Nobody wants to stay in a dead-end job. To retain and attract top talent, organizations must provide growth opportunities. My wife, Margie, is passionate about this subject. To promote professional growth in our own company, Margie offers a three-day, two-hour course called Career Discovery that invites people to explore their career development.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Awkward
Many leaders feel awkward about discussing career development with their people. They worry that they will lose the person just when they’ve gotten them trained.
Because she knows that leaders might feel uncomfortable about their direct reports exploring career growth, Margie has a video meeting with each participant’s manager to educate them about the course. She prepares each manager for the discussions that might come and assures them that just because their direct report is asking questions doesn’t mean they are unhappy or uncommitted. It means they want to grow and develop—and that’s a good thing! In fact, Margie encourages managers to take the course, too.
Helping People with Career Development Is Part of Every Leader’s Job
Margie explains that every manager has three responsibilities: 1) doing their own work; 2) developing their direct reports for today’s work, and 3) developing their direct reports for long-term careers. In most cases, the third responsibility gets short shrift.
At least twice a year, managers should have one-on-one conversations with each direct report about their long-term career plans and goals.
“You can be sure that your direct report is thinking about their career, so you need to have what I call Courageous Conversations,” says Margie. “It’s important to understand that it’s just a conversation. You don’t have to have an immediate answer or a job ready for the person to go into. The answers and opportunities will come over time.”
To get the conversation started, Margie recommends asking some exploratory questions, such as:
- What makes you want to stay in this job/company?
- What challenges you?
- What would lure you away?
Managers should assure their people that it’s healthy to look at their career path and congratulate them for thinking about it. “Let people know that they don’t have to wait until they’re unhappy with their job to talk about it,” Margie says.
People appreciate managers who care enough to have career conversations. Showing people you’re interested in them as a whole person—not just in what they can do for you—builds trust.
Four Steps Along the Course of Career Discovery
During the course, Margie takes people through several steps to discover more about themselves and the kind of work they will find meaningful and satisfying.
Sharing Success Stories: To begin, she asks people to talk about the most satisfying times in their life. What have been their peak experiences and successes? After people share their success stories, others comment on the skills they saw being used. For example, “When you won that basketball championship, I saw you using leadership skills to encourage your team members.”
Reflecting skills back to them not only gives people a sense of what they enjoy and are good at, but it also shows them that everyone has a different strengths and that each person is unique.
Taking assessments: The course offers people the opportunity to take career assessments, such as Harrison Assessments. Designed to help match people with the right jobs, the assessments can also identify areas that may be less suitable.
“These assessments help people zero in on what they enjoy, what they’ll be good at, and where they will thrive,” says Margie. “If you enjoy something, you’ll get better at it—and vice versa. Assessments can help people clarify their interest areas and shorten the research phase. They cut down on trial and error—which is expensive for everyone.”
Information interviewing: The course encourages people to reach out to others who are working in jobs they may be interested in, to find out what that job entails. This can also cut down on trail and error.
“Information interviewing would have helped my mother,” Margie says. “She went to all the trouble to get a real estate license, only to find out that the job required her to work on weekends, which she was unwilling to do. An information interview with a realtor would have saved her a lot of time and trouble.”
Coaching: Finally, people in the course are encouraged to get coaching to help them explore career ideas. At our company, we offer everyone six coaching sessions, which can be used for career development.
It Pays to Have Career Conversations with Your People
Margie’s Career Discovery course has been a big success in our organization. Twenty-five percent of the people who have gone through it have either been promoted or have moved into more suitable jobs. Many people have discovered that they are in the perfect job. Everyone who has been through the course has come away with more confidence and a greater awareness of their strengths.
Even if your organization cannot offer a career planning course, as a leader you need to talk regularly with your followers about their long-term goals and dreams. With open communication, you can often retain talent that would otherwise go elsewhere.
“You need to be proactive,” Margie explains. “Headhunters often know more about your people than you do. You want to earn the right to have the first conversation when someone is dissatisfied with their job.”