Taking time to engage in purposeful conversations with employees around their careers has positive benefits for both the organisation and the employee, yet their impact is often underestimated. In a market which has shifted in favour of the candidate, it has become more important than ever for managers to ensure talent remains within an organisation by actively supporting career development, which we know is one of the top drivers of attraction, engagement and retention.
However, recent research by Lee Hecht Harrison | Penna, the global people management business, has worryingly shown that nearly a third (31%) of managers are ill-equipped to have career conversations with their direct reports. The consequences of this can be significant if left unaddressed, with employees dissatisfied with the level of career development support they receive from their employer choosing to vote with their feet. By not taking the time to actively train and equip managers with the techniques and tools for these conversations, organisations are already placing themselves on the back foot when it comes to securing and retaining the best talent.
But all is not lost. Our research has identified how a number of the issues surrounding career development can be addressed. It needs to start at the top, with the leadership communicating the business benefits of supporting the careers of their direct reports to managers, so that action is taken in this regard and rightly prioritised. Conversely, employees need to take ownership for their own development; feeling empowered to initiate conversation with their managers, knowing they will receive the support they need.
This however, as demonstrated by LHH Penna’s research, is currently being left to chance. As the facilitators of career development, managers must be confident in holding conversations with their teams, inspiring them to take responsibility for their personal growth. As such they need to understand both the basics, such as how to plan for the meeting, as well as more complex skills (adapting personal style, the use of body language or even handling difficult conversations) that will enable them to encourage employees to be open and make the right decisions for their development. Career conversations don’t happen in isolation, they are an ongoing discussion and the difference between doing them at all and doing them well is increasingly important, not least as it actively demonstrates that the business is investing in their employees futures and wants them to support their growth.
Time well spent
Our research identified a large perception gap between how much time employers felt they dedicated to talking to employees about their careers and how long employees actually felt they were given for such conversations. On average, employees said their line managers spent just over an hour each month discussing career goals with them, while the managers themselves claimed to spend twice as long (2.3 hours). Dedicating a specific time slot to discuss careers therefore would seem a sensible and quick way to address this imbalance.
While more informal approaches to career conversations are being adopted by companies today, the clear mismatch between managers and employers opinions would suggest that more communication is needed around how career development is approached in the organisation to avoid confusion. This approach helps to send a clear message that the organisation is dedicated to nurturing talent and helping them meet their goals rather than paying lip service to the idea and just grabbing a few minutes here and there.
Developing your competitive advantage
Succession planning is a critical component to ongoing business success, yet LHH Penna’s research revealed nearly a quarter of managers (23%) said that information gathered from career conversations doesn’t get fed into succession plans.
In light of the dynamic and rapidly changing environment many companies are now operating in, a broader view to succession planning is necessary. Leaders will always be important, but identifying and engaging those employees who show potential to develop the skills that will create tomorrow’s competitive advantage is equally, if not more, important.
Equipping managers with the skills needed to hold career conversations, helping them to understand how to support their direct report get to where they want to professionally and how this fits with overall business objectives, will enable them to have more meaningful and positive discussions.
Employees will have a better understanding of the direction of their career and can make more informed decisions as to their own development and next steps.
Empowering managers with the skillset to hold effective career conversations will require development support up front, but businesses will benefit from more engaged employees who are in greater control of their career trajectory, and more importantly, who are planning their careers with you and not the competition.