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What's Stopping Managers From Having A Decent Career Conversation With Their Employees?

Getting proactively involved with employee development is a critical leadership capability; yet, as research shows, some leaders seem to want to avoid having serious career conversations with their staff no matter what. Others prefer to delegate this responsibility to Human Resources or an external provider. This is a missed opportunity for leaders to connect with their employees at time when they could be needed most.
The rapid change we're seeing in the structure of employment markets with the rise of AI, automation and gig / sharing economies which is set to accelerate over the next decade will require many to reinvent themselves and their careers. Becoming an effective career coaching leader provides managers with an exceptional opportunity to help employees navigate the career pathways of the future and, by doing so further enhance employee engagement.  What's Stopping Managers From Having A Decent Career Conversation With Their Employees?

What's stopping managers?

Career conversations are such an obvious leadership activity to embrace, so what's holding leaders back from jumping at the opportunity? The world's 3 best reasons for why leaders don't career coach are:
  1. I don’t have time
  2. I'm fearful of the consequences
  3. I don't know how
The 'I don't have time' excuse is just that, an excuse. Of course there's time, it's just about prioritising the activity in their leadership hierarchy. Being fearful however is much more complex and is a very real apprehension for many leaders. Some leaders feel that opening a career conversation may lead to difficult discussions or place them in a tricky position of not being able to deliver on employees aspirations or even worse trigger negative feedback about them as a leader or the organisation overall. 

The harsh reality is that employees are thinking about their careers most days they step through the door of their workplace whether they're asked about it or not. It is certain that competitors, directly or via their headhunters, will be approaching the top talent of organisations with attractive offers in an effort to lure them over to their side. Having deliberate career conversations provides an excellent opportunity to build trust and connection that can serve to counter employee discontent and competitor possibly saving regrettable resignations!

Finally the 'I don't know how' reason is again one of the most common and possibly the most obstructive. Research from around the world points to leaders feeling they lack the capability to open, lead and hold career conversations with employees and career discussions being a frequently needed development activity. Most employees nowadays know they have to manage their own career; but that doesn't mean they don't need help to navigate career pathways particularly in an age of dynamic and fast paced technological change.

Career coaching skills are trainable

Fortunately, building the capability to hold career conversations is a highly trainable and coachable skill. By following some basic guidelines managers can become career coaching leaders and help their employees achieve career satisfaction. But it takes a little learning and a lot of practice to master the skills required. The effort makes it all worthwhile when you see the payoffs for employees and your organisation. Building trust and relationship management, the great enabler of learning and high functioning and successful organisations, sits at its core. Emotional intelligence (EQ), competencies of personal competence (self-awareness and self-management) and social competence (social awareness and relationship management) described by Danial Goleman in his work in this area capture the essential capabilities required. Adopting a growth mindset and solution focused approach will support the development of these competencies. 

The leaders career coaching resource kit should include a number of other skills and knowledge along with strategies and tools such as a broad understanding of the world of work, basic career models and assessments, understanding change and motivation, personal branding, specific communication techniques in structuring and facilitating conversations, goal setting, ethical protocols and action planning and finally an ongoing follow-up regime.

Commitment and practice 

Becoming a career coaching leader takes commitment and ongoing practice. Fundamentally it requires curiosity, integrity and a genuine interest in supporting the development of employees in their quest for career satisfaction. The rewards for individuals and organisations are tangible and significant. You will be amazed at the positive results. It just takes a proactive approach and initiative from leaders to prioritise career conversations into their everyday leadership skill set.

Author Credits

Greg Smith is an expert in career development, talent management and organisational leadership. The co-founder of HR consulting firm, deliberatepractice, he helps aspiring, emerging and experienced leaders to develop their everyday leadership skill set. He is the author of Career Conversations: How to get the best from your talent pool. To find out more, visit his website at www.deliberatepractice.com.au

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