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Cancer Research UK

How CRUK improved career development perceptions by 6%

Jenny Kusta

HR Project Manager – Organisational Development & Employee Engagement

Cancer Research UK (The Career Development Zone)

Most critically we have improved our engagement scores [...], as measured with our People Insight survey, by 6%.
Jenny Kusta

The challenge

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) attracts many people keen to support our important cause and who are inspired to be part of the fight against cancer. However as a large and diverse organisation of over 4,000 people it can be difficult for people to navigate and understand what roles may be available across the charity if they want to grow and develop their career here.

We ran our first engagement survey with People Insight in March 2013. Against a backdrop of a highly engaged workforce, the response that only 49% of people believed that their career aspirations could be met at CRUK, and this was identified as a key driver of engagement.

From our exit interview data we also knew that the top three reasons for people leaving the charity were related to progression.

As a charity, personal development is a key aspect of our employee value proposition and so this lack of transparency was felt to be a priority to address, along with support for managers in having career conversations with their teams.

Our vision

To provide greater awareness and transparency of opportunities across the charity.

To ensure the quality of career development conversations should helped people move and progress through the organisation.

Our approach

With no budget and little idea as to what specifically would be included, the first step was to engage with team members across HR:

  • Reward – to provide clarification over grades, progression structure and role profiles
  • Learning & Development – to provide existing tools, exercises and guidance on training needs
  • Advisory and Business Partner team – to provide advice on our competency framework and engaging with their customer groups
  • Interested stakeholders across the charity – to make sure we were listening to the needs of the business, not what we assumed in HR.

In approaching this initiative we focused strongly on the ‘journey’ people wanted to take when exploring career development. In consultation with the business we created key ‘personas’:

  • Someone 1-2 years into their first job looking for their next move
  • Someone ‘stalled’ in the career and uncertain of next steps
  • A manager faced with someone itching to progress but without upward promotion opportunities

We then explored the type and nature of information these people would need, by pinpointing the questions they would have and design the zone around this. This allowed us to be more creative in our approach and ‘get into the shoes’ of users.

The solution

Collating all the various insight we built an online platform in SharePoint, working with a consultancy ‘The Art of Work’. They helped us design the site to ensure that information was easy to find and structured in a logical way. We developed a structure around the key questions:

“Where am I now?”
“Where could I go?”
“What do I do to get there?”

We streamed the advice into guidance for managers and for individuals. We tested the site with a range of business users to check it met needs; their comments directly fed back into our ultimate design.

There are a number of aspects that we are particularly proud of in our design and approach, which we believe makes it stand out:

1. Firstly we found a creative way to help people navigate the complexity of our Grading and Competency Frameworks and the plethora of role profiles available. We knew there was potential for our framework, used for grading roles, to provide a structure for managers to have conversations about progression and for individuals wanting to explore new opportunities. However people also stated that they found our grading structure and role titles confusing giving the diversity of specialisations that exist. Therefore we created word clouds associated with grades, so that people could visually see the range of jobs associated with a grade.

2. We then created an interactive database of our role profiles (715!) so that people could do a search on the transferrable skills that they had and identify the range of jobs requiring that skill across the organisation. Maintaining the database has been built into a new role evaluation process, meaning the data is always current for users.

3. A core value at CRUK is that ‘sharp minds and brave hearts win’. We provided tools to help people assess their values, beliefs and passions so that they truly could think about their development in the round. This meets our value proposition here at the charity.

4. When launching the site we also offered ‘career energiser sessions’ where we provided a safe environment for people to challenge their preconceptions on career and development.

5. We developed tailored training for Managers to help them use the site to improve the quality of career conversations.

6. We know that real people stories are one of the most powerful communication tools. Our ‘Inspiration Corner’ featuring different career journeys of our people, changed on a rolling basis, is one of the most accessed areas of the site. It also provided a fantastic communications platform – when launching the site we ran various ‘career stories’ in internal newsletters which engaged people with the site on a more personal level.

7. Finally the branding emphasised the strong employee brand we have. Our organisation’s manifesto is branded as ‘Our Progress is Your Progress’ which inspired our branding “Your Development is Our Development”.


The Career Development Zone launched September last year and has had hundreds of unique visitors since then, peaking with 291 in the launch month alone. It remains one of our most visited aspects of our intranet.

Anecdotal feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with comments like:

“The site is amazing – I can’t wait to share it with my managers” and “What a brilliant resource to support our people”.

Most critically we have improved our engagement scores in this area, as measured with our People Insight survey, by 6%.

186 people have attended one of our training sessions and feedback has been extremely positive, saying that they can put what they have learnt into practice.

Whilst we have yet to see a big impact of the zone on exit interviews as our data tracks the preceding 12 months, anecdotally we are seeing increased movement across the organisation and are shifting the mindset that ‘upwards’ is the only way to progress. Whilst there are still many improvements we can make to how people are supported to develop their career at CRUK, this tool provides a vital and impactful first step that we are extremely proud of.