Re-Energizing Career Management

A dialogue-based career intervention, proactively offered by the organization has considerable potential benefit for both the line manager and his or her employee.

For all the investment organizations make in employee engagement initiatives and talent management processes, these can often fail to connect with the very people you hope to retain. Moreover, career management whereby employees can take a more proactive approach to their own career development and progression often is only seen as adding value during the outplacement process (by which time, it is probably a year too late) or as a means of getting out of the organization rather than leveraging their experience within it.

In an era of uncertainty, the need for employees to proactively manage their careers would seem self-evident. However, it may be that a significant proportion will require a little assistance to take the first step. If we turn this notion on its head and place the line manager in the position of the initiator of discussions with team members on their career plans, the paradigm shifts. Were you to be invited by your line manager to jointly explore how the organization matches up against your personal ambitions and how you see your career developing, what would be your reaction? And as a line manager, how would you feel about initiating such a dialogue?

A dialogue-based intervention, proactively offered by the “organization” has considerable potential benefit for both parties:

  • It supports the employee engagement process in a cost effective manner.
  • It is a flexible response to changing generational aspirations. The “Millennial” generation currently in 15 to 35 age range is well connected and used to “instant” responses. Their expectation of frequent job moves will require new approaches to maintain their engagement with their job.
  • It provides an avenue to complement other diversity initiatives.
  • It may be the only means by which employees feel able to show concern about their career trajectory.

The Elephant in the Room

It would be naive to believe this suggestion would work in all organizations. Yet, in many, this approach already is working. Many managers are responsive to requests from their people to discuss their future within the organization. However, these conversations sometimes end amiably enough but with little focus on what needs to happen next. A line manager who is alert to the need to surface career issues and the feelings they may generate early enough to provide an appropriate response might be a rarity in your own organization.

This may be due to a lack of training and support rather than disinterest. It is also difficult to take an initiative if your own manager has little time or interest in such a dialogue with you.

There is also an elephant in the room: namely, the competence of the HR/talent community to effectively and competently embrace an initiative such as this. Years of outsourcing, restructuring, and separation from business strategy have delivered HR functions lacking the experience to initiate and choreograph the processes organizations require. Additionally, for this shift to occur, the parochial view that some managers attach to the career development of “their” people will need adjustment. This requires them to “let go” and also to be “let in” to discussions on the unit’s succession plans and the potential opportunities available.

A Biographical Approach

The core of this approach is a dialogue based upon an invitation to discuss career ambitions using a Career CV. The intent of the discussion is to enable and empower a review of an individual’s direction of travel, their likes and dislikes. It also may potentially explain—but not excuse—areas where performance may not be as expected. Moreover, an adult-to-adult conversation focused on the individual as a whole rather than a belated review of the last 12 months creates the opportunity for a new level of understanding.

Several themes—notably the reasons for moving on from previous roles and lessons learned—are likely to evoke a level of discussion that will be markedly different from the one that is played out in selection interviews. Many managers inherit teams and often are oblivious to the longer-term career drivers of their people and the pattern of their career moves. This biographical look at an individual’s progress and experience may trigger thoughts by both the manager and the individual about future roles that potentially could suit their skill set.

Discussing life before the current role—and organization—provides a perspective on where the current job is located on their preferred career pathway. This gives both participants the opportunity to reflect on the “fit” with what may have been expected when joining/taking the job. When asked to identify the most essential aspects of our job, many of us deliver an answer that differs from that of our boss. Sometimes the difference is subtle, reflecting personal preferences, but the gap may be more significant.

Stuart McAdam is an HR and management consultant and published author. Currently principal consultant at New Futures Consulting, McAdam served as a principal consultant at KPMG, then group HR director at M&G Reinsurance, and later became the executive board member responsible for Global HR at Swiss Re Life & Health. McAdam also served as Global HR director at container leasing business GE SeaCo and a lecturer in Management Studies at Nene College, Northampton. His latest book, “Successful Career Management: A Guide for Organizations, Leaders, and Individuals” was published in June 2014.