Career conversations – you need to have them
How well do you know your team members?
Being asked this question during a leadership development programme was a defining moment in my career. It wasn’t that I didn’t care or lacked interest but as a sales leader my default setting was all about achieving results and winning. When you’re a line manager, it’s about achieving through others…and to be a great manager, you really have to tune into the people you manage, not just the traits that help deliver results, but also what drives and motivates them in and out of work and that includes taking an active interest in helping them achieve their career objectives – this is proving to be one of the biggest challenges we face as managers in the workplace today.
In my current role, I’m in regular dialogue with senior HR professionals and invariably ‘career development’ is on the agenda. The prevailing issues are common and include; engaging generationally diverse workers, providing development and career pathways in flatter, post-recessional structures and in most cases the need to build management confidence, competence and commitment to lead the careers agenda from the front.
So what stops us talking about careers?
In part it’s due to our priorities being driven by how we’re measured and rewarded, but it’s also a management development issue; few managers are in receipt of any training when it comes to managing people and confidence in tackling ‘difficult conversations’ is low.
Successful organisations exploit the link between career development and engagement, they understand that attracting and retaining great colleagues requires the ‘career experience’ to be truthfully embedded in their employee value proposition and critically, they follow through on their promises at recruitment stage right through to exit; career conversations are part of their DNA.
Given that most managers are ill equipped to lead career conversations, what practical steps can you take to make confident career conversations part of your DNA?
Know yourself; think about any feedback you’ve received previously on your preferred communication style. Are you typically a nurturer, challenger or director? For example if you’re naturally directive, you might want to think about how you adapt and flex this in a career conversation with a team member who is more consultative in style.
Know your team; career conversations are so much easier when you really understand the team around you, what drives and motivates them individually – both inside and outside of work? What values do they hold dear? What signals have they given about where they might want to take their career? What have they excelled at previously and why?
Know your organisation; one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the easiest to overcome, if you want to be an enabler, you need to understand your companies systems and processes for career mobility. How do career moves work? Where are roles advertised? What’s the typical interview process? What training and development opportunities exist and how are they accessed? Can employees access a learning management system? Is relevant learning subsidised? What does the current opportunity landscape look like in your own division/wider?
How can you make sure that valuable time dedicated to conversations about careers is productive and rewarding for everyone involved?
Preparation time is sacred; you’ve heard the old adage – fail to prepare, prepare to fail, well it’s true of career conversations too. Whether you’re in the driving seat or the employee is, make sure you both have adequate preparation time and there’s clarity on objectives for the conversation. Ask the employee to reflect on their career with you to date, what motivates/de motivates them; are they looking for a future promotion, to develop in their current role or move laterally and critically, how this might be achieved? Also think about how they are performing in their current role, what might the next logical step be for them? Do you already use a 9 box grid – where do they sit in the performance/potential matrix? What do you anticipate for this person over the next year? How can you support their most critical development areas? Importantly, if you think there could be difficult elements to the conversation try and think them through in advance, especially any feedback around readiness for promotion and development areas – it’s important to be honest about these but frame them in the right way.
Be both coach and mentor; lean towards a coaching style, supportive, but with the scope for positive challenge. Use open questions to explore ideas to and arrive at a career goal, evaluate how realistic it is especially in relation to development and time-scales; explore the different options and development opportunities in the quest for achieving it and wrap up with an action plan or simply one or two next steps. Mentoring is quite different and also has a place in the conversation; mentoring is about sharing your personal experience – advising, teaching or guiding, it allows you to share the benefit of your experience in a helpful and supportive way.
Be open-minded; this might seem like a really obvious point, but it’s worth remembering that each career conversation will be unique and you shouldn’t be surprised if you get a few curve-balls. Try not to enter into the discussion with pre-conceived ideas about the direction you think someone might want to take, be open to their ideas and non-judgemental. If you’re surprised about the direction the conversation is taking, use open questions to explore the thinking behind ideas.
Encourage action; during any career conversation, as managers we should aim to help our people develop greater self-awareness – understand what they offer in terms of skills and what they need in order to feel fulfilled at work; develop greater focus on where they want to be and most importantly take action – develop a plan, commit to it and start taking tangible steps towards achieving their goals.
Deliver on your commitments; Finally, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of the commitments you’re making as a manager, each individual should own their own action plans and be responsible for their own careers, but you also have an enabling role to play, so if you commit to sharing a book or an article that might help someone on your team or to making an internal networking introduction that might help them, make sure you follow through.
Originally posted in LinkedIn Pulse