.

So think about your team. A lot of people are working hard and deserve to be rewarded. Who are the staff you trust while we’re all working remotely? It’s not always the ones who shout the loudest or have the opportunity to speak out who want opportunities. Being remote does not mean ambitious staff want an easy life.

Here are a few options for how to provide development opportunities, even when we are working remotely, for those key employees that you want to reward and grow with the organisation:


This is surprisingly cost effective and a great way of delegating an issue that needs some serious consideration in the organisation. All organisations need to think differently now so there will be things that need to be looked at that don’t fall neatly under an individual remit. Put someone in charge of a project to enhance the business, even if it’s just working out how your organisation needs to do more with less.  Projects are great for your employee to develop new skills, network and gain organisational visibility. Projects can be done entirely online so it gives them a good opportunity to mix with people virtually.

Managing a Trainee

Do you have a member of staff who wants management experience but there are no opportunities to grow yet? The economy is crying out for us to take on young workers and there are financial incentives to do so via apprenticeships, traineeships, work experience etc. Rather than see this as too resource-heavy for you to implement in your department, why not give a keen member of staff the opportunity to manage someone that is new to the workplace. It is a win-win and you will also be succession planning people into the organisation.

Formal Qualifications

Employees may well want a formal qualification at the moment as it’s a great way to future proof your CV. Qualifications don’t have to be expensive and time consuming or a high level. Think outside the box with skills you can develop in your employees to give them some good grounding and the opportunity to bring back cutting edge theory to the organisation, in areas such as management and leadership, project management or coaching. At MOL all our training is currently held online, so it’s an ideal time to get a qualification while we have more time at home.

Supporting a charity

Sometimes the best way to get experience is not in your own organisation. Volunteering is a great way to develop skills and confidence somewhere different. It is also much needed at the moment and great for CSR. Society is different, people are caring about their communities and being local. Charities in sectors such as care, mental health and homelessness could all do with some support. Whether that is on the ground, as a trustee or in a support role. There is a lot of support you can give online. So if there really is no place to progress your employees internally, why not think of letting them have some time for a specific charitable project.

There are plenty of creative opportunities out there for you to reward and offer progression opportunities for colleagues within your organisation. Just by putting it on your agenda, you are taking the first steps to developing your employees and keeping your organisation ready for the rocky road we all have ahead.

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