Be honest with yourself, how good are you at talking about the future with your team? When I say, “talking about the future”, what I really mean is: how good are you at talking to your employees about their future career goals and aspirations?
In my experience, some managers are good at it, but most are not. While some skilfully weave these types of forward-looking career conversations into their regular one-on-one’s, others only broach the subject once a year, during the annual performance review…if at all.
It’s completely understandable why so many managers don’t want to broach this topic. After all, what if one of your high-performers tells you that they’d like to get experience in an entirely different department, different industry or even different organisation altogether?
Or, perhaps you’re worried about disappointing one of your employees. For instance, if your team member were to voice to you that they’re looking for your support to progress to the next level, and, realistically, you know in your own mind that there are no progression opportunities available in the immediate future - how do you positively and proactively manage that situation? Isn’t it a given that if they don’t get the answer they’re looking for, they’ll immediately start their search for a new job as soon as they clock off for the day?
When it comes to conversations about future career ambitions and goals, there are so many ‘what ifs’ to contend with and expectations to manage. It’s not surprising then that many managers may feel it’s easier to avoid having these types of conversations at all. However, in today’s world of work where change is the only constant, being open and honest with your staff about their career ambitions and working together to achieve them can give you a strong retention advantage – so it’s worthwhile taking a deep breath and making time to sit with your staff to have this important conversation.
As Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott explain in their book, The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, we are living in a time of seismic demographical shifts and massive advancements in technology. As a result, most of us will live longer lives than any other generation that have come before us. This all means we will have more time than ever to fill – and, for many, and for a variety of reasons, this means we’ll probably be spending more of our time working in some capacity or other.
And, with more time, comes more opportunity to do more with our careers, learn new things, and experiment, as our CEO, Alistair Cox, discussed in his LinkedIn Influencer blog post, “… so, to remain engaged and happy throughout these additional decades of working, employees will naturally crave variety, and lots of it. And what’s one of the best ways to do this? To explore new job opportunities at new companies more regularly…”
So, as a leader or manager, now is not the time to shy away from having honest career conversations with your employees. Sailing blindly into the future is never a good idea, particularly when that future is uncertain and the journey to ‘success’ potentially means navigating more and more twists and turns, some of which none of us will be able to predict.
Now is the time to start having honest, open and candid career conversations with your employees. It is, after all, your job to help your team members navigate the changing world of work, helping them reach their full potential. It is also your job to act in the best interests of your team and wider organisation.
By getting more comfortable with having forward-looking career conversations, you’re in a far better position to not only keep hold of your top talent, but also to help pre-empt and plan for any changes that may be around the corner. It really is a win-win approach, both for you and your team members.
Put yourself in the shoes of your team members for a minute. If you think about it, it’s completely understandable that they’ll be keen to talk to you, their boss, about their future career ambitions and goals. After all, it’s natural to want to know what opportunities and support may be available - and, in their eyes, you are the keeper of that important information.
But, there are a few other important reasons why, as a leader or a manager, you must change your approach and start getting better at initiating forward-looking career conversations with your people:
However, understandably, even just the prospect of starting a discussion like this with your employee can be intimidating, especially when you open with an elevated and imposing question such as “Where do you want to be in five, 10 or 15 years’ time?” What you shouldn’t be aiming to do is catch your employee off-guard with your questioning. This could make them feel unprepared or ill-equipped.
Instead, here are a few questions that experts in this area, including Dr Maggi Evans, suggest you ask to start these types of career conversations:
As you can see, these questions are really designed to help your employee reflect on what they’re good at, what they want to do more of, if they have any skills gaps and how they’d like to be perceived. So, in your next one-on-one, instead of just running through the to-do list, try weaving some of these questions into the conversation.
The world of work is evolving at an unprecedented rate – and with that comes a whole lot of change. Key to navigating this change successfully is honesty, open-mindedness, courage and planning. So, as leaders and managers, we must start to feel more comfortable talking candidly and constructively with our teams about their career expectations and ambitions. After all, without that information, we’re simply ill-equipped to plan for the future, and ill-equipped to help achieve long-term success.
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