I recently returned from a trip to the UK where I facilitated sessions for managers on how to have career coaching conversations with their employees. The group was made up of managers from England, Scotland, Canada, and two Eastern European Countries. What amazed me the most about this session was that when each country represented in that group shared their issues and challenges, they were all the same. Everyone wanted to know how to have honest career conversations. Each manager in the room also felt responsible for their employees’ careers.
In some cases managers were so concerned about not having opportunities for their employees that they would go to elaborate lengths to avoid having the career-related conversations with the employee for fear the employee would leave. They avoided the conversation under the illusion that they could then avoid the issue. The problem with that approach is that by not having the honest conversation, the manager risked leaving the employee to determine if they should stay or leave the company for another opportunity. Yes, the honest conversation sometimes ends with the employee leaving; however, if the manager has the conversation, creative solutions or alternative opportunities within the company may present themselves.
So – let go, and let your employees take accountability for their careers and stop thinking that you have to have all the answers. The increasingly diverse expectations of employees in today’s workplace dictates that leaders must be prepared to conduct career conversations that will truly enhance staff reflections, support their professional development plans, and move them forward. It also requires that leaders empower their employees to assume greater responsibility and ownership of their careers. And to do this, you will need to become competent at having career coaching conversations, which means you will need to learn and apply fundamental coaching skills like: asking discovery questions, learning multi-level listening skills, and handling difficult questions. If you are not convinced these are important skills to acquire, take a moment to review this study from a 2011 Blessing White paper on employee engagement
In this Blessing White report with HR and line leaders, the two factors that topped the list of satisfaction drivers for employees across every engagement level were “career development opportunities and training” and a subset of career management “more opportunities to do what I do best”. They reinforced the fundamental belief “everyone is accountable for his or her own engagement; anyone with direct reports must coach team members to higher levels of engagement and manage his or her own engagement”.
So here is an exercise to help you in your role as a manager: Repeat the following phrase 10 times: “I don’t have to have all the answers”.
Stay tuned over the next few months when I will review ideas, best practices, and tips on how to have great career conversations with employees.
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