Developing employees. Helping them grow. It’s like eating properly or exercising.
You know it’s good. You know you should. Yet, if you’re like any managers today, you just don’t do it as well or as frequently as you would like.
In survey after survey, year after year, employees express their dissatisfaction with how they are being supported in their careers. At the same time, managers across industries, regions, and levels uniformly report a moderate to severe lack of competence, comfort, and confidence in themselves in regards to this critical job expectation.
What IF . . .
- You could more easily and frequently engage in the career development work that employees crave without sacrificing everything else that must get done?
- Employees assumed greater responsibility for their careers?
- It was possible for career development to be integrated into the work that needs to get done as opposed to being a separate series of overwhelming tasks that have to be checked off a list?
You could. They can. And it can be. That’s why this book.
Develop Me or I’m History!
Many managers are intimidated by or steer clear of career development because they have a mistaken, outdated, or overwhelming definition of the term.
So try this definition on for size… Career development is nothing more than helping others grow. And nothing less.
Helping others grow can take a nearly unlimited number of forms. On one end of the continuum, you help employees prepare for and move to new or expanded roles in obvious and visible ways. But far more frequently, growth shows up on the other end of the continuum, in small, subtle ways that quietly create greater challenge, interest, and satisfaction in a job.
The problem is that too often, career development evokes images of forms, checklists, and deadlines. And let’s be honest—the organization needs you to comply with these processes and systems to support important human resources planning work. But administrative details are not career development. Unfortunately, these artifacts too frequently overshadow the true art of development.
Genuine, meaningful, and sustainable career development occurs through the human act of conversation.
Whether it’s a formal individual development planning (IDP) meeting or an on-the-fly connection, it’s the quality of the conversation that matters most to employees. That’s how they judge your performance and their development. That’s also how they make the decision to go or stay—or to stay and disengage.
So, if it really is as simple as just talking to people, why isn’t career development a more common feature of the organizational landscape?
These myths (read: reasons or excuses) keep them from having the very career conversations their employees want. Which are familiar to you?
Myth 1 — There is simply not enough time.
No one will argue that time is among the scarcest resources available to managers today. But let’s get real. You’re having conversations already— probably all day long. What if you could redirect some of that time and some of those conversations to focus on careers?
Myth 2 — If I don’t talk about it, they may not think about it and the status quo will be safe.
Why invite problems? Developing people could lead them to leave and upset the balance of your well-running department, right? Wrong. Employees have growth on their minds—whether you address it or not. Withholding these conversations is a greater danger to the status quo than engaging in them.
Myth 3 — Since employees need to own their careers, it’s not my job.
Employees do. But that doesn’t mean that managers are completely off the hook. You have an essential role in helping and supporting others to take responsibility. And that role plays out in large part through conversation.
Myth 4 — Everyone wants more, bigger, or better: promotions, raises, prestige, power
Based on research, the fundamental assumption behind this response is patently inaccurate. When asked about what they want to get out of a career conversation with their managers, the number-one response from employees is “ways to use my talents creatively.”
Myth 5 — Development efforts are best concentrated on high potentials, many of whom already have plans in place.
You can indeed see a significant return on the development you invest in your high potentials. But they make up only about 10 percent of your population—maybe less. You probably have another 10 percent of marginal performers who are on a very different kind of plan—hopefully fewer. But what about the 80 percent in between—the massive middle responsible for doing the bulk of the work? Imagine what even a small investment in their development might yield.
Making The Development Difference
Helping employees grow is an essential management responsibility. But for you, it’s likely a lot more than that. You didn’t go into supervision because you love the scheduling, performance appraisals, and other administrative duties. You did it because of your own career aspirations and development and because you wanted to make a difference in the organization and in those who report to you.
There are lots of ways to make a difference.
Just talk with people.
In today’s workplace, everyone knows that employees own their careers. But there’s a lot you can do through conversation to help focus, energize, and activate that ownership toward satisfying results by merely talking with employees. Interact intentionally.
Keep learning about employees.
Help them learn about themselves—throughout their careers. Genuine interest is too frequently in short supply, yet it goes a long way toward building loyalty, retention, and results. Using hindsight as a lens to understand who employees are and what they bring to the party in terms of skills, interests, values, and more will provide a solid foundation for development. Keep the interview going.
Encourage and enable foresight.
What people are good at, what they love, and how they like to work needs to be filtered through a foresight lens. When you help employees develop the ability to scan the environment, anticipate trends, and spot opportunities, you provide a constructive context for career development. Foster a future focus.
Leverage the insights that come from hindsight and foresight conversations.
Help others see where their hindsight and foresight overlap. Opportunities exist where what the employee wants to do can find expression in the real, ever-changing world of work. Mine the intersection of hindsight and foresight for insight.
Paint a more expansive picture of career development and available growth opportunities.
Most people have blinders on when it comes to how to advance their careers, and they look only upward. Internalize and promote the climbing wall concept. Develop in all directions.
Help people focus on what they want to do versus what they want to be.
Title- and role-based development is inherently limiting. No opening . . . no development. But if you can help employees tease out what they want to do, you can help them move beyond the need to move. Elevate development in place to its rightful place.
Support others as they think through how to turn their career goals into action.
Ideas and objectives are a good starting point, but they don’t get far without the creativity of opportunity mindedness, the tactical focus of planning, and the ongoing conversations that help employees recognize and make the most of education, exposure, and experiences designed for development. Support the process.
Find ways to bring development to life day in and day out.
Waiting for an annual or prescheduled meeting to discuss career matters robs you and the employee of the energy and opportunities that are present always and everywhere. Infuse development conversations into the workflow and see how quickly they permeate the culture. Grow with the flow.
Contribute to the culture.
Help to create an environment that supports this kind of authentic and sustainable development. Talk with other managers about the key characteristics. Challenge and hold each other accountable—for your employees and the organization. Make a culture shift.
What if… you put just one or two ideas into practice with employees right now?
They would grow.
the business would grow.
And so would you.