As we embark on a new year, it’s an important time for employees to reflect on their careers and, in most companies, this is also a time when many career conversations take place. To make these conversations as fruitful as possible, there are four principles and four rules for managers, coaches, mentees and HR to consider.
Principle 1: Encourage continuous dialogueIt trumps one-off career conversations. Career conversations have historically been attached to the appraisal process – break with this tradition! Career and performance/reward conversations are separate and follow a very different logic and choreography. Career conversations are never one-off conversations. They require ongoing dialogue over time.
Principle 2: Prepare, prepare, prepareStick by this principle no matter whether the conversation is with someone working for you, someone you coach, or simply a person in your organisation that seeks help or guidance. Take at least one hour to read the CV and try to understand it. Think about what stands out and consider what you think is missing. Try to put yourself in the person’s shoes, understanding not only the professional dimension of the person but the broader context in which the person operates.
Most organisations are not good at telling people where they stand.
Principle 3: Listen and ask questionsWe have all seen movies where the patient talks at great length and the therapist remains mostly quiet. The same principles apply to career conversations – become the therapist. It is your role to understand what your counterpart really wants, is passionate about or dreams of.
Principle 4: Build confidenceOf all the principles, this is probably the most important and most difficult to achieve. Most organisations are not good at telling people where they stand. Equally, they are not transparent about why people are being promoted and it’s highly likely that the person you have career conversations with will have seen promotional announcements where they would consider themselves a better candidate. This erodes confidence. Candidates from diverse backgrounds are more typically affected by this phenomenon. Drawing out the individual’s unique ‘selling points’ and developing career scenarios that build on these strengths can be very effective.
Rule 1: Create an appealing and safe-space environmentHaving a career conversation is a big deal for most employees in an organisation – they prepare and have great expectations. Of course, many will be nervous, but it is your role to create a non-threatening, safe environment. ‘Fishbowl’ offices are a no-go. Sitting behind your desk is also a no-go. Oversized meeting rooms are a no-go. Restaurant or noisy coffee shops are also a no-go. The ideal setting is a small office or meeting room that nobody can see into, with comfy chairs and refreshments at hand.
Rule 2: Have a pre-session check in, followed by a longer career conversation at least a few days apart.Conduct a brief check-in conversation before the actual discussion. This is to be clear what the individual expects but also to take out the nervousness and awkwardness of the actual conversation. It also sends a message that you take it seriously. This can be a Zoom or phone call, or just a short pre-meeting. 10-15 minutes are normally fine. This is also a good opportunity to ask for an updated CV, or any other information that you are lacking.
Request that the individual summarise the outcomes of your meeting within 24 hours and share them with you.
Rule 3: Structure the actual conversation in four parts.
- Re-connect and socialise
- Let the person-talk about their career and where they think they stand
- Explore possibilities for the coming years, discussing scenarios and possible options
- Agree next steps and actions