Let’s Get the Career Conversation Started

Even the best managers don’t always look forward to talking with employees about how they can be better at their jobs.

But your people are craving these conversations, which, unfortunately, don’t seem to be happening at many organizations.

Take Mercer’s recent Employee Views on Moving Up vs. Moving On survey, for example. The New York-based consultancy polled 1,520 employed workers in the United States and Canada, finding more than half (51 percent) of these respondents saying they receive “no input” or “input only once in a while” from superiors on how to perform better in their roles. In addition, 78 percent of employees indicated they would stay with their current employer if they had a better sense of their career trajectory with the company.

Leave workers in the dark about how to improve and advance at your own risk, warns Ilene Siscovick, partner and North America talent and career leader at Mercer.

“Clearly, lack of communication from managers along with a lack of transparency about career progression within the organization is impacting employee loyalty and hampering retention efforts,” said Siscovick, in a statement.

The aforementioned percentages are significant, but maybe not all that surprising when you consider some other recent research.

A Right Management report from July, for instance, finds that two-thirds of the individual performance drivers employees consider most important are tied to career conversations.

Earlier this year, Right polled 616 North American workers, 68 percent of whom said their managers aren’t actively engaged in the career development of their employees.

These Right Management figures help form the foundation of a feature that’s set to appear in our September issue. “Creating Coaches” focuses on a handful of organizations that excel at helping managers become coaches for their employees, and at making employee development a critical component of supervisors’ jobs—and a key performance measure for managers.

For that story, I spoke with Bruce Tulgan, founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management training and consulting company Rainmaker Thinking Inc.

Since 1993, Rainmaker has conducted research based on interviews with more than 200,000 managers, says Tulgan, who estimates that nine out of 10 “fail to regularly and systematically engage” in a regular, structured, one-on-one dialogue with their direct reports.

Some managers, he says, may be “naturally gifted in terms of being the kind of supportive, developmental leader that helps his or her employees with building themselves and their careers.” But becoming an effective coach for employees “isn’t about being a natural.”

Rather, “you really need to have regular, structured, substantive dialogue with your people that includes talking about how they’re doing their work and how they’re continuing to learn not only technical skills, but broader, transferable soft skills as well,” he says. “This is all part of a coaching style of management, and it has huge implications for employees’ career growth.”

HR, of course, has a responsibility to help ensure that managers grasp the importance of nurturing their employees’ development, adds Tulgan, who serves as an executive-level coach and advisor, and has written multiple books on effective management.

“I try to make a very strong business case to managers for doing this. It’s what managing is. The career development part is just the outcome of doing the hard work of managing people well in a substantive way.”

He also urges spelling out the concrete actions you expect managers to carry out in terms of coaching their reports.

Managers, for example, must understand how often they should be meeting with their people, how long those conversations should be, and what they should be talking about, says Tulgan.

Because, much like the employees they’re charged with leading, “you can’t hold managers accountable if you don’t tell them exactly what’s expected of them.”

One thought on “Let’s Get the Career Conversation Started”

  1. Perhaps Tulgan’s most important comment is about telling managers “…what they should be talking about.”

    We have this fuzzy story in our (business) heads that when people are elevated to management, they have an inherent understanding of the language and behaviors that the role entails. Even though we see that isn’t the case, few businesses consider arming their managers with the important skill set of “coaching.”

    Even fewer businesses choose to arm their managers with a model for career coaching conversations. It’s so easy to expect managers to talk about “development direction” and “career growth” and “career trajectory.” Those conversations are very difficult without a plan, a recipe, a model. And in businesses that are globally competitive, to really have career paths and firm plans is unrealistic…environments change too fast.

    There are models–Career Partnering is one of them–that provide both manager and employee with the substance of short- and long-term career conversations and goals: the outcomes of the conversations ensure that employees are aligned with the organization’s strategies and direction. That is exactly what organizations today need for success: employees aligned with business goals.

    It would take very little for organizations to provide a “map” for managers to have career conversations with their team members. With that kind of a guide, even the most hesitant of managers could have the career discussions that so many employees crave and that result in huge levels of discretionary effort…a win-win for everybody!

Comments are closed.