Being Bold: Career Conversations
Managers know that career conversations can be powerful. You know that helping staff connect their day-to-day work with longer-term career aspirations enhances productivity, employee engagement and loyalty.
While the importance and benefits of career conversations are evident, they are not always easy. In researching and writing two books in the Retain and Gain series, I’ve learned that leaders and managers inside of small businesses and non-profits believe that career conversations are risky. Rather than seeing them for the mission-enhancing tools they can be, leaders across sectors believe that engaging in open career-focused conversations can put the organization at risk. I’ve identified three specific risks that need to be addressed if you are going to overcome these top fears and be better career advisors for your teams.
Risk #1: Pandora’s box
This risk assumes having a conversation with an employee about their future will prompt them to ask for unpredictable and unlimited changes to their current employment structure. New pay demands, different hours, a change in responsibility and increased flexibility in work location all might become part of this discussion without any mechanism to satisfy any of these requests. In an attempt to keep these demands contained, managers keep this box closed and intentionally avoid opening career-related conversations.
This fear is not just limited to front-line managers. Recently, following the release of Retain and Gain: Career Management for Non-profits and Charities, an executive director indicated that she was tempted to purchase copies for her directors and host a lunch and learn on the topic. “But Lisa,” she said, “what happens if our directors instruct managers to actually use the Playbook? Do I really want to get into career conversations with staff given our current budgetary constraints?”
You need not fear opening this discussion. Research shows that engaging your staff in meaningful, realistic and personal discussions, even with tough financial constraints increases loyalty, especially when other rewards, recognition and development opportunities are explored. Using the 40+ activities in the books, you can address specific concerns and provide career-advancing opportunities that go well beyond compensation to ensure your organization remain strong.
Risk #2: Imposter syndrome
This risk is based on an assumption that managers are not natural career advisors for staff and that they will not feel comfortable having career-related conversations. At the heart of this risk is the fear that managers will find themselves in situations where they lack the skills or don’t have the knowledge needed to address employee concerns. They will appear as if they have command of careers but lack the substance to back it up.
Canadians receive more career guidance from their workplace manager than they do from any other professional connection. Parents and peers also play a part in how informal guidance is provided, but it is the front-line manager who communicates intended and unintended messages about how roles, opportunities and organizations are changing and how this will affect employees.
The reality is that most managers receive no formal career development education or training. You may have been given guidelines on how to deliver various types of messages to your staff, but very little opportunity to learn just how rich and easy-to-use career management tools are to help you engage, retain and develop your teams. As career professionals, we know how useful the tools are – and that they work. We need to share more stories of career development within workplaces. This will help managers see the role they can play and develop confidence in the potential for success as a career advisor for their team.
Risk #3: Time warp
Leaders and managers already feel that there is too much to do and not enough time to accomplish all that is on their plate. The addition of career conversations that can become quite personal can feel like an activity that would put their entire workflow and schedule at risk.
Career conversations in isolation or as an exception are time-consuming. Employees hungry to understand how their work can evolve and support their future ambitions will want to have detailed and perhaps even challenging conversations. However, the solution is not to avoid having conversations, but to normalize how they are held and who participates.
Simple, everyday activities, such as those provided within the Retain and Gain series, can encourage employees to reflect on their own careers and be intentional with the time they have with their managers. The Playbook provides guidance on how to build career champions across the organization and ensure career development happens all the time. Embedding career development into organizational culture can become a potential source of managerial efficiency. As employees are encouraged to grow, their circle of advisors and supporters will also grow.
We want to support managers and encourage you to be bold in initiating career-related conversations and programs inside of your organization. As career professionals, we need to help make the link between bold organizational results and career-focused staff, even in sectors with limited resources, flat organizations and overworked managers. Today’s workforce needs career development support to overcome their own fears and navigate with employers into the future.
Ready to take action?
Download a free copy of Retain and Gain today and join the National Conversation on the Future of Work.