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With the fast pace of our busy workplaces, it’s common to rush through the week. We don’t have time for the “optional” stuff, because we’ve got to get production up, or that deliverable out.

However, I feel that this can be a missed opportunity, especially when it comes to having a career conversation with a team member.

That’s not to say we need to do this every day or every week, but we should do it.

And in this post, I’m going to take a look at why.

Why Don’t Leaders Prioritise Career Conversations?

Of course I realise that not everyone skips the career conversation. Many leaders do see the benefits, and engage in them.

But when I speak to leaders during training or coaching, I do find that many aren’t taking the time to have these career conversations.

Here are the common reasons why many leaders seem to put them at the bottom of the priority list.

First, many leaders don’t feel they have time for a career conversation. When the executive team are smashing you with work and yelling about productivity, you can’t afford to pause.

On top of this, the benefits of the career conversation can seem quite intangible. When we’re thinking of the short term, a career conversation might not seem like it’s that important. There are other things that take our attention. Things like dollars that have an obvious value.

Another common reason many leaders tell me is that team members don’t know what they want to do in their careers. A common refrain I also hear is that:

“They just want to do the work and go home. They don’t have any goals.”

Maybe that’s true, but perhaps it’s not. They might just need some help.

Next, I sometimes see that the less-than-amazing performers in the team can be overlooked.

They aren’t even very good at their current job, so why talk about anything more?

Hmm. There is something wrong with that statement but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

And lastly, I sometimes see an element of fear creeping in. If your high-performer leaves your team, you’ll really be in trouble. Better not encourage them to think bigger than what they’re doing right now!

Learn More:  How Short Term Thinking Leads to Bad Leadership.

The Important Benefits of Having That Career Conversation

We’ve had a look at some of the common reasons for failing to prioritise that career conversation.

So let’s look at the other side. The key benefits that you can enjoy when you do choose to have one.

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1. Greater Trust and Commitment

A key story that leaders often share with me is about career conversations that their own leaders have initiated.

Recently, a training participant shared that a senior manager at a previous company had once sat down with him and helped him to map out his career trajectory.

That manager had helped him work out what his career options were, and what he might be most interested in for the future.

This leader felt a great deal of gratitude toward this senior manager, for taking the time to work with him on his career plan. This strengthened the relationship by building trust, and increased his commitment to the team itself.

After all, the senior manager had spent the time to help him grow. He wanted to repay the favour. And he’s telling this story in front of a room full of people, so it surely made an impact on him.

One of the factors that can destroy trust is self-interest. That is, if you seem like you’re just interested in your own goals, you’ll decrease trust.

Taking the time for a career conversation is the opposite of self-interest. It is showing interest in another person’s journey, which is a powerful display of leadership.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #214: How to Start Being More Trustworthy For Your Team.

2. Increased Motivation

Greater trust and commitment is one thing, but I believe a career conversation can significantly improve motivation too.

Having a sense of purpose is a key aspect of motivation and one that Dan Pink talks about in his book, Drive. And what brings a sense of purpose better than having a solid career direction and steps to get there?

Through a career conversation with a team member, you’ll likely discover that there are missing elements which are required before they can take that next step.

These missing elements provide the basis for additional training or other development opportunities to increase competency in various areas. You can then use these as a way to get your team member involved in different work that helps them to improve.

This increased variety and skill development can also go a long way toward motivating a team member.

Even though these conversations are future-focused, they have motivational potential right now.

Learn More:  Meaningful Work, the #1 Motivator (and How to Provide it in Your Team).

3. Greater Respect

Showing respectThe thing is, a boss is not required to care about the career development of a team member.

So when they do, it tends to encourage feelings of greater respect, because you took the time to worry about where they were going, instead of just worrying about yourself.

It also shows confidence.

Self-assured leaders aren’t scared if their team members want their role one day. It’s only natural that they want to step up.

If you want to build a succession plan in your team, you’re going to need people to take your role. Why not someone who is already in your team?

Learn More:  Liked or Respected: Which Would You Rather Be?

So How Do You Have a Career Conversation?

If you’ve never had a career conversation with a team member before, it can be confusing knowing where to start.

Here are a few tips to help you have them with your team members:

  1. Do it separately: Instead of mixing a career conversation with work-related status update conversations, make it a separate chat. This means it isn’t just an afterthought, but something you’re willing to spend time on.
  2. Be prepared for “I don’t know”: I’ve found that many people don’t really think about their career direction. And one reason for this is that nobody has ever asked them about it! Be prepared for your team member not to be sure about where they want to head straight away. That’s OK.
  3. Effective leadership - coffee catchupEncourage thinking: Career direction can be daunting, as there are lots of potential options. Simply asking the question gets your team member thinking about it. Probe deeper with questions like:
    • What do you like most about your current role? Dig into specific tasks or types of work.
    • Whose role in the company (or elsewhere) looks interesting to you?
    • What are you doing when time has flown by without you really noticing?
  4. Don’t be afraid to look outside: It’s silly to assume that opportunities only exist within your organisation. Encourage your team member to look at other companies or industries too.
  5. Look for transferable skills: Just because your team member does one thing now, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Find which skills are transferable which may also align with other roles or careers.
  6. Don’t go it alone: You don’t need to be the only one helping with your team member’s career direction. Other senior people outside of your area might be doing some good things that your team member may be interested in.
  7. Pick the gaps: Identify the gaps that need to be filled to get to where the team member wants to go. This could include skills, qualifications, experience, knowledge or even confidence.
  8. Use the gaps: When you’ve identified the gaps, build them into a development plan for the team member. This could include special projects, training or other means to improve skills and knowledge.
  9. Don’t take ownership: While it’s important for you to engage in career conversations, it’s not your career. Make it clear that the ownership of the direction and the plan lies with the team member, not with you. You’ll be there to provide support, of course.

Hopefully those tips are helpful for you to start engaging in career conversations with your people.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #165: How to Provide Development Opportunities For Your Team.

Why Aren’t You Having That Career Conversation?

Career conversations can sometimes be seen as “optional” and things that we “don’t have time for right now”.

But the benefits of a career conversation are not just for the future.

They have real motivational benefits for the here and now!

So why not start today? You could be missing an opportunity if you don’t.

What tips do you have for having career conversations with your people? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!

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