As leaders, we all know the impact of people power. It is either the key to winning and performing great work or, conversely, it is the greatest source of pain, frustration and angst. Sure, we need great systems and good processes but without the right people, in the right place at the right time, our businesses and teams will never realise their full potential and opportunities will never be maximised.

Completing this people puzzle though and doing it in an environment that is ever changing is all too often a huge challenge. Just when you think you’ve got it right something happens that requires a shift, pivot or even a complete turn about.

Leading people through these changes and engaging their buy-in is often easier said than done. At a time when we are all under constant pressure to manage change, do more with less and find new sources of competitive advantage, truly understanding the capability, ambitions and motivations of our people has never been so important.

As leaders, there are three fundamental people questions we need to answer if we are going to build healthy, fit and thriving teams and businesses:

  1. What can our people do?
  2. What do they want to do?
  3. Where do they best fit in my team or business?

If we don’t acknowledge or truly understand what our people can do, want to do and where they best fit, the following scenarios tend to emerge:

  • Individuals who are in the wrong place at the wrong time will under-perform
  • High-performing employees who are looking for fresh challenges will begin to coast along
  • Outstanding employees who are often deemed to be critical to future success, will leave in search of other opportunities

All scenarios are problematic and, unfortunately, are often not addressed in a timely or appropriate manner because many of our managers simply don’t know how to have the ‘career chat’ in a genuine and authentic manner.

While performance reviews tend to highlight this contribution and value retrospectively, Career Conversations focus on future contributions and help employees and businesses align this contribution for mutual success.

So what are the keys to conducting successful Career Conversations?


Preparation is the key to success. In order to maximise opportunity, it is critical that both managers and employees are given the time and practical frameworks necessary. These frameworks should allow for individuals to reflect, plan and discuss their contributions and ambitions, and explore how they align to the needs of the business.


Given that trust and transparency are built over time and through active collaboration and positive interactions, this only reinforces the need for regular communication.

The adage ‘you have to give a bit to get a bit’ certainly rings true. Sharing your business objectives, challenges and opportunities will help individuals explore how their background can complement what is required. It will also help them set realistic career goals and drive career and role ownership.


In order to ensure that the conversation doesn’t remain just that, it is important to conclude any meeting with a clear plan that has mutually agreed actions, timelines and milestones.

This will also ensure that all follow-up dialogue is relevant and action oriented and further demonstrates the importance and value placed on defining and supporting career ambitions and progression.

Follow Up

Regular conversations are crucial to ensuring your employee’s plan is moving forward. As well as offering opportunities to provide or gather support, they also consolidate purpose and strengthen relationships. It is worth remembering that informal conversations can also add enormous value.
Failing to understand what our people want to do with their careers is risky business.

Organisations can all too easily find themselves in jeopardy of not only losing talented people but also risking disengagement and lost productivity and opportunity.

Conversely, businesses that actively promote and create a culture of individual career management are far better positioned to succeed as not only do they attract, engage and retain the brightest people in the marketplace, they also help individuals take ownership of their responsibilities, careers and success.